We're spoilt for choice when it comes to streaming services. But with so many options to choose from, which one is the best for you?
There's no dearth of streaming services to watch in the UK, but with so many options available at different prices, which ones are really worth your money? We break down the pros and cons of the top five UK streaming services - namely Netflix, Disney Plus, Amazon Prime Video, Now TV and Britbox.
Each of the services cater to slightly different audiences and are available at different price points - some even have a free trial that you can avail of, while others don't. Read on to find out if you're getting your money's worth in terms of content, video quality, simultaneous device usage and offline content.
How to choose the best streaming service for you
What do you want to watch?
Regardless of what your interests are, you’re likely to find a service that suits your tastes. Looking for something for the entire family? Disney Plus and Now TV Kids have you covered. Nostalgic for some British sitcoms? Try Bitbox. Want a great combination of movies, TV shows and original content? Look no further than Netflix and Amazon Prime Video.
Is there a free trial, and can I cancel at any time?
All streaming services - except Disney Plus - offer a free trial for new customers. This trial period length differs from service to service - from one week to one month. While all the streaming services require your UK bank account details when you first sign up, you can choose to cancel the service within the first few days without being charged. Disney Plus recently cancelled its free weeklong trial service.
Most of the streaming services have a monthly and a yearly plan. While a yearly plan works out cheaper in the long run, you won't be able to cancel at any time, so if you're unsure, opt for the monthly plan because this gives you more cancellation flexibility until you make up your mind. If you've made up your mind, you can always change your plan from monthly to yearly.
What devices can I watch on?
All five streaming services mentioned below work on multiple platforms - PCs, laptops and mobile devices, including phones or tablets. Most even have apps for Smart TVs and gaming consoles. Other ways to watch are via streaming sticks like the Google Chromecast, Amazon Fire TV Stick and Roku Streaming Stick, which are cheap ways to turn your old, bog-standard television into a Smart TV.
Can I download content to watch offline?
The ability to download content differs from service to service, but almost all streaming services offer the feature in some form. Services such as Disney Plus allow the platform’s entire catalogue to be downloaded for offline viewing, whereas Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Now TV have the feature in a more limited capacity depending on what you intend to download offline.
Do I need a fast internet connection?
An average of 5Mbits/sec is recommended to stream content in Full HD (1080p). Considering the average internet download speed in the UK is around 30Mbits/sec, these requirements shouldn’t be a problem for most people. You can check your internet speed here if you need to.
How much data does streaming use?
On average streaming in standard quality uses about 1GB of data per hour, whereas streaming in HD can use up to 3GB for the same duration. Watching a lengthy film in 4K - Ultra HD - however, can use more than double that data. Regardless of your mobile data plan, you should always download content offline on your home Wi-Fi network before you begin your commute.
The best streaming services in the UK
1. Netflix: Best overall
Price: From £5.99 | Subscribe to Netflix
The coronavirus pandemic has proved why no other streaming service comes close to competing with Netflix. Not only did it release fresh new content regularly in the last six months, but it also smartly purchased content that was on other platforms to popularise it on Netflix - namely Cobra Kai that was previously available on YouTube and BBC series, The Fall.
Since its UK launch in 2012, Netflix has pivoted its focus away from third-party content and towards original programming. From pop-culture smash-hits such as The Last Dance and Tiger King to new seasons that people wait to binge on such as The Witcher and Stranger Things, the N logo used to denote a piece of Netflix original content in the services catalogue has quickly become synonymous with quality.
Apart from that, Netflix also seems to cater to regional content, often popularising regional shows and making them worldwide hits (we're looking at you, Money Heist). It's also the only place to watch every single episode of Friends and Big Bang Theory - two massive cult hit series that defined a generation.
On the film front, Netflix offers decent value as well. Its original films slate has dramatically improved after a rocky start. Recent hits include Oscar-nominees The Irishman and Marriage Story, and the service offers a decent, if slightly small, selection of well-known blockbuster hits, too. In terms of functionality, Netflix’s experience in the market shows, making it one of the most user-friendly and easy to navigate platforms around. Most of Netflix’s content is downloadable offline as well, including every single Netflix Original.
Our biggest gripe with Netflix are its prices which tend to rise slowly every year. The Standard plan will set you back more than £100/year and this restricts you to HD-quality streams on two simultaneous devices. To unlock UHD content and streaming on four devices you need the Ultra plan which costs £144/year.
Netflix smartly proved why it is important to capitalise on an early advantage. It enticed people with films that are now taken off its platforms by other services like Disney Plus. However, in that time, it created great content of its own that people will gladly pay (a slowly-rising cost) for - or share a Netflix account - because they’re invested in great international and regional content.
Read our detailed Netflix review for more information
Key Specs - Free-trial: Yes, 30 days; HD content: On Standard and Ultimate Plans Offline downloads: Yes; Simultaneous users: Basic (1); Standard (2); Ultimate (4)
2. Disney Plus: Best value-for-money
Price: £5.99/mnth or £59.99/year | Subscribe to Disney Plus
While Netflix has been scoring one hit after another since the pandemic hit, Disney Plus has been sputtering and relying on their existing catalogue to gain new subscribers. Mulan became the first massive movie to be released exclusively on the platform, but you have to pay and an additional amount to watch it. Artemis Fowl was built up with hype only to be panned by critics.
New movies like Onward and Frozen 2 have proved to be half-exciting, while original Disney Plus series like The One and Only Ivan and The Right Stuff have not opened to rave enough reviews that will force people to log into their Disney Plus subscription. The service still appeals to Simpsons, Marvels and Star Wars fans, and those who have kids that need to be entertained while parents continue to work from home.
Disney Plus faces its biggest challenge as it nears the one-year international launch of the service. Yes, the Mandalorian Season Two is on the horizon but is that reason enough for them to take out a yearly Disney Plus subscription again? Strategically, Disney Plus has placed two of its biggest new shows in December to entice them into doing just that with Pixar's Soul set to skip theatres entirely for launch on the service and the first Marvel TV series, Wandavision also scheduled for release in the same month.
Thankfully, Disney Plus has priced their offering at an attractive £60/year, which is currently cheaper than both Netflix and Amazon Prime Video but - unlike at launch last year - this does not include a seven-day free trial any more. While majority of the content is in HD, all the Marvel and Star Wars films are available in UHD, and you can download everything that the service offers to watch offline on up to 10 different devices.
Read our detailed Disney Plus review for more information
Key Specs - Free-trial: No; HD content: Yes; Offline downloads: Yes; Simultaneous users: 4
3. Amazon Prime Video: Best for content variety
Price: From £5.99/mnth | Subscribe to Amazon Prime Video
When it comes to diversity of content, Amazon Prime Video is unmatched. From smash-hit US television series, such as Lost, Grey's Anatomy and The Walking Dead, to a well-rounded collection of classic and contemporary movies, Prime’s catalogue has plenty worth watching.
The service has also recently ventured into broadcasting live sporting events, giving it a USP that no other streaming service can boast of. The service recently broadcast live coverage of the 2020 US Open tennis tournament and in December, it will broadcast 20 live Premier League games. If Amazon can capitalise on expanding this part of its repertoire, then it will certainly stand out from the other streaming services on this list.
Prime Video has its own rapidly-expanding collection of original programming, and while some of them such as The Man in the High Castle and The Boys are worth your time, as a whole the quality of Prime Originals is a bit hit-and-miss, especially when you compare it to Netflix. The service’s search functionality still needs work and its UI seems counter-intuitive, confusingly mingling free content with paid-for movies and channels. Thankfully, most content that’s available on Prime can be downloaded offline.
For £79/year, you get a full Amazon Prime subscription, which not only includes Prime Video, but also unlimited one-day delivery on thousands of products, music streaming through Prime Music, unlimited photo storage and several other benefits to boot, so we can’t really complain about Amazon Prime Video bundled at that price.
Read our detailed Amazon Prime Video review for more information
Key Specs - Free-trial: Yes, 30 days; HD content: Yes; Offline downloads: Yes; Simultaneous users: 3
Subscribe to Amazon Prime Video
4. Now TV: Best a-la-carte streaming service
Price: From £4/mnth | Subscribe to Now TV
Sky TV is the UK’s largest television subscription service, but it subjects you to installation fees and long-term contracts that can often end up costing you more than a few hundred pounds a year. Now TV is an a-la-carte version of the service, basically letting you access different types of Sky TV content on a monthly contract by purchasing specific passes.
There are five different passes: Entertainment Pass, Sky Cinema Pass, Sky Sports Pass, Kids Pass and hayu Pass. The Now TV Entertainment Pass lets you watch over 300 box sets, including Watchmen, Gangs of London, Succession, Game of Thrones, Chernobyl and Curb Your Enthusiasm for £9/mnth. If you prefer watching movies instead, then the Now TV Sky Cinema Pass has over 1,000 movies for £12/mnth. Similarly, the hayu Pass and Kids Pass has over 5,000 episodes of reality TV and over 1,000 kids shows respectively. Both cost £4/month.
Now TV’s crown-jewel is the Now TV Sky Sports Pass, which has different tiers, ranging from the Mobile Monthly Pass at £6/mnth, to the Sky Sports Month Pass at an astronomical £34/mnth. However, it’s the only place where you can watch live broadcasts of the Premier League, EFL and even US sports like the NFL and NBA. It's also the only pass that does not include a free trial.
The drawback with Now TV is that you can only watch content in HD (720p) and on two devices at the same time. To watch it in HD (1080p) and upgrade to watching on three devices at the same time, you need to get Now TV Boost, which costs an additional £3/mnth. Unlike Disney Plus, Netflix and Amazon Prime Video, Now TV doesn't broadcast content in 4K even if you have a compatible 4K TV.
Read our detailed Now TV review for more information
Key Specs - Free-trial: Yes, 7 days; HD content: Not unless you get Now TV Boost; Offline downloads: Yes; Simultaneous users: 2; 3 if you get Now TV Boost
5. Britbox: Best for British content
Price: £5.99 | Subscribe to Britbox
The brainchild of BBC and ITV, Britbox is a joint streaming venture by the two biggest networks in the UK. For £5.99/month, the service gives you access to hundreds of BBC and ITV boxsets from classic comedies such as Absolutely Fabulous and Blackadder, to modern dramas including Broadchurch and Downton Abbey.
Britbox also features all six series of Love Island and over 600 episodes of classic Doctor Who, which is the first time they’ve ever been available to stream anywhere. BBC and ITV have extremely deep archives, so it's a shame that Britbox doesn’t delve into them a little more. Shows like Dad’s Army are curiously missing, and we feel the catalogue could, and really should, offer more.
Feature-wise Britbox is lagging behind the competition as well. There’s no option to download content for offload viewing, almost a necessity for streaming services at this point, and the lack of subtitles on much of the content will be a dealbreaker for some.
Britbox is promising a slate of original content in the coming months, the first offering will be a drama called Lambs of God, as well as series from Channel 4, so we definitely see a potential for this service in the future. There’s definitely still value to a Britbox subscription as it stands, by offering a stronger collection of British television than any of its competitors it’s by no means an unattractive proposition, even if a few key features are missing.
Read our detailed Britbox review for more information
Key Specs - Free-trial: Yes, 30 days; HD content: Yes; Offline downloads: No; Simultaneous users: 5