The streaming wars are in full force with the recent arrival of HBO Max and Disney+. We could pretend Quibi is in the mix, but it never really had a chance. So in a crowded field, what are the best streaming services and apps for 2021?
For now, Netflix is still the king of the mountain. However, that could change as bundles like Disney+/Hulu/ESPN+ and streaming services like Apple TV+ are investing heavily in original content, and these upstarts are looking to take over as the king of streaming. And let’s not forget about true alternatives to live TV like Sling or YouTube Live.
When choosing the best streaming services for your home entertainment system, there are really just two factors to consider: which streaming apps have the most content you enjoy, and which streaming services fit into your budget? Essentially, streamers want the most for their buck. And it’s hard to blame them. Between YouTube and social media, there’s plenty of entertainment floating around for free anyway. But when it comes to flat out, binge-worthy entertainment, you’re going to want one (or all) of the top streaming services.
Below are our recommendations for the best streaming services to enjoy in 2021:
Netflix is the kingpin of the streaming services world. Think about it, when you ask someone, “have you seen XYZ on Netflix?” You don’t ask them if they have Netflix, you just assume, because it feels like it’s in everyone’s household. No other streaming service can match the amount of original content and overall content within the massive Netflix library. The streaming giant has signed huge deals with the world’s biggest comedians including Dave Chappelle and Jerry Seinfeld and has plenty of smash original hits such as Stranger Things and Ozark.
Netflix is available starting at $8.99 for the basic plan which includes HD streaming for one user on one device. The standard plan is $12.99 and two users can stream on separate devices. The Premium Plan is $17.99 a month and includes up to four devices as well as the ability to stream content in UHD.
2. Disney+/Hulu/ESPN Bundle
Talk about the “something for everyone” bundle. Disney+ for the kiddos (and if we’re being honest, adults too). Hulu for more mature content and ESPN+ for the sports fans in the family. Essentially, this is three streaming services for the price of a standard plan of Netflix ($12.99).
Disney+ features all of Pixar’s library, a huge catalog of Disney shows and movies (obviously), Star Wars movies and shows (including the original series The Mandalorian) and the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Hulu features award-winning and breakthrough shows such as The Handmaid’s Tale and Palm Springs as well as the latest episodes of your favorite shows. And, of course, if you’re a sports fan, ESPN+ is home to all the 30 for 30s, UFC fights and live games. You could pay for all of them separately, but bundle them together and enjoy all the home entertainment you could ever want.
3. HBO Max
BEST FOR HBO CONTENT
HBO Max started with a little bit of an identity problem. HBO Go, HBO Now, HBO Max — who’s who? Well, HBO Go has gone away, and HBO Now (now just HBO) is only for HBO content. That leaves HBO Max, which has a truly massive library of TV shows and movies from WarnerMedia, DC universe, Turner Classic Movies, Looney Tunes, Studio Ghibli, and even the entire South Park library. On top of that, you can enjoy all of your favorite HBO content like Barry, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Game of Thrones, but also content from Finally, while theaters remain closed, new movies like Wonder Woman 1984 will be premiering directly inside your living rooom.
HBO Max is $14.99, making it more expensive than both Netflix (standard) and the Disney+ bundle. There are no cheaper options with ads, like Hulu offers, and as of this writing, HBO Max doesn’t include any 4K content. Finally, HBO Max recently announced a deal with Roku, which will finally make the streaming service more widely available in 2021.
4. Prime Video
Prime Video has been losing shows as other streaming services have launched (you used to be able to stream The Sopranos on Prime), and Prime’s access to third-party content is dwindling, but the convenience and features available on Prime are still fantastic. For instance, you can stream in 4K and HDR (we’re looking at you HBO), and download content to your device so you can watch when you don’t have Internet. Plus, renting and buying shows on-demand through Prime is super convenient. On its own, the huge amount of on-demand content available for cheap rentals would make Prime Video one of the best streaming services, but Amazon has a lot more to offer.
Prime also has award-winning original content such as Fleabag, and Jack Ryan, but it doesn’t quite have the stacked original content library of Netflix or HBO MAX. Amazon costs $8.99 for the video subscription which provides access to the streaming library. For $12.99, you can get an Amazon Prime subscription which includes all the perks of Prime Video as well as, well, Amazon Prime.
5. Apple TV+
BEST FOR APPLE USERS
When you buy a new Apple product, such as the iPhone SE, you get a year of Apple TV+ for free. If you’re not in the market for a new Apple device, the streaming service is only $4.99 a month. With that, you get nothing but original content. And don’t get us wrong, there are some great shows like Defending Jacob and the popular documentary Boys State and powerhouse talent like Tom Hanks, Jennifer Anniston and M. Night Shyamalan heading that original content. But it does lack any sort of content library outside of originals like all the other heavy hitters. And Apple TV+ isn’t available on all devices yet.
6. YouTube TV
BEST FOR LIVE TV
If live TV is your jam, but paying cable prices isn’t, YouTube TV provides a viable solution. Unlike the likes of Netflix, or Disney+ which provides original content and large libraries of movies and shows, YouTube TV provides live TV from major networks like FOX, NBC, ABC and even ESPN. There’s also a handful of entertainment available courtesy of TNT, FX and Food Network to name a few. YouTube TV also features unlimited DVR storage and the ability to save recordings for up to nine months. It is still expensive at $64.99 compared to the best streaming services, but it’s more than likely less expensive than your cable bill.
LIVE TV ALTERNATIVE
Sling TV is another alternative to cable TV, but it still has more flexibility with pricing plans than YouTube TV. Now, Sling Blue is $30 a month and allows you to stream on three devices (it used to be $15 a month). Sling Orange is also $30 a month but only allows on a single device. Why would anyone choose the Orange plan then? Depends on the channels you want to watch. Sling Orange has far more sports and family-oriented channels while Sling Blue is more for entertainment and news.
Sling still offers a package to combine the two, called Sling Orange + Blue (the marketing department really went all out on that one), and it costs $45. Sling’s plans are a bit wonky, but overall, it’s a good service to cut the cord on your cable bill.
BEST FREE TIER
Unfortunately, the best streaming services aren’t free, but there is one exceptioon. Peacock — like the peacoock from the NBC logo — is the latest gargantuan media company to join in on the streaming wars, and they’ve actually hit some high notes in the process. Peacock offers a free tier that doesn’t have any limitations, with exception of exclusions from some content that’s for paying members. This includes 13,000 hours of content and 20,000 for paying subscribers.
Unfortunately, there’s a handful of NBC’s most popular shows that you won’t find on Peacock, like Friends or The Office, which are currently under contract with other streaming platforms.
The pricing tiers include a free version with ads, on-demand shows, movies and live sports. The premium tier is $4.99 which includes all the same features, but with more content (and yes, there are still ads), and a $9.99 version that unlocks the full content library and is ad-free.