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Best online streaming services of 2021

We’ve compared the mess of online streaming services so you don’t have to.

Once upon a time, your choices for online streaming were limited to Netflix or Hulu. Now you can choose from a variety of platforms and stream almost anything from movies, sports, live TV and original series. We weigh the pros and cons of seven of the biggest streaming services to help you decide which to add to your platform.

How we picked our services

To create our list of top online streaming services, we focused on cost, library content and device compatibility. We also paid attention to any special perks or kinks each streaming service had in comparison to one another.

The best online streaming services

Netflix: Best for viewers who want to get a taste of a wide variety of content and enjoy a user-friendly interface.

Founded in 1997, Netflix built its names as a popular DVD mail service. Today it's possibly the most familiar streaming service for movies and TV shows. Today, Netflix offers content in various genres and is constantly adding new movies and TV shows every week.
  • Large streaming library. It's library is familiar for viewers, offering original titles and exclusives only available on Netflix.
  • Profiles. Depending on your subscription, each user profile manages watch lists and suggests titles based on what you watch.
  • Free trial. A 30-day free trial is available to new subscribers.
  • Licensing. Favorites like The Office and Friends have had to find new streaming homes in the last few months.
  • Limited streaming. The basic $8.99 plan only lets you stream from one device at a time, while the premium $15.99 lets you stream from up to four.
  • No live TV. While the on-demand options are aplenty, there's no way to catch up on live TV.
Pricing $8.99/mo
Simultaneous streams 4
  • Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness
  • Breaking Bad
  • The Witcher
  • Love is Blind
  • Stranger Things

Hulu: Best for anyone who wants a little more variety in how much they pay for streaming.

Hulu brought live TV to the Internet in 2007. It focuses on on-demand TV shows right after they air on television.
  • Focus on TV. Find popular, current TV shows, and series you only find in the archives.
  • Live TV. Available with the higher subscription tier, it costs $54.99 a month. Otherwise, you can watch shows the day after they air with the standard Hulu subscription.
  • Bundle. For $12.99 combine three streaming services into one monthly payment: Disney+, Hulu and ESPN+.
  • Ads. The basic plan is less expensive, but comes with advertisements you can't fast-forward through.
  • Device compatibility. Depending on your subscription, there's a chance it won't be compatible with your Amazon Fire TV Stick or PlayStation 4.
  • Movie selection. Because it focuses on TV series, its movie selection is thin and out of date.
Service type On-demand streaming
Free trial 30 days
Pricing $5.99/mo
Simultaneous streams 1
  • Letterkenny
  • Catch 22
  • Atlanta
  • It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia
  • The Handmaid's Tale
  • Shrill

YouTube TV: Best for those interested in exploring live TV streaming from major networks and are okay with the more expensive price tag.

Since its creation in 2017, it's received praise from viewers for its extensive library of content. Watch live TV or save a movie or TV in your DVR.
  • Six accounts. Customized viewing based on six separate profiles, so the entire family can stream what they enjoy and do it privately.
  • Cloud DVR. Record and save hours of content in one place for up to nine months.
  • Simultaneous streams. Each membership is allowed three simultaneous streams.
  • Ads. Live TV comes with ads. Only when you record a show can you skip the commercials.
  • No price tiers. Its only option costs $49.99 monthly.
Service type On-demand streaming
Free trial 7 days
Pricing $64.99/mo
Simultaneous streams 3
  • ABC
  • CBS
  • TLC
  • Food Network
  • CNN
  • ESPN

Amazon Prime: Best for anyone who already has an Amazon Prime membership or is interested in benefiting from a few Amazon perks.

Initially a streaming service on its own, it has become a part of a standard Amazon Prime membership. With a streaming library filled with a little bit of everything, it's a nice way to watch the latest releases and originals.
  • Offline viewing. Download movies and TV shows and watch them later when you're offline.
  • Effortless. If you already have an Amazon Prime membership, you already have access to streaming.
  • Streaming library. Plenty of categories to choose from including release and rentals, popular movies and documentaries.
  • Subscription limitations. It's difficult to sign up for only the streaming service without the Amazon Prime membership.
  • Limited content. Many titles, especially new releases cost extra to watch.
Service type On-demand streaming
Free trial 30 days
Pricing $8.99/mo
Simultaneous streams 2
  • The Marvelous Mrs Maisel
  • The Romanoffs
  • Transparent
  • Clue: The Movie
  • Fleabag
  • The Man in the High Castle

Sling TV: Best for viewers who want to cherry-pick what they're actually paying for.

Sling TV is an extension of DISH, created for viewers to simulate watching live TV without paying a $100 monthly cable bill. Choose from a slew of packages, additions and extra to customize your experience.

COVID-19 availability. In response to the coronavirus outbreak, Sling TV has initiated Stay in & SLING, which is giving free access to the Sling Blue package for 14 days.

  • Huge selection. Choose from more than a 1000 channels.
  • Sling Free. Rather than dive into a subscription, you can browse different channels for free — renting movies and TV shows as you go before opting for a subscription.
  • International options. Find channels in Spanish, along with other international options.
  • Extras. Add-ons can mean you pay more in the long haul for your subscription than you might have intended.
  • Commercials. You sit through the same commercial breaks you would watch with regular cable television.
Service type Pay TV
Free trial 3 days
Pricing $30/mo
Simultaneous streams 3
  • A&E
  • Cartoon Network
  • HGTV
  • Discovery
  • Bravo

AT&T TV: Best for those who are looking for a solid cable replacement to stream live, primetime TV, including premium channels.

AT&T TV Now is the newest extension of AT&T, a major cable company. It offers streaming of live, primetime TV and premium channels like HBO.
  • Cloud DVR. 500 hours of cloud storage are available to you.
  • Simultaneous streaming. Watch on up to three devices at the same time without running into quality issues.
  • Access to premium channels. Depending on the package you choose, AT&T TV NOW offers access to HBO and Cinemax.
  • Pricey. Compared to other streaming services, its cheapest package cost a high $65 monthly.
  • Monthly payment. There's no option to purchase an annual subscription to save a little money.
Pricing $59.99/mo
Simultaneous streams 3
  • Comedy Central
  • MTV
  • BET
  • HGTV
  • ESPN
  • Disney Junior

Disney+: Best for kids and adults who love classic Disney movies, Pixar and Marvel content.

One of the newest streaming services out there, Disney+ is widely popular. It caters to more than princess movies and cartoons — Star Wars, National Geographic and Marvel content is among its most popular streams.
  • Bundle. For $12.99 a month you can bundle your Disney+ ESPN and Hulu.
  • Unlimited downloads. Download and watch any show or movie offline.
  • Variety. Choose from exclusive documentaries, feature films, series and popular shorts.
  • Streaming quality. There's no way to adjust the streaming quality.
  • Watch list. Adding content to your watch list is clunky and not intuitive.
Pricing $7.99/mo
Simultaneous streams 4
  • The Mandalorian
  • The World According to Jeff Goldblum
  • Lady and the Tramp
  • Moana
  • Frozen 2

How do I find the best online streaming service for me?

When you’re hunting for the best streaming service for you, consider the following:

  • Content library. It’s good to know what you’re looking to watch with a streaming service before you invest in one, whether that be live TV, sports or a newly released movie.
  • Price. There is no one size fits all when it comes to how much streaming will cost. Consider if you want to pay monthly, annually or if you want to go with a free service.
  • Offline viewing. If you travel often, finding a service you can view offline might be worth it. Compatibility. Look for a service that streams with the devices you own.
  • Customer support. It’s nice to know you can contact a responsive customer support team who is waiting to help.
  • Plan variety. Some services offer various tiers to fit your viewing habits as well as your budget.
  • Special perks. Some platforms offer discounts for students, or run promotions for a free trial.

Bottom line

If you’re looking to add to your streaming library, or want to cut the cable cord, compare online streaming services.

Frequently asked questions

Do you need cable to subscribe to a streaming service?

Yes. Internet TV requires that you have the Internet to stream.

Do I need to sign a contract when I purchase a subscription with a streaming service?

Not usually. Online streaming services make a big deal out of offering no contracts. You can generally cancel your subscription at any time.

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