Streaming Services Review
Streaming services are definitely the thing right now, especially now that there’s a pandemic and it’s keeping people inside watching TV much more. But not all streaming services are created equal. Nor are they all easy to sign up or start using. I thought I’d start a comparison of the various services out there with some tips and tricks.
I have not tried all the streaming services out there, there are SO MANY now, with new ones popping up all the time (like, AMC+, which I literally heard of for the first time a week ago). But I’ve tried a few and subscribe to a few, so I’ll start with those and I will likely add to this list as I check out new ones. Also, full disclosure – my background is in library science with an emphasis on cataloging, so I think I am probably a bit more nitpicky about organization & searching than most.
List of streaming services covered (so you can jump to ones you’re interested in):
- Apple TV+
- CBS All Access
- CW Seed
- HBO Max
- PBS Passport
- Prime Video
- Rooster Teeth
AMC+ is a new service, I just recently learned of its existence thanks to a commercial I saw on whatever channel my dad was watching. They were advertising the new Doctor Who holiday special, which is why I signed up.
As far as information goes, their site definitely needs work. I give them a little slack for being new, but there is no info on pricing or free trial or anything – just go check out the places you can subscribe to us through. Apparently the pricing and availability/length of free trial depends on whether you sign up & subscribe through Roku, Apple TV, Prime Video, Xfinity, Sling, Dish, or DirecTV. I find that incredibly confusing, to be honest. It wasn’t too hard to sign up for the 7 day free trial through Roku, but I still feel that added a layer of complexity.
The Roku app worked fairly well, and it was pretty easy to watch Doctor Who. I ended up canceling pretty quickly, though, as there was almost nothing else of interest to me on the service. Their catalog covers offerings from AMC, BBC America, IFC, Sundance, and a bit more. I didn’t really stick around long enough to see what they had in the way of watchlists or tracking where you’re at in binging because, again, there wasn’t anything I would be adding to said watchlist.
Apple TV+ is Apple’s new home for streaming content. It’s a little over a year old I believe, and is mostly original content. They don’t have a ton of content, but what they have is pretty quality stuff. I highly recommend their series For All Mankind, which is an alternate history story showing what might have happened with our space program if the Russians had beat us to the Moon landing. That series is the main reason I subscribed to the service (and is the sole reason I’ll be restarting my subscription next month, when season 2 begins).
Of course Apple TV+ is geared for Apple devices – the app is standard on iOS and MacOS devices now. The subscription price of $4.99 a month gets billed like any other iTunes/App Store subscription. They also have a Roku channel, which is helpful as I don’t own an Apple TV yet, and sometimes it’s a pain to have to keep hooking my iPad up to the TV with its HDMI adapter. You can get a free trial, or if you purchase any new Apple products, they come with free time on the service. Beside my space soap I already mentioned, I enjoyed Snoopy in Space (great if you love Snoopy or have kids), Ghostwriter (a reboot of the classic from my childhood), and Fraggle Rock (a super short series with the Fraggles connecting remotely during the pandemic).
The app interface is a bit clunky and it also tries to highlight other streaming services/offerings but doesn’t really make it obvious those are from OTHER services until you try to watch and it goes “Oh you want to watch His Dark Materials? Start a free trial of HBO then!” – um, I am in the Apple app, I want to see what APPLE has not HBO. They really don’t have a very well designed watchlist either. I can’t see the list of shows I have on there very easily, just what’s the next episode to watch. If Apple starts to improve on those things, and maybe add some more content, I’ll subscribe for longer, but for now I’ll stick to paying just when my favorite show is actively being released (and binge my other shows in between).
CBS All Access is the home for CBS shows, really the only place to see CBS properties beside watching on broadcast. That is one of my frustrations, because recent Star Trek series have been only available on All Access, which means another subscription just to see one or two series. The main reason I have it currently is because I was gifted it by a friend so I could catch up on Trek. Which I have, and am continuing to binge Trek series on there.
CBS offers a 7-day free trial and then there’s a couple of subscription options. $5.99/month with commercials, or $9.99/month commercial free. There’s also the option for an annual plan – $59.99 or $99.99 (commercials or no commercials, respectively), which is basically a couple months free. One thing I like about their subscription options is you can pay through PayPal. They also offer gift cards that you can buy if you want to gift someone a subscription. Additionally, their offerings are available as an Amazon Prime Video channel (and you can subscribe under that). They definitely make it easy to throw money at them! Their list of supported devices is pretty long too – I use my computer, the Roku, or occasionally my PS4 or iPad, but I see they have lots of other devices listed. They get high marks for ease of subscription and options to watch.
My biggest complaint about CBS All Access, however, is a pretty major one – no watchlist. Yes, it does track if you start a series and it’s easy to open the app and go right to the next episode of whatever series I’m watching. But there’s no way to bookmark which shows I want to watch, I have to go find them. They did just add profiles, right after I started my subscription, which is nice since I’m sharing with a friend and that way we can track our Trek binging separately. But I still wish they would have a watch list.
Disney+ is probably my favorite streaming service at the moment. I love their catalog, and it’s solid – a mix of original new stuff and a ton of back catalog offerings. Not just Disney either (though you could easily spend years binging through Disney’s back catalog!) but all of Star Wars plus a huge selection of National Geographic.
Signing up and paying is super easy. They do offer a free trial of a week, and then it’s $6.99/month (though I think that’s going up) or $69.99/year (so essentially two months free). When it was first announced it took a while for details to come out but once they announced things, it was very clear. You can have up to 4 simultaneous streams in HD, up to 7 profiles, each with their own watchlist. They have a Roku channel and iOS app, plus I sometimes open it up on my PS4.
My biggest complaints with Disney have to do with the way the watchlist is working, and the organization of some shows. I notice that the watchlist seems to “lose” a few shows – like I know that Darkwing Duck is on there, that was one of the very first shows I added to it, but it doesn’t always show up. I am beginning to suspect they have a secret limit to the number of watchlist items that show up. I also have noticed that the episode ordering of a lot of Disney Afternoon shows is a little off, and the “pilot” episodes are shoved in randomly in the middle of the series rather than at the start where you would think an origin story belongs. Like, Chip & Dale’s Rescue Rangers has their origin story, a 5 part pilot, halfway through season 2, which makes no sense at all! It’s also not always easy to see under the watchlist where you are in a series episode-wise. I would like a little improvement to the way the watchlist works and then Disney+ would be even better!
Funimation is one of the main anime sources here in the US. It’s a big one for current anime, as they offer “simul-dubs” (dubbed episodes offered pretty much as the series is airing in Japan) and current subs (subbed anime being offered at the same time as episodes are first airing in Japan). I am probably going to be subscribing to this soon, but I have some issues with their information for potential subscribers, mainly that it isn’t clear how long the free trial is for. It’s also a little confusing to me as to what content is available with each level of subscription.
HBO Max is a newer service with a huge catalog of offerings. This is the place to find all of the Studio Ghibli films, as well as all of new series Doctor Who (except the New Year’s special, which seems to only be on AMC+ for the moment).
HBO Max is one of the pricier streaming services, at $14.99 a month. There is a $69.99/6 months prepay option which brings the price down a little (that comes out to $11.67/month). Unfortunately there is no free trial either, which is disappointing. When it first launched it was not available on Roku devices, but they have since fixed that (I do much of my watching on Roku, as that’s what we have set up in the living room).
They have watchlists, and up to 5 profiles per account, which is good. It’s not the easiest to find things in the watchlist as, at least on the Roku, it is one long horizontal scroll and takes forever to find anything. But it’s still better than no watchlist. I like HBO Max and I really enjoy their selection (I was trying to find the first Wonder Woman movie and scrolling through the movie list it was incredible how many good movies were there), I just wish it was a little more reasonably priced.
Hulu is the place for current TV offerings, though their catalog is getting diminished as various networks pull stuff to their own services (like CBS All Access and Peacock for NBC shows). They have some movies, but the majority of their material are TV shows.
Hulu is probably my cheapest service at the moment, as I get the limited commercials plan for free thanks to my cell phone plan! I’ve been with Sprint for a while now, and Hulu is included in the unlimited plan I’m on. They do have other offerings as well – including a bundle with Disney, ESPN, and Hulu for $12.99/month. Hulu has a one month free trial for the regular plans, or one week for their Live TV offering. The regular plans are not terrible – $5.99/mo or $59.99/year for the plan I have (there’s commercials but it’s not too bad, better than regular broadcast TV), or $11.99/month for no commercials. There’s even a student discount for the commercial plan, so if you’re a college student, definitely check that out! The live TV is pricier, $64.99/month, but it’s essentially a replacement for cable, with over 65 channels plus all the regular Hulu offerings.
I like Hulu because if I miss something on broadcast TV (like, my regular stuff on ABC or NBC, such as AGT or Supermarket Sweep), I can catch it the next day on Hulu. I’ve also been binging a few older shows on there – my mom and I are working our way through a full rewatch of Designing Women. There’s profiles, and it tracks what you have watched on your watchlist. The Roku app works very well!