Best Movie and TV Streaming Sites - Hulu, HBO, Netflix, iTunes
The 50 hours of testing we did doesn’t include the hundreds of hours our staff has already spent using their favorite TV and movie streaming services. Our official tests included a full 44 hours of streaming and another six hours of research. After we finished our favorite TV shows and watched all the movies we had been dying to see, we decided Netflix is the best streaming website out there. Not only is it affordable, but you have access to a lot of content with absolutely no commercials. The one-month free trial, DVD rental service and easy-to-configure parental controls really put this streaming service over the top as the best one available. There have been some small changes since we last tested these streaming services, and we'll write about them soon. In the meantime, check out how our last round of testing went.
Netflix has a wide range of favorites and original content that is all commercial-free and affordable.
Amazon Prime Video
Amazon’s movie and TV subscription service is an affordable option and a viable alternative or supplement to Netflix.
Hulu gives you access to a ton of ongoing cable TV shows without the hefty cable package price tag.
|Product||Price||Overall Rating||Pricing||User Experience||Content||Basic 1-Month Subscription||Additional Premium Plans||Free Trial||Ease of Use||No Commercials||Parental Controls||App||Original Content||Current TV Episodes||Live TV||DVD Mail Rental|
|Netflix||View Deal||4.5/5||10||10||8||$7.99||2||1 month||A+||✓||✓||✓||✓||Original Content Only||-||✓|
|HBO NOW||View Deal||4.5/5||9.5||9.5||8||$14.99||-||1 month||A||✓||✓||✓||✓||✓||-||-|
|Hulu||View Deal||4.5/5||9.5||7.5||10||$7.99||1||1 month||B+||-||✓||✓||✓||✓||✓||-|
|Amazon Prime Video||View Deal||4/5||8||8.8||8||$12.99||-||1 month||B-||✓||✓||✓||✓||Original Content Only||-||✓|
|YouTube Premium||View Deal||4/5||10||7.5||6||$11.99||-||1 month||A-||✓||-||✓||✓||Original Content Only||-||-|
|AT&T TV Now||View Deal||3.5/5||7.8||6.3||8||$35.00||4||7 days||D||✓||-||✓||-||✓||✓||-|
|Google Play||View Deal||3.5/5||6||8.8||4||Pay Per Title||-||-||B||✓||✓||✓||-||✓||-||-|
|iTunes||View Deal||3/5||6||8.5||4||Pay Per Title||-||-||C+||✓||✓||✓||-||✓||-||-|
|FandangoNOW||View Deal||3/5||6||6.8||4||Pay Per Title||-||-||B-||✓||-||✓||-||✓||-||-|
|Sony Crackle||View Deal||2.5/5||4.3||5||4||Free||-||-||C||-||✓||✓||✓||-||-||-|
This streaming service gives you three subscription packages to choose from, the most expensive of which still costs less than several other websites we evaluated.
The more expensive plans allow you to watch Netflix on multiple screens at the same time, which is great if the kids and adults want to watch different shows. Regardless of the subscription you pick you’ll never have to deal with commercials, which is one reason it’s our best pick alongside the free one-month trial.
Another reason Netflix is so great is its intuitive interface. All of your entertainment options are displayed on tiles, and you can search for specific content by genre, actor or title. When you sign up, you’re prompted to select movies and TV shows you’re interested in so the Netflix algorithm can suggest content you enjoy and display it right on the home screen. This might not be everyone’s favorite way of seeing what content is available, but you might appreciate being exposed to titles you wouldn’t have found otherwise. There are also award-winning Netflix originals you can watch, like "Orange Is the New Black," "Master of None" and "The Crown." All of the content is available on your desktop or smartphone via the free app.
Netflix also has a section of content just for kids, making this service a great option for families. Along with the kid’s movie section, which includes content from Disney, you can set parental controls to make sure your children don’t have access to inappropriate content. Depending on the subscription package you select when you sign up, you can rent two Blu-ray discs or DVDs at one time. Not many streaming services still offer physical DVDs, so it’s just one more thing that makes Netflix stand out.
This streaming service from Amazon offers a great way to access a bunch of content.
First the particulars: A Prime Video membership only gives you access to Prime Video content. It's less expensive than an Amazon Prime membership, which gives you free two-day shipping on qualifying purchases, Prime Video, Prime Music and access to the Kindle lending library. While the two memberships are different, you can get all the Amazon Prime perks during your initial 30-day trial period.
Now that’s out of the way, let’s talk about what’s on TV. You can watch content through your desktop browser or smartphone app, and if you want to save it for later, just add your favorites to you watchlist. You can search specifically for content for kids too and turn on parental controls so nobody can make purchases with the credit card you have on file. One final aspect of Amazon Prime Video we really enjoyed is the button you can hit to skip forward or backward by 10 seconds. It’s ideal for skipping any TV show intros or the boring monologue you don’t need to hear.
We’ll admit this streaming service has its flaws. The layout is really busy and the search feature returns options you can’t actually stream but have to buy on DVD instead. But aside from a few hiccups, you get a lot with your membership. We found plenty of movie titles – including more obscure ones – and there aren’t any commercials. There is also quite a bit of original content to choose from along with current cable TV shows. There are some movies you have to rent to watch, but the subscription included several titles we were interested in.
You’re also greeted with an overlay displaying the cast and other information when you hover your mouse over the browser, so you’ll always know who’s on-screen. With the great array of content and the potential to bundle Amazon Prime perks, it’s really a great value.
Best TV Show Selection
With several subscription packages to choose from, Hulu gives you access to a lot of recent releases.
We tested out the newly designed website, which works smoothly and includes a skip button so you can fast forward or rewind by 10 seconds. That way you don’t have to watch the same TV show theme song over and over. The app also offers a streamlined way to watch your favorite shows.
Along with original award-winning content, Hulu has a lot to offer. We were able to find the latest episode of "The Bachelorette," "The Last Man on Earth" and even an episode of "The View" aired the day prior. There are offerings from a ton of cable TV channels including Adult Swim, FOX, ABC, History, AMC, Disney, Animal Planet – you name it. Through CBS we even found old favorites including "I Love Lucy," "The Odd Couple" and "Cheers."
We did experience a few streaming glitches during testing. One of our testers had to close and reopen her browser entirely to get content to play if she let her computer go to sleep for any length of time. Another couldn’t find a way to browse the website’s entire catalogue. On the other hand though, one reviewer called Hulu “a little overwhelming,” but only because there are so many TV shows and movies to pick from. We consider this a pretty good problem to have and it’s why this service is the best out there for TV show selection.
Best Pay-Per-View Service
Google Play is the best service with a pay-per-view model because it’s easy to use and there are no commercials.
Some of our testers prefer subscription-based streaming services, but if you only watch one or two movies each month then Google Play is the place to go. This service has new releases and older content to rent or buy, and most of the TV episodes only cost $1.99. Some new movie titles are more expensive, but if you’re only watching one here or there, this website is pretty affordable. Our testers gave this service praise for its intuitive platform. On top of that, Google Play has no commercials and includes parental controls you can use to make sure your children are watching age-appropriate titles.
Best for Live TV
DirecTV is one of the few online streaming services with live TV.
This service costs substantially more than most others we tested, but if you want access to live content and sports this is the best website for it. You used to need a traditional DirecTV plan to access online streaming but DirecTV NOW is a newer online-only package. Along with live TV you can watch shows from your favorite cable TV channels including TNT, NBC and ABC. You can also watch news commentary, though you will have to sit through ads as this service is the most like traditional cable TV of the websites we tested. With DirecTV NOW, you can watch live TV on the mobile app or your computer browser, making it convenient at work or home.
Why Trust Us
We’ve been watching TV since infancy, so with those decades of experience, we’ve been reviewing TV and movie streaming websites since 2008. For many consumers, these websites have totally replaced a traditional cable package through a provider because they’re more affordable and are mostly, if not totally, commercial free.
Paige Kuznia, a 27-year-old from Bismarck, North Dakota, hasn't had cable since she left home for college in 2010. She really likes how websites like Netflix and Hulu recommend shows to her she wouldn't normally watch.
"I don’t normally sit down and watch a cable TV show unless I'm with my mom and we're watching 'The Voice,' she said. "And even then, I know I can go online and stream it.
Cable companies like Comcast and AT&T are hemorrhaging customers, according to a Fortune Magazine article that reported five of the largest pay TV providers in the United States posted subscriber losses during the second quarter in 2017.
“For me, cable is just not cost effective," Kuznia said.
How We Tested
Other factors we considered include the price of a subscription, whether there are commercials, original content, DVD rental by mail and whether there are current TV shows available. We favored services with original content and TV shows currently running on cable because we know you want to join the lunch conversation about the latest episode of “The Bachelor.” And while it’s probably pretty obvious, we also favored services without commercials. Many of the websites we tested give you a free trial, and in our rankings the longer the trial period is, the better. We didn’t factor in the total number of titles available from each website because it’s a figure prone to changing often and frequently.
How Much Do Streaming Websites Cost?
Most streaming services charge a monthly subscription, giving you unlimited access to content. Of the websites we tested, these subscription services cost an average of $15 per month for the basic plan, though additional premium plans are available from some services at an additional cost. With websites that charge for each title you view, recent releases tend to cost more than old favorites. You’ll also sometimes get a discount if you purchase an entire season of a TV show rather than one episode at a time, though most episodes cost less than $3 each individually.
Choosing a Streaming Site
The appeal of streaming TV shows and movies lies in how affordable they are, especially compared to traditional cable TV packages. That, along with limited or no commercial interruptions, make streaming a great option. The downside is many streaming websites don’t offer current TV programming you usually find on cable or live TV. DirectTV NOW is the exception, but it’s also a pretty expensive service. On the other hand, while you might not be able to watch the most current episode of “The Bachelor,” some streaming services – like Netflix – release entire seasons of TV shows at once, allowing you to watch everything in one sitting. Other streaming services, like Hulu and HBO NOW, only release one episode at a time. You’ll have to choose what’s best for you.
Streaming vs. Pay Per Title
Streaming websites require an internet connection, so your viewing experience is only as good as your internet. You aren’t downloading the media files, so you need an internet connection to watch any content. If the website has a pay-per-view model where you can buy titles and download them, you will be able to watch your movies and TV shows whenever you like whether you’re connected to the internet or not. If you have particularly slow internet at home you’re going to experience glitchy streaming and slow downloads, but it’s no fault of the website.
It’s on TV!
Most TV and movie streaming websites require you to sign up on a computer or through an app on your phone. If those screens are way too small for your family’s movie night, there are numerous ways to get the picture from your device to your big screen TV. If you plug a Google Chromecast or Amazon Firestick into your TV, you can cast your video wirelessly. Apple TVs or Amazon Fire TVs come with some apps preloaded, so all you have to do is sign in and start watching. A Roku is another way you can stream to your TV.
Cord-cutters looking to escape commercials are slowly having fewer and fewer cheap options. Netflix, for example, added commercials to some content in 2018 to test viewer response. Hulu, on the other hand, plans to nearly eliminate commercials but only for those who buy the most expensive membership package. Hulu also started using interactive advertisements. For example, we saw one for Amazon Alexa that requires you to click on items around the image of a living room to see what the voice assistant can do, like turn on lights or turn up the music. If you opt for the free version of YouTube, not YouTube Premium, you’ll notice you can skip forward past some advertisements once they’ve played for a certain amount of time. This is nice, but if you’re trying to escape ads all together, you need a Premium subscription. Ads are also consistently becoming more targeted and customized to you based on your online footprint, so don’t be shocked if you notice a lot of ads for sneakers while your friends see ads for cars.