Tired of paying monthly subscription fees for Netflix, Hulu, Disney+, and other big-name streaming video services? Then check out The Roku Channel, Pluto TV, and Tubi—three popular streaming video services that are totally free to watch.
What Is a Free Streaming Video Service—and Why Is It Free?
Free streaming video services are gaining popularity, probably because viewers’ budgets are getting maxed out from all the paid subscription services.
These ad-supported services don’t charge subscription fees, and some don’t even require you to sign in—although there may be a few extra features available if you sign up for a free subscription.
The three most popular free streaming video services at the time of writing are The Roku Channel, Pluto TV, and Tubi. They all offer a mix of classic and newer movies and TV shows. You have to sit through a few commercials, but that’s a small price to get tons of free content.
How do these three free services compare—and which is best for you? Let’s look at each in turn and then compare what they offer.
Getting to Know The Roku Channel
The Roku Channel is one of the most popular free streaming services, with more than 80 million regular viewers. It started as a channel available on Roku TVs and streaming media devices, but it became available on all competing streaming boxes and sticks, smart TVs, computers, phones, and other devices—including those from Amazon and Google.
The Roku Channel is owned by Roku but features content from various studios and other providers. Library programming is available on-demand, and more than 200 live channels are presented in a familiar-looking channel guide.
Programming ranges from classic TV shows and movies to brand-new content. Roku even brought Roku Originals to The Roku Channel, sourced from the now-extinct Quibi service. Roku has the largest library of any free service, with more than 100,000 individual programs to watch.
Getting to Know Pluto TV
Pluto TV is another popular, fast-growing free streaming service with 68 million viewers. Paramount owns this service, so there’s lots of exclusive content from that movie studio and its ViacomCBS television arm.
While Pluto TV does offer on-demand content, its claim to fame is presenting all of its live-channel programming via a scrolling channel guide. You can personalize Pluto TV with favorites and watchlists and create a watch list for on-demand programming.
Watching Pluto TV is much like watching traditional cable or satellite television. There are a lot of live news and sports channels to watch in real-time—including many local CBS affiliate channels for local and regional news.
Getting to Know Tubi
Tubi is more like The Roku Channel than Pluto TV. There’s lots of on-demand content, but just 99 (not yet 100) live news and sports channels.
With Tubi, you get the choice of interfaces. On-demand content is displayed in typical rows of tiles, which you can browse or search through. Live content is displayed in a scrolling channel guide.
Fox Corporation owns Tubi, so you’ll find many Fox Network shows here that you won’t find on other free services. There are also feeds for a large number of local Fox channels for local and regional news. Overall, Tubi is one of the best free movie platforms to watch movies online.
Comparing The Roku Channel vs. Pluto TV vs. Tubi
Now that you know a little about each of these three services, how do they compare? Read on to find out.
Features and User Interface
Because of its channel guide, watching Pluto TV is a lot like watching a traditional cable or satellite service. Watching Tubi is more like watching Netflix or other traditional streaming services, as it defaults to browsing and clicking for on-demand programming—even though a truncated channel guide for live TV is available. The Roku Channel is somewhere in the middle, with its default browse-and-click interface and 250+ channel guide.
Pluto TV displays its channel guide on all devices. The Roku Channel and Tubi display their channel guides on smart TVs and streaming media devices, but not in web browsers.
Using any of these three services is a bit of a throwback to traditional TV. You can’t pause live programming (although you can pause on-demand programs), and there’s no DVR to record your favorite shows. Because subscriptions are not required, however, you can watch any of these services simultaneously on any number of screens, which services like Netflix and Hulu won’t let you do.
|The Roku Channel||Pluto TV||Tubi|
|Stream on multiple devices?||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Number of users||80 million||68 million||51 million|
Comparing Streaming Quality
Regarding audio and video quality, none of these services are state of the art. Forget about 4K resolution and Dolby Atmos surround sound. Most of the older TV shows are in their original standard definition, and newer programming is in 720p high definition—not the higher-quality 1080p you get with other services. Audio is stereo only, and no surround sound is available.
|The Roku Channel||Pluto TV||Tubi|
|Video quality (max)||SD/720p||SD/720p||SD/720p|
What Content Do These Platforms Offer?
Not surprisingly, you run into a lot of the same content across all three of these services—especially when it comes to older TV shows and movies. For example, at the time of writing, you can find The Beverly Hillbillies, Mystery Science Theater 3000, and old Johnny Carson reruns on all three services.
Each service has its personality, however, especially regarding exclusive content and live programming.
Pluto TV leans heavily into the Paramount/Viacom/CBS libraries, which means a lot of classic CBS network programming and a dedicated Star Trek channel. On the other hand, Tubi features a lot of programming from the Fox TV network, along with all those local Fox station news feeds. The Roku Channel is more content-neutral, with programming from many different sources—including dozens of Latino-focused channels.
While several of these services focus on live content-specific channels, they all offer robust on-demand programming. However, Pluto TV lags well behind its competitors in terms of library size. Pluto also doesn’t have any original content, although what the other services call “original” is likely to disappoint many viewers.
You’ll also find a lot of sports across all three services, including various games and events streamed in real-time. Note that you’re not going to find MLB, NBA, or NBA games on any of these free services. If that’s what you want, you’ll have to subscribe to one of the best streaming sites to watch live NBA games.
|The Roku Channel||Pluto TV||Tubi|
|Number of titles||100,000+||8,000+||40,000+|
|Number of channels||200+||250+||99|
|Is original content available?||Yes||No||Yes|
|Live sports streaming?||Yes||Yes||Yes|
What’s the Best Free Streaming Video Service?
Comparing The Roku Channel, Pluto TV, and Tubi, which is the best free streaming service? The Roku Channel comes out ahead by the numbers, but that doesn’t tell the entire story. Pluto TV has more mainstream content, while Tubi is better for sports and local news.
The bottom line is that all three streaming services are good sources of popular content, and since they’re all free, they are worth checking out.