A Cord-Cutter's Guide to the Best Streaming Services

Ready for a life without cable? Streaming is not just Netflix and Hulu anymore. With the news that HBO will release a stand-alone version of their HBO Go app in 2015, and an influx of other cord-cutting services—including CBS's new All Access—we took the top five for a test-drive.

 

Netflix

Price: $7.99/month; 30-day free trial

Commercials: No

Taylor Schilling in a scene from Netflix's Orange is the New Black
Taylor Schilling in a scene from Netflix's Orange is the New Black

Pros: Content is king. Netflix boasts the best original programming, including Orange is the New Black, House of Cards, and Arrested Development, along with the resurrection of The Killing. Plus, it recently caused an explosion of Interweb ecstasy for adding full seasons of Friends, Gilmore Girls, and Twin Peaks.Though the company declines to disclose its total number of titles, Netflix is reported to have the largest library of all services.

Cons: Beyond the fact that TV episodes air only after the next season of the show has premiered on TV, the Netflix catalog has some holes. Yes, we're thrilled about Friends and Gilmore Girls, but you let your rights to Dawson's Creek and Felicity expire. If you want to stay on top, Netflix, please keep your selection flush with '90s nostalgia-bait.

Bottom Line: Largest number of titles aside, the superb original programming is reason enough to sign up.

 

 

Hulu Plus

Price: $7.99/month; one-week free trial

Commercials: Yes

Gina Rodriguez as Jane, Andrea Navedo as Xo, and Ivonne Coll as Alba, in Jane the Virgin
Gina Rodriguez as Jane, Andrea Navedo as Xo, and Ivonne Coll as Alba, in Jane the Virgin

Pros: Hulu's premium service wins for freshest TV content. There's a mix of current favorites like The Mindy Project and Scandal along with recent premieres like Gotham and Jane the Virgin. And most episodes are posted online the day after they've aired. Bonus points for creative search categories like "Classic Literature on the Small Screen" (the BBC's beloved rendition of Pride and Prejudice). Navigation is a cinch, too. Like Netflix, Hulu's interface is sleek, seamless and user-friendly.

Cons: Though nearly every current sitcom, drama, news show, soap opera and even telenovela is uploaded the next day, some are stuck in the past. All Real Housewives editions, for example, are a whole season behind. The library is also missing heavy hitters from AMC, TNT, and TBS, like The Walking Dead and Mad Men.

Bottom Line: If you like your TV current (for the most part), Hulu's for you. 

Amazon Prime

Price: $99/year ($8.25/month); 30-day free trial

Commercials: No

Jeffrey Tambor in Amazon Prime's Transparent
Jeffrey Tambor in Amazon Prime's Transparent

Pros: Orphan Black, Downton Abbey, a few HBO shows (all seasons of The Sopranos, the first three seasons of True Blood, The Comeback, and Season 1 of Boardwalk Empire) and its own original programming, like the excellent Transparent, round out a solid crop of picks. While browsing, you can choose your show or movie based on a wide spectrum of moods, from offbeat (Veronica Mars and Six Feet Under) to bleak (The Wire and American Horror Story) to feel-good (Parenthood, Glee, and a whole lot of Nickelodeon shows). Access to more than 500,000 Kindle books and free two-day shipping on Prime-eligible Amazon products doesn't hurt either.

Cons: The cumbersome search tool can be frustrating.

Bottom Line: Quality shows, no commercials, and free shipping on that new bestseller — what's not to love?

 

 

CBS All Access

Price: $5.99/month; one-week free trial

Commercials: Yes

Julianna Margulies and Alan Cumming in The Good Wife (CBS)
Julianna Margulies and Alan Cumming in The Good Wife (CBS)

Pros: The new subscription service allows CBS fanatics to go deep with their favorite shows. Along with episodes and clips, each series' page reads like a blog with recaps, giveaways, and photo galleries — some of which are more random than others (i.e. Jenny's 7 most "outrageously adorable" moments from Two and a Half Men). Classic TV fans can enjoy Cheers, I Love Lucy, Family Ties, and Melrose Place, and a mix of other favorites, including The Brady Bunch (Seasons 1-4) and Taxi (Seasons 1-4).

Cons: Sure, there are more than 6,500 on-demand episodes, but the selection is random at best. You'll find full seasons The Good Wife and Blue Bloods, but only the most recent seasons of The Big Bang Theory and Hawaii Five-0, only the first season of the original 90210 and just clips from 2 Broke Girls (unless you download the CBS app). And no How I Met Your Mother at all? That is legen—wait for it—darily disappointing.

Bottom Line: Only CBS junkies need apply.

 

 

 

Crackle

Price: Free

Commercials: Yes

SEINFELD, Jason Alexander, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Jerry Seinfeld (Everett)
SEINFELD, Jason Alexander, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Jerry Seinfeld (Everett)

Pros: It's free! It's got all six seasons of The Larry Sanders Show! And it's the only place to (legally) watch Jerry Seinfeld's web series Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee online!

Cons: Oddly, Seinfeld is available in only a handful of episodes at a time and from random seasons. Safe to say, Crackle has the slimmest pickings of the bunch.

Bottom Line: Ideal if you're in the "it's not TV unless it's free" camp.

 

 

Coming Soon…HBO

The premium channel recently announced plans to launch a standalone streaming Web version of its HBO Go app in 2015. Hear that sound, TV execs? It's… the future.