While some people turn to video streaming services for mindless entertainment, others may want to explore those platforms that can teach and inspire them. CuriosityStream, a service from the founder of Discovery Channel, offers documentaries on topics from space exploration to ancient civilizations to the coronavirus and more. The viewing experience is stellar, with all titles available in either HD or 4K, though the caption options are limited in the US. CuriosityStream lives up to everything it promises: a wide documentary selection, stunning quality, and a steady flow of original content. It offers unmatched value as a documentary streaming service, and for that it deserves an Editors’ Choice award.
How Much Does Curiosity Steam Cost?
CuriosityStream’s cheapest plan, which grants you access to all of the service’s HD documentaries, is just $2.99 per month. If you want to watch everything in 4K, you need to upgrade to the 4K Monthly plan, which costs $9.99 per month. Documentary lovers who know they’ll use CuriosityStream for the entire year can get the most value out of HD Annual ($19.99 per year) or 4K Annual ($69.99 per year) plans.
The cheapest tier of Netflix costs $8.99 a month, but you can only stream in SD quality. Prime Video is the same price. Hulu is cheaper at $5.99 for its base plan (with ads). Apple TV+ and Disney+ cost $4.99 per month and $6.99 per month respectively. The British-focused services we’ve reviewed, Acorn TV and BritBox, are $5.99 and $6.99 per month respectively. CuriosityStream’s base HD monthly plan beats them all in cost.
When matched up against documentary streaming services, CuriosityStream comes out on top. MagellanTV costs $6.99 a month, and 4K streaming is included, but the content library is far smaller than CuriosityStream’s: 1,500 titles compared to more than 3,000. Dox Channel is just $2.99 a month, but there’s no mention of video quality. Kanopy is free with a participating library or university login, but if you don’t have one of those, you can’t access any titles. Topic costs $5.99 a month, and PBS Documentaries costs $3.99 a month.
Although CuriosityStream is first and foremost a video streaming service, it also fits into the edutainment category, given its focus. Other edutainment services are generally more expensive. MasterClass, for example, also offers informational content at a higher price point ($180 per year or $90 per course). While MasterClass is more instructive, CuriosityStream is more informative: You apply the information acquired through a documentary differently than the information acquired from a series of instructional videos. The Great Courses Plus costs $20 a month, $45 for three months, or $150 for the whole year. It’s comparable to CuriosityStream and offers informational, documentary-style videos, some of which are produced in collaboration with National Geographic and the History Channel. I watched a few free video lectures from the Great Courses Plus, and while they sparked my interest, I don’t think I would pay nearly 10 times more each month than I would with CuriosityStream for access.
CuriosityStream is well worth its price tag, considering the impressive library it offers and how highly rated its documentaries are by viewers (everything I saw had a rating above 90 percent). Depending on what you’re looking for, however, another online learning service might be a better option.
CuriosityStream is available on the web, mobile devices (Android and iOS), gaming platforms (Xbox One), streaming media devices (Apple TV, Chromecast, Fire TV, and Roku); and smart TVs. CuriosityStream does not have a dedicated app on the Microsoft Store, something that Prime Video, Hulu, and Netflix do.
What Can I Watch On CuriosityStream?
CuriosityStream’s library features an impressive 3,000 titles, 900 of which are exclusives. According to a representative, the company plans to expand its streaming library to 11,000 premium titles within five years, an ambitious undertaking that could make sticking with the service worthwhile. Currently, CuriosityStream offers documentaries in categories such as History, Kids, Lifestyle, Nature, Science, Society, and Technology.
Some notable documentaries in the CuriosityStream menu are Light on Earth and Ant Mountain, both hosted by David Attenborough; Dream the Future, narrated by Sigourney Weaver; the BBC history series Empire of the Tsars; the human origins series Out of the Cradle; and the paleontology series Amazing Dinoworld.
Explore food with History of Food and Happiness Is on the Plate. Dive into the physical aspect of who you are with The Body. For a sports series on two Florida high school football teams that battle for supremacy, look no further than 4th and Forever: Muck City.
An interesting topic that has captured public attention for years is whether there’s an exoplanet that could support human life. The documentary Living Universe takes you on an interstellar adventure in an attempt to find a planet that could support complex life, including us.
For science, some interesting titles are: Redesign My Brain, a three-episode series that tests the new science of brain plasticity; Magic Numbers, three episodes that journey through the evolution of math; Ice Age Giants, three episodes that look at the remarkable creatures of the Ice Age; What is Reality? With David Eagleman, a brief look into how we perceive reality and how to expand that perception; and Exploring Quantum History With Brian Greene, three episodes exploring theoretical physics.
History buffs are sure to enjoy The Celts: Blood, Iron & Sacrifice, an intriguing title for a three-episode series exploring the British islanders. Catching History’s Criminals: The Forensics Story, looks at 200 years of innovation in crime solving. Super Fish, the historical conflicts between us and our tasty underwater friends. Finally, Queen Victoria’s Letters: A Monarch Unveiled, psychological exploration of the woman, in her own words.
Technology is our bread and butter here at PCMag, so naturally, I am excited about the content CuriosityStream has to offer in that area. I like the look of Order and Disorder, which explores how humans discovered the complex rules of the universe and mastered energy and information.
Kids get a dedicated category, too. The Beginning and End of the Universe, which explores the universe’s origin and where it’s going, will go far to enhance childlike curiosity about our origins. Nature documentaries, including The Secret Lives of Big Cats, can help kids understand the challenges facing natural habitats and their native species.
In terms of original content, CuriosityStream offers 4th and Forever: Alcoa, an acclaimed original documentary series produced in partnership with Jupiter Entertainment. The eight-episode feature focuses on the history and impact of a town nestled in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains. It explores the effect of diversity in Alcoa’s high school dynamic, including its sports program, and how the school pulled off a season that almost wasn’t possible.
Over the summer, CuriosityStream partnered with Doclights to bring 50 original titles to its viewers around the world. These are all natural history titles ranging between 30 and 60 minutes, including Cheetah: Beating the Odds, These Birds Were Made for Walking, Monkey Mayhem, and my personal favorite, Sloth Bear: Birth of a Prince. I’ve never associated sloths with princes before.
Another original offering is a three-part series called The History of Home, which takes you behind the history of each room in featured houses. Nick Offerman, who played Ron Swanson in Parks and Recreation, narrates the series. As it turns out, he’s a master woodworker! The filmmakers went to 10 countries and filmed dozens of eye-catching homes.
The pandemic hasn’t affected CuriosityStream’s dedication to new content. According to Clint Stinchcomb, president and CEO of CuriosityStream: “We’ve premiered new and exclusive originals every single week since the beginning of the shutdown and that will continue for the rest of this year and certainly into 2021.”
It’s difficult to compare CuriosityStream with other streaming services because it has a narrow focus. However, within that focus, the service sets itself apart with titles that appeal to a wide audience and a robust original title catalog. Netflix offers documentaries too, more than 500 of them, including Jiro Dreams of Sushi and Forensic Files. Prime Video houses acclaimed BBC natural history series Planet Earth.
For an even wider selection, our list of best movie streaming services includes Netflix, Hulu, Peacock, and Tubi. Netflix features popular original content, Hulu has an extensive movie library, Peacock highlights popular NBC network shows, and Tubi is a free service with a large selection of ad-supported movies. Cinephiles would like The Criterion Channel and Mubi.
But CuriosityStream is your best bet if you’re looking for a high-quality, solid documentary to watch on a rainy Sunday or really any day of the week.
CuriosityStream’s Web Interface
I tested CuriosityStream’s web interface on the Google Chrome browser running on a Windows 10 desktop. I signed in with an email or phone and password, or with a TV or Internet provider. I opted to sign in with my email. CuriosityStream’s web interface is straightforward to navigate and I did not experience any performance issues in testing. It was smooth and intuitive, and the navy blue/dark yellow color scheme is pleasant.
The top navigation bar includes four menu options: Browse, Collections, Search, and your account name. If you hover over your account name in the upper section of the interface, a drop-down menu offers access to the Watchlist, Continue Watching, and History sections. In the My Account section, you can view Plan Details, Payment Information, Account Information, and Settings. Within Settings, there are options to only show kid-friendly content, show comments, and adjust notifications.
At the time of testing, the homepage featured an original series called My Wild Backyard that I could watch, add to my watchlist, or simply scroll past. Further down on the page, I saw sections such as Newest Additions and Shows for you. I’m a huge fan of personalized content, so I particularly appreciate that latter section. Past those categories are sections dedicated to other genres, including Spooky Stuff, Ancient History & Dinos, and more.
The Browse section’s drop-down menu enabled me to find content by category or duration. I really liked the duration option, especially if I know I only have a certain amount of time to watch something. Within each main category (Science, History, Technology, Nature, Society, Lifestyle, and Kids), subcategories make it easier to find even more specialized topics. Under Society, for example, there was Entrepreneurship, Social Issues, Politics, Crime & Forensics, Economics, Business & Commerce, Democracy, and Current Events.
The Collections menu item leads to a page full of curated programs, including Women Rule, Coronavirus, and Hidden Gems. I felt like I was back in my Spotify account, browsing through collections of films instead of playlists put together by the Spotify team.
When you hover over a show or movie’s thumbnail, you can add it to your watchlist via a button in the top-right corner or view the episode count and rating in the bottom-left. On a show or movie’s detail page, you can see which company produced it, if subtitles are available, and the rating again.
CuriosityStream’s Mobile Apps
I tested CuriosityStream’s mobile app on the iPhone 11 running iOS 14.0.1. After logging in (CuriosityStream gives you the same login options as on the web), I noticed a familiar home screen. The featured content, My Wild Backyard, was the same, as were the other categories, such as Newest Additions and Shows for you. In fact, the mobile app is almost a direct reflection of the web platform.
The menu items that were at the top of the website appear as icons at the bottom of the iOS app. When I went into Settings, I saw the option to turn on Kids mode under Account. When I pressed My Stuff, I saw Watchlist, Continue Watching, History, and Saved.
The mobile app has the episode count or documentary duration and the rating available right on the screen. On the web, you would need to hover over a thumbnail to find the same information. Notably, I couldn’t access conversations and comment beneath the title, as I could on the web. Underneath an episode, the mobile app shows other episodes in the series. Underneath films, such as Armstrong, CuriosityStream lists recommendations for other films.
Offline viewing is available on the Android and iOS apps. You can save up to 10 hours of content at a time. Amazon Prime, CBS All Access, Disney+, Hulu, Netflix, Starz, and Showtime all support offline viewing.
CuriosityStream’s playback interface on the web defaults to the highest available resolution. It has volume and playback speed options, as well as 15-second rewind and fast-forward options via the arrow keys on a keyboard. On the bottom-right corner of the video player, there is an option to add closed captions (only in English unfortunately) and change the audio track option (English or Spanish). There’s also a panel with more episodes and a summary of the episode or film underneath the video player. The mobile app playback screen is similar; the only difference is that it has a Save button and the rewind and fast-forward buttons are accessible on-screen.
As a novice documentary viewer, I decided to watch a title from the Start Here! collection (the exclamation point sold me); a staff-curated series of more than 42 episodes that clocks in at just over 100 total hours. The collection’s description assured me that the selected documentaries were audience favorites. From there, I chose Speed, a documentary “investigating mankind’s insatiable necessity to move faster and further; for pleasure, for work, to explore, to survive.” There are four episodes of Speed, each of which is around 50 minutes long.
The episode I chose to watch was fascinating. It was about how our desire for speed has encouraged incredible nautical inventions that allowed us to cross oceans. There were no lags in playback or stutters, and the audio synced up well. CuriosityStream recommends download speeds of 25Mbps or higher for uninterrupted 4K viewing, so my home Wi-Fi network (100Mbps download) was more than adequate.
The audio adjusted seamlessly when I tried changing the audio tracks option from English to Spanish and back again. The 4K video quality was incredible, too. Amazon Prime Video, Apple TV+, Disney+, Hulu, and Netflix all offer 4K streaming.
I also tested Speed and Armstrong on the mobile app over my home Wi-Fi network and found the playback experience to be just as satisfying.
CuriosityStream does not specify how many simultaneous streams it supports per account. In testing, however, I was able to access CuriosityStream simultaneously from my laptop and my phone with no issues. NBC, HBO Max, and Disney+ allow for three simultaneous streams, for reference, while BritBox supports five.
Accessibility and Parental Controls
All of the content I watched included closed captions, which you can’t customize. However, none of the content supports Audio Descriptions. Apple TV+, Prime Video, and Netflix all include titles that support this feature, an accessibility option that provides an audible narration of on-screen events that are not discernible through dialog alone.
As mentioned, CuriosityStream has a kid-specific category filled with kid-friendly titles. You can instruct your children to limit themselves to the titles within that channel. There’s also the option to turn on Kids mode, which you can access through the My Account page. However, this option applies sweepingly to your entire account. Disney+, HBO Max, and Netflix support multiple viewing profiles with individualized content restriction options.
CuriosityStream and VPN
A virtual private network (VPN) is an excellent way to secure your data online. When you turn on a VPN, it routes all of your internet traffic through an encrypted tunnel between you and a remote server controlled by the VPN company, thus hiding both your identity and your location. This can be troublesome for some video streaming services which may block VPN traffic altogether based on geographic location to avoid complications.
I tried streaming content on CuriosityStream after connecting my PC to both US- and Sweden-based Mullvad VPN servers. I had no issues streaming over either connection.
Even if your VPN and video streaming service currently work together without issues, that’s no guarantee that they will continue to do so. Video streaming services continue to find new ways to detect and block VPN traffic.
Low Cost, High Value
I’m not surprised that CuriosityStream has more than 13 million paying subscribers in more than 175 countries; it offers great value. There’s no better place to go for high-quality documentaries that cover thousands of topics, with new titles added regularly. World travelers will also enjoy that it’s available globally with no restrictions. Caption language options are limited in the US to primarily English, although audio for some content is available in English and Spanish.
Our Editor’s Choice for on-demand video streaming services is Netflix; its collection of popular original titles is unmatched. For streaming live TV, which isn’t featured on CuriosityStream, go with Hulu + Live TV or YouTube TV. CuriosityStream also deserves Editor’s Choice recognition for the thousands of hours of viewing it offers its curious, nonfiction-minded audience. The low price, high specs, and good-size library make this streaming service worth it.