In the early days of video streaming services, your choice was simple: Get Netflix. It's more complicated now, with Netflix battling other well-known subscription services, such as Amazon Prime and Hulu, as well as with upstarts including Acorn and Mubi.
These services make sense for people who watch a lot of shows and movies, and for fans of original series. But there's a better option for households that don't watch a great deal of TV—buying one movie at a time through a pay-per-view service such as Amazon Video, CinemaNow, FandangoNow, or Vudu.
It can be difficult to untangle your choices. This chart of the major video streaming and pay-per-view services should help. We'll be adding new services as they emerge, so keep checking back. (We also have information on the best streaming devices.)
|Service||Price||Who It's Best For|
|Acorn TV||$5 per month or $50 per year.||
Lovers of British TV fare, new and classic. Goodies include TV mysteries (such as "Prime Suspect" with Helen Mirren) and comedies ("Jeeves & Wooster," with Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry), plus dramas and documentaries. HD is offered when available.
|Amazon Prime Video||$99 per year ($8.25 per month).||
Anyone who's already paying for an Amazon Prime membership. It carries pay-TV titles such as USA's "Mr. Robot"; FX's "The Americans"; and HBO's back catalog of shows. Showtime and Starz can each be added for $9 per month. One caution: You still can't get Prime directly on Apple TV.
|HBO Now||$15 per month.||
HBO fans who don't want to pay for cable. Sign up to get all of the network's movies, specials, and documentaries, plus "Game of Throne" and "Vinyl." If you already get HBO through your cable package, don't pay twice: The HBO Go app lets you watch HBO shows on phones, tablets, and other devices.
|Hulu||$8 per month with ads, $12 without ads.||
Cable cord-cutters who don't want to miss out on broadcast TV. Hulu has current shows from ABC, Fox, and NBC; older ones from CBS; plus the "Seinfeld" library. Original content includes "11.22.63," a J.J. Abrams-produced mini-series based on Stephen King's time-travel JFK assassination novel, and "Casual," a comedy series from Jason Reitman.
|Netflix||$8 per month for standard-def video on a single screen. $10 for high-def video on up to two screens. $12 for 4K UHD video, plus up to four screens.||
Everyone. Netflix is still the king of binge. It has a vast library of movies and TV shows, plus now-classic original shows ("House of Cards," "Orange is the New Black"), and even movies (Beasts of No Nation). A deal with Marvel spawned "Daredevil" and "Jessica Jones," and Netflix subscribers will get exclusive access to Disney titles within a year of their debut, starting with 2016 releases.
|Showtime (Streaming)||$11 per month, or $9 per month when purchased through certain services, such as Amazon Prime and Hulu.||
Showtime fans. Like HBO Now, this service lets you watch a cable network without the cable. You get all of Showtime's movies, plus original shows such as "Billions," "Ray Donovan," and "Penny Dreadful." (Showtime Anytime is like HBO Go; it's for people who already get the network through a traditional pay-TV provider.)
|Sling||Starts at $20 per month.||
Cord-cutters. With Dish's Sling TV you don't get individual shows. You get channels. The basic package comes with about 20 cable offerings, including A&E, AMC, Cartoon Network, Disney Channel, Food Network, HGTV, and TBS, but not broadcast TV. It's also one of only a few ways you can get ESPN without a TV service. Themed add-on packs cost $5 per month; HBO can also be added for $15 per month.
|Service||Price||Who It's Best For|
|Amazon Video||$4 to $7 for HD rentals.||
Impatient viewers. This is a good place to rent or buy recent movies and TV shows that aren'Ât included with a Prime subscription. Also available: popular TV shows a day after they're broadcast, plus lots of older titles.
|Apple iTunes||$4 to $6 for HD movie rentals, $3 for purchases of TV episodes.||
Apple fans. New movies and shows are available, along with older titles and shows from AMC, Comedy Central, TBS, and TNT. You can also access the new Starz standalone streaming service for $9 per month. And iTunes makes it easy to organize your content. A Family Sharing feature lets up to six people access each other's iTunes purchases.
|CinemaNow||$4 to $8 for HD movie rentals, $3 and up for TV rentals.||Movie lovers and, well, pretty much everyone else. The library offers a vast selection of movies, including independent and documentary films, as well as content from broadcast channels, cable channels (AMC, the CW, Fox, FX, SyFy, and TBS), and premium services such as HBO, Showtime, and Starz.|
|FandangoNow (Formerly M-Go)||$4 to $7 for HD movie rentals.||
M-Go users. That pay-per-view provider was bought and renamed FandangoNow by Fandango, the movie-ticket company. The service has a prominent place on Roku streaming players and Roku TVs; it will let you rent or buy digital versions of recent movie releases and buy TV shows. We're waiting to see what perks the deal will bring. One idea: Will you be able to buy enhanced movie tickets that include a digital rental or a download?
|Google Play||$4 to $7 for HD movie rentals, $2 for purchases of TV episodes.||Android users. Google Play offers a solid mix of new and older movies, plus current TV shows the day after they air. You can also rent full TV seasons, usually priced at $15 to $30. You can also access the new Starz standalone streaming service for $9 per month.|
|Vudu||$4 to $6 for HD/HDX movie rentals, $10 for 4K UHD rentals.||Early adopters. Vudu has been among the first services to embrace various technologies; one of the more recent is 4K video (aka Ultra HD). Vudu is owned by Walmart: When you buy certain DVDs or Blu-rays from the store, you also receive a digital copy instantly. The service also has a program that allows you to convert certain video discs to digital versions and store them in the cloud. But the best thing about Vudu is its big library of content, including recent releases.|
Editor's Note: This article also appeared in the June 2016 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.
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