The best TV streaming services for your smart TVs and devices

Which fits in best with your smart home?

The best TV streaming services
The Ambient is reader-powered. If you click through using links on the site, we may earn an affiliate commission. Learn more

Like smart speakers, TVs are a pretty good centrepiece to any smart home. They're big, they're eye-catching and you're probably going to use it a lot.

However, like speakers, they're also useless without content. In the case of speakers, it's rich music or podcasts. With TVs, it's TV shows and movies. More people are cutting the cord than ever before, and for a lot of people that means turning to a streaming service to get their TV and movie fix.

Read this: The complete guide to 4K Netflix

But which streaming services are the best, and what should you subscribe to every month? We've got you covered.

Streaming services: What to consider

The world of streaming services is varied, so it's time to ask yourself an honest question: what kind of TV watcher are you? Do you like to veg out in front of the TV and channel surf? Or do you prefer to look through a giant list of shows and movies and try a few things out?

From that, you'll know whether you need an over-the-air streaming service or something a little simpler. Over-the-air services are similar to what you're already familiar with. They're a bundle of TV channels with a bunch of added features, and the whole thing is delivered to you over the internet rather than satellite or cable.

Those simpler streaming services are the new paradigm. These are things like Amazon Prime Video or Netflix, giving you a giant catalogue of original and non-original movies and TV shows to watch. This is also a large area of growth, as Apple is set to announce its service on 25 March. Disney also has its massive Disney+ service on the way this year.

Once you narrow down what kind of TV watching you'll be doing, you'll need to consider some features. Most of these streaming services are designed to only be available to certain amount of devices. For instance, you may only be able to watch your Netflix account on six devices. Further, sometimes you can't watch two streams at once. Some services help you get around these things with multiple account support, as they realise that not everyone in your family has the same taste in entertainment.

Finally, once you sort through all that you'll need to figure out how much you care about specs. Are you happy with a simple HD stream or do you have a 4K TV and need some sweet, sweet ultra high definition action? Maybe you have an incredible audio setup and need that Dolby Atmos support?

We've broken it all down for you.

The best TV streaming services for your smart TVs and devices

Netflix

From $8.99, netflix.com

The biggest name in streaming starts at a low price, but that low price is a part of the basic plan. You're not getting HD streams and you can only watch on one device at a time. Upgrading to the $12.99 second tier plans gets you HD streams and up to two devices at a time. Finally, the $15.99 premium tier gets you ultra HD streams and up to four devices at a time.

On those devices, you'll be able to watch a growing selection of HDR 4K content on compatible TVs. A good amount of Netflix's original shows and movies are in 4K HDR, and that's going to be the company's standard moving forward. For all you A/V nerds out there, Netflix also supports both Dolby Vision and HDR10 standards – plus Dolby Atmos.

Netflix's library is constantly getting refreshed, and has a large, international collection of exclusives you can't get anywhere else. The company keeps investing more and more money into big movies, like the recent Triple Frontier and Academy Award winner Roma.

In terms of devices, it's hard not to find a device that supports Netflix. It plays on pretty much everything, and if you've got a smart TV of any sort it's a safe bet that it either has a dedicated button on the remote or is a preinstalled app.

As for the smart assistants, Netflix works well in two ways: On the Fire TV, Alexa can get you into your Netflix account pretty well and search for content. If you've got a Chromecast and Google Home, you can use both to control Netflix as well.


The best TV streaming services for your smart TVs and devices

Amazon Prime Video

From $8.99, amazon.com

Netflix's biggest competitor is Amazon, and for good reason. The online giant has splashed a ton of cash in the streaming world. It's got a vast library of content that seems to stay more consistent than Netflix. It's also got the rights to the NFL's Thursday Night Football for now, so you'll get a nice dollop of live sports.

You can get the base plan for just Amazon Instant Video, but the big deal here is getting it as a part of Amazon Prime, which goes for $119.99 a year. Not only are you getting a whole bunch of great TV shows and movies to watch, you're getting Amazon's shipping options and exclusive events like Amazon Prime Day.

Plus, you won't have to pay extra for 4K HDR on Amazon Prime Video. However, it does depend on what device you have. 4K HDR is currently supported on Roku 4K, Fire Stick 4K, Samsung Ultra HD TVs, Sony Ultra HD TVs, LG Ultra HD TVs, Vizio Ultra HD TVs and Xbox One S / X. That's right, no Apple TV 4K or Chromecast Ultra just yet – and honestly, probably not for a while.

Read this: The Fire TV missing manual

Amazon Prime Video works the best with Amazon Alexa, and that should be no surprise at all. Amazon's Fire TV – and Fire TV Cube especially – is tightly integrated with Alexa. Fire TV remotes have an Alexa button, for instance, while the Cube has a built-in Alexa speaker. Alexa is also integrated with the Amazon-owned IMDb, which will help you search for TV shows and movies by actor. If you're looking for the tightest integration between a smart assistant and what you watch, Amazon Prime Video is the winner – hands down.


The best TV streaming services for your smart TVs and devices

Hulu

From $5.99, hulu.com

Previously a joint venture between several media conglomerates, Hulu is coming under the wing of Disney as its big over-the-top streaming option. It's also your best option if you love TV. While the likes of Netflix and Amazon Prime Video receive seasons of TV weeks to months after they're finished, Hulu will put up an episode the day after it's aired.

The big downside to Hulu is that while it starts cheaper than Netflix, it has commercials. The non-commercial version is $11.99 a month. You're not going to be paying extra for 4K HDR or 5.1 audio, but you will be limited in what you can watch and where. Hulu's 4K library isn't as big as either Netflix or Amazon's either. Worse, you need wither a PlayStation 4 Pro or Xbox One S / X to watch it.

The big new advantage to Hulu is Hulu with Live TV, an over-the-air TV service that nets you over 60 channels for $44.99 a month. Available on pretty much every streaming device going, Hulu with Live TV gives you 50 hours of Cloud DVR and unlimited access to Hulu's entire catalogue. You can also watch on two screens at the same time.

There are a couple of add-ons, like 200 hours of Cloud DVR, unlimited screens at the same time, HBO, Showtime and Starz. One huge drawback of both Hulu and Hulu with Live TV is that – unlike either Netflix or Amazon – there's no offline viewing yet (though it's coming in 2019). So if you're headed for a long transatlantic flight you're out of luck. Speaking of the Atlantic, Hulu is only available in the US.

The future of Hulu is also potentially exciting, as Disney has taken a controlling interest in Hulu after buying Fox. Hulu is a prime part of Disney's future streaming plans, and it hopes to use it to complement its Netflix rival, Disney+.

As for the smart assistants, if you've got a Fire TV you'll be able to command your way around Hulu. If you've got an Android TV, you'll be able to do the same with Google Assistant. There definitely isn't the amount of variety as you'd get with Netflix.


YouTube Premium / TV

From $11.99, youtube.com

YouTube is still the king of online streaming, and now it's taking a step up with two huge new services. First, there's YouTube Premium, which will allow you to enjoy all current YouTube videos without ads and with offline viewing.

You'll also get Google Play Music and YouTube Music for free, which gives you two music services you can use to stream what you want. Both of these music services, naturally, make a great fit on any Google Assistant device you have – and let's not forget those Chromecast devices. There's also a family plan, which will get you up to six screens at once for about $8 more a month.

That's not all though, as there's also YouTube TV – a $39.99 per month over-the-air streaming service. You're going to get around 40 channels total, which is less than Hulu with Live TV but comes with one big advantage: unlimited Cloud DVR.

You can simply start recording whatever show you want and it'll record. You'll never have to worry about running over on cloud storage or anything like that. It all just takes care of itself.

The one downside to both YouTube and YouTube TV is availability. It's not easily available on every streaming device out there, and while YouTube supports 4K video, you're not going to be able to watch big blockbuster movies and TV shows in 4K. Anyway, the big omission here are Amazon's Fire TV boxes. You'll need to use a browser-based workaround to get YouTube TV on those devices.


The best TV streaming services for your smart TVs and devices

HBO Now

From $14.99, hbo.com

Don't get confused with HBO Go, which is HBO's app for cable and satellite subscribers. HBO Now is a completely standalone streaming service that's pretty simple. You're getting HBO and all its original TV shows and movies in one place. So yeah, get ready to binge Game Of Thrones for the third time before the final season.

HBO Now is a bit disappointing in a lot of areas. You're not getting any offline viewing, you're not getting 4K or HDR, and you're not getting any big smart assistant integrations either. You will get plenty of HBO shows and movies, but that's about it. Plus, this one is only available in the US.


The best TV streaming services for your smart TVs and devices

Sling TV

From $24.99, sling.com

Sling was one of the first companies to start streaming TV, though they specialised in streaming what was on your cable or satellite box to your phone. Now it's purely an over-the-air streaming service.

Sling is perhaps the best on pricing. There are two intro plans, orange and blue, and both are regularly $24.99 a month, though they are running deals now that mean you can get them for $15 a month for three months. The orange plan includes ESPN channels and Disney while the blue plan doesn't have ESPN or Disney yet carries Fox, FX and Fox Sports channels. It's likely this will change thanks to Disney's acquisition of Fox, though. There's also the $39.99 a month plan, which combines both blue and orange.

In terms of smarts, Sling TV integrates the best with Alexa on Fire TV. Like other options on Amazon's TV streaming stick or box, you'll get to tell Alexa to fast forward, find shows, pause, play and more. The big downside to Sling TV is that a lot of features are an extra $5 a month, like Cloud DVR.

The benefit here is that Sling TV allows you to customise your experience slightly better than the alternatives, which require you to stick to their predefined bundles more rigidly. For instance, you can go with the more adult-oriented blue channel lineup and then add some kids channels to balance it out a bit.

You can get a good number of deals from Sling though, which makes up for the fact that it can feel like you're getting nickel and dimed a bit. Currently, you can get a free Roku if you prepay two months of Sling TV, for instance. It's also available on pretty much every streaming device you may have.

The best TV streaming services for your smart TVs and devices

iTunes

Pay-per-title, apple.com

Unlike all the services above, iTunes doesn't offer a monthly subscription service, but we're including it for the sake of variety - and because it's one of the best-stocked libraries out there.

iTunes is Apple's multimedia empire, filled with movies and TV shows that can be rented or bought. Great partnerships have allowed Apple to build iTunes into a distribution force to be reckoned with, which is why you'll find absolutely everything on here.

Apple's got an excellent lineup of 4K content too and - here's where it really shines - the largest library of Dolby-supported movies right now.

And with iCloud, anything you download from iTunes is available across your Apple devices. Even better, iTunes is rolling out to Samsung smart TV in 2019, the first time it's been available on third -party devices other than Windows. But otherwise, you're limited to using iTunes with Apple products.

FandangoNow

The best TV streaming services for your smart TVs and devices

Pay-per-title, fandangonow.com

Originally known as M-Go, the service got a new name after it was purchased by movie company Fandango. Like iTunes, FandangoNow doesn't have a monthly subscription and instead offers movies and TV shows on demand, at pretty competitive prices.

However, the fact Fandango is a theater ticketing company means it has some unique advantages. For example, you can earn "points" from going to the movies and then spend those points towards downloads on FandangoNow. This is also the reason FandangoNow scores some movies before other services on this list.

FandangoNow's 4K UHD lineup is decent, too, and actually quite reasonably priced for both purchases and rentals.

Another thing we love about FandangoNow is its movie bundles, which can be bought or rented, and have their own unique themes. For example, there may be a bundle featuring several Best Actress Oscar nominees from that year, or one that puts two similarly themed horror movies back to back. Or a White House Down and 2012 double bill (not kidding, it's there at the time of writing this).

Where is it lacking? While we actually prefer FandangoNow's categories over Netflix's (they feel more human and less like an algorithm) there's a lot of crap on here, particularly in the cheaper collections. We'd also like an Apple TV app.

The best TV streaming services for your smart TVs and devices

DirecTV Now

From $49.99, directvnow.com

DirecTV knows how to do satellite bundles, and its entrance into the world of over-the-top streaming bundles has also been successful. DirecTV is very popular, and owner AT&T is investing more dough into the service to make it more enticing.

The latest addition is cloud DVR, though you're only going to get 20 hours of recording. You only get two streams from two devices too, and a third stream is an extra $5 a month. However, where DirecTV wins is in the number of channels.

There are a number of packages. There's a $50-a-month basic package that gets you just over 50 channels with HBO included, a $70 package that ups that to over 50 channels, with sports and Cinemax. Then, there are packages that go into the hundreds, adding more live channels plus international and language options.

If you're into Brazilian, Korean or Vietnamese programming, there are also add-on bundles for $30, $30 and $20 respectively. Adding Starz is only $11 as well, and HBO is included (thanks to it also being owned by AT&T).

While DirecTV Now is the most expensive option on the list, it also comes bundled with HBO, which would save you about $5 compared to getting HBO separately. It also has a lot more ways for you to customise your package, though if you're not careful that can quickly add up and balloon your price even further.

Finally, DirecTV Now is also not hurting for compatibility. It's available for Apple TV, Roku, Amazon Fire TV, Chromecast, web browsers and both smartphones and tablets.

TAGGED    televisions

Related stories

televisions Playstation Vue guide: The plans, the prices, the apps, and more
televisions Leaked Nvidia Shield TV Pro and stick throw shapes at Android TV
televisions How to pair an Xbox One or PlayStation 4 controller with the Apple TV
televisions ​Where Android TV goes next
speakers Roku announces cheaper smart soundbar and subwoofer with Walmart
apple Spotify finally comes to Apple TV with a dedicated app
What do you think?
Reply to
Your comment