Lists

Content Aside, Which Streaming Service Is Easiest To Use and Which Will Make You Cry?

Apple TV is the best streaming service. Now if only they'd add some stuff to watch.
Apple TV is the best streaming service. Now if only they'd add some stuff to watch. Clement M. / Unsplash
Streaming is the future. If you’re still subscribed to cable, then what are you doing? Sure, there are a few live TV events each year for which you probably want a traditional television package. If you switch from cable to streaming, you'll have to find a way to watch the Super Bowl, the Oscars, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, the Olympics and a few stray episodes of Diners, Drive Ins & Dives. But hey, that’s what your out-of-touch, techno-clunky neighbor is for.

Right now the issue isn’t getting on streaming, it’s finding out which service you actually need. Where is Seinfeld? It was on Hulu, now it’s on Netflix. Where are the Harry Potter movies? They seem to be bouncing back and forth between HBO Max and Peacock. Interested in checking out Star Trek: Picard? Looks like you have to sign up for Paramount+. Depending on how many services you end up subscribing to, your streaming bill may end up looking similar to what your cable bill was like before you cut the cord.

Netflix has long dominated the world of streaming, but the newer Disney+ and Apple TV+ have risen quickly since they debuted in November 2019. Disney+ is expected to overtake Netflix in global subscribers by 2026. HBO Max has gained significant viewers since its launch, as it automatically gave previous HBO linear subscribers automatic access to the expanded streaming venture.

Of course, all the discussion about content is secondary if you can’t actually get these darn services to work. Content aside, we compared the major streaming services by their features and overall user-friendliness.

Peacock
What’s free? What’s free with ads? What do you pay for that still has ads? How much to just get no ads? Does that have live TV? Can I just watch The Office, please? The weirdest streaming service is about as clueless as the bird it's named after.

Peacock offers a flexible pricing plan where you can get a limited free plan (with ads), a premium plan for $4.99 monthly (with ads), and an upgraded premium plus option for $9.99 monthly (with no ads). Users have complained that Peacock doesn’t distinguish well enough what shows are available on each option. Certain shows such as The Office aren’t offered in their entirety unless you get the premium plus plan, but “preview” episodes are left on the lower tiers. It all seems like a Dwight Schrute kind of prank.

HBO Max
Between the library of HBO shows, hundreds of great classic and international movies, every DC comic book adaptation, Cartoon Network shows, everything from Sesame Workshop, and new movies right after they’re out of theaters, HBO Max has easily the best lineup of any of the streamers. — not that you can actually watch any of it without the service crashing, as it just did again during the highly anticipated Season 2 finale of Euphoria. Stop blaming the teens and fix your service!

Also, best of luck finding the last episode of Euphoria or whatever you were trying to watch. HBO Max makes you go through a new search and five screens before you can return to the spot where you last were. Can they add a "continue watching" feature already?

HBO Max made headlines when it announced that the entire slate of Warner Bros.’ planned theatrical releases for 2021 would be available to stream on the service as well, which ruffled the feathers of angry Hollywood talent. Users weren’t any happier; films were only available for 30 days. Former WB President Jason Kilar later admitted that Warner Media had rushed into the decision.

Paramount+

Does anyone know what this is? We've yet to meet anyone who actually has Paramount+. All we know is that there was a Super Bowl commercial for the streaming app with Spongebob, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Captain Picard and a few athletes roped into a marketing gig. We haven’t checked it out yet, but it seems kind of sketchy to us.

Similar to how HBO Max upgraded existing HBO linear subscribers, Paramount+ expanded the options of what was available on the CBS All-Access service. It’s a bit confusing, as neither “CBS” or “Paramount” have iconic characters that you can associate with their brands. Recent polls suggested that the two services are performing similarly, and that few have subscribed to Paramount+ that hadn’t previously used CBS All-Access.

Hulu
Ah, Hulu, aka the most intrusive ads ever. How many times do we need to see the same Dove lotion commercial? Don’t tell us to pay for the upgrade, either. We’re just trying to catch up on The Handmaid’s Tale and then cancel.

A better option for Hulu actually exists overseas. In international territories that don’t offer Hulu, more “adult” programming (such as The Handmaid’s Tale) is available through Disney+ in another hub called Star+. This feature appears as a category alongside Lucasfilm, Marvel, Pixar, and National Geographic and requires an code so kids don’t accidentally access inappropriate content.

Amazon Prime
It makes us a little self conscious when we have to look at our irresponsible Amazon cart wishlist every time we watch The Boys. Amazon Prime also has a sneaky way of not telling you which movies and shows you actually have to pay to rent until you've already made your popcorn. Want to watch the crappy Alien: Resurrection? Good thing it's free. But if you want to watch the original Alien? $4.99 rental.

Those who are concerned about Jeff Bezos’ continued malevolence have even more reason for concern. Amazon tracks viewing patterns and doesn’t inform viewers about the data they collect, making Prime a scary prospect for those concerned about privacy. Even worse, Amazon will remove a series mid-binge one day to the next without any warning.

Netflix
We have to admit that getting to pick out a profile picture is a lot of fun, although anyone picking one of the ill-fated Squid Game characters may be a little morbid. If only Netflix could stop keeping us up past our bedtimes by automatically starting the next episode five seconds after the credits start rolling. Fine, we’ll watch the next Ozark. Fine, we’ll finish the season. You know what? I guess now we’re watching some other random Jason Bateman movie that’s in our recommendations tab.

Netflix is attempting to court a new section of the population next year: gamers. The service announced that it would begin featuring gaming content with a focus on mobile accessibility first. Later, they plan to incorporate branded content from the studio’s library of titles, such as Stranger Things, The Witcher and The Umbrella Academy. It’s unclear if this additional content will end up appearing on the front page like the rest of the titles, which could result in even more confusion.

Disney+
OK, this one is actually pretty sweet. You’ve got your Star Wars, Marvel, Pixar, National Geographic and classic Disney collections organized into convenient little sub-sections. We’re not sure what category The Simpsons falls under, though. We’ve also noticed that the creepy episode where Bart becomes friends with Michael Jackson is strangely missing.

At the same time, Disney+ may be making steps toward an expanded library in the U.S., similar to the Star+ international feature. The service recently announced that the TV-MA Marvel shows that previously aired on Netflix, including Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, Iron Fist, The Punisher and The Defenders would be added this month. You can watch the show using the same pin code as overseas viewers use for Star+.

Criterion Channel

The hipster’s pride and joy, the Criterion Channel doesn’t just run smoothly. You just look smarter if it's prominent on your Roku front page.

The two-week free trial may help convince aspiring snobs, but Criterion Channel may not be worth it for those who either subscribe to HBO Max or have the Criterion Blu-Rays. HBO Max currently has a “Criterion” hub that offers significant crossover with the other service, and the Criterion Blu-Ray discs include more special feature options than those that are streaming.

Shudder

Look, you have to be a little depraved to have a service dedicated to only grizzly horror movies and series. It is, however, extremely easy to use and doesn’t get rid of something you’re watching without telling you. We’re going to keep signing up for free trials until we’ve watched all of the Puppet Master sequels. Yep, all of them. All 14.

Shudder is even easier to use than ever thanks to the expanded viewership it receives from the AMC+ package. Those concerned about the growing expense of keeping track of their subscription services are in luck, as the AMC+ option includes Shudder, the independent film service IFC Unlimited, British exports from Sundance Now, AMC’s linear broadcasts and the entire The Walking Dead library. It's an easier way to get more things you want to watch for less money. Unlike CBS and Paramount, AMC has actually managed to grow beyond just its previous television users.

Apple TV+
If you have an Apple TV or iPhone, this one manages to pop up as soon as you wake up! Seriously, no ads. No weird trailers that blast at maximum volume when you’re in a public area. No streaming cuts. It’s basically perfect. If only there was something to actually watch on there in between seasons of Ted Lasso and whatever seasonal Charlie Brown special pops up.

The other reason Apple TV+ has been such a compelling prospect is that the service is pretty easy to access for free. One of the reasons Apple TV+ grew so rapidly in the first year was a year-long free trial that was offered to anyone who purchased a new Apple device. Currently, anyone with an email address can get a week for free, and new device purchasers still get three months off. So essentially as long as you can create some dummy email accounts or pick up an upgraded iPhone, you can watch the new season of Servant as many times as you want.
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Liam Gaughan has been covering film and television since before he had a driver's license, and in addition to the Observer has been published in About.com, Schmoes Know, Taste of Cinema and The Dallas Morning News. He enjoys checking classic films off of his watchlist and working on spec scripts.