Want to know what the best streaming service is in 2021? It's more than just a matter of who's got the greatest movies and TV shows – though that definitely helps. It's also a case of who's got the best user interface on their app, and which offers value for money.
Netflix and Amazon Prime Video may have started the streaming wars, but users now have so many options that they're facing cable-sized bills just to keep up with everything. This arguably negates the initial point of streaming services, which was to help users cut the cord and keep the cost down just to have more entertainment options.
Picking the best streaming service, then, can be overwhelming and expensive – but we're here to help. We spend all day looking at these services, monitoring their original content, and looking out for what makes the greatest of the streaming services in 2021.
To help you choose which ones are actually worth paying for, we've put together this guide to the essentials, whether you want to watch the biggest Disney Plus blockbusters or simply Netflix and chill.
Best TV streaming service 2021
If you're a connoisseur of movies and/or TV, there's only one must-have player in town and that's Netflix. It is, unequivocally, the biggest and best streaming service, despite not always stocking its digital shelves with must-have new movies and TV. That said, this is the staple streamer you need to own if you ever plan on cutting the cord and surviving without it.
These days, most smart TVs have Netflix apps and finding a streaming box without it is the equivalent of finding a needle in a haystack. The quality of the movies and TV we tried – mostly streamed in Ultra HD – on both TV and on tablets is exquisite.
Since launching its own original content in 2013, Netflix's originals library has swelled to an enormous size, boasting dozens of award-winning shows including Stranger Things, Orange is the New Black, The Crown, Master of None, House of Cards and later The Witcher and Top Boy – you can see our pick of the best Netflix series in the US.
The number one threat to Netflix is its licensed content disappearing to newer, competing networks. Friends and The Office, for example, have both departed already. Both garnered significant audiences on Netflix in the US. Netflix will have to work hard to make up for those losses.
Subscription costs have gone up by $1-2 a month as of 2021, with the basic plan at $9, HD plan at $14, and 4K Premium plan at $18. But don't forget you can also give Netflix a spin with the 1-month free trial (opens in new tab) (in the US, anyway) to see if it's worth your money.
Read our full Netflix review
- Head straight to Netflix to see all of your subscription options (opens in new tab)
Amazon and Netflix are two sides of the same coin. That's not to say they're identical – they're definitely not – but the differences are few and far between, and Prime comes a close second in the battle of the best streaming services.
Like Netflix, Amazon Prime Video (opens in new tab) has its own set of original series – The Expanse, Hunters, and The Boys among others – but, generally speaking, they don't receive the same fanfare as their Netflix-bred brethren.
Although Netflix is as guilty for dud programming as the rest of them, it's worth mentioning Amazon Prime does get some pretty terrible new additions from time to time. So always check out guide to the best Amazon Prime TV shows before you dive in head-first.
The two big differentiators between the services are the fact that access to Amazon's streaming service comes standard with a subscription to Amazon Prime – meaning access to Amazon Music and premium delivery services.
A subscription to Amazon Prime will run up $12.99 per month, a dollar less than Netflix, but great value when you factor in the other benefits of the service.
Prime Video is available for PC and Mac, the Kindle Fire HD, iPad, Xbox, PlayStation, internet-enabled TVs and Blu-ray players, Sony's Home Cinema system, Sony's Network Media Player and myriad other minor devices that will go unmentioned.
Read our full Amazon Prime review
- Check out the prices of Amazon Prime Instant Video on its website. (opens in new tab)
Video streaming service Hulu (opens in new tab) offers big-name titles like The Handmaid's Tale, The Great and Family Guy alongside a huge number of titles from NBC, FOX and Comedy Central. It's also the only streaming service app on the Nintendo Switch.
Hulu comes in two flavors: the standard on-demand streaming service you've always known and loved, and the newer Hulu with Live TV -to learn more you can read our full Hulu review here.
The former works well and is well worth its cost of entry – especially since Hulu's price cut brought the monthly subscription to only $5.99 (you can also combine it with Disney Plus and ESPN Plus (opens in new tab) for $13.99 per month). Both the ad-supported and ad-free tiers will cost a dollar more from October 8, 2021, however.
Sure, it'll air with a few advertisements, but it's nothing you're not used to coming from traditional cable. On the homepage you'll find highlighted shows based on your past visits to the site. It's got a pretty great anime section, too.
The other option on the table is Hulu with Live TV, a cable alternative that will run you around $64.99 a month – which is, unfortunately, limited to the US. The service lives up to its name by offering you a bevy of live TV channels and 50 hours cloud DVR service and two simultaneous screens. This is a bit less than the next contender on our list – YouTube TV – which offers more screens and unlimited DVR space.
The biggest problem with Hulu is that it lets users run head first into the paywall, keeping you from the content you're most apt to pay for.
Some call this good business. Some call it extortion. Wherever you stand on the subject the fact that you get so much free content upfront means that the old adage of "you get what you pay for" definitely does not apply here.
Read our full Hulu review
- Explore your options when it comes to deals on Hulu's website (opens in new tab)
Disney Plus doesn't feel like it's trying to be the main TV streaming offering in your life. Instead, it's a family-friendly option that feels like it lives alongside a Netflix or Amazon Prime Video subscription. It has a very specific selection of content: Disney animated movies, Star Wars, Pixar, Marvel, and National Geographic.
Essentially, if Disney owns it and kids can watch it, it's on here, and often streaming in 4K for no additional price. The real reason to sign up are big originals across those different subject areas – WandaVision, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, The Mandalorian and Pixar's Soul, for example, all demonstrate an intention to invest big in blockbuster content for the platform.
The app is easy to use, with useful genre listings, and 4K streaming is included as part of the same $7.99 per month package (you can also subscribe for a year at $79.99, and bundle it with ESPN+ and Hulu for $13.99 per month). That basic monthly cost increased by $1 back in March 2021.
It's pretty well-priced, then, and as far as classics go, Disney Plus has launched with a whole bunch of fantastic movies. If you can't stream a particular movie on the service, too, a listing page will tell you when you can.
The library isn't nearly as comprehensive as Netflix or Amazon at this stage, but Disney Plus benefits from having a very specific angle.
Read our full Disney Plus review
Ask someone what they think was the biggest internet revolution of the 21st century and they'll probably say it was YouTube (opens in new tab). And with good reason – the user-generated video-blogging site has changed the online landscape forever.
It lets anyone, however well known they are (or not), whatever the quality of their content and wherever they hail from, upload their weird and wonderful videos for anyone around the world to watch at their convenience. The beauty of YouTube is that in the blink of an eye it's taken the broadcasting power from the bigwigs and placed it right in our hands.
OK, so it might not have stopped people wanting to watch a high quality, professionally made production in their living room TVs, but it's an insight into how TV might be produced in the future. After all with YouTube you don't need a big budget – or indeed any budget at all – to produce your own TV series and establish a massive following.
The free portion of YouTube will always remain the most popular, but if you're looking for quality content, YouTube TV is also an excellent option worth considering.
A subscription to YouTube TV is on the expensive side at $64.99 a month, but you're treated to a fair amount of content – 85+ channels replete with cloud DVR functionality. The service is available only in the US for now, however. Still, if you can get it in your area, it's the best live TV streaming service out there right now.
Read more: YouTube TV explained
- Head to YouTube to see whether YouTube TV is the streaming service for you (opens in new tab)
HBO Max is a new streaming service built on top of an old one. The next evolution of HBO Go and HBO Now, it takes the basis of HBO's content – which includes many phenomenal shows, like The Sopranos, Game of Thrones, Barry, The Leftovers and Succession – and adds a heap more content to make it into more of a Netflix competitor.
That's why a lot of the original fare we're seeing on the service so far is a bit broader in targeting different audiences, with Anna Kendrick's Love Life kicking us off, and Kaley Cuoco's dark comedy The Flight Attendant also feeling a little different to the usual heavy HBO dramas. You'll find original movies on the service, as well as series previously available on the DC Universe app, like Titans and Harley Quinn.
There's a big archive of existing shows to enjoy on there, too, like The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, South Park and Rick and Morty. The content channels on HBO Max are great, with Studio Ghibli, Adult Swim and Cartoon Network among those in the mix.
HBO Max's big 2021 initiative is releasing Warner Bros' blockbusters on the service day and date with theaters. That includes everything from Godzilla Vs Kong to The Suicide Squad and The Matrix Resurrections. Rather than being permanent additions, however, these premieres are removed from the service after a month. But they give you something you definitely won't find on other services, no doubt at enormous expense to Warner Bros.
HBO Max costs $14.99 per month for its ad-free tier, and $9.99 for 2021's new ad-supported tier. That's steep, but HBO's hit rate remains incredibly high, and the investment in originals should pay off big time in the long run.
Selected titles are available in 4K on supported devices (more info here (opens in new tab)), including the film premieres, with more 4K content expected in future.
Read our full HBO Max review
- See more and sign up direct at the HBO Max website (opens in new tab)
Sling TV (opens in new tab) is a kind of cure-all for the cord-cutting generation, something that we knew we needed but no company stepped up to make. That said, it's everything cable's not. It's affordable. It's no-obligation. And there are absolutely zero sales reps trying to stop you from cancelling your contract. Best of all, you won't have to give up some of the perks cable provided in the last few years like the ability to pause live TV or watch something that aired up to 72 hours ago.
As of 2021, Sling TV features two tiers – the more sports and family-oriented Sling Orange, which includes access to ESPN, ESPN 2 and ESPN3, and Sling Blue, which is more news and entertainment-oriented, featuring FX, SyFy, USA and Discovery. They're $35 per month each if you're a new customer ($25 for your first month), or you can get both together for $50 per month.
If the included cable options aren't enough, Sling TV sells several Extras that give you access to more channels for a variable price each per month. These are broken down by category – like Comedy Extra, Kids Extra, Hollywood Extra and so on. This allows you to access more channels.
Unlike most services, you can actually watch Sling TV for free. It hosts over 5,000 shows and films at any one time that requires no credit cards or log in to watch. You literally just head to the website and start watching (opens in new tab)!
Read our full Sling TV review
- Ready for TV binging? Go on over to Sling to see what you can get in full (opens in new tab)
There's something endearing about a streaming service that knows exactly what its audience wants. Crunchyroll (opens in new tab) is the best streaming service any anime, manga or East-Asian cinema fan in your life has always wanted, and it's firmly cemented itself as a leading offering of the best anime.
Founded by Berkeley graduates back in 2006, Crunchyroll started as a bootleg website of sorts where users uploaded their favorite shows without permission of the original owners. Not the humblest of beginnings. But now it's an essential offering for anime fans, even if some kind of combined offering with fellow anime Funimation is now in the works to shake up the market.
While you won't find genre staples like Dragon Ball Z, Digimon or Pokémon around, most of the site's 200-plus series are available to watch for free in SD, typically prefaced with a 20-second advert. Watching any content in full 1080p HD requires a $7.99 monthly subscription to the service, just be sure to check out the 14-day free trial before you begin.
Besides the slick web interface, Crunchyroll is available on iOS, Android, Windows Phone, PS4, PS5, Wii U, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, PlayStation 3, PlayStation Vita, Xbox 360, Chromecast, Apple TV, Roku, Google TV and Samsung and Panasonic's line of Smart TVs.
Crunchyroll free trial: how to get it
- For anime galore, go on over to Crunchyroll (opens in new tab)
Apple's newest streaming service has money bags and talent on its side. Launching back in 2019 with The Morning Show, an expensive drama starring Jennifer Aniston, Reese Witherspoon and Steve Carrell, as well as See with Jason Momoa, Apple is flexing its muscles to get the best talent.
Unfortunately, it doesn't have a deep content library, which is what the platform would need to be the best streaming service in 2021. At a very lean $4.99 per month, though, some of the programming here is well worth checking out – particularly Mythic Quest, a sitcom from the creators of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, and TechRadar favorite Ted Lasso. Over time, that library could develop into something great.
Apple has started making some pretty big moves to secure movies on the platform, landing Tom Hanks' WWII movie Greyhound, and bankrolling the next Martin Scorsese movie.
Apple also needs to work a little harder to get its app onto other devices. Pretty much every streaming service is available on games consoles, but not this one – and that's a real disadvantage.
Read full Apple TV Plus review
- Sign up to Apple TV Plus here (opens in new tab)
NBC Universal's attempt to enter the streaming market is buoyed by one big benefit: it's free to sign up and use, with an ad-supported tier letting you enjoy a healthy helping of its content for absolutely nothing. That said, a lot of the better stuff is behind a paywall – $4.99 per month if you want to access all of it with ads, and $9.99 if you want to enjoy without ads.
Peacock's originals haven't exactly captured our imagination yet, but the likes of AP Bio, Brave New World and Intelligence are worth a look. You can also watch new NBC shows after they've aired, like Mr Mayor and Young Rock, and the service is also the streaming home of Paramount's mega hit drama Yellowstone.
Really, you're getting Peacock to have the network's various brilliant sitcoms to stream on-demand. This service is the exclusive US home of The Office, and it's also where you can watch Parks and Recreation. The first two seasons of each are available to stream for everyone – anything past that requires a paid subscription.
But there's also a helping of great movies to watch on Peacock. Oddly, this is where the Harry Potter movies all live in the US, and while the first is free to stream, the rest need a subscription. The rest of the movie library varies between being free-to-stream and paywalled, but there's some great stuff to watch in there.
As of early 2021, Peacock doesn't support 4K streaming (opens in new tab), but it has other cool stuff that's worth a look. You've got a number of channels to watch within the app, and news and sport are also part of the offering, here. 175 Premier League matches are exclusive to Peacock this season.
Overall, then, it's well worth having around – but we can't help but miss the days where The Office was just on Netflix. It's hard to see how further streaming competition has actually benefitted users in that particular case...
You also can't get the Peacock app on Amazon devices, as it stands.
Read full Peacock review
- Sign up to Peacock here (opens in new tab)
Paramount Plus is the newly-rebranded version of CBS All Access. Its big original shows include the likes of Star Trek: Discovery, Star Trek: Picard and The Good Fight – a lean but decent selection that's set to grow over time with the incoming Halo TV show, a Frasier reboot, Star Trek: Strange New Worlds and new series set in the Avatar: The Last Airbender universe.
There are two tiers to Paramount Plus: $9.99 per month or $99.99 per year without commercials, and $4.99 per month or $49.99 per year with limited commercials.
As it stands, Paramount Plus is an okay streaming service with a decent enough selection of shows and movies – and it stands to improve vastly in future, should all of these originals excite. In addition, select movies from Paramount's blockbuster schedule, like Mission Impossible 7, are releasing on Paramount Plus just 45 days after they hit theaters. Like Disney Plus, then, a lot of the promise comes in what's happening in the future.
As a service, it's easy enough to use and nice enough to browse, and now has a watch list for users to enjoy.
Ultimately, if you're looking to cut down the amount you spend on streamers, Paramount Plus is one you can live without. Over time, though, we're prepared to change our minds on it – and it'll always be worth getting to keep up on Star Trek.
Read full Paramount Plus review
- Sign up to Paramount Plus here (opens in new tab)