Selection: The best available library of instant streaming content on the market
Pros: Right now, Netflix is the king of media streaming. It offers the largest instant streaming library and also produces original programming like the award-winning "House of Cards" and "Orange is the New Black." There's a variety of TV shows and movies -- which allows for some serious couch surfing. And most importantly, you can watch Netflix on any device that can stream movies, including iPhones, Android devices and tablets.
Cons: In order to stream Netflix on your television, you need a device that is Netflix compatible. Most new televisions, video game systems and Blu-ray players have a Netflix app. There are also several other resources that we'll touch upon later on this list. Also, Netflix's content, while plentiful, can sometimes feel pretty stale. New releases tend to be somewhat old because it takes Netflix a while to get movies. Also, no TV show has episodes from its current season -- only episodes from past seasons. A broader, newer selection of films is available from Netflix in its "1 DVD out-at-a-time" plan. For $7.99 more a month (a combined $15.98 for both streaming and DVDs) Netflix will send you a single DVD at a time from a much larger catalog of shows and movies.
Selection: Mostly TV shows, including current seasons and new episodes
Pros: Hulu Plus offers entire current seasons and new episodes of a massive library of TV shows. Most recent episodes of your favorites shows are available on Hulu the day after they air. Hulu, like Netflix, also has original programming -- although they're not of the same award-winning stature as House of Cards. Like Netflix, subscribing to Hulu allows you to watch shows on your TV or mobile device in addition to a computer.
Cons: Even though you're paying a monthly fee, Hulu Plus still has commercials and still makes you wait until the next day to see new episodes. Even worse, Hulu can sometimes restrict some content based on your cable provider. Many shows on Hulu are offered for free to non-Plus subscribers, but only current seasons of shows are available if you pay. Also, like Netflix, in order to stream Hulu Plus on your television, you need a device that is Hulu Plus compatible. Most new televisions, video game systems and Blu-ray players have a Hulu Plus app. There are also several other resources that we'll touch upon later on this list.
Pros: There are very few pros to list for Redbox streaming because the selection is so limited. However, renting actual DVDs and Blu-rays from Redbox is slightly more impressive. The company boasts 200 titles and 630 discs in a fully automated video rental kiosk that's within a five-minute drive of more than 68 percent of the U.S. population. $8 per month means four discs and a limited selection of streaming -- nowhere near the libraries of Netflix and Hulu Plus. Those four rentals apply to Redbox's video game selection as well, which opens up a market that neither Netflix or Hulu Plus touch.
Cons: Redbox Instant has about one-third the movies of Netflix streaming and no TV shows. Although Redbox's kiosks offer new release movies, their instant service does not. Redbox Instant is also available on fewer devices than Hulu or Netflix. The odds of purchasing a TV or device that can stream Redbox movies are much lower.
Pros: Amazon Prime Instant is part of Amazon.com's Prime service -- which means besides a streaming video service, you also get free two-day shipping on most Amazon products and more than 350,000 rental books for your Kindle (if you have one). Prime's streaming service has a pretty large selection of TV shows and movies – and just like Netflix and Hulu, there's some original programming. Amazon Prime is also slightly cheaper than Netflix and Hulu. Instead of about $96 a year, you're spending $79.
Cons: Netflix is still the king of content. Amazon's selection, while big, can't touch the library of TV shows and movies that Netlix packs into its instant streaming service. Like Netflix, Amazon offers movies and shows that are older. It doesn't have the current and new selection that Hulu provides. And even though there's original content on Amazon Prime Instant, the caliber of Netlix's original content is much higher. Also, like Redbox, the amount of televisions on the market that can stream Amazon Prime Instant is low. This service is best viewed on a smartphone, tablet or computer.
How to stream:
Most new televisions and Blu-ray players come with apps and services to stream Netflix and Hulu. Some devices also stream Amazon Instant and Redbox, but those options are fewer and far between.
There are also several gadgets on the market that let you stream media from many of the above options:
At $99, the Apple TV gives you 1080p HD access to blockbuster movies, TV shows, sports, your music and photos and more right on your TV. You can even play content from your iPhone or iPad right to your TV using the device.
Apple TV streams anything purchased from Apple's iTune's store, which means you have to buy each film or TV show individually for a pretty bulky price. But Apple TV has dozens of apps, including Netflix, Hulu, YouTube and more. You need to pay subscription fees to use Netflix and Hulu, however. Apple TV just gives you the ability to stream.
The Google Chromecast, a $35 plug-in media streaming device, was named 2013's best gadget by Time Magazine.
The Chromecast is a digital streaming adapter in the form of a 2.83-inch dongle. The device plays audio and video content on a high-definition television by streaming it via Wi-Fi from the Internet.
Basically, with Chromecast, you can watch a variety of online entertainment on your HDTV -- like music, movies and TV shows from Netflix, YouTube, HBO GO, Hulu Plus, Google Play Movies and more. (You need to pay separately for any subscription-based content).
You can also use Chromecast to send videos and more from your smartphone, tablet or laptop to your TV with the press of a button.
The Roku player, which starts at $49.99, is a little device that connects to your home network wirelessly (even wired on select models) and streams music, movies and TV shows from the Internet, right to your TV. Once connected to the Internet, the Roku player is linked to a free Roku account that you create, and gives you instant access to a growing library of apps.
Just like the Google Chromecast and the Apple TV, you need to purchase a Netflix subscription or a Hulu subscription, and so on, to actually stream shows and movies from your Roku. The Roku essentially acts as the middle man to get this streaming content onto your television