The streaming market is more crowded than ever. After seeing the success of Netflix, seemingly every TV company and studio wants a piece of the pie, and has launched their own standalone streaming service. But with each streamer charging households a monthly fee, not to mention clamping down on money-saving workarounds like password sharing, how long will the current model be sustainable?
That's a question for another day. For now, we're here to key you into the best streaming services around. With 4K, HDR and Dolby Atmos becoming ever more common, and a bursting portfolio of homegrown films, TV series, documentaries and other original content bolstered by extensive back catalogues of third-party offerings, streaming services offer more than ever for the TV and movie fan.
But which is best? Read on for the pros and cons of the most popular services.
How to choose the best video streaming service for you
Why you can trust What Hi-Fi?
With so much choice available these days, how do you choose? You can't subscribe to every single streaming service (if you can, we envy you); not only will the costs add up, but trying to find what you want to watch will also become unwieldy.
The first hurdle is pinpointing what kinds of TV shows and movies you like watching the most. Prefer Star Wars, Marvel and Pixar films? Disney Plus is a no-brainer. Love plenty of original content across the globe and a ridiculous amount of choice? Netflix is still the king of new 'content'. Looking for big-budget blockbuster fare? Amazon Video is a prime choice. Prefer limited but high-quality original shows? Apple TV should be your go-to.
You can also opt to subscribe to two services on the regular, for example, while dipping in and out of another's subscription depending on when a new show you're looking forward to will premiere. It's one way of keeping costs down, but without missing out on a great new show (or film).
All services offer varying tiers of subscription, from basic standard to top-tier 4K/Dolby Atmos quality. If 4K/HDR picture and Dolby Atmos audio are a must (and you have the relevant kit to enjoy this stunning performance), then it's definitely worth singling out the service that offers you the best picture and audio performance. Each service also details sharing plans and limits, which is handy if you're in a multi-person household and share your subscription with friends and family (just beware that Netflix has cracked down on password sharing, and Disney Plus is following suit).
There are cheaper ad-supported tiers popping up as well to counter the rising costs of each subscription, but there's a decision to be made on whether you're happy to suffer through ads in place of an uninterrupted 4K picture. The choice is yours.
- Check out the best streaming services for kids
The House of Mouse has gatecrashed the streaming party, taking some of the shine (and content) off Netflix and Amazon Prime Video.
Not only does it have a vast back catalogue of Disney classics (think Sleeping Beauty, Aladdin, Dumbo etc) but also modern classics like stage show sensation Hamilton and smash hit Frozen II.
Oh, and there are also vast offerings from Disney's subsidiaries Lucasfilm (i.e. all the Star Wars films and shows), Marvel, Pixar, National Geographic and Star (where a huge array of older TV shows and movies are available).
Quite a proposition. But what of the actual service itself? It's very good indeed.
There's plenty of 4K HDR content to enjoy, and you can download it all to your device to enjoy on the go. Audio technologies 5.1 and Dolby Atmos are part of the package, and the service is a cinch to get to grips with. It supports a wide range of devices too, from web browsers and smartphones to tablets, streaming dongles and games consoles. All of which gives plenty to enjoy, and not just for the kids.
Read the full review: Disney Plus
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What is there left to say about Netflix? It has a huge selection of original content, including Squid Game, Bridgerton, Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery, Stranger Things and many more. Admittedly the quality is a bit hit and miss, but whatever your taste, you're bound to find something worth watching.
It's a doddle to use, available on almost any device (including streaming sticks, smart TVs and games consoles) and it's now so ubiquitous that some TVs' remote controls even have a dedicated Netflix button.
You're not left wanting when it comes to picture quality, either. There's plenty to watch in 4K and HDR, and it supports 5.1 and Dolby Atmos surround sound audio. You can download shows and films to your mobile device to watch on the go, too.
Subscription plans start at £4.99 ($6.99 / AU$6.99) per month for an ad-supported tier in Full HD 1080p quality, but it's worth paying £10.09 ($15.49 / AU$16.99) for the Full HD streams (without ads). Access to 4K streams has been rising since 2021, and will now set you back £17.99 ($22.99 / AU$22.99) per month for the top Premier subscription. It's pricey, but overall we think that's still good value for the amount and quality of performance you get.
Read the full: Netflix review
Amazon Prime Video is another great-value service you'll find built into a wide range of TVs and mobile devices. There are plenty of TV and cinematic treats to binge on, including over 100 seasons of TV shows in 4K (many are also available in HDR10+). Amazon's roster of 'original' content isn't quite as compelling as Netflix's, but there is still plenty of choice, including The Lord Of The Rings: The Rings Of Power, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Bosch and Reacher.
Unlike Netflix, Amazon doesn't charge extra to access 4K content. The £5.99 ($8.99) per month option grants unlimited access to the Prime Video catalogue. Or shell out £8.99 ($14.99 / AU$9.99) per month for Prime Video with full Amazon Prime Membership (ad-free music streaming, free one-day delivery, etc).
Or you can pay £95 ($139 / AU$79) for annual Prime membership with access to music, video, free delivery and more. (In Australia, you can't subscribe to just Prime Video without full Amazon Prime.) From early 2024, a cheaper ad-supported tier will launch, too.
Whether you want an hour's entertainment or a long-haul marathon, Prime Video will slake your thirst. That said, if you're not already part of the Amazon ecosystem, Netflix is the better all-rounder.
Read the full Amazon Prime Video review
Apple's offering doesn't hope to replace Netflix or Amazon Prime Video as your main streaming service, but rather is pitched as an add-on to either. The content is, typically for Apple, very glossy, slickly produced and mostly family-friendly. But seeing as it's all created by Apple (with no third-party offerings in sight), there's nowhere near enough of it to meet your watching needs as your only subscription.
Like its rivals, it's become more expensive of late, but it only offers one tier, rather than multiple options with different picture quality and the inclusion of adverts. So 4K HDR comes as standard.
Buy a new Apple device, and you'll get free access for three months (it used to be 12 months, but sadly Apple cut back on that). Thankfully it's available beyond just Apple devices, with some brands of streaming sticks (like Roku) and smart TVs (like Samsung) also supported.
Picture and sound quality are superb, and the big-name talent onboard (Steven Spielberg, Jennifer Aniston, Oprah...) is undoubtedly a draw, too. There have been more new shows that have cut through the pop cultural consciousness recently – Ted Lasso, Slow Horses and Severance to name a few. Apple has said it's going for quality over quantity, but still, we can't help but wish there was more to watch.
Read the full Apple TV Plus review