Cord-cutting is looking more and more like the way to go. Some of the best shows on TV aren’t even on actual TV. House of Cards, Orange Is the New Black, Transparent — they are all streaming exclusive. But with more and more streaming options, how do you know which one is right for you? We can’t do the choosing for you, but we can tell you some of the pros and cons of each service so you can decide for yourself in this week’s edition of Upgrade Your Life.
1. Netflix: Let’s get the obvious one out of the way. Netflix is still what we think of first when we think of streaming. Netflix started by only mailing discs and then added streaming services, eventually putting the final nail in Blockbuster’s coffin.
Pros: Their library is certainly the largest of the options laid out here. They have tons of TV shows and movies — some of which you can’t see anywhere else, specifically their original content. Last year, their original documentary The Square was nominated for an Oscar while House of Cards has raked in Golden Globes both this year and last year. And how can you forget Orange is the New Black? This is definitely a great way to cover your bases for great content starting at $8/month.
Cons: Quantity is not quality. Sometimes, when Netflix updates their content, you’ll scroll through a hefty number of flicks that went straight to DVD for a reason. Also, compared to Amazon Prime and Hulu Plus, Netflix is a little slower to the punch when it comes to getting current stuff ASAP.
2. Sling TV: As their slogan states, Sling is “Taking Back TV” by bringing live television to you without the need for a cable provider at all. Stream from your mobile device or TV device (Roku, etc) and watch popular channels like TNT, TBS, ESPN, CNN and more.
Pros: Live TV! You probably have nostalgia for live news and entertainment, and no amount of live tweets can fill that void. For $20 per month, you can watch what’s on TV (12 channels with the base package) when it’s actually airing. Some channels even let you watch past episodes that go as far back as a few days. Sports fans, you’ll love it. News junkies, you will too.
Cons: There are commercials. This isn’t a total deal breaker, but it is a little strange when you’re used to watching entire sitcoms in 20 minutes instead of a half hour block. Also, the interface is still a little clunky. It’s not quite as simple as the old days of flicking through channels with a remote, but that will no doubt improve over time.
3. Mubi: This is the kind of place where movies aren’t called movies, they’re called cinema. If you’re a film school grad, Sundance junkie or just like the more critically acclaimed, obscure stuff, this is the place for you.
Pros: For only $35 per year, you can surf a curated collection of cinema classics new and old and discover some really iconic flicks that are sure to broaden your cultural horizons. It’s like having an art haus in your living room. From more well-known indies like Melancholia to vintage goodness like Charade with Audrey Hepburn, the library on Mubi is forever expanding.
Cons: This is a niche service, not meant to replace TV, but instead supplement it. It’s great for exploring films you probably haven’t heard of, but if you’re someone who won’t see a movie unless it has at least one super famous actor in it or at least one Michael Bay lens flare, then go ahead and click past this one.
4. Amazon Prime: The thing with Amazon Prime’s Instant Video is, depending on how you look at it, it’s either a supplement to a year of two-day shipping, or two-day shipping is a supplement to your streaming addiction.
Pros: With your Prime subscription, you get hit shows from basic cable and HBO, recent flicks and even original content, not to mention super fast shipping on your Amazon orders and unlimited music streaming. While their original content had a rocky start, their recent breakout series, Transparent, won a couple of well-deserved Golden Globes. Woody Allen has even signed on to write a show for them, so it seems their content is on the up and up. Oh yeah, and it’s only $99 per year.
Cons: You do have to dish out your cash annually, so Prime is a long-term commitment. Also, while they have some great titles, if you’re looking for volume, they’ve only got a fraction of the number available on Netflix. Still though, two-day shipping.
5. Hulu Plus: If it was on one of the major networks last night, it’s probably on Hulu today. With Hulu Plus, you even get access to some next-day episodes.
Pros: No more avoiding spoiler alerts until your show gets to Netflix. With Hulu Plus, your favorite shows from the major networks (ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC) are updated on the regular with few commercials. Seeing as it’s really the only place to catch shows before they’re pushed to other streaming services post-finale, it’s a good call for the more impatient viewers who seriously can’t wait to see if Olivia chooses Jake or Fitz.
Cons: There are a few good flicks, but it’s definitely not all two-thumbs up kind of cinema. Even though your shows are updated with the latest episodes, not all of them let you go back to previous seasons if you’re looking for a serious binge watch. This is definitely a place for folks who are looking keep up with their shows on a weekly basis.
6. Vimeo on Demand: Vimeo tries to be a more curated YouTube. Think, less vloggers and more short films. It’s a place for film lovers through and through, and their on-demand service is a way to highlight the best of them (big or small) to a wider audience.
Pros: Indie film and television makers can charge people to buy and rent their work. You can watch current indie movies and even film-lovers’ classics, all of which have already been curated to ensure that you’re watching the best of the best. Their first original series, High Maintenance, is doing especially well for itself, likely because it’s super hilarious/sad/gives you all the feels.
Cons: This is another sort of supplementary service, not really something for those looking to cut the cord completely. You probably haven’t heard of a lot of the movies and shows on Vimeo on Demand, which doesn’t mean they aren’t great, but it does mean that if you’re looking to kick back for a familiar night with your Friends, you won’t be doing that on Vimeo.
7. Vudu: Brought to you by Wal-Mart, this is a service that lets you rent movies (on disc and digital) and pay by title — no subscription required.
Pros: Binge watching not your style? This a la carte service is the perfect alternative to having to leave the house for a Redbox. All in all, it may be a one-stop shop to satisfy your need to find the perfect movie or TV show in a bind.
Cons: Let’s get real, Wal-Mart has its fair share of haters, which may be enough of a deterrent for some.
8. Crackle: Sony started Crackle as a free streaming service for TV and movies. There are ads though.
Pros: Did we mention that it’s free? IT’S FREE. It doesn’t just carry stuff from normal TV and movie theaters. You can catch Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, something called Sports Jeopardy and lots and lots of Seinfeld. It’s worth checking in from time to time to see if any new goodies have been added.
Cons: Of course, for every really good find, there’s a really “meh” find. Unless you have a computer-to-tv device like a Chromecast, you’re stranded to watching these flicks on your computer.
9. Bonus: HBO Go: It was announced in October that HBO Go would finally launch a streaming service that does not require you to have the full cable package. We’re getting amped for the launch, and we’re hoping we’ll be able to watch Game of Thrones, Girls and The Wire with our own accounts instead of having to beg our non-cord-cutting BFFs for their login info.
Have you cut the cord? We’d love to know if you use any of these services and what you think of them in the comments!