The best streaming services: comparing Netflix, HBO Max, Amazon, and more

Bradley Russell
best streaming service

What streaming service is right for you? With more choice than ever (and more time to binge), it’s become imperative that you know what’s the best value for money and what shows live where.

If you’re a Friends fanatic, for example, then HBO Max is the best place for you, while Netflix’s continued rotation of new movies and shows could offer the best value for money. That’s without taking into account exclusive libraries and benefits through Amazon, Hulu, and Disney Plus.

So, a lot to consider. With NBC’s Peacock also just around the corner, we’ve crunched the numbers, and broken everything down into an easy-to-use guide on what’s the best streaming service – no matter how far your budget stretches.

Netflix

best streaming service

Release date: Out now

Where available: Worldwide

Price: $13/month (Standard plan) / £8.99/month (Standard plan)

Top five exclusive shows: Stranger Things, BoJack Horseman, Black Mirror, Mindhunter, The Haunting of Hill House 

The low-down: The granddaddy of streaming services and, for the time being, still the best. While the recent price increase may have put off those who are tired of scrolling through Netflix’s thousands-strong collection, which includes everything from quality Originals to straight-to-DVD subpar series, there’s still more than enough here to recommend Netflix as the big tentpole streaming service… for now.

The constant legal wranglings of exclusivity and rights deals, though, could sting across the next few years. The Office and Friends will soon depart (to Peacock in January 2021 and HBO Max in 2020, respectively) and the revolving door of content may not stop there as rival companies look to claw back some of their biggest names as their kickstart their own offerings.

Thankfully, Netflix is bolstered by big-budget exclusives that remains the talk of the internet. Stranger Things season 4 is on the horizon, while The Irishman felt like the legitimate cinema hit Netflix so desperately wanted to propel itself into the mainstream. That, when coupled with the likes of Mindhunter and Orange is the New Black, and new documentary Tiger King£5 means that Netflix is still home to some of the best prestige entertainment around – but its stranglehold on all things streaming is far looser than it was half-a-decade ago.

Read more: Already signed up? Why not check out the best movies on Netflix and the best shows on Netflix

Disney Plus

best streaming service

Release date: Out now

Where available: US, UK, Australia, New Zealand, and mainland Europe

Price: $7/month ($70/year) / £5.99/month (£59.99/year)

Top five exclusive shows: Falcon and the Winter Soldier, The Mandalorian, Forky Asks A Question, Monsters at Work, Loki

The low-down: Are you a fan of Disney? Then you’ll need Disney Plus. Sporting over 600 movies and TV shows at launch, the House of Mouse’s big streaming service is not only packed with childhood classics and rough diamonds from the entirety of Disney’s vault, but the promise of big-budget original productions means your seven dollars a month will eventually go a long way.

The MCU, for example, will form the foundation of much of Disney Plus’ roadmap for the next few years. From 2020 onward, Marvel Phase 4 TV shows will be dotted around the calendar – and they promise to be just as essential to the MCU-at-large as a movie entry, with rumoured budgets of up to $150m per show. The Mandalorian season 2 also lands this fall.

Disney’s also been hoovering up many beloved properties over the last few years, such as Star Wars and everything that falls under the 20th Century Fox umbrella, meaning that there are hundreds upon hundreds of hours of content to watch.

Of course, there’s also the price to consider. It’s cheap. Very, very cheap. There’s even a Disney Plus, Hulu, and ESPN package for $12.99 a month in the US which sweetens the deal. There are even Disney Plus downloads which allow you to watch shows and movies offline, even if they get removed from the service. The fact it’s concentrated to mostly Disney content means that variety may be lacking for some, so Disney Plus and another additional streaming service per month may be the way to go – and will only set you back around $20 a month total.

Amazon Prime Video

best streaming service

Release date: Out now

Where available: Worldwide

Price: $12.99/month ($119/year) / £7.99/month (£79/year)

Top five exclusive shows: The Man in the High Castle, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, The Boys, Good Omens, The Expanse

The low-down: If you can’t find what you’re looking for on Netflix, chances are it’s tucked away on Amazon Prime somewhere. Despite not boasting the sheer numbers of its big-name rival, Prime Video still includes several niche programmes – and even the ability to bolt on extra content (such as anime channels and MUBI) for a small fee.

It’s also worth noting that Amazon Prime isn’t just Prime Video. You also get the jump on certain Black Friday deals, plus access to great discounts on Prime Day. There’s also free one-to-two day delivery for those who dip back into Amazon often, which is around 90% of the world at this point, isn’t it?

However, there probably aren’t enough big originals to tempt you away, despite Amazon pumping money into some (ultimately failed) ventures. The Boys (and The Boys season 2 is on the way) is one of the best shows this year and The Marvelous Ms. Maisel rightfully won plenty of awards across its first two seasons, yet the quality is few and far between. The upcoming Lord of the Rings TV show, however, may change that mode of thinking.

Of all the roadblocks to hit Amazon Prime, though, region-locking might be the biggest. VPNs are an option, but if you don’t want to go down that road, you’ll be frustrated by what’s blocked for you, depending on what side of the pond you sit on. Some examples: Fleabag and The Sopranos are present in the US but not the UK. International streaming rights can be a messy business – and Amazon Prime’s lack of uniformity is worse than most.

Read more: Check out the best shows on Amazon Prime and the best movies on Amazon Prime.

Hulu

best streaming service

Release date: Out now

Where available: US

Price: $5.99/month (Basic) / $11.99/month (Premium)

Top five exclusive shows: The Handmaid’s Tale, Veronica Mars, 11.22.63, Castle Rock, Nathan For You

The low-down: Hulu was once the go-to streaming service for those who didn’t want to pay for cable. It still operates effectively in that regard, though now has the additional benefit of a handful of top-quality original shows, such as The Handmaid’s Tale, that make the small outlay even more worthwhile.

But Hulu’s main selling point still remains the same: you can watch network television shortly after it airs, including the majority of shows on major networks such as ABC and Fox. As a substitute for paying for a cable provider, there’s no better.

As a streaming service, though, it’s lacking in some regards. The animation on offer is great (Family Guy, Rick and Morty, Bob’s Burgers), though there’s no more than one or two killer must-watch shows and the Basic package includes ads.

It’s also not currently (legally) available in the UK – so Brits will want to look elsewhere.

Apple TV Plus

best streaming service

Release date: November 1            

Where available: US, UK

Price: $4.99/month / £4.99/month

Top five exclusive shows: Dickinson, The Morning Show, For All Mankind, Truth Be Told, Oprah’s Book Club

The low-down: The new kid on the block and, for now, the one with the smallest library. Apple TV Plus, though, is focusing on high-quality shows with household names instead of the scattershot approach of some of its rivals. Nine originals are available at launch.

Jennifer Aniston (The Morning Show), Aaron Paul (Truth Be Told), and Hailee Steinfeld (Dickinson) all form part of Apple TV Plus’ opening salvo, with visionaries such as JJ Abrams and M Night Shyamalan also attached to Apple for the foreseeable future. Jason Momoa even stars in See, another Apple TV original that’s indicative of the company’s wealth of talent at its disposal.

But compared to its contemporaries, Apple TV Plus struggles to draw attention. In a crowded marketplace, it’s destined to get lost in the background as far more eye-catching services stake their claim. Early adopters may want to be wary – though Apple users get a free one-year subscription, which is a nice gesture.

HBO Max

best streaming service

Release date: Out now

Where available: US

Price: $14.99/month 

Top five exclusive shows: Game of Thrones, The Sopranos, Friends, The Wire, South Park

The low-down: HBO Max had its big reveal event in October, and among the details outlined in the presentation was the price ($14.99/month), as well as a handful of names arriving on the streaming service, such as Rick and Morty and South Park.

Alongside that, a Green Lantern TV show is in the works, while new Game of Thrones prequel, House of the Dragon, will also be coming to HBO Max at an undisclosed future date.

But not everything has to be shiny and new to be worthwhile. You're also getting complete access to HBO's back library, which means if you've missed out on The Sopranos or The Wire up until now, you can rest easy in the knowledge that it'll be there for you.

Speaking of being there for you, Friends is also streaming on HBO Max exclusively, alongside US rights for Doctor Who and every Harry Potter film. $14.99/month may be too steep of a price to pay just for ten seasons of Friends and travels through space and time, but it's an extra cherry on top of a pretty sizeable cake, especially when you factor in content from Adult Swim, Cartoon Network, Warner, and Crunchyroll that is included. Plus, the entire Studio Ghibli collection.

Now TV

best streaming service

Release date: Out now

Where available: UK

Price: £8.99/month (Entertainment); £11.99/month (Sky Cinema); Kids (£3.99/month)

Top five exclusive shows: Chernobyl, Downton Abbey, Veep, The Walking Dead, Big Little Lies

The low-down: For those in the UK, Now TV presents a fairly cheap, straightforward way of accessing some of your favourite boxsets and movies without having to pay through the nose for a Sky or Virgin Media subscription.

There are no exclusives of its own to speak of, but Now TV regularly gives viewers the latest and greatest TV shows immediately after airing. Just last year saw the likes of Chernobyl and Game of Thrones season 8 available on the same day as Sky Atlantic through its Entertainment Pass, at potentially over half the outlay of a Sky package.

However, the negatives can outweigh the positives. Some of the heavy-hitters (such as The Walking Dead and South Park) will be removed from the service in early 2020, while wanting everything could cost a pretty penny soon that may see you scrambling for an all-in-one television package instead of the myriad Passes on offer. The library also isn’t as extensive as Netflix or Amazon Prime, but there are regular free trials available for new customers who wish to dip their toes into the water before committing.

Peacock (NBC)

best streaming service

Release date: July 15, 2020

Where available: US

Price: $4.99-$9.99 (free option also available)

Top five exclusive shows: The Office, Parks & Recreation, Battlestar Galactica reboot, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, House

The low-down: Fans of comedy will be immediately drawn in, to NBC's streaming service. The Office is arriving in 2021, while Parks & Recreation, and Brooklyn Nine-Nine will also be present on Peacock. It's free, too, though you have the option of taking on one of the Premium tiers. $4.99 will get you more content but with ads included, while $9.99 a month has no ads whatsoever.

NBC is looking to make waves elsewhere, too. A Battlestar Galactica reboot is in the works – and there have even been talks about an Office reboot. Whether the latter comes to pass is up in the air, but it’s proof that NBC wants this to stand out with a series of big original productions. With so many streaming services on offer, Peacock could slide in us the little brother to a larger streaming service. Alongside Netflix or Amazon Prime, this could be well worth the outlay come July.

Quibi

Release date: 

Where available: US

Price: $4.99/month (with ads) / $7.99/month (no ads)

Top five exclusive shows: Chrissy's Court, Gayme Show, Memory Hole, Most Dangerous Game, Punk'd

The low-down: On the face of it, Quibi might seem a little gimmicky. It can count the likes of a Steven Spielberg-created horror series, After Dark, among them. The catch? You can only watch it... after dark. There are also reality series, game shows, and bite-sized movies and TV episodes galore featuring the likes of Will Arnett, Bill Murray, and much, much more. It'll be interesting to see how this one pans out, though other choices may feel like much better value for money at this stage.

Sometimes we find that even international services like Netflix have different content in some countries than others. Or some of the US-based services like Hulu or HBO aren't open to viewers outside of the US. You can get around all of these restrictions though by changing your devices' locations via a VPN. Our guide to the best Netflix VPN will cover you for all the above issues though so you can stream the very best streaming sites around the world.