When Netflix first arrived on the scene, it was entirely dependent on DVDs. At that time, the idea of being able to stream high-quality content online or on a handheld device was only a future proposition. Now, two decades later, that future is upon us, and more.
Not only are on-demand streaming services plentiful, so are live TV streaming services that rival cable television in their scope of programming and quality of service. For a better price and with more flexibility, you can stream everything you can get from cable TV, and usually without being locked into a contract. Streaming video subscriptions are so popular they’ve surpassed cable TV subscriptions globally.
But with all the streaming options out there, and with so many boasting exclusive content, you could easily find yourself spending as much as you would on cable or more. So it would be nice if there were some really good free options out there that let you watch free movies online. As it turns out, there are.
The best free video streaming services
- IMDb TV
- Pluto TV
- The Roku Channel
Our methodology and research
We researched free streaming services and evaluated them based on selection of titles, ads, quality, availability and more and put together our top five. We specifically looked for reputable services, ignoring entirely any kind of fringe options that circumvent normal licensing rights.
Number of free services researched: 15
Criteria used: For this review, we looked at featured content, number of titles, live or on-demand, accounts and picture quality.
Compare free video streaming services
|IMDb TV||Pluto TV||The Roku Channel||Tubi TV||Crackle|
|Free titles||6.5 million||1000+||10,000+||20,000+||500+|
|Picture quality||Up to 1080p||Below HD||Up to 4K||Up to HD||Below HD|
Find the right TV and movie streaming service for you
Finding the perfect free streaming service isn’t all that hard – or necessary. Because they’re free, you can sign up for all of them, taking advantage of the best each has to offer. Which one becomes your favorite may just come down to what you can watch or how easily you can call it up on your favorite device.
Most potential content: IMDb TV
Amazon owns IMDb, which is a database full of information about almost every production ever done. That database has over 6.5 million titles, and you can watch a great many of them right from the IMDb interface. IMDb adds new titles to the list of content all the time.
Just because you find a title in the IMDb database doesn’t mean it’s actually on IMDb TV. Also, you do have to log in to watch, but you can easily create an account with Facebook or Google for super fast access.
What to watch on IMDb TV
IMDb focuses largely on movies but is strong on TV shows as well. The service’s front page features older hits like Boondock Saints, HItch, Robin Hood and Short Circuit, classics like Apocalypse Now and Lawrence of Arabia and TV shows from the recent past like Chicago Fire and Heroes. The service also offers a selection of originals, most of which surround major events, such as IMDb at the Emmys or IMDb at the Oscars.
Easiest to start with: Pluto TV
If you were to head to Pluto TV’s website right now, you would be immediately greeted with a live broadcast. Beneath that, there’s a list of channels laid out just like any guide. You can click on any one to change to that channel. Getting going with Pluto TV is as fast as turning on your TV.
Unfortunately, Pluto TV ‘s video quality can leave something to be desired, and the content selection is limited. But if you’re not looking for anything in particular, and you’re watching on a laptop or a phone, it works quite nicely.
What to watch on Pluto TV
Pluto TV’s channel lineup looks different than a regular cable TV listing. It features many specialty channels like PlutoTV Movies, TV Drama, TV Comedy and TV Horror, as well as channels grouped by topic like entertainment, movies and news. The service also provides a range of on-demand movies and TV with titles ranging from Basic Instinct to Degrassi and everything in between.
Best for cool featured content: The Roku Channel
Videos load quickly, and the image quality is clear and sharp. The interface even offers a convenient live news stream.
The Roku Channel asks for a lot of personal info in its signup process, like birth date and gender. This may make some people uneasy.
What to watch on The Roku Channel
The Roku Channel is the place to go for high-end DC blockbusters like Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, nostalgic comedy shows such as Who’s The Boss and Bewitched as well as reality shows like The Bachelorette and Hoarders.
Best user interface: Tubi
Like Pluto TV, Tubi requires no login to watch. The website interface is sleek and the menu shows a list of genres when you mouse over it. Titles are laid out in a clean carousel that’s neither too big or too small, and it feels easy to find something to watch.
Tubi doesn’t offer live TV streaming, nor does it feature any original content.
What to watch on Tubi
Tubi’s catalog isn’t super a-list cutting edge – instead of Batman Begins you’ll find titles like Child 44 – but it isn’t bad either, and it’s nice to find some alternate titles to peruse.
Best for old TV: Crackle
Crackle has a nice selection of classic movies, including The Lady from Shanghai, In a Lonely Place and The Big Heat. It also features older programs such as Bewitched, Charlie’s Angels, and Fantasy Island.
Sometimes Crackle’s video quality leaves something to be desired. You often have to sit through commercials before selections even start.
What to watch on Crackle
Crackle has tons of content, and what stands out in its catalog is all the television nostalgia. You can get shows like All In The Family, The Facts Of Life and Roseanne. If you were an 80s or 90s kid, you could have a lot of fun re-visiting these old shows.
When it comes to movies, Sony Crackle is a little – well – odd. If Tubi’s selection is b-list, Sony’s is c-list. Browsing movies on Crackle is a little like walking into a b-list movie rental house. You may not find anything you ever heard of, but you’ll come across a martial arts gem or some kind of cult classic you didn’t know you needed, like Office Uprising or The Last Dragon.
The great thing about free services is that you can check them out all you want without any risk, other than a little bit of time. In fact, you can get a feel for any of the services mentioned here in a couple of minutes. If you’re looking to check out some movies or TV and you don’t mind a few ads and a limited selection, you can dial up any one of these services and go for it right now.
If you’re really itching for a great experience, though, you may want to spend time researching some of the best video streaming services that require a paid subscription. You’ll be able to watch without ads interrupting you, choose your content more easily and generally expect better, more consistent video quality.Until then, enjoy as much free content as you want, it costs you nothing!