The best services for watching what you want, when you want.
By Hadyn Green
It seems every month a new video streaming service is being launched, offering more and more niche and exclusive content. We’ve rated the main ones available here and compared what they do and don’t offer.
Types of services
There are four main types of video-on-demand services: subscription (SVOD), transactional (TVOD) also known as pay-per-view (PPV), free TV-on-demand, and sports streaming.
SVOD is the service most people know about. You pay a monthly fee to access a library of content that’s regularly updated. These services usually offer both movies and television shows.
PPV is more like an online video store. There’s no monthly fee and you rent, and in some cases buy, movies to watch on-demand. There are a few PPV services around – we’ve assessed the main local services.
Free TV-on-demand services are available from the main TV broadcasters, but also combined into Freeview. The content is usually only available for a limited time (a few weeks in most cases) and depends on the deal the broadcaster has with the content distributor. These services play advertisements (though fewer than terrestrial broadcasts). We don’t cover this as part of our trial.
Sports streaming services offer live and on-demand sports either as league-specific, such the services offered by the NBA and NFL, or across a range of sports and leagues. Most major sports can be found on a streaming service.
There are video streaming services that don’t fall neatly into our categories, such as YouTube Premium. It removes all the ads from YouTube and has original shows and movies, but its original content is poor, with mostly reality-style offerings and movies that are vehicles for YouTube celebrities.
There’s also Twitch, the popular platform for watching live streams of video games.
Two tips for choosing the right service
Sign up for a free trial
Nearly all SVOD services offer free trials – we recommend trying them before choosing one (or more) and signing up.
Put your subscription on hold
Remember you’re not locked into a long-term deal. If you don’t want the service after a couple of months, you can just stop your subscription and sign up to another one. This system means you can “pause” your subscription (your account remains active, but you can’t access content), and restart it again at another time. This is good if you only want to watch a single series on one service. Once it’s over, you can pause your subscription until new episodes arrive.
How we grade
We graded services on a six-point scale (A-F). Grades are relative not absolute, so an “F” doesn’t mean “fail”, just that it isn’t as good as a “C” in the same category. Grades were calculated using a points system, where points were awarded for:
range of devices the services were available on; including smart TVs (as an app), mobile devices and game consoles
range of content (not amount); including movies, TV shows, and documentaries
amount of the content is accessible for those who require closed captions or descriptive audio
how much content is available in high definition (HD, 1080p) or UHD/4K resolution
number of devices allowed (on your account and watching concurrently)
if content is downloadable for offline viewing (SVOD-only)
price of each service compared to the overall average.
For high-resolution content (HD and 4K), the best any service can do is “where possible”. This is because they can’t offer content filmed at a low resolution, in a higher one. This is especially true when the service offers TVs shows that were formatted for old TV screen sizes.
Subscription services (SVOD)
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Accessing overseas services, such as Hulu, HBO Now, and BBC iPlayer is simple:
Subscribe to a VPN or Smart DNS service such as NordVPN, Express VPN or Tunnel Bear.
Follow the instructions to use the VPN on your devices.
Many international services require an international credit card or address. If this is the case, check if you can pay via a third party, such as Apple or Roku, and use a personalised address from an international package-forwarding company.
Note: This is how to access legal streaming services, not pirate services. Websites or set-top boxes that offer free access to paid content are illegal and Consumer NZ does not condone their use.