What about live TV streaming and niche services?
This list includes major on-demand streaming services only. It does not include live TV streaming services for cord-cutters (think Sling TV, YouTube TV, which offer live channels intended to replace cable), free streaming services like Tubi or Crackle or smaller, niche services like Crunchyroll or PBS Kids or regional sports networks. You can check out our other best lists for streaming services that cater to anime, kids and more.
During the last three years, we’ve been given more TV streaming service choices than ever. With that comes a streaming subscription budget that either grows or shrinks, depending on which ones are worth your time and money. And competition for your eyes and dollars is fierce.
Your choices likely depend on which original shows and movies you want, how important a back catalog of older streaming TV shows is to you, whether you need to consider kids, roommates or sports fans and, of course, your budget. Some of these services offer cheaper options (like Peacock’s free tier), while others come essentially free as part of a bundle (like ESPN Plus in the Disney Bundle). With Netflix’s price hike in effect, options such as Prime Video and Starz may be worth a second look.
We’ve reviewed each of these streaming services individually, and assigned numeric ratings based on content, app design and features and overall value. Certainly, some personal preference regarding content mix influences our decisions, so note that if you love a specific show or style of show, you may have a different favorite.
With that in mind, here’s the list, ranked in order starting with the best streaming services first.
There’s a reason why Netflix has become shorthand for streaming in general. The veteran service evolved into the top-tier streaming service that’s a must-have in 2022. When big originals like Stranger Things, Bridgerton or Ozark drop, they grab the attention of millions of viewers along with critical praise and awards, giving us the closest thing to watercooler conversations we have nowadays.
While Netflix has lost a couple of major back-catalog titles to other platforms, (specifically TV series favorites The Office to Peacock and Friends to HBO Max), the streamer still offers a wide variety of familiar network shows and more original series, films, documentaries and specials than any of its competitors. New shows and movies arrive each week, and 70 new original movies arrived on the Netflix platform in 2021 alone. And the company doesn’t mind catering to different tastes with gaming options and categories for kids, anime and foreign language titles from all over the globe.
Starting at $10 a month for basic, its price is in the middle of the TV service pack, and its standard plan bumped up to $15.50 per month, which includes HD and two simultaneous streams. Recently, Netflix announced future plans to offer ad-supported price plans for members who want to pay less. But for the variety you get (and no commercials ever), it’s still a top pick.
Read our Netflix review.
Disney Plus is Netflix’s closest competitor — for good reason. The streaming platform launched in late 2019 and has amassed nearly 130 million subscribers. It’s the only place where you can stream the vast majority of the Disney and Pixar libraries, along with every Star Wars movie, Marvel films and new original TV shows, National Geographic content and 31 seasons of The Simpsons. While The Mandalorian was its first breakout series, its slate of Marvel shows, including WandaVision, Loki and Moon Knight, have since drawn millions of viewers. Features such as Turning Red, Encanto and Peter Jackson’s The Beatles: Get Back won rave reviews. Plus, there’s lots more Star Wars and Marvel original programming coming in the next few years.
Even after the price hike to $8 a month, Disney Plus is still one of the least expensive ad-free streaming TV choices and a great value. We consider it a must-have if you have kids or are a fan of any of its other titles (and who isn’t a fan of Baby Yoda?).
Read our Disney Plus review.
HBO Max is a well-designed app full of popular TV shows and movies. It has HBO’s entire library, DC Universe titles, along with favorites such as Friends, Rick and Morty, Sesame Street, the Lord of the Rings movies and almost every Studio Ghibli film. In 2021, it was the only streaming service to debut movies on the same day as theaters at no extra cost, including Dune, The Matrix Resurrections, and King Richard. That won’t be the case moving forward, but it’s still the primary destination for new Warner Brothers-owned feature films. It’s not Disney Plus, but HBO Max has a solid streaming collection for kids too, with the ability to control ratings on kids’ profiles better than most other services.
At $10 a month, it sits next to Netflix at the higher end of the streaming spectrum, and if you prefer the ad-free experience, the cost jumps up to $15 per month. In general, HBO Max is ramping up its new originals, and we expect that to increase over time. Series such as Hacks, DC Comics’ Peacemaker, and The White Lotus have viewers excited for the platform’s growing slate. Though its 8.0 rating is neck-and-neck with Prime Video, HBO Max consistently drops new releases, possesses a large back catalog and offers smooth, user-friendly features.
Read our HBO Max review.
Prime Video features lots of ad-free, quality original shows and movies, an impressive back catalog of older favorites (and B-movies you haven’t heard of) and NFL on Thursday nights. And if you’re a New York Yankees fan, you can even stream live MLB games for the 2022 season.
It lacks the catalogs of Netflix and Hulu, and the star power of Disney’s streaming platform, and I found its menus more confusing since there’s some paid content mixed in with free content. But for millions of Prime subscribers, the Prime Video channel is already included at no extra cost. If you’re interested in checking out any of its originals like The Wheel of Time, The Boys (the upcoming Lord of the Rings prequel), or its large movie selection, it may even be worth paying the stand-alone $9 a month TV service fee (if you don’t have Amazon Prime).
Read our Amazon Prime Video review.
Priced below Netflix at $9 per month, Starz provides a unique but expanding library of films and original shows. With more than 800 movies in its bank that range from ’80s classics to Westerns to the hottest new Sony releases like Spider-Man: No Way Home, the streamer houses every genre in its catalog. But Starz has been inching its way into the prestige TV market with a quality lineup of original programming.
It’s best known for the Power universe, Outlander, The White Queen, and P-Valley, and the network stands apart by promoting diversity and representation in its originals, elevating the voices of women and people of color. As a Lionsgate-owned company, Starz also airs the studio’s movies and shows — like John Wick and Saw. While you can’t stream feature films as day-and-date releases, Starz recently inked a deal with Universal to broadcast its 2022 and beyond lineup. That includes upcoming flicks such as Jurassic World: Dominion, Halloween Ends, Minions: The Rise of Gru, and Oppenheimer. For $9 a month, the Starz app gives you unlimited downloads, early access to new TV show episodes, and four simultaneous streams, all with no ads disrupting your viewing experience. Whether you want to stream blockbuster movies, documentaries, original series, or something for kids, Starz is worth the cost.
Read our Starz review.
ESPN Plus is a great streaming service for the tried-and-true sports fans, especially those who follow the NHL, MLS and UFC. This is because ESPN Plus is the new home of all out-of-market National Hockey League games, while also offering out-of-market MLS soccer matches, along with those from other soccer leagues around the world. It hosts exclusive UFC matches and pay-per-view events, such as UFC Fight Night and championship bouts (for additional fees).
Hockey and MLS fans who root for teams that aren’t based where they currently live need ESPN’s streaming service to watch their team’s action. The service won’t be of much use, however, to fans of the home teams. Local games are blacked out on ESPN Plus so you’ll need access to your regional sports network through cable or a live TV streaming service in order to watch them. But there’s good news for golf fans: ESPN Plus will livestream the PGA Tour in 2022 with more than 4,000 hours of exclusive footage. PGA Tour Live will provide coverage for more than 30 events from January through the fall.
ESPN Plus doesn’t show live NFL or NBA games, however, and while its vast library of original programming is impressive, it’s difficult to navigate. While the $7 a month, $70 per year service is best suited for die-hard fans of the sports it covers well, more casual fans might find themselves with an ESPN Plus subscription anyway through the Disney Bundle, which also includes Hulu and Disney Plus for $14 total. Getting the bundle saves $7 a month over the cost of each individual service, so in essence, you get ESPN Plus for free.
Read our ESPN Plus review.
NBCUniversal’s streaming service Peacock has one major advantage over its peers: It has a free, ad-supported tier with about 13,000 hours of shows, movies, news and live sports. You can upgrade to premium for $5 a month (with ads) or premium plus for $10 a month (with no ads) to unlock more content, including every season of fan favorites like the TV series The Office and Parks and Recreation, originals like Bel-Air and The Real Housewives of Miami, popular series like Yellowstone as well as live Premier League soccer matches and WWE events. Because NBC ended its deal with Hulu, new episodes of its shows will stream exclusively on Peacock, beginning this fall. Other upcoming moves for 2022 include new movie premieres 45 days after their theatrical releases.
Peacock drops in the rankings due to its lack of mobile downloads for its non-premium plus tiers and 4K HDR streaming, which most of its competitors offer. But it doesn’t hurt to try out the free version — all you need to sign up is an email address.
Read our Peacock review.
Paramount Plus brings together live news and sports with on-demand shows and movies, including originals, leaning on parent company ViacomCBS’ brands like popular channels CBS, MTV, BET, Comedy Central, Nickelodeon and Paramount Network, plus its Paramount Pictures movie studio.
The service has a ton of content: 30,000 episodes of TV and 2,500 movies, plus dozens of original series arriving this year, for either $5 a month (with ads) or $10 a month (ad-free). Two of its biggest draws from its CBS All Access days include the Star Trek catalog and new originals like Star Trek: Discovery and Picard, and the series The Good Fight. Buzz-worthy originals include two Yellowstone spinoffs (though Yellowstone itself is on rival Peacock), a Star Trek animated show, a series based on Halo, and new movies like Mission: Impossible 7 arriving 45 days after theaters. But right now, its main value lies in nostalgia: You can watch just about every old Nickelodeon show, Comedy Central stand-up specials and popular series ranging from Frasier and Cheers to SpongeBob SquarePants and Young Sheldon. Additionally, Paramount Plus launched a Live Channels feature which enables subscribers to watch curated content in special categories. Check out channels for Star Trek, CBS Sports HQ, Paw Patrol, and more with either subscription plan.
Currently, new subscribers can receive a seven-day free trial.
Read our Paramount Plus review.
At $5 a month, Apple TV Plus is the lowest-priced premium, ad-free streaming service available, with high-end features like 4K resolution, HDR and mobile downloads. However, it’s also the only service on this list that includes only original content, and no back catalog of shows or movies to explore. While it now has more than 50 exclusive, big-budget original programming shows and movies, only a few have captured widespread attention: Ted Lasso, The Morning Show, Schmigadoon!, and Severance. Though the service is branching out with additions like live MLB baseball on Fridays, its library is far smaller than any of the others on this list.
The app is also confusing because it’s housed in the larger Apple TV app with other content. However, Apple TV Plus has one big advantage: There are a lot of ways to get it for free, at least for a while. If you’re a degree-seeking college student, a new purchaser of an Apple device, or someone who subscribes to the Apple One bundle, you can snag a long-term free trial of Apple TV Plus.
Read our Apple TV Plus review.
How we test streaming services
Chances are you’re already pretty familiar with most of the names on this list, but it’s by no means comprehensive. There are plenty of other ways to stream, and hundreds of other choices out there. As we evaluated these particular streaming options, we kept certain things in mind.
This list is ordered based on the numerical value I assigned to each streaming service in their individual review, which I determined by design (i.e. ease of use across different TV and mobile platforms), features (like 4K HDR, mobile downloads, recommendations, watch lists and number of streams), content (number of shows and quality of originals and back catalogs) and value (price compared to these other factors). Click through to the full reviews for more details.
Streaming Services FAQs
Are there any tips for internet speed or the best hardware?
To watch any of the services on this list you’ll need a solid internet connection, a compatible device (like a Roku, Amazon Fire TV or Apple TV, a smart TV, phone, tablet or computer) and a valid username and password. CNET offers tips on how to optimize your internet speed for streaming Netflix and these other services.
Which streaming service is the most cost effective?
Ultimately, you can choose any streaming service you want based on price, content and who watches what in your household. But if you’re looking to pare down costs, opt for free platforms or ones that offer the most value for $10 or less. CNET offers tips on how to trim your streaming budget, and we keep up with the latest streaming service deals and discounts. You can always have multiple subscriptions and cancel a service whenever content feels dry.
Want more? Check out CNET’s Streaming TV Insider for advice on what to watch, the latest streaming news, help, how-to and more.