The world of TV viewing has changed massively since Sky+ and its 'time-stretching' capabilities were considered cutting-edge.
Thanks to the rise of TV streaming services, you can now binge-watch your way through hundreds of shows and movies on demand.
The likes of Netflix and Amazon Prime Video often make all episodes of a series available at once. So you can choose how long to take getting through them.
What's more, because they deliver said episodes over the internet, there’s no need to worry about installing a clunky set-top box and definitely no satellite dish required.
TV streaming services offer more choice than a standard TV provider, too. Nowadays streaming services cater for all types of tastes. From highbrow films and challenging drama from the US to goofy comedies and classic BBC shows.
For uSwitch's one-stop comparison we’ve chosen three of the most popular: Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Now TV.
They all have different strengths, are widely available and are quick and easy to sign up to.
But which one comes out on top? Draw the curtains, order a takeaway and settle in for some quality time on the sofa.
Content is king, it's often said. And nowhere is that more true than in the world of streaming services.
Below you'll find a snapshot of the sort of programming you can expect when you sign up, as well as some of the particular highlights airing at the time of writing.
Netflix is in a bit of an unusual position here. While it offers some big TV series like ‘Homeland’ and ‘Sons of Anarchy’, it also faces losing some of its biggest shows in the coming years.
The reason? It signed deals with TV networks when TV streaming was a relatively niche activity. At which time, networks didn’t charge a huge amount for the rights to their shows.
As these deals come up for renewal, Netflix will either have to pay up whatever the networks charge, or lose them.
As a result, Netflix is now investing heavily in its own original shows.
Its shows and films have won all kinds of awards – including an Oscar – and have attracted Hollywood A-listers, such as Kevin Spacey and Brad Pitt, to star in them.
Our pick? Supernatural series ‘Stranger Things’ is a must-watch, as is political thriller ‘House of Cards’.
‘Orange is the New Black’ is a bit more light-hearted, while ‘Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events’ is great fun, based on the series of novels by Daniel Handler.
Netflix is the go-to service for comic book fans, offering five Marvel series: ‘Iron Fist’, ‘Daredevil’, ‘Jessica Jones’ and ‘Luke Cage’. The eponymous characters from each will all team up in a fifth series, ‘The Defenders’, to air in August.
Comedy fans will find plenty to laugh about. Netflix will offer original series and stand-up specials from Jerry Seinfeld, Chris Rock, Louis CK, Dave Chapelle and Amy Schumer.
Unfortunately, Netflix doesn’t offer as good new films as the other services. It’s also signed a deal with Adam Sandler to make more films exclusively for the service, which we still can’t forgive it for.
Amazon Prime Video
Amazon also offers its own, homegrown series, but for us it’s not quite as good as Netflix in this area.
Undoubtedly series like ‘The Man in the High Castle’ and ‘The Grand Tour’ have very high production values, and serve their fans well. But Netflix wins both in terms of quality and quantity.
Amazon does have a unique feature, though. Every year, it runs a series of pilots and lets voters decide which will be made into full series. This has given birth to ‘The Man in the High Castle’, ‘The Tick’ and ‘Trial’, to name but a few.
Of course, it’s not all about originals. Amazon has a trove of other content to watch, including ‘Seinfeld’, ‘Westworld’, ‘The Night Manager’ and ‘Parks and Recreation’.
On the film side, it’s an impressive mix of new releases and classics, with ‘The BFG’, ‘American Sniper’, ‘Supersonic’, ‘Focus’ and ‘John Wick’ rubbing shoulders with the likes of ‘Beetlejuice’, ‘Amelie’ and ‘His Girl Friday’.
Amazon has recently added live TV channels to the mix, too. You can subscribe to more than 40 channels through Prime Video, including Discovery, Eurosport Player, ITV Hub+, reality channel Hayu, Mubi, BFI Player and Hopster. The bad news? It costs extra.
Channels range from £1.49 a month to £9.99 a month, and that’s on top of your subscription to Amazon Prime. There’s no contract to sign, so you can cancel your live channels at any time.
What’s on Now TV, which is owned by Sky and lets you access its trove of content cheaply and contract-free, depends on which pass you buy. You can choose from four options: Entertainment, Cinema, Sports and Kids.
The Entertainment pass gives you access to all of Sky’s entertainment channels, including Sky 1, Sky Atlantic, Sky Living, Fox and MTV. This brings you shows like ‘Game of Thrones’, ‘Veep’, ‘Silicon Valley’, ‘Jamestown’ and ‘Twin Peaks’. It costs £6.99 a month.
Movie lovers will want to check out the Cinema pass, which brings you all the Sky Cinema channels (these were previously known as Sky Movies).
Current fare includes ‘Ant Man’, ‘Tangled’, ‘Alice Through the Looking Glass’, ‘Straight Outta Compton’ and ‘Mad Max’.
Sky promises a new premiere every day, though inevitably the quality varies somewhat. It costs £9.99 a month.
Into sports? The Sports pass is for you. With all seven Sky Sports channels at your disposal (including Sky Sports F1 and Sky Sports News HQ), you’ll never be short of something to watch.
This summer, there’s England’s one-day cricket tour against South Africa, the Sky Bet Championship Play-Off Final, England’s Test series against Bangladesh, every race in the Formula One season, and of course the Premier League when it returns.
The Sports pass costs £6.99 a day, £10.99 a week, or £33.99 a month.
Those with children should check out the Kids pass. It brings all manner of children’s shows, including ‘Morph’ (which is exclusive to Sky), ‘SpongeBob Squarepants’, ‘The Looney Tunes Show’, and ‘The Scooby Doo Show’.
Content is taken from channels like Nickelodeon, Nick Toons, CBBC, Boomerang and Cartoon Network, among others, as well as that commissioned by Sky. It costs £2.99 a month.
Do they offer live sports?
When it comes to sports coverage, some streaming services are better than others. We take a look at each one in turn.
Lack of sports coverage is Netflix’s main weakness – it means it’s really more of an entertainment service than an all-round package.
Earlier this year, the streaming service ruled out moving into the live sports area, instead saying it wanted to be “great at what we do.”
Though its spokesperson went on to say it would experiment with new types of content, so never say never…
Amazon Prime Video
Sport used to be completely absent from Amazon Prime Video. But that's all changed with the arrival of Eurosport Player. Highlights of which include the French Open, the Le Mans 24 Hour race and the Tour de France.
Amazon has said that more channels will arrive in the near future, so more sporting action could be on the way.
Yes, but only if you pay for the Sports pass. This gives you all of Sky’s sports channels, so you can watch live Premier League action, cricket, Formula One races and more.
The Sports pass certainly isn’t cheap. But if you only want to watch the odd tournament or big football match, it’s a lot more affordable than a proper Sky subscription.
How can you watch?
Which consoles or set top boxes are compatible with the streaming service you're eyeing? We get the measure of it all right here.
Netflix is available on pretty much every smart TV around, as well as through Blu-ray players from all the major manufacturers. Games consoles like the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 also have the app, as do set-top boxes from Humax, YouView, BT, Virgin and TalkTalk.
You can watch on your smartphone or tablet using the app for iOS, Android and Windows Phone. Streaming boxes like Apple TV and Roku also offer it. Plus its arch rival Amazon does on its Fire TV and Fire TV Stick streaming devices.
Amazon Prime Video
Amazon’s service is almost as omnipresent as Netflix. You’ll find it on the firm’s range of Fire TV and Fire TV Stick devices and Fire tablets, naturally, as well as on most smart TVs.
It’s also available on major games consoles, and on Android and iOS devices.
While Amazon isn’t available on Google Chromecast devices or the Apple TV, it is rumoured to arrive on Apple’s streaming box in the coming weeks.
Now TV too is pretty widely available. You can watch on smart TVs, games consoles, Chromecast, Apple TV and Roku. iOS and Android apps come as standard, too.
You can also watch through the Now TV box, which is a steal at £14.99 – it also brings you apps like BBC iPlayer and All 4, turning your telly into a smart TV.
If all else fails, just fire up the browser on your laptop or desktop computer, and watch through that.
What about downloading to watch on the move?
Like Amazon and BBC iPlayer, Netflix lets you download content to your phone to watch where you don’t have wi-fi or a mobile signal. But not everything is up for grabs.
At the moment, the selection is limited to mostly Netflix’s own content. To see what’s available, head to the Available for Download section.
Amazon Prime Video
Amazon’s selection of downloadable content is much more generous, though it’s limited to 15 pieces of content at once. Hit that, and you’ll have to start deleting things to make way for new things #
Now TV doesn’t let you download any content for watching on the go. Hence if you want to watch on the move, you’ll need a generous data allowance or a reliable wi-fi connection.
What viewing technology do they offer?
Netflix offers some content in 4K, which is a resolution with four times as many pixels as high definition. It’s mostly its own shows and films, though there are some non-Netflix films available, too. It also supports HDR, which stands for high dynamic range – this adds more depth to the image, making it appear more lifelike.
As with any service, you’ll need a suitable set-up to take advantage of these technologies. namely a 4K TV that’s equipped with HDR, or an HDR-equipped smartphone like the LG G6 or Samsung Galaxy S8.
A broadband connection of at least 25Mb/s is also recommended for 4K. Otherwise be prepared to see plenty of buffering while the content struggles to load.
Amazon Prime Video
Again, there’s some 4K and HDR content to watch, though far from everything uses these formats. Unlike Netflix, Amazon does put all of its 4K content in a separate menu (in most versions of the interface), so you can see what’s available.
There’s no 4K, HDR, or even Full HD on Now TV, which is a bit disappointing. Instead, Sky saves all that for its fully paid-up subscribers to Sky Q.
What are they like to use?
Images are the order of the day. Nice, big images. They give you a sense of what the show or film is like, and are much more appealing than a written description.
Trailers autoplay too, which is handy for getting a taste of what you’re about to watch.
You can set multiple accounts for everyone in the house, which lets you keep your viewing habits separate. It means it won’t recommend shows for you based on your mum’s love of musicals, for example. It also means you can share your account with friends, even if they’re living on the other side of the world.
Amazon Prime Video
Amazon’s voice search is powered by Alexa, Amazon’s personal assistant that’s found inside its Echo speakers. As such, it’s excellent.
On some devices, the Prime-included content is mixed in with stuff you have to pay for separately, which can be confusing. But you can choose to see only Prime-available content.
Other than that, it’s a very visual layout, and pretty simple to navigate.
Again, Now TV goes big on the visuals. It also curates selections based on current events, making it easier to see more relevant content.
The Last Chance section is handy too, as it shows you what will soon leave the service, so you can watch before it’s too late.
This can include big shows like ‘Games of Thrones’ due to licensing rights, so can prove invaluable for catching up before watching the new series.
Are they good value for money?
Prices start at £5.99 a month, which is great value for money. That gets you standard definition content, and you can only watch on one screen at once.
Upgrade to the £7.49-a-month tier however, and you can watch in high definition and on up to two screens at once, so you and a sibling can watch separately in your own rooms, for example.
The Premium tier costs £8.99 a month, and gives you content in HD as well as 4K. You can also watch on four screens at once.
Amazon Prime Video
For just Prime Video, you pay £5.99 a month, which is the same as Netflix.
£79 a year (or £7.99 a month, if you choose) steps you up to the full Amazon Prime service, which includes Prime Video as well as free next-day delivery on thousands of items from Amazon, Prime Music, and the Kindle Lending Library which loans you one free e-book a month.
You can stream Prime Video on up to two screens at once.
If you watch a broad spread of content, Now TV can work out quite expensive. But equally, if you have months where you don’t watch much telly, you can save yourself some money.
The Entertainment pass costs £6.99 a month, the Cinema pass is £9.99 a month and the Kids pass is £2.99 a month.
The Sports pass comes in three options: £6.99 a day, £10.99 a week, or £33.99 a month.
It’s pricey, sure, but it does offer more flexibility than the other services.
Which service is right for you really depends on what you want from a streaming service.
If you’re happy with Amazon’s selection, buy regularly from amazon.co.uk and are happy to get your music from it too, Amazon Prime represents the best value.
That free delivery pays for itself in no time, especially around busy shopping periods like Christmas.
Now TV also offers more flexibility than its rivals. The Now TV Smart Box also gives you Freeview, so you can watch free-to-air channels too. It costs £39.99, which is more than the standard Now TV Box. But it’s cheaper than a lot of Freeview boxes.
You can also get contract-free broadband and home phone line through Now TV, which could be worth investigating if you’re looking to switch provider.
But our choice has to be Netflix. It offers the best combination of killer content, cutting-edge technology and fantastic value for money.
It’s truly redefining how we watch TV, and if you’re yet to experience it, you really are missing out.