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TV streaming services explained

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TV streaming services explained

TV streaming services from Netflix, Amazon and other leading brands give you thousands of TV programmes and films to watch whenever you like. Discover the best TV streaming services.

Instead of buying a Blu-ray you may only watch once or shelling out for a cinema ticket, TV streaming services offer an an 'all-you-can-eat' buffet of content to watch over the internet.

Whether you access these services directly from a Smart TV, or are looking to add an Internet TV Box to your home cinema setup, we can help.

Read on to find out everything you need to know about TV streaming services, including reviews of Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Now TV.

Sign up to Which? trial to unlock all our TV streaming reviews, and enjoy all the benefits of being a Which? member. 

Entertainment on demand

Whether it's The Crown or The Sopranos, there's a TV streaming service that can offer the content you want to watch, wherever and whenever you want it.

Content is king with subscription streaming services - and every provider has its own strengths, such as the latest original dramas, and weaknesses, such as dated film selections or confusing interfaces.

Most subscription services offer you a free trial, and you can easily cancel if you're not happy, so you're not locked into a lengthy contract.

Where can I use TV streaming services?

Streaming involves playing a video over an internet connection, either using a web browser or dedicated app, on a wide range of devices.  

These can include Android and Apple smartphones and tablets, along with laptops, smart TVs, games consoles and internet TV devices, such as Apple TV and Google Chromecast.

Our individual reviews of Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Now TV tell you the which devices you can use with each service. 

What internet speed do I need to stream TV online?

As you'll see in our TV streaming service reviews, you can get away with having a weak broadband speed and still stream the content. However, the video quality might not be the best if you have a poor connection.

We'd advise you to have at least 1mbps (megabits per second) broadband or higher if you're streaming content in standard definition (SD). If you want to watch in high-definition (HD) then you’ll need a faster connection of at least 5Mbps to enjoy the higher video quality. To find out what speed internet you're getting, use our handy broadband speed checker tool.

Some services, such as Netflix, now offer content to stream in 4K Ultra HD quality, giving you four times the detail of regular HD. For this, however, you may need fast broadband of at least 15Mbps.

Most video on-demand services use 'adaptive streaming' technology – this detects your broadband speed and then automatically adjusts the video quality so that you're not hit by buffering (where the video freezes and a little loading wheel spins). The video may start at Full HD 1080p, but if your bandwidth is struggling it may drop down to a lower quality (720p HD or even SD) to keep playing.

If your broadband is particularly slow there may be things you can do to improve it - read our guide on how to speed up slow broadband to learn more.

Do TV streaming services use a lot of data?

They can do. For example, streaming a two-hour Full HD film could gobble up more than 6GB of data (and a huge 14GB if it’s in 4K Ultra HD).

Fortunately, most people are now on 'unlimited' broadband packages, but if you're using your service on your mobile device you'll want to be careful. The risk is that you’ll use a huge amount of data and patchy signal coverage could affect the video quality, so it's best to use wi-fi where possible to avoid exceeding your data allowance and having to pay extra. Use our guide on how to keep track of your data and minutes to ensure you're not hit by an unexpected - and unwanted - bill.

Can I download content on streaming services?

Yes, on some, but not all. Amazon Prime Video, Netflix and Now TV all allow you to download some TV shows and films onto your device to watch while you don't have an internet connection. It's a great feature for enjoying content when you’re offline, such as on holiday or while commuting.

If you do want to download content to watch while offline, catch up TV service BBC iPlayer offers this feature. You don't directly pay to use iPlayer, but you will need a valid TV licence.

Browse our Best Buy Internet TV Boxes to find the cream of the crop.