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Guide to Subscription Video Streaming Services.

  • 13 min read

Although there are streaming services that are designed to replace cable TV, they still carry prices higher than many would like to pay, especially when you consider that the packages offered have some channels that you may not be interested in. Just like cable, you may end paying for channels you don't want just to get the channels you do want. 

Instead of replacing cable with services such as YouTube TV and Sling TV, you can subscribe to one or more of the dozens of individual subscription or video-on-demand streaming services available. Let’s check out some popular streaming services and related things you need to know to get the best experience.

Click on one of the links below to skip to the streaming service.

Netflix

Amazon Prime Video

Hulu

Disney+

Vudu

HBO Max

Peacock

Paramount+ (formerly CBS All Access)

Apple TV+

Bit Rate and Data Usage

Getting the Best Experience From Your Streaming Service

Netflix

Netflix started as a DVD rental by mail service (which it still offers via its DVD.com brand), but in 2007 jumped into online subscription video streaming. Netflix is now one of the most popular video streaming services. 

Netflix offers movies and TV series licensed from third-party sources and also produces original content. 

Original Show Examples: Stranger Things, The Witcher, and Orange Is The New Black.

Original Movie Examples: The Irishman, The Old Guard, Extraction, Bird Box, and The Eurovision Song Contest

Netflix maintains a running list of upcoming shows and movies.

Netflix includes a download option for no added cost for Android or iOS phones and tablets. Downloads can be viewed later on a phone or at home via Chromecast or TV with Chromecast built-in.

Netflix also has a Watch-Free option that allows non-subscribers to view a selection of original Netflix content without a subscription. Netflix Watch-Free is only viewable on PCs and Android devices. 

Devices compatible with Netflix include most Smart TVs, media streamers, smartphones, PCs/laptops as well as select game consoles, set-top boxes, and Blu-ray Disc players. Check out their current device listing

Netflix also has a list of recommended smart TVs which include specific features. You can check to see if your TV is Netflix recommended by model year: 2020, 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015.

Note: Netflix no longer works on 2010-11 or earlier Samsung Smart TVs, 2012-2014 Vizio Smart TVs running Internet Apps/Apps Plus, and select older Roku media streamers.

Netflix offers several subscription plans: 

  • Basic: $8.99 per month (SD resolution). Limited to 1 device.
  • Standard: $13.99 per month. Up to 1080p resolution, allows viewing using 2 devices at the same time.
  • Premium: $17.99 per month. Up to 4K UHD resolution. Allows viewing on up to 4 devices at the same time.
  • T-mobile also offers a Netflix on us mobile service bundle.

Note: Netflix has discontinued free trials

Netflix recommends the following internet connection speeds:

  • 0.5 Mbps minimum 1.5mb/s recommended for SD resolution (480p) on laptop computer. 
  • 3.0 Mbps SD (480p) on a TV.
  • 4.0 Mbps HD (720p, 1080p). 
  • 5.0 Mbps or more prefered for best Full HD (1080p) quality.
  • 25 Mbps UHD (4K, 2160p).

Netflix automatically adjusts video quality based on your internet speed. If your internet speed is not fast enough for 4K, it will default to HD or SD accordingly to avoid freezing and buffering. However, video quality is reduced. 

Amazon Prime Video

Amazon Prime Video is included with the Amazon Prime membership. This means in addition to free shipping, music, and other benefits, you can stream TV and movie content from Prime Video at no extra charge. 

Amazon Prime Video provides a selection of third-party licensed content, as well as original series and movies.

  • Original Series Examples: The Boys, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Flea Bag, and Upload.
  • Original Movie Examples: The Aeronauts, Elvis and Nixon, Chemical Hearts, and Radioactive.

In addition to content that is included with an Amazon Prime membership, some content is also available for rental or purchase. Non-members can also rent or purchase select content.

The Amazon Prime Video App is available for Smart TVs, Amazon Echo Show/Spot, Smartphones (Android and iOS), Select Game Consoles and Blu-ray Disc players, Media Streamers (Roku, Fire TV), and PCs. Check their device list.

Amazon recommends the following internet connection speeds.

  • 3.0 Mbps SD (480p) 
  • 5.0 Mbps HD (720p and 1080p)
  • 25 Mbps 4K Ultra HD (2160p).

Amazon Prime video allows streaming to three devices at the same time. 

Hulu

Hulu is similar to Netflix and Amazon Prime. Disney has a controlling interest in Hulu and has made it the home of select content originally produced by 20th Century Fox (which Disney now owns). Additional third party content sources featured on Hulu include shows and movies from BBC America, Showtime, TLC, ABC News, Animal Planet, Complex, Freeform, and FX.

Hulu produces original content, most notable are The Handmaid's Tale, Marvel's Runaways, The Great, and Castle Rock.

Devices compatible with Hulu include smart TVs, media streamers, and more, but specific device compatibility depends on what Hulu app version you have. Check out an explanation and complete device listing.

Hulu offers four subscription plans:

  • $5.99 per month - includes ads
  • $11.99 per month - No Ads
  • $54.99 per month - Hulu + Live TV - includes ads
  • $60.99 per month - Hulu (No Ads) + Live TV (Ads)

Hulu + Live TV includes up to 60 "cable" channels accessible online. Select local channels are also offered (location dependent), as well as individually priced premium channels (such as HBO, Showtime, Cinemax, and Starz).

You can also get the Hulu-only option in a bundle with Disney+ and ESPN+ for $12.99 per month.

If you have a Spotify Premium Student music streaming plan, Hulu (with Ads) and Showtime are also included. 

A Sprint and Hulu (ad version) combo is available for some Sprint plans.

The recommended internet speeds to stream Hulu are:

  • 1.5 mbps (SD - 480p)
  •  3 mbps (HD - 720p)
  •  6 mbps (FHD - 1080p)
  • 16 Mbps (4K Ultra HD - 2160p)

Hulu allows streaming to two devices at the same time. 

Disney+

Disney+ provides content from Disney's extensive movie and TV series library. However, that is just the start, as Disney also owns Pixar, Marvel, Star Wars (Lucasfilm), and National Geographic, which means they cycle titles from those libraries in and out of the service periodically.

Disney+ exclusives include The Mandalorian, and other forthcoming Star Wars, Marvel, and made-for-streaming Disney shows and movies.

The subscription price is $6.99 per month or $69.99 per year. However, Disney may require an additional fee to "unlock" viewing access for special releases, such as the live-action version of Mulan ($29.99) and the animated film Raya and The Last Dragon. The unlock fee provides "lifetime" access to the film. 

You also have the option of paying $12.99 per month for a streaming service bundle that includes: Disney+, Hulu (ad version), and ESPN+. 

Disney+ is compatible with select smart TVs, media streamers, android/iPhones, other devices. Check out their growing list.

Disney recommends the following internet speeds: 

  • 5.0 Mbps HD
  • 25.0 Mbps 4K UHD 

Disney+ allows streaming to four devices at the same time. 

Vudu

Vudu is an online video-on-demand streaming service that provides access to movies and TV shows.

Vudu has a large library of movies and TV titles that may be rented and streamed.

Vudu doesn’t require a monthly subscription fee. You pay for each movie or TV show you want to rent or own. Rentals range from $.99 to $5.99. If you want to purchase content, prices generally range from $4.99 to $24.99. VUDU also periodically runs discounted rental and purchase price promotions.

You can watch a rented or purchased movie immediately or later. Rentals need to be viewed within 30 days. You can watch the movie as many times as you want during a rental period, but once you start, you have 24-48 hours to finish.

Vudu offers additional viewing services.

Vudu is available for the following devices.

  • Smart TVs: Select models from LG, Samsung, Sony, and Vizio
  • Media Streamers: Roku, Apple TV, Chromecast, Amazon Fire TV, Nvidia Shield TV, TIVO DVRs.
  • Game Consoles: Xbox 360/One, PlayStation 3/4.
  • Mobile: Android/iOS
  • PC Web Browsers: Chrome, Firefox, and more.

Vudu’s recommended internet speeds are:

  • 1.0 Mbps - SD (480p) .
  • 4.5 Mbps - 720p (HD) or 1080p (HDX) 
  • 11 Mbs or more - 4K UHD (select titles include Dolby Vision HDR).

Vudu allows streaming to three devices at the same time. 

HBO Max

HBO Max combines all HBO and Warner Media content into one streaming service. This also includes content from the Cartoon Network, Adult Swim, Crunchyroll, TBS, TNT, DC, Studio Ghibli, and the Criterion Collection. 

HBO Max also produces exclusive content, such as Lovecraft Country, Watchman, Raised by Wolves, and Zack Snyder's Justice League (2021). 

An added bonus is that most 2021 Warner Bros theatrical releases will be shown in theaters and on HBO Max simultaneously for no extra charge for 30 days. Whether this will continue beyond 2021 has not been indicated. 

You don't need a cable subscription, or a subscription to the HBO channel, to access this service.

HBO Max offers one subscription price: $14.99 per month. AT&T also offers mobile and internet service bundles that include HBO Max.

HBO Max is compatible with several devices including Roku and Fire TV. You can also use Screen Mirroring and Airplay from Android or iPhones, or direct HDMI connection from a PC or mobile device to a TV. 

HBO Max requires a minimum internet speed of 5Mbps.

Most content is offered in 1080p and 5.1 channel surround sound. Select content may be offered in 4K, HDR, and Dolby Atmos. 4K requires higher streaming speeds. 

HBO Max allows streaming to three devices at the same time. 

Note: WarnerMedia (who manages HBO Max) has announced that an additional lower-priced tier that would include Ads within viewed content is expected to be available starting sometime in June 2021. The Ad-tier will provide access to most content, but may exclude movies with simultaneous Theatrical/HBO Max releases (such as Dune, Matrix 4, and others) as well as some premium HBO series, such as Game of Thrones. Subscription price and final details will be revealed closer the new tier's start date.

Peacock

Peacock (aka NBCUniversal's Peacock) provides access to content from NBC TV and Universal Studios TV and film libraries, as well as news and original programming. 

  • TV Show Examples: Saturday Night Live, 30 Rock, Parks and Recreation, Downton Abbey
  • Movie Examples: The Bourne franchise, Reservoir Dogs, Lost in Translation, Spartacus
  • Peacock Original Examples: Brave New World, The Capture

Devices compatible with Peacock include Chrome, Firefox, Edge, and Safari web browsers, iOS or Android phones, LG, Vizio, and Android, smart TVs, Apple TV media streamers, Chromecast, and the Xbox One.

If you subscribe to Xfinity Cable and have an X1 box or a Flex device, Peacock's Premium tier is available free. Cox Contour boxes and Stream Player provide free access to Peacock Premium until 2021.

Peacock Subscription plans include:

  • Peacock Basic - Free (partial access to Peacock offerings with Ads)
  • Peacock Premium - $4.99 per month (contains Ads) - Access to entire Peacock offerings plus Live Sports, exclusive original peacock series, next-day access to NBC broadcast content, and select Telemundo Spanish-language programming. 
  • Peacock Premium Plus - $9.99 per month - Access to entire Peacock offerings mostly Ad-Free)

Peacock recommends an internet speed of 2.5 Mbps if running a single internet device. Consider an internet speed for 5 Mbps or higher if you run more than one internet-accessible device in your home at the same time. For 3G/4G mobile phones, 450Kbps is recommended, but it's best to have more.

NOTE: Peacock does not provide 4K streams.

Peacock allows streaming to three devices at the same time. 

Paramount+ (formerly CBS All Access)

Paramount+ is an expansion and replacement of the CBS All Access streaming service. 

Similar to CBS All Access, Paramount Plus includes CBS content as well as other Viacom properties such as BET, Comedy Central, MTV, Nickelodeon, Smithsonian Channel, MTV, TV, ET Live, CBS Sports HQ, and Paramount Pictures.

Paramount+ also provides exclusive content, which will expand as the service gets its footing. Original programming so far includes The Stand, The SpongeBob Movie, Halo, Star Trek Discovery, Star Trek: Picard, Star Trek Lower Decks, The Twilight Zone (Hosted by Jordan Peele), The Good Fight, and No Activity.

Paramount+ has also announced that it will be rebooting shows such as Criminal Minds, and Frasier along with The Real World, Road Rules, and Behind The Music from MTV.

Paramount Theatrical films, such as Top Gun/Top Gun 2, the Mission Impossible Franchise, Quiet Place II, and more will be shown. Select films will become available 45 days after initial theatrical release.

Depending on the show or movie, Paramount Plus offers SD, HD, 4K resolution viewing options. Paramount Plus also supports Dolby Vision HDR on select content.

Parmount+ is compatible with Amazon Fire TV, Android TV, Apple TV, Roku, Chromecast, and more.

As stated above, current CBS All Access subscribers will be folded into the new service at their current subscription rates:

  • $5.99 per month with Ads
  • $9.99 per month with no Ads

Tip: Just update the CBS All Access App you currently have on your smart TV or streaming device. It will change to Paramount Plus. Use your current CBS All Access login for Paramount+.

For new subscribers, an ad-free $9.99 rate is available now (check for any promotional pricing). However, a lower-tier ad supported rate of $4.99 will become available sometime in June 2021, if not before.

Programming from your local CBS affiliate (if you live in the U.S.), CBSN, a 24/7 live news channel are included with ad-free tier (although there are ads in the network broadcasts). However, the ad-supported rate will not provide access to live CBS TV network programming.

Specifics on streaming speed requirements will be forthcoming, but here is a general guideline that might carry over from CBS All Access:

  • 800+ Kbps to stream on a mobile device.
  • 1.5+ Mbps to stream live television or on-demand video to a computer or a device like Amazon Fire TV or Roku.
  • 4+ Mbps to stream Big Brother Live feeds - Big Brother Live uses four simultaneous video streams, which requires more bandwidth than usual.

Note: As a general rule across most streaming services, 25Mbps is required for 4K streaming, if offered.

Apple TV+

Apple TV+ is a streaming service that offers mostly original content. A limited amount of third-party content is available for viewing. 

Original Show Examples: For All Mankind, See, Defending Jacob, and Central Park

Also, Apple has licensed the feature film Greyhound for viewing on Apple TV+ included with a subscription. 

Apple TV+ costs $4.99 per month for a family membership. The Apple TV+ subscription allows up to 6 users (Family Sharing group). Apple TV+ also has a 7-day free trial. If you buy a new iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, Apple TV, or Mac, a free year of Apple TV+ is included.

Also, Apple TV+ subscribers in the U.S. can add CBS All Access and Showtime for $9.99 per month. It isn’t specified if this offer will be permanent. 

Apple TV+ is available on the following devices:

  • iPhone, iPod touch, iPad 
  • Apple TV media streamers
  • Macs
  • Amazon Fire TV 
  • Roku 
  • Smart TVs from LG, Samsung, Sony, and Vizio

NOTE: The Apple+ app may be offered directly, or through the Apple TV app, which includes access to Apple TV+ and other content.

Apple TV+ doesn’t recommend specific internet speeds. However, consider at least 5 Mbps for (HD) and 25 Mbps for 4K UHD (which may also include HDR) content. The app will automatically adjust quality based on your internet speed. 

Apple TV Plus allows up to six streams at the same time. 

Bit Rate and Data Usage

Although each streaming service recommends a range of internet speeds to avoid buffering at specific resolutions to get the best viewing experience, the actual bit rate (how much data is transferred per second) to your device may vary due to several factors.

These factors include the service you’re using, the amount of data within the piece of content you are streaming (4K has a lot more data than 1080p), how many allowable streams you are using, and throttling by the streaming service or your internet service provider that may be implemented during peak usage or unusual times. 

The U.K. and Europe experienced bit-rate throttling during a portion of the COVID-19 period as more people were home using the internet for video streaming.

Examples of average 4K bit rate performance under normal conditions for Netflix and Disney+ is about 16 Mbps, while Apple TV+ is the highest with a steady 25 Mbps, but is capable of faster rates.

Bit rate is also affected by the variation in the amount of detail, motion, and color in each cut or scene in a movie program.

For example, although you may need 25mbps to stream a 4K UHD movie smoothly, there will be segments where the bit-rate is only 5mbps where there might be just one or characters talking against a plain background while action scenes with a lot of characters and motion may push the bit rate 25 Mbps or higher. Also, if the scene contains HDR information that will also push the bit-rate higher.

Audio bit rates may vary depending on whether the soundtrack is stereo, Dolby Digital 5.1, or Dolby Atmos. However, since audio contains a lot less data than video, the bit-rate needed is a lot less. For example, Dolby Atmos streams typically have a streaming bit-rate about 768 Kbps and Dolby Digital 5.1 comes in at about 640 Kbps or less.

Bit-rate also affects how much data you stream per hour, which may affect your monthly internet service data caps. For example, Netflix uses about 1 GB of data per hour (SD), about 3 GB per hour (HD), and up to 7 GB per hour (4K UHD). Control settings are provided to adjust how much data you want to use for some Netflix devices but this will affect video quality.

To ensure the best bit rate video and audio stream from a specific streaming service, try to access higher internet speeds than are recommended (and get a high data cap). This is especially important if there will be times where you stream to multiple devices and/or other devices that need internet access are being used at the same time. 

Test your internet speed

Getting the Best Experience From Your Streaming Service

In addition to internet speed, bit rate, and data usage, to get the most from your streaming experience, make sure that you have access to the latest version of the app you are streaming from. 

If you have a smart TV or external media streaming device, and it doesn’t provide automatic updates, check options for manually updating apps. In some cases, when you open an app, it may state that an update is available. If so, select the provided “update prompt” to install it. Although you might have to wait a few minutes extra to watch your program or movie, you will be getting the latest app upgrade that is available for your device. 

It’s recommended to stream directly from a native app on a smartTV or streaming device vs Android Screen Mirroring/AirPlay 2 as the video and audio could be more compressed on the mobile version of the app. Also, if your mobile device isn’t 4K streaming compatible and you have the 4K version of the app on your TV or connected media streamer, watching from the TV or media streamer directly rather than mirroring from your phone will provide a better video experience. Streaming directly from the native app also ensures you’ll get the best sound experience.

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