Best Streaming Service of 2022: Netflix, HBO Max, Hulu and More

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Most people spend a portion of their budget on TV streaming services — or borrow it. They’re the best way to watch movies, shows and live sports, especially if you can’t afford cable. Monthly subscription costs can be a hurdle for trying out new services. Most streaming platforms offer free trials, but they rarely last more than a week or a month if you’re lucky. That’s why we’ve tested all of the options (like Netflix, Hulu, Disney Plus or HBO Max) out there to find the best streaming service of 2022. This handy guide should help you figure out which one you want to subscribe to.

More choices mean more decisions on your end. Hulu’s price has gone up. Disney will launch an ad-supported version of Disney Plus and raise prices on its other plans by $3 a month in December. Meanwhile, Netflix with ads has finally arrived at $7 per month.

Your streaming subscription budget is likely changing all the time too, depending on which services are worth your time and money. Your choices likely depend on which original shows and movies you want, how important a back catalog of older TV shows is to you, whether you need to consider kids, roommates or sports fans — and your budget. Some of these services offer cheaper options (like Peacock’s free tier), while others come essentially free as part of a bundle (like ESPN Plus in the Disney Bundle). With recent price hikes, options such as Prime Video and Starz may be worth a second look. 

We’ve reviewed each of these streaming services individually, and assigned numeric ratings based on content, app design and features and overall value. Certainly, some personal preferences regarding content mix influence our decisions, so note that if you love a specific show or style of show, you may have a different favorite.

With that in mind, here’s our list.

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There’s a reason why Netflix has become shorthand for streaming in general. The movie-rental service evolved into the top-tier streaming service that’s a must-have in 2022. When big originals like Stranger Things drop, they grab the attention of millions of viewers along with critical praise and awards, giving us the closest thing we have to watercooler conversations these days. 

While Netflix has lost a couple of major back-catalog titles to other platforms — specifically TV series favorites The Office to Peacock and Friends to HBO Max — the streamer still offers a wide variety of familiar network shows and more original series, films, documentaries and specials than any of its competitors. New shows and movies arrive each week, and 70 new original movies arrived on the Netflix platform in 2021 alone. And the company doesn’t mind catering to different tastes with gaming options and categories for kids, anime and foreign language titles from all over the globe. 

Starting at $7 a month for a basic ad-supported account and $10 monthly for basic ad-free, its price is in the middle of the TV service pack. Its standard plan bumps that up to $15.50 per month, which includes HD and two simultaneous streams. The new ad-supported $7 subscription offers one stream for members who want to pay less. But for the variety you get, it’s still a top pick.

Like:

  • Simple interface that’s easy to navigate
  • Solid recommendation system
  • Abundant catalog of licensed movies, shows and originals including Stranger Things, Manifest and Cobra Kai

Don’t like:

  • Expensive subscription plans

Read our Netflix review.

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Disney Plus is one of Netflix’s closest competitors — for good reason. It’s the only place where you can stream the vast majority of the Disney and Pixar libraries, along with every Star Wars movie, Marvel films and new original TV shows, National Geographic content and 30-plus seasons of The Simpsons. While The Mandalorian was its first breakout series, its slate of Marvel shows, including Loki and She-Hulk, have since drawn millions of viewers. Features such as Turning Red and Encanto won rave reviews. Plus, there’s lots more Star Wars and Marvel original programming coming in the next few years. 

At the current price of $8 a month, Disney Plus is still one of the least expensive ad-free streaming TV choices and a great value. We consider it a must-have if you have kids or are a fan of any of its other titles (and who isn’t a fan of Baby Yoda?). 

On Dec. 8 the price for the ad-free version will jump $3, to $11 a month, and Disney will roll out the ad-supported version of Disney Plus for $8 per month. At the same time it will add additional bundles, the cheapest of which is a new $10-a-month plan that combines Disney Plus and Hulu, both with ads.

Like:

  • Huge library that includes Thor: Love and Thunder, Obi-Wan Kenobi, She-Hulk and Luca 
  • Ad-free with reasonable monthly price (for now)
  • Adjustable content rating system

Don’t like:

  • Extended waits for new or original releases

Read our Disney Plus review.

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HBO Max is a well-designed app full of popular TV shows and movies. It has HBO’s entire library, DC Universe titles, along with favorites such as Friends, Rick and Morty, the Lord of the Rings movies and almost every Studio Ghibli film. And it’s the primary destination for new Warner Brothers-owned feature films. It’s not Disney Plus, but HBO Max has a solid streaming collection for kids too, with the ability to control ratings on kids’ profiles better than most other services. 

At $10 a month, it sits next to Netflix at the higher end of the streaming spectrum, and if you prefer the ad-free experience, the cost jumps up to $15 per month. In general, HBO Max is ramping up its new originals, and we expect that to increase over time. Though its 8.0 rating is neck-and-neck with Prime Video, HBO Max consistently drops new releases, possesses a large back catalog and offers smooth, user-friendly features.

Like:

  • Slick interface
  • Loads of content for all audiences. Shows and movies include The Batman, Euphoria, Hacks, Teen Titans, Succession and House of the Dragon
  • Reliable, customizable parental controls

Don’t like:

  • Pricier subscriptions, even with ads

Read our HBO Max review.

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For $8 a month (with ads), Hulu is a perfect complement and counterpoint to Netflix. Its channel lineup has a huge variety of familiar shows from networks like ABC, Fox and CBS that you can watch soon after they air (unlike on Netflix), as well as a growing catalog of its own critically acclaimed original series like The Handmaid’s Tale and Only Murders in the Building. If you have $8 a month to spare and don’t mind trading a few ads for a wealth of TV options, Hulu is a no-brainer. You’ve also got the option to upgrade to a no-ads plan for $15 a month, or add on live TV streaming for $70 a month for a full cable replacement.

Like:

  • Low monthly price
  • Access to network shows and originals including Abbott Elementary, The Handmaid’s Tale, Only Murders in the Building, The Kardashians, Love Island
  • New episodes available almost immediately
  • Option to get the Disney Bundle

Don’t like:

  • Smaller catalog of originals than its rivals
  • Menus are sometimes hard to navigate

Read our Hulu review.

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Amazon’s Prime Video features lots of ad-free, quality original shows and movies, an impressive back catalog of older favorites (and B-movies you haven’t heard of) and NFL on Thursday nights. And if you’re a New York Yankees fan, you can even stream live MLB games for the 2022 season. 

It lacks the catalogs of Netflix and Hulu, and the star power of Disney’s streaming platform, and I found its menus more confusing since there’s some paid content mixed in with free content. Prime Video’s new redesign aims to cut down on that confusion with clearer labeling and menu updates for its global customer base. For millions of Prime subscribers, the Prime Video channel is already included at no extra cost. If you’re interested in checking out any of its originals like The Rings of Power or its large movie selection, it may even be worth paying the stand-alone $9 a month TV service fee (if you don’t have Amazon Prime).

Like:

  • Included in with Prime membership
  • Large selection of movies and TV shows including The Boys, The Rings of Power, Hunters and Reacher
  • Offline downloads

Don’t like:

  • Confusing search process and menus
  • Free and paid content stacked together

Read our Amazon Prime Video review.

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Priced below Netflix at $9 a month, Starz provides a unique but expanding library of films and original shows. With more than 800 movies in its bank that range from ’80s classics to Westerns to the hottest new Sony releases like Spider-Man: No Way Home, the streamer houses every genre in its catalog. But Starz has been inching its way into the prestige TV market with a quality lineup of original programming.

It’s best known for the Power universe, Outlander and The White Queen, and the network stands apart by promoting diversity and representation in its originals, elevating the voices of women and people of color. As a Lionsgate-owned company, Starz also airs the studio’s movies and shows — like John Wick and Saw. While you can’t stream feature films as day-and-date releases, Starz recently inked a deal with Universal to broadcast its 2022 and beyond lineup. That includes flicks such as Jurassic World Dominion, Halloween Ends, Minions: The Rise of Gru and Oppenheimer. For $9 a month, the Starz app gives you unlimited downloads, early access to new TV show episodes, and four simultaneous streams, all with no ads disrupting your viewing experience. Whether you want to stream blockbuster movies, documentaries, original series, or something for kids, Starz is worth the cost.

Like:

  • Quality TV shows including P-Valley, Power Book III: Raising Kanan, The Serpent Queen and Shining Vale; movies include Spider-Man: No Way Home and Ghostbusters: Afterlife
  • New episodes drop early on the app
  • Unlimited downloads

Don’t like:

  • Playback issues on some phones

Read our Starz review.

Sarah Tew/CNET

ESPN Plus is a great streaming service for the tried-and-true sports fans, especially those who follow the NHL, MLS and UFC. This is because ESPN Plus is the new home of all out-of-market National Hockey League games, while also offering out-of-market MLS soccer matches, along with those from other soccer leagues around the world. It hosts exclusive UFC matches and pay-per-view events, such as UFC Fight Night and championship bouts (for additional fees).

Hockey and MLS fans who root for teams that aren’t based where they currently live need ESPN’s streaming service to watch their team’s action. The service won’t be of much use, however, to fans of the home teams. Local games are blacked out on ESPN Plus so you’ll need access to your regional sports network through cable or a live TV streaming service in order to watch them. But there’s good news for golf fans: ESPN Plus will livestream the PGA Tour in 2022 with more than 4,000 hours of exclusive footage. PGA Tour Live will provide coverage for more than 30 events from January through the fall. 

ESPN Plus doesn’t show live NFL or NBA games, however, and while its vast library of original programming is impressive, it’s difficult to navigate. While the year service is best suited for die-hard fans of the sports it covers well, more casual fans might find themselves with an ESPN Plus subscription anyway through the Disney Bundle, which also includes Hulu and Disney Plus for $14 total. 

On Aug. 23 the price for standalone ESPN Plus increased to $10 a month, although the price of the Disney Bundle will remain the same until December. At that point the least-expensive version of the Disney Bundle with ESPN Plus will include Disney Plus, Hulu and ESPN Plus with ads for $13 a month.

Like:

  • ESPN originals
  • Plenty to watch for NHL, UFC and MLS fans

Don’t like:

  • Missing live broadcasts for NFL and NBA

Read our ESPN Plus review.

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NBCUniversal’s streaming service Peacock has one major advantage over its peers: It has a free, ad-supported tier with about 13,000 hours of shows, movies, news and live sports. You can upgrade to premium for $5 a month (with ads) or premium plus for $10 a month (with no ads) to unlock more content, including every season of fan favorites like the TV series The Office and Parks and Recreation, as well as live Premier League soccer matches and WWE events. Because NBC ended its deal with Hulu, new episodes of its shows will stream exclusively on Peacock, beginning this fall. Other additions for 2022 include new movie premieres 45 days after their theatrical releases.

Peacock drops in the rankings due to its lack of mobile downloads for its non-premium plus tiers and 4K HDR streaming, which most of its competitors offer. But it doesn’t hurt to try out the free version — all you need to sign up is an email address.

Like:

  • Free tier
  • Stream Yellowstone, The Voice, Chicago Fire, live sports, The Real Housewives franchise or originals like Bel-Air
  • Live broadcasts of NFL’s Sunday Night Football
  • Decent selection of movies 

Don’t like:

  • No offline downloads for mobile
  • Paywall prevents access full seasons
  • Peacock Premium has ads, not the best value

Read our Peacock review.

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Paramount Plus brings together live news and sports with on-demand shows and movies, including originals, leaning on parent company Paramount’s brands like CBS, MTV, BET, Comedy Central, Nickelodeon and Paramount Network, plus its Paramount Pictures movie studio. 

The service has a ton of content: 30,000 episodes of TV and 2,500 movies, plus dozens of original series arriving this year, for either $5 a month (with ads) or $10 a month (ad-free). Two of its biggest draws from its CBS All Access days include the Star Trek catalog and new originals like Star Trek: Discovery and Picard, and the series The Good Fight. Buzz-worthy originals include two Yellowstone spinoffs (though Yellowstone itself is on rival Peacock), a Star Trek animated show, a series based on Halo, and new movies like Mission: Impossible 7 arriving 45 days after theaters. But right now, its main value lies in nostalgia: You can watch just about every old Nickelodeon show, Comedy Central stand-up specials and popular series ranging from Frasier and Cheers to SpongeBob SquarePants and Young Sheldon. Additionally, Paramount Plus launched a Live Channels feature which enables subscribers to watch curated content in special categories. Check out channels for Star Trek, CBS Sports HQ, Paw Patrol, and more with either subscription plan. 

Currently, new subscribers can receive a seven-day free trial.

Like:

  • Large selection of reality shows including RuPaul’s Drag Race, kids’ content from Nickelodeon, and access to CBS hits NCIS, Young Sheldon
  • Streams major movies such as Scream 5 and Top Gun: Maverick soon after release
  • Live NFL games
  • Inexpensive monthly price

Don’t like:

  • Few originals outside of Evil, Yellowstone: 1883, Halo and Star Trek: Strange New Worlds
  • Not much 4K HDR content

Read our Paramount Plus review.

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Despite the price jump to $7 a month, Apple TV Plus stands as the lowest-priced premium, ad-free streaming service available, with high-end features like 4K resolution, HDR and mobile downloads. However, it’s also the only service on this list that includes only original content, and no back catalog of shows or movies to explore. While it now has more than 50 exclusive, big-budget original programming shows and movies, only a few have captured widespread attention, such as Ted Lasso and Severance, while CODA won Best Picture among other Oscars. Though the service is branching out with additions like live MLB baseball on Fridays, its library is far smaller than any of the others on this list. 

The app is also confusing because it’s housed in the larger Apple TV app with other content. However, Apple TV Plus has one big advantage: There are a lot of ways to get it for free, at least for a while. If you’re a degree-seeking college student, a new purchaser of an Apple device, or someone who subscribes to the Apple One bundle, you can snag a long-term free trial of Apple TV Plus.

Like:

  • Ted Lasso, and prestige shows such as Pachinko, Foundation, The Morning Show, Severance
  • No ads
  • All originals stream with 4K, HDR, Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos
  • Cheap monthly rate

Don’t like:

  • Small selection of titles
  • Lack of older content
  • No Android support

Read our Apple TV Plus review.

How we test streaming services

Chances are you’re already pretty familiar with most of the names on this list, but it’s by no means comprehensive. There are plenty of other ways to stream, and hundreds of other choices out there. As we evaluated these particular streaming options, we kept certain things in mind. 

This list is ordered based on the numerical value I assigned to each streaming service in their individual review, which I determined by design (i.e. ease of use across different TV and mobile platforms), features (like 4K HDR, mobile downloads, recommendations, watch lists and number of streams), content (number of shows and quality of originals and back catalogs) and value (price compared to these other factors). Click through to the full reviews for more details.

Streaming services FAQs

Are there any tips for internet speed or the best hardware?

To watch any of the services on this list you’ll need a solid internet connection, a compatible device (like a Roku, Amazon Fire TV or Apple TV, a smart TV, phone, tablet or computer) and a valid username and password. CNET offers tips on how to optimize your internet speed for streaming Netflix and these other services.

Which streaming service is the most cost effective?

Ultimately, you can choose any streaming service you want based on price, content and who watches what in your household. But if you’re looking to pare down costs, opt for free platforms or ones that offer the most value for $10 or less. CNET offers tips on how to trim your streaming budget, and we keep up with the latest streaming service deals and discounts. You can always have multiple subscriptions and cancel a service whenever content feels dry. 

What about live TV streaming and niche services?

This list includes major on-demand streaming services only. It does not include live TV streaming services for cord-cutters (think Sling TV, YouTube TV, which offer live channels intended to replace cable), free streaming services like Tubi or Crackle or smaller, niche services like Crunchyroll or PBS Kids or regional sports networks. You can check out our other best lists for streaming services that cater to anime, kids and more. 

Want more? Check out CNET’s Streaming TV Insider for advice on what to watch, the latest streaming news, help, how-to and more.

More recommendations 

Go to Publisher: CNET
Author: Kourtnee Jackson