Cable TV can look a lot like a landline phone – an unnecessary expense plus outdated hardware. That’s why all the cool youngsters — and many adults too — are leaving cable television services behind.
If you want to join them, but don’t want to completely put aside live TV, read on. If you live in the United States, live TV streaming services like Sling TV and AT&T TV Now allow you to watch most (or all) of your favorite live TV channels — from ABC to CBS to CNN, ESPN, Fox News and Nickelodeon— via Internet broadcasts. And your monthly fee is probably much less than what you’re paying your cable TV company.
Prices start at US $ 15 a month, without additional charges or contracts. Instead of a decoder, you will use an application on your smart TV, Roku, Amazon Fire TV or Apple TV. And you can view content at home or anywhere on a phone or tablet, and even in a PC browser.
These services offer you numerous benefits – no more cable accounts! No more contracts! – but your savings can be outweighed by some disadvantages, such as Internet service fees, DVR system restrictions, delay in Upload content to your device and lack of content to watch, especially live sports. And like cable television, the costs of these services are on the rise.
With all of this in mind, here is a guide to tackle the new world of live TV streaming over the Internet, as well as other options currently available to bypass traditional cable services.
How to Choose A Streaming Service
In ascending order of their monthly rate, the main multichannel live TV streaming services available today are as follows:
- AT&T Watch TV ($ 15 a month or free with select AT&T Wireless plans)
- Philo (US $ 20 a month)
- Sling TV (US $ 30 a month)
- Hulu with Live TV (US $ 54.99 a month)
- PlayStation Vue (US $ 49.99 a month)
- Fubo TV (US $ 54.99 a month)
- AT&T TV Now (US $ 59.99 a month)
- YouTube TV (US $ 49.99 a month)
Yes, it is a long list. But relax: we will review them one by one. And remember that each of these services offers you a free trial period and without contracts, so it is easy to try them (and cancel them).
Each service offers a different combination of channels, so your first step should be to choose one that broadcasts those channels and programs without which you “cannot live”. Of course, some of the most important channels are local, such as ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC. But not all companies offer all these channels, nor everywhere.
Other important factors are whether they have the cloud DVR system and how good its interface is. Most of the services on the list allow you to record and play shows, like a traditional cable or satellite TV DVR system, but they often have restrictions. Some services have a traditional menu, similar to that of a cable TV decoder, while others are more experimental (read: it takes more time to learn how to use them).
Then there is the problem of simultaneous transmissions. If you want to watch more than one show at the same time — for example, on the TV in your living room and on the TV in a bedroom, or on the main TV and on a tablet — you must make sure that the service you choose offers enough broadcasts simultaneous. Some of the cheaper plans only allow you to stream one show at a time, and if you try to watch a second show, it blocks it.
Keep in mind that, especially if there is more than one person watching a program at the same time, you must ensure that you have fast and reliable broadband Internet access. A 100 Mbps service will cost you around $ 50 to $ 60 a month, and this is where you can lose your savings by cutting your cable service.
Here is a list of factors to consider when choosing a live TV streaming service:
- Does the service offer your “must have” channels?
- Do you offer local channels in your area?
- How good is the cloud DVR?
- Does the interface make it easier to find the programs?
- Are there enough simultaneous streams for you and your family?
- Is your internet connection good enough?
What Streaming TV Services Won’t Give You
TV streaming services are great, but there are a few things they can’t do compared to a traditional cable box.
First of all, it is worth considering that there are channels that you cannot get with any of these services. One of the most important is PBS, since apparently it has not acquired the streaming rights of all the programs that it transmits. (Ken Burns’ iconic documentaries are on Netflix, for example.)
Another important topic is sports. Admittedly, most services include ESPN and local channels to watch NFL football, but if you’re a fan of any professional baseball or basketball team, you probably need their specific channel — known as regional sports networks, or RSN for short — to watch regular season games. The coverage of the RSN varies widely in each service.
While AT&T TV Now offers HBO as part of its basic subscription, most other services either sell it as an add-on or require you to register separately on HBO Now. Also, the NFL Red Zone and NHL Network are not available or, if they are, only as part of a package.
On the other hand, if you are used to the 5.1 surround sound offered by cable and even free-to-air TV channels, you will probably be disappointed to know that all the services on the list only include stereo sound in their live broadcasts. However, AT&T TV Now and PlayStation Vue do include 5.1 audio in certain content on demand.
(CNET is owned by CBS, a programming provider that receives compensation for all cable, satellite and online television services offered by CBS channels, including Showtime, Pop, CBS Sports and The CW, among others. CBS also owns and operates its own online service, CBS All Access, which is mentioned later.)
We Compare The Top Five
The time has come to reduce the initial list. Below, we present the five most important services in terms of recognition, number of channels and functions, in alphabetical order.
AT&T TV Now
Ideal for: HBO fans who also want live TV streaming.
Base price: US $ 59.99
Additional packages: There is a package with more channels for US $ 74.99.
Missing channels: A&E, AMC, BBC America, Animal Planet, Discovery, HGTV, History, Lifetime, MLB Network, NBA TV, NFL Network, NFL Red Zone.
The Good: The $ 50 price includes HBO, which is usually offered as a supplement for $ 15 a month; Its interface is similar to that of a television, and includes the possibility of moving left or right to change channels; There are discounts for AT&T Wireless customers.
The bad: it is an expensive service with fewer important channels than any other service in its price range; DVR system is limited; you cannot create profiles for other family members.
In March 2019, At & T TV Now became less attractive than it previously was, as its owner AT&T not only increased the price from $ 40 to $ 50 a month, but also removed numerous major channels from its base package, among them AMC, Discovery and HGTV. Its advantage is that HBO is included in the price. A separate HBO Now subscription costs $ 15 a month, so a $ 10 increase to include HBO is technically a $ 5 monthly discount. But it forces you to pay for a package, which is exactly what those who are abandoning traditional cable services want to avoid. Also, its DVR system and app don’t measure up to most of its competitors.
Hulu With Live TV
Ideal for: Current Hulu subscribers who want to add Live TV.
Base price: US $ 54.99
Additional packages: optional “enhanced” DVR plans and simultaneous streams.
Missing channels: AMC, BBC America, Comedy Central, MLB Network, MTV, NBA TV, NFL Network, NFL Red Zone, Nickelodeon.
The Good: Includes Hulu’s huge library of on-demand content, and exclusive shows like The Handmaid’s Tale.
The bad: its interface is confusing and the standard DVR system does not allow you to skip ads.
Of the top five services reviewed, Hulu’s interface is the least similar to that of a traditional cable system. Its biggest advantage is the integration of live TV with its important catalog of content on demand for a single price. Unfortunately, the frustrations with its interface, which are already evident in standard service, are amplified when one adds live TV. Your application usually confuses “simple” with “incomplete”. For example, it offers a guide, but this one is too basic. Another drawback is that you will have to pay an additional US $ 10 a month if you want to skip the ads in the Hulu cloud DVR system (the basic system, which is included, does not allow you to do it). However, it has a significant number of channels, and with the included Hulu catalog it becomes a front-line competitor, especially after the YouTube TV price hike.
Ideal for: those who want to skip the ads and for those who have PS4.
Base price: US $ 49.99
Additional packages: offers three other packages with progressive increases in the number of channels, for US $ 50, US $ 60 and US $ 80.
Missing channels: A&E, Comedy Central, History, Lifetime, MTV, Nickelodeon.
The Good: A robust DVR system with unlimited storage that doesn’t replace recorded shows with the on-demand version (such as YouTube TV). PlayStation 4 users can watch multiple channels at once on the same screen.
The Bad: Your channel selection is lower than other services in your price range.
PlayStation Vue has an “evolved” interface that is easy to use once you learn how to do it, but that may take some time. Their DVR service is great, with unlimited storage and the ability to skip ads on any show — though, unlike YouTube TV, shows on the Playstation Vue DVR system are removed after 28 days. Its biggest flaw is that it has fewer channels than any of the top five services, apart from Sling TV (which is much cheaper) and AT&T TV Now (which includes HBO). To use it you don’t need to have a PlayStation 4 – like the other services we compare, Vue has applications for numerous streaming devices, including Roku, Apple TV and Fire TV, as well as for phones and PCs – but to use its attractive multi-screen function you must necessarily have a PS4.
Ideal for: saving money and still being able to watch ESPN (or Fox and NBC) using an antenna
Base price: US $ 30
Additional packages: Sling Orange + Blue for $ 40 a month, a cloud DVR system add-on for $ 5 a month, and numerous mini-packages of $ 5 a month
Missing channels (in all packages): ABC, CBS, Animal Planet, Fox News, MLB Network, Nickelodeon
Missing channels (Sling Orange): Fox, NBC, Bravo, FS1, FX, MSNBC, USA Network
Missing channels (Sling Blue): ABC, Disney Channel, ESPN
The good: It has relatively cheap and flexible channel packages.
The bad: the Orange package only allows streaming to one device (TV, phone, tablet); it has very little supply of local stations; the cloud DVR system has an additional cost.
Aside from the options without Philo and AT&T Watch TV sports channels (see below), Sling is the cheapest multichannel live TV streaming service on the market. This is because it offers few local stations (ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC). It has two base packages, Orange and Blue. Orange does not offer any local channels, while Blue has Fox and NBC, but only in a few cities. This makes Sling a good addition to an open television antenna. The Sling interface is not very attractive, but it offers all the options you need without cluttering the screen. The only disappointing elements are its archaic live pause feature and the restrictions of its DVR service (for example, you can’t record Disney-owned channels like ABC). Your options are numerous, so find out before choosing.
Ideal for: Unlimited DVR
Price: US $ 49.99
Additional packages: not available
Missing channels: A&E, Comedy Central, History, Lifetime, NFL Network, NFL Red Zone, Nickelodeon.
The good: an intuitive interface and a complete program guide; includes all four local channels in most homes in the United States; unlimited cloud DVR storage.
The bad: It is one of the two most expensive services and its DVR system replaces recorded programs with on-demand versions.
YouTube is mostly known for offering countless free videos, but thanks to a price hike in April, YouTube TV is now one of the two most expensive options (the other being AT&T TV Now). However, it has more core channels in its base package than any of its competitors, and its local channel coverage includes the top four in most of the US It also has the best DVR system in the group, including Unlimited storage, albeit with a flaw: if a program you recorded appears in YouTube TV’s on-demand content library, it is replaced by the on-demand version — thus losing the ability to fast-forward when there are ads. Its interface is super practical, to the point of even being boring, but it offers most of the functions of a cable TV service. And unlike Sling and others, everything is extremely simple: one package, one price, and you’re done.
AT&T Watch TV
Price: $ 15 a month, or “free” with certain AT&T Wireless plans
AT&T has two separate services: AT&T TV Now and Watch TV. The latter, much cheaper, includes 30 channels, many of which, such as AMC, HGTV and BBC America, are no longer available on AT&T TV Now. Watch TV has no sports or local channels, and many of its channel shows can be watched on demand with a Hulu subscription, and for a lower price. It doesn’t work with Roku devices either, but it is available on the other major streaming platforms. And some AT&T Wireless customers get it for free.
Price: from US $ 20 a month
Philo is another cheap service with no sports or local channels, offering regular cable options like AMC, Comedy Channel, Nickelodeon and BBC America. Unlike Watch AT&T, Philo includes cloud DVR service, but it lacks a major nonstop news channel like CNN.
CBS All Access
Price: from US $ 5.99 per month
It is the only major TV channel to offer a live on-demand streaming service, which allows you to watch live local TV from a single channel – CBS, obviously – in some US cities, in addition to content from exclusive on-demand video, such as Star Trek: Discovery. On-demand stock comes with ads, but you can pay an additional $ 10 a month for an ad-free option. (Editors note: CNET is the property of CBS).
Price: from US $ 54.99 per month
Fubo TV is a sports-focused service that also offers several other channels including local open signal stations (except ABC) —and more regional sports networks, or RSN, than any other service. Especially for fans of professional baseball, basketball, and hockey teams, Fubo might be the only way to watch regular season games without cable service. However, it does not offer ESPN, and due to its complicated user interface and high price, it is not the first service we would choose.
Live TV streaming services are still in their infancy, and the industry is still in a constant state of flux. Since their launch, all services have increased their prices by $ 5 a month, channel selections and cities with access to local channels change all the time, and some of these services are constantly reported to be losing money. Although streaming is certainly the future, it will be a while before the prices and services offered stabilize.
That said, if you want a cable-like experience both at home and on the go without the burden of paying for a cable subscription, then streaming services are worth a look. There are no contracts involved, and if you do not like the service you are in, you can change it easily. Whether you are looking for a basic package like Sling TV or want to pay more for a luxury experience like PlayStation Vue, there will surely be a TV streaming service that suits your needs.