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The 12 Best Streaming Services in 2021

Plus, what to watch on your new favorite streaming service.

best streaming services
Staff, Courtesy of Amazon

Back in the day, Netflix was one of the only streaming services that promised to help you end your expensive cable subscription. But now, it’s easy to be overwhelmed by the amount of streaming options available—and the costs can quickly add up when you feel like you need to have separate subscriptions to Netflix, Amazon, Disney Plus, Hulu, HBO, and more to stay on top of all of your favorite shows and movies. Whether you want to pare down to only the essential services or add a new one to watch, we’ve broken down the top twelve streaming channels you should consider, including their subscription pricing, bundle options, and other convenient features. Oh, and if you’re looking for what to watch, we have recommendations for popular TV shows and movies available now, too.

But First, Get the Tech: The Best Streaming Devices | 8 Smart TVs for Picture-Perfect Streaming | Wireless Surround Sound Systems for Every Budget

Cable vs. Streaming Services

According to Nerd Wallet, the average monthly cable bill costs $45 to $130, so even the priciest of streaming subscriptions are more affordable. However, when adding up the cost of all of these services, you can easily pay more than the cost for cable. Therefore, you need to be strategic about what services you purchase and how you might bundle them for better deals.

The most expensive streaming services offer access to live TV channels. Subscribe to something like Hulu’s Live TV plan, SlingTV, or Fubo if you want to keep on top of network news or sports coverage. On the other hand, some of the cheapest—and even free—services offer limited content and/or still show commercials. Consider if you really want to pay extra each month for ad-free viewing, or if you should just stick with mid-tier options like Disney Plus and Netflix that don’t show any ads. Some streaming services, like HBO Max, also offer discounted annual rates compared to their monthly fees.

How We Selected

Like most people, we’ve spent hundreds of hours streaming shows and movies—no cable subscription required. But beyond the subscriptions we’ve personally used, we also researched what other experts, including Tech Radar, PC Mag, and Tom’s Guide, have to say about the best streaming services. We compiled and compared information about subscription pricing, bundle options, how many user profiles you can create, and how many devices can stream simultaneously.

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Disney Plus

Key Specs

  • Starting Price: $7.99 per month
  • Simultaneous Streaming: 4
  • Bundle Options: Hulu and ESPN Plus

If you’re looking for the most family-friendly streaming service, Disney Plus provides a huge collection of Disney, Pixar, Marvel, and Star Wars films—plus, parental controls to create kids’ profiles. The basic package gives you& ad-free access to the classics and new releases, with the ability to watch across four screens at once. You can also bundle Disney Plus with a subscription to ESPN Plus and Hulu for $13.99 a month. If you want access to the latest movie releases without heading to the theater, invest in the Premier Access tier for $29.99. As for where to start, we recommend getting caught up on The Mandalorian series and tuning in to Among The Stars, a documentary about NASA’s search for dark matter and antimatter.

  • Affordable and bundle-friendly
  • Four simultaneous screens

  • Expensive Premier tier for new releases
Great Value

Key Specs

  • Starting Price: $6.99 per month
  • Simultaneous Streaming: 2
  • Bundle Options: Disney Plus and ESPN Plus, HBO Max, Cinemax, Showtime, Starz

Hulu is one of the most affordable streaming services with a variety of bundle options that can help you save while still getting access to all your preferred services. Expect to watch some ads on the entry-level subscription, or upgrade to the ad-free tier for $12.99 per month. In addition to the Disney Plus and ESPN Plus bundle, you can pair Hulu with Live TV for $55 per month to replace cable or opt for adding on just one additional channel like HBO Max, Cinemax, Showtime, or Starz for a small fee. Popular content to stream on Hulu right now includes It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Bob’s Burgers, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Star Trek, and plenty more.

  • Affordable starting price
  • Many bundle options

  • Must pay more for ad-free subscription
  • Only two simultaneous screens
The Classic

Key Specs

  • Starting Price: $8.99 per month
  • Simultaneous Streaming: 1
  • Bundle Options: None

We hardly need to sell you on the streaming service that essentially made streaming a thing, but there’s a reason why Netflix is the classic streaming option with its hundreds of movies, TVs shows, and Netflix Originals to binge. The Basic plan is reasonably priced and ad-free. However, you’ll have to pay $13.99 for the Standard plan if you want to add more than one screen to watch at the same time, or $17.99 for the Premium plan to have four simultaneous screens and Ultra HD viewing. Right now, the Korean thriller Squid Game and Mike Flanagan’s Midnight Mass are popular options for Halloween season.

Related: The Best Sci-Fi Movies on Netflix

  • Mid-tier pricing with three plan options
  • Plenty of originals

  • No bundle options
  • No simultaneous streaming with basic plan
For Online Shoppers
Prime Video

Key Specs

  • Starting Price: $12.99 per month
  • Simultaneous Streaming: 3
  • Bundle Options: HBO, Showtime, Starz, CBS All Access

If you have an Amazon Prime account to save money on shipping when online shopping, then you already have access to Prime Video. This service provides access to thousands of movies and TV shows, including Amazon Originals, at no added cost. However, if you want, you can subscribe to over 100 other channels like HBO, Showtime, Starz, and CBS All Access to watch premium content without needing cable.

Related: The Best Documentaries on Amazon Prime

  • Included with Amazon Prime account
  • Many additional channel subscription options
  • Can rent or buy movies and shows

  • Potentially fewer high-quality shows than some competitors
Best Cable Replacement
Sling TV

Key Specs

  • Starting Price: $35 per month
  • Simultaneous Streaming: 1–3
  • Bundle Options: Football or Basketball bundles

If you’ve been hesitant to cancel your cable subscription because you still want access to a handful of live channels, then Sling TV might be the solution for you. Although the Orange and Blue plans are both $35 per month, Orange has 11 fewer channels and no simultaneous streaming compared to Blue’s three streams. However, unlike the Blue plan, Orange gives you access to ESPN, Disney, and MotorTrend channels. Or go big with the combined plan, $50 per month, for all 51 channels and four simultaneous streams. 

Plus, we love that each plan offers 50 hours of free DVR storage to save recordings and that you can watch local news channels for free. Sling also offers deals on your first month (though no free trial, sorry), and you can bundle according to your favorite sports channels through the Basketball or Football bundles.

  • Sports bundle options
  • 50 hours free DVR storage

  • Cheaper plans limit channels or simultaneous streaming
For Warner Bros Fans

Key Specs

  • Starting Price: $9.99 per month
  • Simultaneous Streaming: 3
  • Bundle Options: Hulu

HBO Max is full of popular shows and movies from WarnerMedia and other sources, including DC Comics, Cartoon Network, Studio Ghibli, Adult Swim, and more—meaning there’s plenty of content for the whole family. If you’re looking for something to replace movie theater trips, HBO Max shows Warner Bros movie premiers on the same days as their theater releases with the $14.99 ad-free plan. Either plan gives you flexible parental controls and up to five user profiles, though unfortunately, you’ll have to endure about 4 minutes of ads per hour (on non-original content). Especially because of the cost even with ads, we’d recommend bundling this option with another affordable service like Hulu. Right now, you can stream the new Dune movie.

  • Up to five user profiles
  • Warner Bros theater releases

  • A bit pricey with ads for basic plan
Free Plan Options
Peacock TV

Key Specs

  • Starting Price: Free
  • Simultaneous Streaming: 3
  • Bundle Options: None

NBC Universal’s streaming service is one of the only options that actually has a free, ad-supported tier. A good amount of content on Peacock TV is still paywalled, but you can access it with the Premium plan for just $4.99 a month or with the ad-free Premium Plus plan at $9.99 a month. That makes it one of the most affordable options for access to live sports and other channels, plus other popular NBC shows like The Office and Modern Family. Unfortunately, its Peacock Originals aren’t up to par with services like Netflix or Amazon, and its library can change relatively quickly.

  • Free and other affordable tiers
  • Popular network shows and movies
  • Live sports access

  • Fewer quality originals
  • Quickly changing library
For Sports Fans
Fubo TV

Key Specs

  • Starting Price: $64.99 per month
  • Simultaneous Streaming: 3
  • Bundle Options: None

If having access to certain sports channels is the only thing holding you back from canceling cable, then Fubo TV might finally allow you to cut the cord. Although it’s more expensive than competitors like Sling TV, Fubo offers an impressive 113 channels across all major networks and the ability to stream content in 4K. Try out its free trial for seven days to discover if this is the option that can hit all of your news, sports, and other entertainment needs.

  • Plenty of sports networks
  • 4K content

  • Expensive
For CBS Content
Paramount Plus

Key Specs

  • Starting Price: $4.99 per month
  • Simultaneous Streaming: 3
  • Bundle Options: Showtime

Replacing CBS All Access, Paramount Plus offers a library of old and new CBS Network shows like CSI, The Twilight Zone, Twin Peaks, and Star Trek. For kids, there’s plenty of Nickelodeon content, and for sports fans, a premium ad-free subscription for $9.99 per month offers access to local CBS coverage of the NFL, UEFA, and NCAA. Paramount Plus does have some original content, but it isn’t as popular as Netflix and Amazon originals.

  • Family-friendly and sports content
  • Affordable two-tier subscription costs

  • Premium subscription for live CBS channels and no ads
  • Not many originals
Originals Only
Apple TV Plus

Key Specs

  • Starting Price: $4.99 per month
  • Simultaneous Streaming: 6
  • Bundle Options: None

Apple has also ventured into the world of streaming with its TV Plus service, which gives you access to plenty of original shows and movies. With the exception of Ted Lasso, this service doesn’t offer much popular on-demand content. At least you get a seven-day free trial—or up to three months after buying an Apple device—to try it out. As Apple grows its library, this subscription might become more worthwhile over time, especially because of its lack of commercials, 4K resolution support, and ability to download content to watch offline.

  • Low cost and no ads
  • Ability to download content

  • Not enough content
For Cinephiles
The Criterion Channel

Key Specs

  • Starting Price: $10.99 per month
  • Simultaneous Streaming: 3
  • Bundle Options: None

If you’re a classic movie buff, The Criterion Channel might be the best place to watch classic and contemporary films that are difficult to find on most other streaming services. Its library consists of over 2,000 titles from Hollywood, international, and independent studios. Among them are the 1954 Godzilla; David Lynch’s Twin Peaks prequel Fire Walk With Me; silent films by Charles Chaplin; and a trove of content by famous directors like Guillermo del Toro, Alfred Hitchcock, Andrea Arnold, and Jean-Luc Godard. The Criterion Channel has a user-friendly app for Android and iOS devices, which also allows for downloads to stream offline and 1080p resolution on most content. Unfortunately, the service still lacks multiple user profiles and parental controls.

  • Offline downloads
  • 1080p resolution

  • No multiple user profiles
Best for Bundling

Key Specs

  • Starting Price: $10.99 per month
  • Simultaneous Streaming: 3
  • Bundle Options: Hulu Plus, Paramount Plus, Disney Plus, Prime Video

Showtime is ideal for anyone looking to bundle—as a way to save or just to access more content. Pair it with Paramount Plus access for $11.99 per month, which is a 25 percent cheaper than both services individually. Or easily add a Showtime subscription to other services for the standard $10.99 per month rate, including Prime Video, Hulu, Apple, Fubo, and Sling. On Showtime, you can watch movies like American Psycho and A Clockwork Orange and popular shows like Shameless and Dexter.

  • 30-day free trial
  • Many bundle options

  • Low resolution downloads and no audio descriptions
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