Netflix versus the competition: How to choose a streaming service

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Netflix versus the competition: How to choose a streaming service

  • A quick comparison of Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, and six other popular streaming services.

Netflix may be considered the "king of streaming," but there are plenty of other streaming video services out there.

Before subscribing, find out which streaming service is right for you (and the five other people we know you're going to share your password with).

Netflix

CNBC Tech: Netflix Offline 1
Todd Haselton | CNBC
  • Price: Netflix offers three plans. There's the $7.99/month basic plan, which can be viewed on one screen at a time, the $10.99/month standard plan, which can be watched concurrently on two devices and includes HD, and the $13.99/month plan, which can be watched on up to four screens and includes Ultra HD. Warning: HD and Ultra HD availability is subject to your Internet service and device capabilities, and not all content is available in HD/Ultra HD.
  • What you get: Netflix makes a point of withholding just exactly how many shows and movies it offers, but it has a lot – after all, it is the most popular streaming service. The company also offers original content including well-known series "13 Reasons Why," "Stranger Things," and "The Crown." If you're looking for original content, Netflix is the place to go. The company creates more originals than any other streaming service.
  • Pleasant surprises: It offers subscribers select downloadable content, so you don't have to worry about faulty Wi-Fi. Users also have the option to create up to five different profiles – individualize your Netflix experience with features such as personalized TV show and movie suggestions.
  • Catches or gotchas: Netflix changes its content constantly. Meaning you could be halfway through a series and suddenly, poof, it disappears. And if you're a Disney fan, it may be best to look elsewhere — the company announced in August that it will remove its movies from the platform in the near future.

Hulu

CNBC Tech: Hulu Live TV feat
Todd Haselton | CNBC
  • Price: Hulu is running a $5.99/month for a year deal– after your first year, the price slides back up to $7.99/month. Or you can opt for the $11.99/month for a year plan that eliminates those pesky commercials. If you're really feeling Hulu, sign up for the $39.99/month plan that also includes 50+ channels of live TV.
  • What you get: A library of over 3,500 series and movies in addition to access to Hulu original series (no original movies yet) such as "The Handmaid's Tale" and "The Mindy Project."
  • Pleasant surprises: Hulu provides next day content from FOX, ABC, and NBC, so there's no need to stress if you forgot to watch last night's "This is Us" episode. Subscribers also have the ability to create up to six individual profiles.
  • Catches or gotchas: The $5.99 plan includes commercials, and really who has time for those? The biggest drawback though is that you can only watch on one screen at a time. AKA, don't even think about password sharing.

Amazon

The Amazon Fire HD 10 tablet
Michael Short | Bloomberg | Getty Images
The Amazon Fire HD 10 tablet
  • Price: Amazon Video is available for $8.99/month. Alternatively, you can subscribe to Amazon Prime for $99/year ($8.25/month) or $33/3 months ($11/month). That price includes not only access to Amazon Video but also to Amazon Music, unlimited photo storage with Prime Photos, the Kindle Owners' Lending Library and exclusive Amazon.com deals. You also get two-day shipping for eligible Amazon.com purchases.
  • What you get: Like Netflix, Amazon also withholds the exact amount of streaming content that comes with a subscription because "offerings change too frequently." However, it's speculated that Amazon has even more content than Netflix. The company does seem to offer the broadest range of TV shows, including original content from all of its competitors — Netflix's "Orange is the New Black," Hulu's "The Handmaid's Tale," HBO's "Game of Thrones" and CBS All Access' "The Good Fight," just to name a few. They also offer exclusive access to Amazon original shows such as "Transparent," original movies such as Oscar-winning "Manchester by the Sea" and the ability to add over 100 live TV channels for $2.99-$14.99.
  • Pleasant surprises: Let's face it: Amazon Prime is a great deal. If Amazon.com (or Whole Foods) is your go-to shop, you can't beat the $99/year package. Amazon also allows up to three simultaneous streams, live NFL streaming, an "x-ray" feature that includes behind-the-scenes tidbits, and downloadable select programming. If you're not ready to fully commit, buy content à la carte.
  • Catches or gotchas: If you have an Apple TV, you might want to think twice about subscribing to Amazon – the service is not yet available on the popular media player (but will be by the end of this year).

HBO Now

Daniel Acker | Bloomberg | Getty Images
  • Price: $9.99 for students and $14.99 for everyone else.
  • What you get: 4,300 titles, plus original content such as "Game of Thrones," "Veep," and "Big Little Lies," available at the same time as it premieres on HBO. Users also have exclusive access to "Vice News Tonight" and" Last Week Tonight with John Oliver."
  • Pleasant surprises: HBO's original content is killer. The company won the most awards at the 2017 Emmy's with 29 wins, even without its mega-hit "Game of Thrones." Like Amazon, HBO Now also allows up to three simultaneous streams.
  • Catches or gotchas: Even with all the superb titles, it's hard to ignore the comparatively steep $14.99 price tag. Additionally, there's a slight delay before HBO live programming reaches HBO Now (but it's usually only a couple of hours).

CBS All Access

Source: CBS All Access
  • Price: $5.99/month without ads or $10.99/month with 'em.
  • What you get: 9,000 episodes including CBS All Access originals as well as access to live CBS and CBSN broadcasts.
  • Pleasant surprises: Live access to CBS means you can stream those NFL games!
  • Catches or gotchas: …But NFL games aren't available for streaming on non-Verizon mobile phones, and in that case, what's the point? Also, be aware that original content is sparse for this newcomer service. Inventory includes only three original series, "The Good Fight," "Star Trek: Discovery," and "Big Brother: Over the Top."

DirecTV Now

A view of the lounge during AT&T's celebration of the Launch of DirecTV Now at Venue 57 on November 28, 2016, in New York City
Getty Images
A view of the lounge during AT&T's celebration of the Launch of DirecTV Now at Venue 57 on November 28, 2016, in New York City
  • Price: $35/month for 60+ channels (or $10/month for customers with a qualifying AT&T Unlimited wireless plan), $50/month for 80+ channels, $60/month for 100+ channels, or $70/month for 120+ channels.
  • What you get: Access to up to 120+ live TV channels (depending on your plan) as well as 25,000 on demand titles and Audience original series.
  • Pleasant surprises: DirecTV's live channel offerings are extensive. Both DirectTV's $35 bargain and Hulu's $39.99 deal deliver all five of the major U.S. broadcasters, but DirecTV's plan includes access to 15 more channels and is $4.99 cheaper. Not bad.
  • Catches or gotchas: Subscribers are allowed only two simultaneous streams, and the service is not yet available on the 1st through 3rd generation Apple TVs. Additionally, popular channels HBO, Cinemax, Showtime, and Starz all have surcharges between $5-$8/month.

YouTube TV

Susan Wojcicki, chief executive officer of YouTube Inc., introduces the company's new television subscription service at the YouTube Space LA venue in Los Angeles, California, U.S., on Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2017.
Patrick T. Fallon | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Susan Wojcicki, chief executive officer of YouTube Inc., introduces the company's new television subscription service at the YouTube Space LA venue in Los Angeles, California, U.S., on Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2017.
  • Price: A flat $35/month.
  • What you get: Live TV from 40+ networks and cloud DVR with no storage limits.
  • Pleasant surprises: Subscribers can create up to six individual profiles with separate viewing preferences and saved programming. Three of those six are able to simultaneously stream. But our favorite part is the unlimited DVR – now you can store all your favorite "Simpsons" episodes in one place.
  • Catches or gotchas: YouTube TV is only available in 49 U.S. cities, so before even considering the service, make sure your location made the cut. Other drawbacks include the surcharges for channels like Showtime ($11/month) and Fox Soccer Plus ($15/month), the fact that the app is not yet available on media players Roku and Apple TV, and that the subscription doesn't cut out ads from everyday YouTube. This service also isn't for you if you want an already stacked library of a seemingly endless supply of movies/shows without the hassle of having to record everything yourself. The $35 price only includes live programming (and your DVR'ed inventory).

Sling TV

Signage for Dish's Sling television service at the CES in Las Vegas, January 7, 2015.
Justin Solomon | CNBC
Signage for Dish's Sling television service at the CES in Las Vegas, January 7, 2015.
  • Price: Sling Orange is $20/month while Sling Blue is $25/month.
  • What you get: Orange includes 29 live channels and Blue has 45. Some channels also offer on demand content.
  • Pleasant surprises: What's great about Sling is also what's annoying about it: the add-ons. Yes, it's a pain to fork over extra for sports (+$5/month for 15 sports channels on Orange) and your favorite comedies (+$5/month for nine hilarious channels on Orange), but it also personalizes your viewing experience with the channels you love. Sling offers 31 add-on packages from "lifestyle extra" (+12 channels on Orange) to "best of Spanish TV" (+27 channels), ranging from $5-$15 extra/month, to allow subscribers to create the most individualized TV experience ever. Don't forget to purchase up to 50 hours of cloud DVR for +$5/month.
  • Catches or gotchas: Without add-ons, Sling offers a weak channel selection. Neither plan includes major broadcasters CBS or the CW, and ABC is only available in select markets with the Broadcast Extra add-on. Orange doesn't even include NBC or FOX. For whatever reason, Blue also doesn't include all of Orange's channels, like Disney and ESPN, for example. And although subscribers are able to access up to three simultaneous streams with Blue, you only have one with Orange.

PlayStation Vue

The Sony Corp. PlayStation Vue TV service is demonstrated during the E3 Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles.
Patrick T. Fallon | Bloomberg | Getty Images
The Sony Corp. PlayStation Vue TV service is demonstrated during the E3 Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles.
  • Price: 4 plans: Access (50 channels of popular live TV) for $39.99/month, Core (Access + 14 sports channels) for $44.99/month, Elite (Core + 26 channels mostly for movies) for $54.99/month, and Ultra (Elite + HBO and Showtime) for $74.99/month.
  • What you get: Up to 92 channels of live TV (depending on your plan), on demand content from some channels, and cloud DVR storage with no recording conflicts.
  • Pleasant surprises: PlayStation Vue is the ultimate streaming service for big families (or people who can't seem to help themselves from sharing their password with everyone and their mother). It allows subscribers a whopping five simultaneous streams and the option to create up to 10 different profiles, complete with personalized DVR and recommendations. And no — despite the name, you don't need a PlayStation console to access it.
  • Catches or gotchas: Content stored in the DVR will only be available for up to 28 days. Bummer.

Correction: Amazon offers original movies. An earlier version misstated this fact. Sling Blue offers 45 channels. An earlier version misstated the number. ABC is only available with Sling TV in select markets with the Broadcast Extra add-on. An earlier version misstated ABC's availability. With the PlayStation Vue, all content from HBO, Cinemax and Showtime becomes available on demand immediately and then can be saved. An earlier version mischaracterized the content availability from the three channels.