Subscription TV Streaming

Updated February 28, 2014
In this report
Hulu Plus
Best Reviewed

Best TV streaming service

Hulu Plus

For cable TV cord cutters, Hulu Plus is a must

For those who want to ditch cable TV and can't use a TV antenna to pull in current TV programming over the air, finding current-season episodes of your favorite programs is a bit of a hodgepodge affair. Because of various licensing agreements, some current-season programs can be viewed only on a broadcaster or cable channel website, or purchased from a video-on-demand streaming site such as iTunes, Vudu or Amazon Instant.

However, a lot of the most popular shows can also be seen via Hulu Plus (Est. $7.99 per month) , making it almost a must-have for cord cutters. Current episodes from series airing on ABC, NBC, Fox and The CW are available as soon as the next day, although others are subject to a longer eight-day wait. Depending on the licensing deal, available programs might be limited to the last few that aired or may encompass the entire season to date. Conspicuous by its absence is CBS, which only streams current-season programs on its own website or on a video-on-demand basis, but has entered into deals with Hulu to bring past seasons to the service.

While Hulu Plus concentrates on current-season domestic TV shows, you'll find past seasons of certain popular programs -- in addition to the ones from CBS -- as well as a good selection of international TV shows. The movie selection is neither extensive nor immune from its share of "you need to be desperate to watch this" fare, but the inclusion of films from the renowned The Criterion Collection gives the catalog a bit of an art house rather than a grindhouse feel. The presence of commercials in both TV programs and movies is an annoyance, although it bothers some critics more than others.

Note that some of the same TV shows and films found on Hulu Plus -- along with even more past seasons of TV shows -- can be seen on the free website. The catch is that content is not as easy to watch on your living room TV. We discuss the site in our section on free movie and TV streaming; ways to bring website-only programming to your TV are discussed in the section on movie streaming hardware.

If you live in certain metropolitan areas, Aereo (Est. $8 per month and up) can be a great option for watching live TV streaming. The base subscription gets you access to most channels broadcasting in your area, including sub-channels, along with 20 hours of DVR storage so you can time shift your viewing. An additional $4 per month bumps DVR storage up to 60 hours. Hardware support is limited, but it is available on the Roku set-top box (it's a private channel not listed in the Roku store, however) or streamed from an Apple device to your TV set via an Apple TV.

Aereo is certainly controversial. Its TV streaming service does not compensate broadcasters, instead assigning a remote TV antenna and virtual DVR to each subscriber so, in theory, they would receive it as an over-the-air signal. Broadcasters are not convinced and have sued to have the service shut down. Aereo had successfully defended itself in each case until a February 2014 decision went against it, ending service for the time being in Denver and Salt Lake City. The Aereo case is scheduled to be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court, and its decision may well decide the TV streaming service's fate.