Netflix and Hulu Plus are available solely through a monthly subscription. Amazon collects an upfront annual payment for its Prime service. Even if you stack up more than one monthly service together, the monthly costs can still be far less than signing up for basic cable in addition to at least one premium channel like HBO.
It is important to note that HBO GO is available only to current subscribers of the channel through a cable provider. Unlike its other internet TV counterparts, you may not use HBO GO as a stand-alone service. The upside: you can watch HBO GO on almost any connected TV device, including most smart TVs, Roku boxes, Apple TV and Chromecast. The downside: if you are not a cable subscriber, you're out of luck. To stream the service successfully, you have to use the same email and password you use to log into your account for your cable or satellite provider. There are still regional cable providers who have yet to establish a relationship with HBO GO. While this may change in the future, you should first check with your cable provider to verify if you can use your account to sign up for HBO's popular streaming TV service.
Best Services for Watching Movies Online
Netflix is, by far, the most popular of these services. Even though the company still offers its ubiquitous DVD mailing service, it has become the internet's most popular destination for watching movies online. While the online offering is still not quite as prolific as the company's DVD service, it does have thousands of movie titles in its catalog. As the service has increased in popularity, it has offered even more current movie titles, similar to cable TV channels like Showtime and HBO.
HBO is known these days more for its cutting edge TV content, but it still carries quite a few film titles through its HBO GO app. It carries all of its popular television content as well as a host of current and older TV titles. Like the movies through your cable subscription, most are available for a limited period. One nice feature of HBO GO is that it will clearly underline when a particular film title is expiring, so viewers have plenty of time to stream before the title gets removed from the app.
Amazon Prime is a relative newcomer, but it has a prolific offering of current and classic film titles. Amazon's film content can be purchased and rented a la carte as well, but its Prime service bundles a wide selection of its film and television titles for a single annual fee. Prime also offers some benefits to Amazon shoppers, but increasingly, Amazon is including its most popular film and TV content to Prime subscribers.
Apple's iTunes service has even more current movie titles than most other services, and some movies are released simultaneously on iTunes and movie theaters. All of the content on iTunes is available exclusively through an Apple device, such as an iPad or an Apple TV box. The latter is probably the most convenient tool through which to view the service's extensive film library. Note that titles are available for one-time rental, purchase or possibly both.
While Google is more widely known in the internet TV space for its streaming service YouTube, Google Play was launched as a competing service to iTunes. YouTube is certainly one of the internet's most popular destinations for watching homemade viral videos and sharing them on social media sites. While YouTube does carry television and movie content, titles are typically taken down almost immediately if they violate any copyrights. Google Play, however, is Google's movie and television show rental service, offering thousands of movie titles available for rental or purchase. GooglePlay is available on any Android-powered device, and also via Google's affordable Chromecast device, which connects directly to your television and is controllable through your Android phone or tablet.
CinemaNow and VUDU also provide convenient methods to watch movies online. Walmart-owned VUDU has an extensive catalog of movies that you can rent and stream or purchase for download. Best Buy's CinemaNow is similar in both offerings and pricing. Like iTunes, CinemaNow and VUDU often carry films that have been released through streaming movie and TV services and in movie theaters simultaneously. Both services are available through the most popular connected TV devices, as well as through any device with an internet connection. Unlike iTunes or GooglePlay, and similarly to Netflix, these services are platform-agnostic, meaning that you can watch them on either an Android or Apple device, as well as through any compatible browser on your laptop or desktop computer. Most smart TVs now include several of these offerings in their menus. Check with the manufacturer prior to the purchase of any smart TV to determine which internet TV apps are included, as that varies quite a bit.
Best Services for Streaming TV
If your preference is to watch current TV shows online as soon as possible, your best options are Hulu Plus, iTunes and Amazon Prime. Hulu Plus has both classic and current TV titles to give you choices between this season's best content as well as favorites from the past. Hulu has partnerships with many popular TV and cable networks, like Comedy Central, Fox, ABC and more. While access to all of its content is available only through a monthly subscription fee, you may browse its titles online or sign up for a free trial prior to subscribing.
iTunes has long been in the business of offering hot music releases to fans, and it is doing the same with television. If you want to cut the cord on your cable subscription, iTunes will be one of your most likely destinations for current television programming. Likewise, Amazon Prime is a top spot for finding popular TV content, both classic and contemporary. Google Play has also recently become a strong contender in this category, as many popular TV shows are available through the service.
M-GO is a recent addition to the internet TV space. As such, while it does include a decent array of current TV shows, it's not nearly as robust as Hulu Plus, iTunes or Amazon. Like iTunes or GooglePlay, shows are available for purchase or rental. The fees for most of these titles will be similar on any of these services, although M-GO is not as likely to have as broad an offering as even VUDU or CinemaNow. Given time, however, this newcomer could catch up.
YouTube: A Different Breed
YouTube is the outlier of internet TV services. So far, the Google-owned network has no plans to charge you to watch popular videos of cats, or anything else for that matter. The channel, however, has become widely known for launching internet TV celebrities, also called YouTubers, who are mostly popular with younger viewers. YouTube is, in a way, the Wild West of internet TV. Because anyone anywhere can upload content to the channel, it does sometimes have an unusual trove of older TV shows, films, sports and oddball content like TV commercials. However, YouTube will often take down posted videos that violate the copyright of the original producer. The hotter and more sought after this content is, the more likely it is to be taken down as soon as it shows up. Google uses its GooglePlay store as the home of all of its legitimate content, and works ardently with motion picture and television production studios to pull down illegally uploaded content as soon as it shows up.
However, there are some real treasures to be found if you do some diligent searching. YouTube has become the most ubiquitous home for original, low-budget TV content. Aspiring talk show hosts, musicians, actors, writers, directors and more use the platform to gain an audience and to get their content in front of prospective fans. If you're into content that is best described as offbeat, weird, unexpected and unusual, you can spend some fun hours searching through YouTube's thousands of hour's worth of original shows.
Also, popular celebrities and hit TV shows, including stalwarts like "The Daily Show" and "Saturday Night Live" have official channels where they upload content regularly. While these aren't full episodes, shows like "The Tonight Show" use YouTube as a platform to share shorter sketches, interviews and clips. Even popular comedians will use their YouTube channel as a home for new content, which is often linked from their individual websites.
YouTube has become a home of music videos, with official channels from streaming music video sites like Vevo. Many record labels also have sanctioned channels, with content that is legally licensed to stream. The popular viral video site Buzzfeed also has its own channel where it shares its quirky comedy shorts. Some YouTubers have put their content behind a pay wall and can be searched under YouTube's Paid Channels header. Each provider dictates its own subscription fees. While some of it is extremely professional, such as the Red Bull channel, much of it is created by unknown producers or YouTubers who have become so popular, their followings are willing to pay a premium to watch their content. If you're feeling adventurous, you may want to check some of these out.
Which Devices Can I Stream Internet TV On?
As mentioned above, some of these services are exclusive to certain devices or platforms. While Amazon did launch a host of its own Fire phones and devices, its Prime app remains available on any Android- or Apple-connected TV. The Amazon Prime app can also be downloaded through Google's Play store or through the iOS store if you prefer to watch on a tablet or mobile device.
iTunes remains available solely through Apple devices. Apple is, at its core, a consumer electronics company and uses the iTunes services as a perk for iPhone and iPad customers. Recently, Google announced that its Google Play Movies & TV app would be available in the Apple Store, making any movie or TV title purchased in the GooglePlay store available on any iOS device. VUDU, CinemaNow, Hulu Plus, and M-GO also have apps available for both Android and iOS devices. YouTube is almost exclusively available through newer models of connected internet televisions. YouTube will play on almost any Android or IOS device, and of course can be streamed via a current browser.
Netflix has done an excellent job of making itself available on almost anything that connects to the internet, including a smart TV, Apple TV, Roku box, Chromecast and any iOS or Android device. Because the service has become so popular with viewers, it has partnered with most major consumer electronic manufacturers to ensure that it has an app for just about any device you could name.
You can also use popular gaming consoles to stream some of these internet TV sites. HBO GO, Netflix and more can be streamed on some versions of the Xbox and PlayStation consoles. There are several different internet TV apps available through the most recent gaming consoles, like the PS4 and the Xbox One.