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Best TV streaming services 2021: Netflix, Disney Plus, HBO Max, and more

Best TV streaming services 2021: For movie lovers, TV junkies, kids, and everyone in between
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The best TV streaming services offer extensive content you can rarely get elsewhere and at a competitive price. Simply put, sign-up to the right streaming sites and you may never want to leave the house again. It's likely you already subscribe to one or more of the streaming services on this list, but it's useful to know what other options are out there, along with why you might want to sign up to more.

We looked at a number of factors when deciding what the best TV streaming services are. That includes things like how good value for money the service is, the amount of shows available, along with the quality of the shows and the quality of the streaming itself. Now, much of this may come down to personal taste but we suspect you'll find something that's ideal for you. Not everyone might love Disney Plus for its extensive Disney and Star Wars content, but there's more to it than that, for instance. 

Best deal today

(Image credit: Disney)

Get Disney Plus with Hulu and ESPN for only $12.99 per month, right now. That's a great deal on three popular streaming channels.

Before we dive right in, bear in mind that most streaming services offer different levels of service. For example, Netflix has a basic package at $8.99 per month as well as a Standard plan for $13.99 and a Premium deal for $17.99 per month. Generally, the more you pay, the more features you get such as 4K streaming, more concurrent log-ins and so forth. 

It's also worth remembering that many of the top streaming services can be accessed by any of the best TVs or by using a tablet or home computer. Some may offer discounts for sign-ups with most offering some form of free trial, but don't expect to see many deals on the monthly cost of the subscriptions. However, you can often grab a deal via your internet service or cell phone provider so don't be afraid to look before signing up.

1. Netflix: Best TV streaming service

Best TV streaming services: Netflix is our top pick

(Image credit: Netflix)


The king of the castle, the best TV streaming service

Price: $9 to $16 per month | Contract length: Monthly | Standout shows: Stranger Things, Altered Carbon, The Crown, Lost in Space, Daredevil.

Huge library of TV shows and movies for all tastes and ages
Buzz-worthy original content
Regularly updated
Its suggestion algorithm could use some work
Very few current TV shows are available

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. 

2. Hulu: Best for TV lovers

Best TV streaming services: Hulu is superb for current TV shows

(Image credit: Hulu)


If you need the latest and greatest TV shows, Hulu has you covered

Price: $5.99 to $11.99 per month | Contract length: Monthly | Standout shows: Grey's Anatomy, Seinfeld, Adventure Time, Westworld, Family Guy, Killing Eve.

Currently-airing network TV shows, many the day after airing
Regularly updated library
Exclusives are underwhelming
Originals aren’t impressive

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.  

3. Disney Plus: Best for kids

Best TV streaming services: Disney Plus has 1000s of hours of amazing kids shows and movies

(Image credit: Disney Plus)

Disney Plus

Disney Plus can show you the world, and it's the best streaming service for kids

Price: $7.99 per month, or $79.99 per year | Contract length: Monthly or annually | Standout shows: Frozen 2, The Mandalorian, Marvel (Iron Man, Spider-Man etc.), Star Wars, The Simpsons, National Geographic.

Huge library of family-friendly entertainment
High-quality original shows in the Star Wars and Marvel universes
Not updated with new content on a regular schedule
Content lacks much variety

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  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.

4. HBO Max: Best original content

Best TV streaming services: HBO Max has excellent original content

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Our pick for high quality original TV shows

Price: $14.99 per month | Contract length: Monthly | Standout shows: Game of Thrones, Westworld, The Sopranos

Outstanding original shows
Constantly updated
Huge library
UI has some issues

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.

5. Amazon Prime Video: Best for online shoppers

Best TV streaming services: Amazon Prime Video is a smart addition to a Prime subscription

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Amazon Prime Video

A decent service in its own right, but a steal with Amazon Prime

Price: $8.99 per month for TV only, $12.99 with full Prime | Contract length: Monthly or annually | Standout shows: The Boys, Homecoming, Good Omens

Access to HBO, Starz, Showtime, and more
Huge library
Free with Prime!
Offerings are inconsistent across devices
The UI is a nightmare

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.

6. Paramount Plus: Best for Trekkies

Best TV streaming services: Paramount is the home of Star Trek

(Image credit: Paramount)

Paramount Plus

If you love Star Trek, this is the place to be

Price: $5.99 per month, $59.99 per year | Contract length: Monthly or yearly | Standout shows: Star Trek Discovery, CSI, Peppa Pig

Perfect for Star Trek fans
Also for police procedural fans
Has all the Peppa Pig!
Little of interest for wider audiences
Has ALL the Peppa Pig

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.

7. Sling TV: Best for cable cutters

Best TV streaming services: Sling TV

(Image credit: Sling)

Sling TV

Cable, but without the cables

Price: $35 per month | Contract length: Monthly | Standout shows: AMC, CNN, ESPN etc

Most of the biggest cable channels
Live news
Price can add up with all the extras
Some big hitters like HBO missing

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.

8. Apple TV Plus: Best for Apple fans

Best TV streaming services: Apple TV has some quality shows... but there are too few of them

(Image credit: Apple)

Apple TV Plus

Apple TV Plus offers a little bit of everything, but struggles to stand out

Price: $4.99 per month or $49.99 annually | Contract length: Monthly or annually | Standout shows: The Morning Show, See, Dickinson, For All Mankind, Oprah's Book Club.

High-quality programming
A little bit of something for every kind of viewer
Not updated with new content on a regular schedule
A very little bit of something for every kind of viewer

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. 

9. Shudder: Best for horror fans

Best TV streaming services: Shudder, as the name suggests, is perfect for horror viewers

(Image credit: Shudder)


The spooky streaming service, this is essential for horror fans

Price: $4.75 per month, $56.99 per year | Contract length: Monthly or annually | Standout shows: The Last Drive-In with Joe Bob Briggs, Channel Zero, Creepshow, Child's Play, Halloween, Night of the Living Dead, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

A wide variety of horror-themed shows, podcasts, and movies
Low subscription price
Lacking in episodic content
Not much high-budget horror in the library

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.

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 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 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 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. 

Susan Arendt is a writer and editor with more than two decades of experience from companies including AOL, Conde Nast, and The New York Times.  She currently resides in North Carolina with three dogs who, frankly, run her life.