Skip to main content

Best streaming service 2021: Netflix, Amazon Prime, Now and more compared

Netflix, Disney Plus and Amazon Prime Video streaming services running on some TV screens.
(Image credit: Future/logos various)

If you're looking for the best streaming service in the UK right now, our answer is pretty clear: get Netflix. The problem is, though, that Netflix only covers some of the best entertainment you can find in the UK right now – and really, you'll want a few subscriptions on the go to feel like you're seeing everything that's worth watching. That's where services like Amazon Prime Video, Now and Disney Plus come into the frame. In this guide, we'll explain which ones you need, and which ones you can skip.

The greatest streaming services balance fantastic content with a decent user experience, as well as additional features like 4K options and offline downloads. Below, you'll find comparisons between the different streamers on that basis, and we'll discuss everything from user interface to picture quality and which shows/movies you can watch on each service. 

While the UK hasn't become as overwhelmed with streaming services as the US (yet, anyway), we've still got a lot to choose from here, and you don't need to be subscribed to all of them to have a dazzling array of shows and movies to watch.

It's worth mentioning that Sky Q – which we collectively think is the best TV subscription package in the UK – still requires a satellite dish, so it's not in this list, which only includes streaming services that work solely with an internet connection. 

These are the best UK streaming services.

Best TV streaming services in the UK

  1. Netflix
  2. BBC iPlayer
  3. Now
  4. Amazon Prime Video
  5. Disney Plus
  6. All 4
  7. Apple TV Plus
  8. Britbox

Netflix

(Image credit: Netflix)

1. Netflix

The king of streaming services

Specifications
Compatible devices:: Android, Apple, Roku, PlayStation, Xbox, Google Chromecast, Amazon Fire TV Stick, Apple TV, Smart TVs, YouView, BT TV Box, Now TV, Sky Q, web browsers
Free trial: N/A
Simultaneous streams: 1-4
Reasons to buy
+So much original content+Offers 4K+App experience is fantastic
Reasons to avoid
-Many originals you'll never watch-Additional cost for 4K-Free trial no longer available

Netflix is the king of streaming services in every single way: the content available to stream is fantastic, the app experience is the best around and it offers 4K resolution in its highest, most expensive tier. If you can only have one paid streaming service in your life, you won't regret making it Netflix.

We'd argue that Netflix UK is actually in better shape than its US counterpart, these days, because it hasn't been hit by the same onrush of new services that have siphoned away some of its most compelling content. That means alongside the best Netflix shows like The Witcher and Stranger Things, you can enjoy series like Brooklyn Nine Nine, Friends, The Sinner or It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia. With an onslaught of original content released every week, too, you'll always find something new to watch.

In recent years, too, Netflix has made better and better original movies. Oscar nominees like Marriage Story, The Irishman and Roma show the service is committed to theatrical-level movies – although obviously not all of its original films are great. Quantity over quality applies a little bit, here.

The basic tier is a very reasonable £5.99 per month for standard definition (480p) and one stream at a time, while the £9.99 standard tier will suit most households, with full HD and two simultaneous streams allowed. Finally, the £13.99 Premium Plan offers Ultra HD streams for content available in 4K, and allows four devices to stream Netflix at once. The cost is lean for just how much stuff you get to watch.

Try Netflix here.

(Image credit: Carl Court/Getty Images)

2. BBC iPlayer

A fantastic free option

Specifications
Compatible devices: Android, Apple, Roku, PlayStation, Xbox, Google Chromecast, Amazon Fire TV Stick, Apple TV, Smart TVs, YouView, BT TV Box, Now TV, Sky Q, web browsers
Free trial: N/A
Simultaneous streams: N/A
Reasons to buy
+Surprisingly great US TV options+Fantastic revolving film selection+Great British shows, old and new
Reasons to avoid
-Logging in with your TV licence details is annoying-Movies aren't around for long

Free for anyone who pays a £159 yearly TV licence fee – a subject that's become more and more politicised in the UK in recent years – BBC iPlayer is an incredibly high-value offering, and the app experience is world class. The BBC has revised its licensing agreements to offer new BBC programming for more than just a month, too, with many shows available for around a year after airing. That means it's better now than it's ever been. 

The BBC has a long-standing distribution deal with US cable network FX, too, meaning shows like What We Do In The Shadows, Mayans MC and Pose are available to stream on a long-term basis. Its range of classic programming is surprisingly extensive, too, and the service offers a regular rotation of great films to enjoy, though you usually only get a month to watch them. If you really don't like the idea of monthly subscription fees, there's enough to watch on iPlayer every day without you ever needing to spend a penny.

The BBC has trialled on-demand content in 4K, too, with some shows made available to watch in Ultra HD, like Black Narcissus and His Dark Materials. 

iPlayer won't always have the hottest new shows, but you can depend on it for more than just high-quality British entertainment. The app, available on most major platforms, is great, with profiles, saved progress and a child-friendly content option. 

Try BBC iPlayer here

Best streaming services now

(Image credit: Future)

3. Now

The home of HBO and Sky shows

Specifications
Compatible devices: Android, Apple, Roku, PlayStation, Xbox, Google Chromecast, Amazon Fire TV Stick, Apple TV, Smart TVs, YouView, BT TV Box, Now TV, web browsers
Free trial: 7 days
Simultaneous streams: 2 (3 with boost)
Reasons to buy
+The best TV shows from the US+Flexibility in passes+Features live TV
Reasons to avoid
-UI isn't the greatest-New US shows don't always stick around-720p streaming resolution as standard

Sky does have an existing streaming app for subscribers that's available on pretty much any device you can name, but Now (previously known as Now TV) is its no-commitment streaming offering. Depending on the pass you get, too, you can watch Sky channels live as part of your subscription.

Now passes are divided across subject areas, each with their own monthly subscription fee: Sky Cinema (£11.99 per month), Kids Pass (£3.99 per month), Entertainment (£9.99 per month), and Hayu (£4.99 a month for all the reality TV nonsense you can handle). Sky Cinema covers movies, while the Entertainment pass covers TV shows.

The default streaming resolution is a not-so-great 720p, and an extra £3 a month (under the name Boost) unlocks 1080p streaming and the ability to stream on three devices rather than two. That's a weird thing to charge extra for, if you ask us. Annoyingly, the current sign-up page adds the Boost element as part of your free trial, though you can remove it in the basket. 

While the app experience could be better, the programming is top quality. That's because Sky has overall deals with the likes of HBO and Showtime, and is spending all-time high amounts on its own original programming, like Chernobyl, Brassic and Gangs of London.

The downside is that its US content can be more seasonal, with HBO shows vanishing from the service after a few months. Still, Now TV always tells you when a show expires with plenty of notice so you can play your viewing accordingly. Shows that disappear tend to return down the line, too, so you get another chance to watch them.

In terms of movies, too, Sky feels like it's had a slower year during the pandemic due to the delay of theatrical releases – while Netflix hasn't ceased with the great original movies. That said, recent releases like Promising Young Woman, Zack Snyder's Justice League and Unhinged reiterate the strong value of the service. 

The two tiers for 720p and 1080p is a little weird, but £9.99 isn't bad at all for the well-maintained archive of HBO content here. A lot of the best TV shows are found on Sky and Now TV, and that won't change any time soon.

Try Now here

(Image credit: Amazon)

4. Amazon Prime Video

Netflix's main rival has a lot to offer

Specifications
Compatible devices: Android, Apple, Roku, PlayStation, Xbox, Google Chromecast, Amazon Fire TV Stick, Apple TV, Smart TVs, YouView, BT TV Box, web browsers
Free trial: 30 days
Simultaneous streams: 2
Reasons to buy
+Originals get better and better+Loads of great US imports+Part of an Amazon Prime membership
Reasons to avoid
-UI is pretty messy-Encourages you to spend extra-Not all channels are worthwhile

Amazon Prime Video is one of the main perks of being a Prime member (which costs £7.99 per month), along with priority delivery. It's a great streaming service in terms of content, but one big thing counts against Amazon Prime Video: its overly busy UI. The app feels almost deliberately obtuse, and Prime Video gives slightly too much prominence to paid rentals compared to its freely-streaming content.

On the more positive side, the single monthly fee gets you access to 4K streams, clearly marked as 4K UHD in the app. Outside of Amazon Originals, though, don't expect a vast selection of 4K content to watch right now.

Amazon Prime Video UK has a terrific range of content. If you like older US TV shows, like The Office, South Park or The X-Files, this is the best streaming service for these kinds of series in the UK. Its originals are a muddled bunch, but with the likes of The Boys, The Expanse and The Marvelous Mrs Maisel, there's been plenty that's worth watching from the last few years. You've also got the option to spend more on Amazon Prime Channels, some of which are worthwhile (like BFI Player, Shudder or Starzplay), and others of which are more of an acquired taste.

Amazon UK has also been busy acquiring original films for the platform, too, like the Borat sequel and Coming 2 America. 

With some UI tweaks, though, Amazon Prime would stand up well next to the world's biggest streaming service. It doesn't offer quite as much original content as Netflix, but in the UK, it's definitely one of the best streaming services around.

Try Amazon Prime Video here.

Disney Plus

(Image credit: Disney)

5. Disney Plus

A family-friendly service that just got an upgrade

Specifications
Compatible devices: Android, Apple, Roku, PlayStation, Xbox, Google Chromecast, Amazon Fire TV Stick, Apple TV, Smart TVs, Now TV, Sky Q, web browsers
Free trial: N/A
Simultaneous streams: 4
Reasons to buy
+Amazing suite of Disney animated classics+One price tier for 4K+Now features adult-friendly content
Reasons to avoid
-Needs more must-watch originals

Disney Plus has been around in the UK for a little while, now, and it's just started to kick into high gear. For a long time, the service's main selling point was Star Wars original The Mandalorian – but 2021 is the year Marvel series have finally begun hitting the platform, including WandaVision, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier and Loki

Disney Plus has at least 10 TV shows coming from Marvel in total, and another 10+ from the Star Wars universe. That's a lot to look forward to. 

In the UK, too, Disney Plus launched Star in February 2021 – this addition to the service has doubled the amount of content available to stream, adding adult shows and movies to the platform, and includes new originals like Big Sky and Solar Opposites, with many more to come. 

And that's not even mentioning the core part of the offering. The increased price point of £7.99 a month (or £79.90 for a year) unlocks a rich archive of Disney, Pixar, Marvel and Star Wars films – available to stream in 4K and HDR, in many cases, for no extra cost. In addition, you have a complete 31-season archive of The Simpsons, which is a real treat. 

This is a great service, that might climb higher up this list if the terrific content keeps coming. 

Sign up to Disney Plus here

All 4

(Image credit: Future)

6. All 4

Another great free streaming option

Specifications
Compatible devices: Android, Apple, Roku, PlayStation, Xbox, Google Chromecast, Amazon Fire TV Stick, Apple TV, Smart TVs, YouView, BT TV Box, Sky Q, web browsers
Free trial: N/A
Simultaneous streams: N/A
Reasons to buy
+A surprising range of shows to watch+Downloadable programming+Films available, too
Reasons to avoid
-Ads may test your patience

Channel 4's free, ad-supported (though you can remove ads for £3.99 per month) streaming option is impressive and incredibly varied. As well as classic homegrown series like The Inbetweeners, Stath Lets Flats, Peep Show and Friday Night Dinner, All 4 has a payload of US boxsets to stream. That includes every episode of classic US sitcoms like Seinfeld and Malcolm in the Middle at the time of writing, as well as all seasons of ER. 

In addition to this, All 4 has three other great show categories worth mentioning – the service features anime in its library, as well as numerous shows from the Adult Swim network in the US and Vice's series of documentaries.

You can watch live TV through the All4 app, which is available on most major platforms, and you can download some shows to go. It's a terrific free option, that combined with iPlayer, means you've got plenty to stream without spending anything. 

Try All4 here

Apple TV Plus

(Image credit: Apple)

7. Apple TV Plus

The electronics giant hasn't dazzled us yet

Specifications
Compatible devices: Apple, Smart TVs, Amazon Fire TV, Roku, web browsers, PlayStation, Xbox, Chromecast with Google TV
Free trial: 7 days
Simultaneous streams: 6
Reasons to buy
+Expensive originals+Reasonable price+Nice app experience
Reasons to avoid
-Shallow catalogue-Few must-watch shows

Apple's streaming service made a big splash at its November 2019 launch with high-budget originals like The Morning Show with Reese Witherspoon and Jennifer Aniston, as well as See starring Jason Momoa. But it also arrived without any older stuff to watch, which means it's a lesser offering compared to the other services in this list. 

That may change soon, though, as one report says Apple is looking to acquire older shows and movies for its platform.

In the meantime, Apple TV's library is slowly growing, even if we wouldn't necessarily recommend you pay for it every month right now. Check out our list of the best Apple TV shows here. New shows are rolling out on a regular basis, and buying a newer Apple device gets you a year of the service for free. 

Series like Ted Lasso, Mythic Quest and The Morning Show make it well worth a look. Over time, this could be a frontrunner. Apple has the money to make it happen. 

In its favor, too, combined with an Apple TV 4K device, you can watch shows in Ultra HD with HDR. The app is now available on games consoles and the newest version of Chromecast, too. 

Try Apple TV Plus here

(Image credit: EE)

8. BritBox

For British TV fans who can't get enough

Specifications
Compatible devices: Amazon Fire TV, Windows, Smart TVs, Apple, Android, YouView, web browsers, BT TV Box
Free trial: 30 days
Simultaneous streams: 5
Reasons to buy
+Focused on one subject and serves it well+Will have some shows you like+Cheap monthly fee
Reasons to avoid
-Limited remit-Originals could be better-Not available on consoles

If you love British TV but somehow feel your needs aren't being serviced by the older stuff found on iPlayer and All4, Britbox is another option. It hosts the sort of content we're traditionally used to seeing on services like Netflix and iPlayer, with the offering bringing together old and new shows from UK broadcasters BBC, ITV and Channel 4. If you want a complete archive of classic Doctor Who episodes, for example, this is the way to go. BritBox has more British boxsets than anyone else, including harder-to-stream stuff like Thunderbirds. 

While competition is theoretically good in the world of streaming services, we're yet to be convinced this is always the case. More specialist services offer greater focus and depth, yes, but if the price per month to get it all is always going up, is it worth the trade-off? 

In the case of BritBox, we think you can live without it. Paying an extra £5.99 a month (or £59.99 for a year) for this kind of programming isn't that compelling. Great British programming can be found on All4 and iPlayer already, though admittedly this offers a deeper selection overall. 

In terms of exclusives, you'll find a few on BritBox, like the Australian drama Lambs of God, the revival of ancient sketch show Spitting Image and new drama The Beast Must Die.

Try BritBox here.

Samuel Roberts

Samuel is TechRadar's Senior Entertainment Editor, and an expert in Marvel, Star Wars, Netflix shows and general streaming stuff. He's previously spent six years at PC Gamer, too, so if you want to know which Command & Conquer is the best one, drop him a line.