Get More Targeted Recommendations with Per-Person Profiles
Streaming companies put a ton of effort into their recommendation algorithms, constantly serving you new things to watch based on what you’ve liked in the past. But if you, your spouse, and your kid all have different tastes, those recommendations are going to be full of clutter you don’t care about. So head to your account settings and create a separate profile for each person in the house: You’ll tell the app who you are every time you open it up, so it only gives you recommendations that are actually relevant to you.
Download Shows for Offline Viewing
Between my always-on home connection and my 4G smartphone, I’m connected to the internet pretty much all the time. But I still encounter those rare occasions where service is unbearably slow or non-existent (airplanes come to mind). Instead of being cut off completely, many streaming services let you download movies and shows ahead of time, so you can still binge the next season of The Witcher when bandwidth is scarce. This feature is available on most, but not all, of the mainline streaming services—and quite a few others, too. (For example, inclusive indie service Fearless allows you to download shows, but the black culture focused BET+ is online-only for now.)
Browse Collections Curated By Actual Humans
AI-driven algorithms can be useful, but a human touch still offers something robots can’t. When WarnerMedia announced HBO Max, they made a point of promoting their human-curated lists, which feature movies, shows, or specific episodes recommended by celebrities and Warner’s own editors. Netflix began testing a similar feature for iOS users last year, and currently offers it to subscribers of their DVD service (yes, that still exists). They also occasionally curate lists they mix into the main feed, like last month’s Made In Africa collection, or the more recent Black Lives Matter group of movies, shows, and specials. Those are on top of Netflix’s already crazy-specific genre categories like “Travel & Adventure Documentaries on IMAX” or “Quirky Independent Crime Action & Adventure”, which you can browse by reading some of the user-generated lists out there.
Bundle Services Together for Discounts and/or Easier Browsing
The more streaming services pop up, the more streaming starts to look a lot like cable. A few services, however, allow you to bundle your subscriptions together, though sometimes to different ends. Disney, for example, offers a $12.99/month bundle that includes Hulu, Disney+, and ESPN+, which is a good price if you already planned on getting two of those services. Other services may not offer discounts, but offer bundles for convenience’s sake: Amazon lets you add Starz, Showtime, Comedy Central Now, and other premium channels to your account so more of your shows are in one app. Hulu offers a similar feature for HBO Max, Cinemax, Starz, and Showtime. And, of course, cable-replacement services like Sling are built around these types of bundles, offering content from different channels in one unified interface.
Find Free Movies and Shows Without a Subscription
If you look through your streaming box’s available channels, you’ll find a bunch that offer completely free libraries: Crackle, The Roku Channel, Popcornflix, Filmrise, and Tubi to name a few. But other paid-for channels may offer free content alongside their normal libraries as well. Check out Vudu, Plex, Sling, and Crunchyroll to see what they offer for free, even if you aren’t a subscriber to their premium service. If you’re a fan of live television, Pluto TV emulates the channel-flipping feel of old-school channels, too.
Watch DVD-Style Making Of Extras & Commentary
When streaming first came on the scene, many DVD buffs lamented the lack of special features they’d come to love. And while most services still don’t offer the level of behind-the-scenes extras DVDs do, they’re getting better. Amazon’s X-Ray feature allows you to bring up a menu at any point in a movie or show to see which actors are in the scene, what music is playing, or view behind-the-scenes footage. Criterion Channel, iTunes, Vudu, and Disney+ offer a number of DVD-esque features as well, usually labeled “Extras” alongside a given movie or show. Netflix occasionally has featurettes under the “Trailers & More” section of certain shows, but it isn’t quite as common as with some other services.
Pause Your Subscription When You Have Other Stuff to Watch
Every streaming service tries to hook you in with a few killer shows, but no one wants to pay $100 a month to subscribe to all of them. Instead, it’s generally best practice to rotate the services as you catch up with their respective shows, with one or two monthly services as your backbone. Hulu, YouTube TV, and Sling make this a bit easier with a “pause” feature that lets you pause your subscription for a few months, and bring it back when you’re ready to start watching again—as opposed to canceling and re-upping later on.
Comic Books and Other Media
Come for the movies and TV shows, stay for the extra goodies. DC Universe and Crunchyroll offer comic books and manga, respectively, to get you into the original source material. Crunchyroll also publishes games for separate download on Android and iOS, which is a nice touch, while HBO Max will have making-of podcasts streaming in its app for more info on your favorite shows. (Though these podcasts will also be available on other podcast platforms, much like Netflix’s series of podcasts.)
Notable Platform Specific Features
Don’t want to wake the neighbors? Some Roku and NVIDIA SHIELD units offer headphone jacks in the remote or controller—while Apple TV and Amazon Fire let you connect Bluetooth headphones.
If you aren’t sure what service a movie or show is streaming on, try using your streaming box’s universal search—Roku, Apple TV, and Amazon Fire TV all offer voice search for super-quick results.
Keeping up with your shows is tough enough without dozens of apps to track. Roku and Apple TV let you subscribe to shows through their main menu, so you don’t miss a new episode.
If you missed a mumble-y line of dialogue, Roku and Apple TV offer instant replay features that let you hear the last few seconds again—often with captions.