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Top 10 Best Streaming Services in 2021

Planning to switch from cable to streaming videos online? Here are our favorite streaming services, the result of multiple hours of research by OwlRatings’ experts.

Reasons to look for a good streaming service

In the time it takes Shonda Rhimes to produce another episode of Grey’s Anatomy, it feels like a new streaming service gets invented. Discovery+, Disney+ and Apple TV are all streaming services that have been released within the past two years.

This speaks volumes to the rapid growth happening in the streaming service industry. And it’s good news. More streaming platforms means more shows and better entertainment.

Plus, it means you can finally get rid of your cable box and enjoy the seamless streaming experience. Perhaps you’ll even save a few bucks while you’re at it.

However, we understand that all these options can feel overwhelming. So, we’re here to help. In the following guide, we’ve listed the best streaming services in 2021. We’ve also provided a tutorial to enlighten you how to use them. Let’s dig in.

Best overall for movies & TV shows

Amazon Prime Video streaming service

Amazon Prime Video streaming service

This streaming service offers a ton of new movies & TV shows. Some are even Amazon originals, meaning they aren’t available elsewhere. Besides, they offer a free one-month trial, subtitles and other benefits when shopping at Amazon. A lot of value for the price and therefore our first choice.

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Amazon Prime Video is often given the second position – behind Netflix. However, it is an equally strong and reliable streaming platform with high-quality content and an exceptional catalog of classic movies. Recently they have added a lot more high quality movies & TV shows. Plus, you can enjoy your favorite NFL games every Thursday night.

Now, if you’re already subscribed to Amazon Prime membership, the streaming service is offered as a bonus. If you aren’t a member, it’s still worth paying the subscription fee, especially if you love the original content they put out. Shows like “The Man in the High Castle” and “Homecoming” remain a fan-favorite.

The only area where Amazon Prime Video falls short is the lack of a sizable catalog of both original and network content. But if you already have a Prime subscription, we recommend giving it a try before considering alternatives. Make sure to check our top 50 list of best movies on Amazon Prime Video.

Runner Up for Movies & TV Shows

Netflix streaming service

Netflix streaming service

Its playback feature is among the best we’ve tested. Apart from the usual 10-second rewind and fast forward buttons, you can browse the list of all episodes by season.

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Netflix is one of the pioneers of the streaming service industry, so it comes as no surprise that its platform is in the top. A key aspect that makes it stand out is the extensive catalog of films, TV shows, comedy specials, and original programs.

Unlike most streaming services, Netflix lets you binge classic shows as well. Iconic shows such as The Office, The Andy Griffith Show, That 70’s Show and The West Wing are all available. Lately, Netflix’ collection of original shows is also in high demand. Just think about the buzz surrounding films like The Haunting of Hill House, and Stranger Things. Or Roma, which won three Oscars!

Better yet, Netflix allows you to create a maximum of five different profiles on just one account. It means you can share your account without worrying about the other users messing up your recommendations or profile. When it comes to pricing, Netflix is certainly not the cheapest. But it offers fairly reasonable plans, starting with the Basic which sets you back $9 a month. If you go for this one, make sure to check out or list of the best movies on Netflix. Also, our list of best TV shows on Netflix.

Best affordable

Peacock streaming service

Peacock streaming service

Peacock still offers free trials to new subscribers. Once you choose a Premium package, you get a seven-day trial. What’s more, if you sign up through an Android platform, you can access NBC’s Premium tier for free for three months.

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If you’re testing the waters of streaming services, choosing a platform that offers a free starter package might be a good option. This is precisely what you get when you sign up for Peacock, a streaming service created by NBCUniversal, not too long ago.

The free package, which you won’t get from giant streaming services like Netflix and Hulu, offers up to 13,000 hours of content. The only bummer is that the content contains ads, so be prepared for a couple of interruptions. However, you can always upgrade to the Premium package, which does not have ads.

Apart from pricing, its collection of content is another reason that makes Peacock so popular. You get to watch everything under the sun, from live news events to sports, the latest films and several original series. This streaming service showcases several standout shows like Parks and Recreation or The Bourne Identity.

Initially, this streaming service was lacking in that it wasn’t compatible with popular streaming devices like Roku. But as of September last year, NBC struck a deal with Roku, which saw Peacock app become available on Roku gadgets.

Best for family TV shows

Disney Plus streaming service

Disney Plus streaming service

Its ability to stream content on four devices without upgrading to a higher plan stands out. By contrast, you’d need to subscribe to Netflix Premium plan to stream content on four devices.

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If you like to binge-watch with your family, Disney+ is the ultimate streaming service. Though it’s a latecomer to the streaming industry, its affordable pricing and emphasis on family-friendly content have enabled it to rise to the top.

Another selling point for this streaming platform entails its iconic collection of movies and shows. It showcases tons of classic animated films that are hidden away in the “Disney Vault.” Its most recent releases- “Frozen II” and “Onward”- have also helped to increase its popularity and market share.

Furthermore, viewers get access to every film by Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) as well as the Star War series. This includes hit movies like “Avengers: Endgame” and “The Rise of Skywalker.”

Although Disney’s main strength is its hard focus on family-oriented content, this can also be seen as a setback to an extent. This emphasis has put the streaming service in a tight spot as it cannot showcase R-rated movies. This has led to the exclusion of some pretty popular films such as “Logan” and “Deadpool”.

Best for prestige TV shows

HBO Max streaming service

HBO Max streaming service

Its parental control options are pretty impressive. They allow parents to restrict the kind of content kids can watch by creating a secret PIN and adding your child’s birth month and year. Parents can also customize the profile using suggested content restrictions or specify the movies and TV shows your child can watch manually.

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HBO Max is another new kid on the block. Interestingly, it already has so much content in store for viewers, and this includes the entire HBO prestige series collection.

Every popular series from HBO like Game of Thrones or The Sopranos and The Wire are all available. This streaming service also touts a couple of original shows like The Flight Attendant and American Pickle. HBO promises an even more action-packed catalog throughout 2021. It plans to showcase major blockbuster movies like Godzilla vs Kong, Matrix 4, Dune and more.

The only downside to this streaming service is its steep price. Viewers would have to spend about $14.99 per month, which is slightly higher than Netflix ($14). It’s also pricier than Hulu’s basic package that costs $5.99 and the Disney+ bundle ($12.99), which gives you access to Disney+, ESPN all in one. The only exception made is for individuals who are already subscribed to HBO or HBO NOW, as they won’t have to pay anything extra.

Best for live sports

ESPN streaming service

ESPN streaming service

ESPN offers broad coverage of men’s and women’s NCAA sports like ice hockey, baseball, field hockey, among other games.

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Launched about three years ago, ESPN is one of the strongest contenders in the sports streaming services niche. The sports sector may seem a little tricky given the essence of live broadcast. But, ESPN has garnered an audience by offering a considerable range of original on-demand videos and limited live sports events.

The key highlight of this streaming platform is its offering of most major sports when their seasons are on. The only two you won’t get are NFL football and NBA basketball. Otherwise, you can view every other sports event from baseball to MMA, UFC, NHL, college sports and soccer (both global and MLS).

Another thing that makes ESPN such an attractive streaming service for sports fans is the cheap subscription. For just $6 a month or $60 a year, you’ll be able to access its content.  And if you’re interested in other streaming platforms as well, say, Hulu and Disney+, you can get all three at a subsidized price of $13 a month.

Best for live TV

Youtube TV streaming service

Youtube TV streaming service

YouTube TV has an intuitive search page that makes it easy to find shows, movies, themes, or persons. The search tool is exceptionally fast as the results are displayed as you type.

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Not to be confused with the widely-subscribed YouTube free video service, YouTube TV is a streaming platform offering live channels and on-demand content. It gives you access to a considerable share of premium channels, most of which are sports, lifestyle and broadcast. In fact, it has more channels that appear in the top 100 list more than any other streaming service.

The biggest snag, however, is the high price. Just recently, it increased its cost to $64.99. On the plus side, the hike came with some additional channels like MTV, Comedy Central, and Nickelodeon. It also provides four major networks like CBS, Fox, ABC, and NBC.

Channels aside, YouTube TV has a pretty intuitive interface for streaming. It’s slick and surprisingly fast regardless of the device you’ve launched it on. Let’s not get started on the cloud DVR, which is undoubtedly, among the best thanks to the unlimited storage.

It’s seamless compatibility with a variety of streaming devices like Roku, AmazonFire TV, Chromecast, Apple TV, and Android TV is another key selling point. It even lets you stream your favorite shows from smart TVs, phones and tablets.

Best for a mix of on-demand and live content

Hulu streaming service

Hulu streaming service

This streaming platform is great at providing an extensive catalog of TV shows- both on-demand and Live TV channels- at a fairly low monthly subscription. It’s ideal for viewers interested in original and network programming.

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This streaming service gives you the best value for money. It offers an extensive catalog of shows from networks such as Fox, ABC and NBC, the majority of which you’ll be able to watch shortly after they’re aired. It also has a growing collection of its own critically acclaimed original series. And all you need to spare is $6 a month, then exercise a bit of patience since the starter plan has ad-supported content.

Another aspect that makes Hulu an attractive option is the flexibility of its plan. If you wish to watch family-oriented content or add sports events, simply upgrade to the bundle package. This comes with ESPN, and Disney+ for a monthly fee of $13.

Also, if you’re the type who likes to keep up with the most recent shows, Hulu is your best bet. This streaming platform airs recent episodes that are showcased through networks and cable TV. So you’ll never have to worry about falling behind on your favorite TV series.

Best for entertainment and lifestyle channels

Philo streaming service

Philo streaming service

It’s good at displaying content focused on lifestyle and entertainment. It’s also cheap, making it a suitable choice for viewers looking to save money after switching from cable TV.

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Philo streaming platform is based on three main networks: Discovery, AMC, and Viacom. When they found themselves cast out of the list of prominent streaming services, the three joined forces creating an inexpensive bundle, that is Philo. The $20 monthly price tag may sound a little pricey, but if you consider the live TV service you get, it’s certainly a better alternative than cable.

When it comes to content, Philo’s line of channels are mainly reality TV shows. In total, you get over 40 channels, including Discovery, Nickelodeon, AMC, History, HGTV and more. If you want more channels, all you have to spend is $4 extra. This gives you access to the likes of Nicktoons, Discovery Family and Cooking Channel.

As good as it sounds, Philo has one major flaw, that is, it’s lack of any sports-related content. This streaming service lives by one principle: it does not air content from networks with sports programming. This pretty much rules out all the major networks – from ABC to CBS, Fox, and NBC. The idea behind this is to avoid forcing customers to pay for sports channels that they’re not interested in.

Best premium

FuboTV streaming service

FuboTV streaming service

It’s best at offering viewers a complete lineup of channels. It’s also great for streaming sports, some in 4K resolution.

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Established back in 2015, Fubo TV is one of the few streaming services that has been around for longer. Back then when it was started, it’s primary focus was displaying sports content, soccer to be specific. But, it has since evolved, and it’s now channels galore. So if you’re looking for a platform that gives you access to multiple channels- be it sports or entertainment- this is just what you need.

Granted, this streaming service places an emphasis on sports. But this doesn’t take away from its other offerings. You still get channels broadcast through networks like ABC, Fox, CBS, and NBC. The only one missing is PBS. The platform’s news lineup is equally strong, boasting channels such as BBC America, CBSN, Fox News, ABC News Live just to mention a few.

Given the variety of content you get, it’s not surprising that Fubo TV is available at a premium price. The basic plan starts at $64.99 per month. There’s Pro, which goes for a monthly fee of $69.99, the Elite at $79.99 and Latino Quarterly for $99.00.

What to look for in a good streaming service

There are hundreds of streaming services available. This can make it difficult to choose the right one. To help narrow down your selection, here are a few pointers:

Catalog

The success of any streaming platform largely depends on the content it offers. This explains why a good number of them are investing considerably in creating high-quality original shows and movies.

Stranger Things by Netflix, The Handmaid’s Tale by Hulu and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel by Amazon are all great examples of originals, and they’ve all won an Emmy award. Resold broadcast content is equally important.

All in all, you’ll want to choose a streaming platform that offers different genres of content for maximum entertainment. On the same note, if you’re looking to enjoy the streaming services with kids, then look for a platform offering age-appropriate content, like Disney+.

Ability to stream sports

If you’re the sort of person who lives and breathes sports, then this is one more factor you should take into account. In fact, if you often prefer to watch sports events live, a streaming service like fubo TV is the perfect choice.

Cost

One factor that seems to differentiate these streaming services largely is pricing.

Some like Peacock offer a free plan. This would be good for a viewer who has not tried streaming services before. Others, like Hulu, cost less than $10. Still, there are some like YouTube TV, which costs upwards of $50.

So it all boils down to your budget. Ask yourself, “how much I’m I willing to spare every month for this service?”

Compatibility

Another factor you need to take into account is the device you’ll be using to stream. While some streaming services can be launched on any gadget, others have certain restrictions. So you’ll want to check whether the service is compatible with your current streaming device.

Simultaneous streams

If you live in a large household, you’ll want to go for a platform that allows multiple users to stream simultaneously. This way, you won’t have your kids always fighting over what to watch on the TV.

User profiles

A user profile keeps tabs on your viewing habits, allowing you to quickly resume to the TV shows or movies you were watching previously. It also lets you create your own watchlist containing your favorite content.

While some streaming services permit just one profile, some like Netflix and FuboTV let you create multiple user profiles. The latter is convenient for families or households that have a wide range of viewing preferences.

What you need to start streaming

From a glance, it may seem like using streaming services is a chore. But chances are, you already have everything you need to start streaming your favorite shows. And if you don’t, I bet you won’t shell out more than $50 to get started. Here’s a guide to what you’ll need:

1. Reliable internet connection

The foundation of seamless and hassle-free streaming is good internet connection. Here is a quick chart to help you:

  • If you’re looking to stream standard-definition videos (SD), you should have a minimum speed of 3 Mbps
  • For high-definition videos, however, the minimum you should have is 5 Mbps
  • Streaming HDR or 4k videos requires a much faster internet speed of 25 Mbps

Standard definition resolution is almost extinct. It’s very rare to find videos produced in SD because the quality of pictures is pretty low.

You are more likely to find videos in High Definition or 4K. In fact, Netflix is probably the only streaming service provider that still offers some videos in SD. Besides, they only do this as a way of advertising their lower-priced starting package.

On the other end of the spectrum is the 4K video format, which is known for its crisp and clear images with a great amount of detail. Unfortunately, putting out such quality pictures does take a toll on your bandwidth, which is why you need a faster internet.

The good news is, the majority of videos fall in the high-definition classification. So with as little as 5 Mbps, you should be able to enjoy streaming your best TV shows.

2. Streaming device

Apart from Internet connectivity, you also need a device capable of streaming videos. You have three main options here: a streaming gadget (designed for this specific purpose), gaming console or smart TV. Let’s take a look at each of these options:

Streaming gadget

This is the most preferred approach. All you need to do is buy a streaming device, such as Amazon Fire TV. Next, connect it to your TV through the HDMI port and voila, you’ll have access to every streaming service under the sun.

In fact, this is their biggest selling point, that is, the fact they offer a wide variety of streaming apps. For instance, you might buy a smart TV that lacks built-in support for HBO. But with Roku (a streaming device), you’ll be able to access HBO comfortably.

The icing on the cake has to be the intuitive interface of these streaming devices. They’re designed in such a way that makes it so easy to navigate. You can even search for a particular title across multiple streaming services.

Smart TVs

This is another common way of streaming videos. Based on this recent study, up to 32% of American households prefer to watch content on smart TVs.

In case you’re wondering, smart TVs are so called because they can connect to the Internet. They also come with built-in streaming apps, enabling you to stream your favorite movies with ease.

The only drawback with a smart tv is that it may not have to every streaming app you want. So if you like the flexibility of being able to stream from different services, you’re better off investing in a streaming device.

Gaming consoles

If you don’t have a smart tv and don’t want to buy a streaming gadget, you can also use your gaming console (if you have one) to stream.

But if you don’t have one around, there’s no need of purchasing one just so you can stream. Not unless you’re planning to use it for streaming purposes as well.

How to start streaming

And now to the fun part! How do you go about streaming the latest episode of “The Bachelor?” Follow these steps:

1. Connect your streaming device

If using a smart TV instead, jump to the second step. But if using a streaming gadget, connect it to your TV via the HDMI port, then to the power outlet. Once you’ve plugged it in, change the settings on your TV to HDMI input and begin following the instructions that pop up on the screen.

2. Connect to the internet

After plugging in your streaming device, you’ll have to connect to your local or home network. If you want a strong connection that won’t get interrupted when you’re in the middle of watching the latest episode of Bridgerton, look for an Ethernet cable.

This will allow you to connect directly to a modem. Streaming devices like Chromecast Ultra and Fire Stick 4K have this provision.

3. Sign into your streaming platform

With most smart TVs, you’ll find popular streaming services such as Hulu and Netflix, already pre-downloaded for you. But if you’re looking to use more niche-specific services, you will likely have to download them.

FAQ

Is there a need to get a streaming device if you already have a smart TV? 

You can still get a streaming device even if you have a smart TV for two reasons.

One, this gadget gives you access to a higher number of streaming services. Two, it has a more intuitive interface compared to the built-in options you get from smart TVs. This particularly applies to the search system.

Although smart TVs come with pre-installed streaming services, they limit you as you cannot add any more platforms. So for instance, if you’d like to watch Mulan, but don’t have Disney Plus, on your smart tv, you won’t be able to watch it.

Another massive benefit of streaming devices is their user-friendly interface. Navigating back and forth between different streaming platforms or searching for a movie across the streaming services is incredibly easy.

Can you use streaming services on an old TV which does not have an HDMI port?

Yes, you can enjoy streaming services, but only if you purchase a special streaming device. So far, Roku Express+ is the only streaming gadget compatible with such TVs. It can be used with the red, yellow and white composite jacks present in these TVs.

The alternative is to buy a HDMI to RCA adapter. This component transforms the premium quality of digital HDMI signal into analog; hence, making it possible to watch content on older TVs.

Why should you invest in streaming services?

Streaming services offer a ton of perks compared to cable. For starters, they offer a wider variety of content. They are also more affordable and have no hidden costs. Best part is, they don’t require viewers to commit to long-term contracts.

Final verdict

Getting the hang of streaming services can be a little confusing. This is why we’ve provided a detailed guide to help you navigate these platforms, and pick one that meets your needs best.

When choosing between the different services, ensure you consider factors such as cost, content, capability to stream sports, compatibility, user profiles and more.

Remember, you’ll probably be paying for its subscription every other month. So you’ll want to pick a service that’s affordable. The type of content that a streaming service offers is equally important. For instance, if you’re only interested in sports, then you can choose a platform that focuses on this niche.

Now, if you haven’t already, you should jump on the streaming service bandwagon. You’ll be able to watch whatever show you want, at any time, with the click of a few buttons! And if you choose wisely, you can save a ton of money from this cable replacement.

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