The best TV streaming services can brighten up dreary afternoons when you’re stuck inside with nothing else to do. There are so many available now that it’s difficult to keep track of them all, especially if you’re trying to weigh up which platform has the best series. That’s where this guide comes in, as we’ve done all the hard work for you, filtering out the platforms with the highest quality content and looking at the best value plans available.
Below, you’ll see our ultimate ranking. Do take into account that different platforms will appeal to different tastes. Kids and Star Wars fanatics might prefer Disney+ (opens in new tab) over others, while comedy die-hards will appreciate the exclusive specials that regularly appear on Netflix (opens in new tab). We’ve tried to highlight below which categories each platform specializes in.
Get Disney Plus with Hulu and ESPN for only $12.99 per month, (opens in new tab) right now. That's a great deal on three popular streaming channels.
Do remember that each platform offers different levels of service. Typically, paying more doesn’t get you access to more content, but you’ll usually get better streaming quality along with a larger number of log-in profiles.
These services are usually easily available on all of the best TVs (opens in new tab) and best tablets (opens in new tab), so you can take them with you on the go. You’ll also be able to log in on your laptop or home computer (opens in new tab), if you prefer watching via the closer screen.
1. Netflix: Best TV streaming service overall
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Netflix is a crowd-pleaser that has something for everyone in your family, from the tiniest toddler to your real crime-loving grandma. It’s also the king of the binge, boasting the shows everyone burns through in a weekend. Its recommendation algorithm could use some tweaking, and its movie selection leans heavily toward older films, but you won’t find a comparable one-size-fits-all solution at a lower price.
The most expensive Netflix subscription is just $15.99 a month; quite reasonable when you remember that allows four screens to stream it at the same time, and it allows 4K content. Nobody needs to put up with a show they can’t stand or wait their turn, they can just wander off with their own device. That’s a blessing whether you’re living with housemates, soulmates, or family.
- Read our full Netflix review (opens in new tab)
2. Hulu: Best for TV lovers
Before streaming became a way of life, Hulu led the charge in encouraging viewers to cut their ties with cable television and embrace TV streaming services. It aggregated content from a variety of network sites, allowing you to (sometimes) find that episode of CSI that aired earlier in the week and watch it free of charge. It was a lousy substitute for a cable subscription, but it was an idea so far ahead of its time it just needed everyone else to catch up.
Well, they finally have. The Hulu of today isn’t free anymore, alas, but it makes it easy to wave goodbye to your monthly cable or satellite subscription. It combines networks like ABC, Adult Swim, and the Food Network with powerhouses like HBO and oh, yeah, it comes in a bundle with Disney Plus and ESPN. If you’re a TV junkie, Hulu is your huckleberry.
- Read our full Hulu review (opens in new tab)
3. Disney Plus: Best for kids
What sets Disney’s streaming service, Disney Plus, apart from others is the top-tier brands it owns. You perhaps don’t even realize how much entertainment that covers - we certainly didn’t. A swift prowl around the Disney Plus website (opens in new tab) will likely surprise you a few times as you uncover movies and shows you had no idea belonged to Disney. But in addition to Marvel, Pixar, National Geographic, and Star Wars, Disney’s own powerhouse library goes back decades and includes genuine treasures. If you listen to Disney, everything it’s ever made is a masterpiece, but Bambi, Cinderella, Snow White, and Fantasia really are as glorious as you’ve been told.
If there’s a child you’d like to keep entertained, you will definitely appreciate having Disney Plus. Seriously, just sign up now and start enjoying the peace and quiet straight away. It doesn’t even particularly matter what age the wee sprog is, either, as Disney Plus has appropriate viewing for toddlers, tweens, and teens. But really, having ready access to superheroes and Jedi is pretty great no matter how old you are.
- Read our full Disney Plus review (opens in new tab)
4. HBO Max: Best original content
It’s very tempting to just type out the Game of Thrones theme tune and call it a day, but the truth is that there’s so much more to HBO Max beyond offering you access to Westeros. HBO makes some of the best TV shows out there including Westworld, The Sopranos, Watchmen, and True Blood to name but a few. HBO max gives you access to all of that, plus a ton of other content on top of that.
There’s a huge library of movies from blockbuster franchises like Harry Potter, standalone smash hits like Joker, and animated classics from Studio Ghibli like Spirited Away. You will struggle to run out of great stuff to watch here.
It’s very early days for HBO Max though, and it shows through the UI which still has a few clunky elements and kinks to work out. But for $14.99 a month (or free if you have HBO), we think HBO Max is a fantastic offering.
- Read the HBO Max review (opens in new tab)
5. Amazon Prime Video: Best for online shoppers
As a standalone service, Amazon Prime Video lags behind other providers like Netflix and Hulu, but when you consider it as part of the package deal you get along with free shipping with Amazon prime, it suddenly becomes a very interesting proposition.
Amazon Prime Video has an extensive library of movies and TV shows for you to watch, along with premium downloads that you can pay extra for if you can't wait to see the latest movies fresh out of the cinema. When it comes to exclusive shows and original content, there's a decent variety of things to watch, but its fair to say that Amazon hasn't had the same success as Netflix in this regard.
We also found the user interface to be somewhat confusing and poorly laid out, though this varies between devices. We'd say Amazon Prime Video is middle of the pack standing on its own merits, but as part of Amazon Prime its a very welcome extra.
- Read our full Amazon Prime Video review (opens in new tab)
6. Paramount Plus: Best for Trekkies
There's only one question you need to ask yourself when considering Paramount Plus: do you like Star Trek? If the answer is yes, then sign up immediately and never look back. Paramount has all flavors of Star Trek from the original series, all the way through to Discovery and everything in between. It's a treasure trove of Trek.
If the answer is "No, I'm not into Star Trek" then suddenly it becomes far less appealing. There are a bunch of procedural cop dramas on here, like CSI, NCIS, and SWAT, to get your inner-detective working overtime. Plus, there is a healthy selection of Nickelodeon content, for fans of Peppa Pig and all that other kids stuff... but that's about it.
Reality TV fans might enjoy Survivor, Love Boat, and Love Island, but there are far better reality helpings elsewhere. Still, at $5.99 per month, it's one of the cheaper streaming services, so the investment here isn't huge. The nav and quality of streams isn't perfect either, and it needs to evolve to match the big boys, like Netflix and Disney Plus. Overall, well, it's perfect for Trekkies and less so for everyone else.
- Read our full Paramount Plus review (opens in new tab)
7. Sling TV: Best for cable cutters
Sling TV offers something a little different from most other TV streaming services out there, in that it’s more akin to a traditional cable TV network but without all the usual restrictions that apply to them. You can get access to the vast majority of cable stations using Sling TV, but you can pick and choose to a large degree, letting you pick up or drop channels and bundles that you’re not interested in. So if you want something to entertain the kids, you can add the kids channels for an extra fee.
Sling TV also offers live news broadcasts, much like regular cable to let you keep up to date with current affairs. If you’re more interested in movies than TV, there is a movie rental service built into Sling TV that lets you search and filter to find the perfect movie for your night in.
The only downside is that with cable channels comes cable pricing. The basic package is cheap enough, but the extras bundles can really start to crank the costs up if you’re not careful. We recommend you look at Sling TV as an alternative to cable, not Netflix.
- Read our full Sling TV review (opens in new tab)
8. Apple TV Plus: Best for Apple fans
Unlike Apple’s other products, Apple TV Plus isn’t all that appealing. There’s a little bit of something for every taste, from a documentary about elephants to a reimagining of the space race, but that’s all: just a little bit. There’s so little content to be had on the service at the moment that you’d have to ration it like it was a chocolate bar in wartime if you wanted your subscription to be worthwhile.
Maybe grab the 7-day free trial and binge whatever you find appealing in the sparse library. Of course, if you’re in the market for a new bit of Apple kit anyway, you’ll pick up a year of Apple TV Plus for free, which possibly will be enough time for the breadth of TV shows and movies to grow to a decent size.
- Read our full Apple TV Plus review (opens in new tab)
9. Shudder: Best for horror fans
Shudder is a niche service aimed at a very specific audience: horror fans. We don’t mean people who enjoy Halloween when it rolls around; we mean people who find serial killers soothing and have given ample thought to exactly how they’d get rid of a body. You know, if they ever had to. Shudder is for viewers who love, love, love horror.
It doesn’t have an exhaustive library, but Shudder‘s variety is impressive. With podcasts, TV shows, and movies covering a wide swathe of countries and genres, it’s a satisfying selection of blood, dread, and humor. Something particularly fun about the service is Shudder TV, a nonstop stream of “killer content.” In the mood for something spooky but not quite sure what to choose? Just turn on Shudder TV and let it do the curating for you. It’s like having cable, but without the infomercials.
- Read our full Shudder review (opens in new tab)
TV streaming services frequently asked questions
How we tested TV streaming services?
Much like you, we signed up for them. As many as we could find, in fact. We weighed up the relative value of each streaming service to others - so, not just the monthly or yearly fee, but also the amount of content this offers.
However, it isn't just about volume of stuff. We also looked at the quality of content, and whether or not it was the kind of TV that people were talking about positively or negatively. While we have our own TV tastes on TTR, we appreciate everyone likes different things, so considered an aggregate of opinions on what are considered 'the best shows'.
We also weighed up the quality of the stream, and the user experience. Some services promise 4K streaming and deliver, whereas others only manage 1080p or even 720p in some cases. And while sites do have some 4K shows, it's the volume and quality of these that matter again.
The search and user interface functions are vital too. We all love to browse through the selections on each site, but doing so is a more pleasurable experience on some sites than others. And in some cases we found it easier to locate what we were looking for - or similar - on certain sites rather than others.
Do I need a Smart TV to use TV streaming services?
Technically, no, but the full answer is a little more complicated than that and depends on what you're most comfortable doing. Basically, you have options that all depend on how you would prefer to watch your favorite streaming service. If you're happy to use your laptop or PC to browse to a streaming site and watch from there, you're good to go. The process is very simple and you won't have to worry about installing any additional apps, for the most part. However, you'll need to hook your laptop or PC up to your TV to enjoy the experience on the big screen and that might not be convenient.
Alternatively, you can watch streaming services via your smartphone (opens in new tab) or tablet. The screen is even smaller but it's a good option if you're on the move and want to catch up on the latest episode of your favorite show.
Of course, the best and easiest option is to watch via your TV. If your TV isn't a smart TV, you can do this by buying a streaming device such as an Amazon Fire TV Stick, Roku, or Apple TV. The device plugs into an HDMI port on the back of your TV and instantly makes your 'dumb' TV smart. This method is usually very simple to set up with each streaming device often offering a very intuitive interface to navigate your favorite streaming apps. Even better, a dedicated device is often faster than using a Smart TV's interface so there are some advantages here.
If you own a recent video games console (opens in new tab) such as an Xbox One, PlayStation 4, or newer, you can also use these to download the relevant streaming app and then watch via the console. Effectively, you turn your console into a temporary streaming device making this a really convenient option.
Can I use a VPN for Netflix?
Some of the best VPN services (opens in new tab) out there can expand your horizons when viewing Netflix (and other streaming services too). That's because besides keeping your browsing private, a VPN can also change where sites and apps think you're located. By doing so, you can circumvent region locks for services such as Netflix. Pick a server in the UK, and you can be located in the U.S. but have Netflix think you're in the UK thereby providing you with the content that only UK-based Netflix users can ordinarily see. It's a great way of providing you with more content at no extra cost, and you can always switch back to your regular Netflix store whenever you want.
Switching Netflix countries is not foolproof though. Netflix is keen to stop this happening so not all VPNs are able to get around the region lock. Sometimes, the VPN is detected by Netflix and you're locked out of viewing the site until you disable it. It's important to research your choice of VPN extensively so that you find one that's reliable and effective. Don't rely on the VPN always working. Instead, consider it a bonus to your usual Netflix services.
Of course, once you have a working VPN set up, you can then choose to browse different VPN servers, changing your geographical location and checking out the content of other countries' Netflix. It even works with some other streaming services too so it's worth experimenting to see what you can do. Consider this an advanced hack for anyone who wants to get more from their streaming services.