Cutting the cord? Let us help you find the best service for live-streaming TV

 digitaltrends.com  4/16/2018 9:34:57 PM   Brendan Hesse
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For those fed up with their cable or satellite TV company, there has never been a better time to cut the cord. Streaming video services are giving traditional pay TV stiff competition by delivering live sports and prime-time TV programming online, often for a drop in price, while premium channels like HBO and Showtime are available as separate streaming services or add-on bundles.

Live-streaming TV has great advantages over cable and satellite TV: No hidden fees, easy to cancel, and some even offer DVR storage.

Live-streaming TV has other advantages, too: There are no hidden fees, and if you ever decide to cancel, it’s easy and painless — a refreshing change from the hassle of dealing with cable and satellite call centers. Some services even offer special features like cloud-based DVR storage.

There are many services out there, however, and they all have different prices, channels, and feature sets. So, which is the best live-streaming service for you? To help you sift through the chaos, we’ve put together this handy guide detailing each service’s features and content offerings so you can size them up directly against their rivals, and decide exactly how you want to dump cable.

Editor’s Note: Each service has conditional inclusion of the major networks it carries. Some markets have access to live network channels, including local programming, while others will be on-demand only. In some select locations, one or more of the networks — or even an entire service — may not be available. Check each service’s website for availability in your area. 

Hulu

Price: $40 per month for 55-plus channels and Hulu’s on-demand movie and TV library; add-on channels and features range from $9-$15

Free trial: 30-day free trial

Included major networks: ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC, CW

Supported devices: Amazon Fire TV, Android, Apple TV, Chromecast, iOS, Mac, Nintendo Switch, select Roku and Roku TV models, select Samsung Smart TVs and Blu-ray players (coming soon), web browsers, Xbox One consoles

Number of simultaneous streams: Six

Who it’s for: Hulu users looking to updgrade to live TV… and just about everyone else

Hulu’s single $40-per-month plan (called simply Hulu with Live TV) gives subscribers 55-plus live channels (the exact number will be dependent on your market). You’ll get ABC, NBC, CBS, and Fox, either live or on-demand depending on your location, plus dozens of other popular channels, which Hulu lists in full on its website.

Hulu With Live TV also provides 12 different sports channels, including ESPN, CSN, and Fox Sports 1.

Hulu With Live TV also presents some stiff competition when it comes to sports, providing 12 different sports channels, including ESPN, CSN, and Fox Sports 1, which nearly matches YouTube TV’s 13 (though falls short of FuboTV’s sports-laden lineup). Hulu with Live TV also lets users follow their favorite sports teams from the NFL, NCAA, NBA, MLS, MLB, and NHL, and record their games, provided they’re available. Furthermore, you can use your Hulu with Live TV login information to sign in to the ESPN App to access live ESPN coverage via ESPN+.

Hulu with Live TV subscribers also have full access to Hulu’s full on-demand streaming library and Hulu original content, essentially coupling a basic Hulu subscription (normally $8-12 per month) with 50-plus channels of live TV. This gives the service a serious edge for current Hulu fans, consolidating live TV with everything subscribers already get with Hulu into a single monthly bill. Hulu’s on-demand library is already very good, with some of the best original TV series around, and Hulu with Live TV offers one more reason to sign up.

In the “points against” category, Hulu with Live TV only offers a single add-on channel at time of publication, offering Showtime for $9 per month (as opposed to $11 per month as a stand-alone channel). That said, subscribers will be able to upgrade from some basic Hulu with available features like unlimited simultaneous streams and enhanced cloud DVR storage. 

Sling TV

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Price: Sling Orange: $20 per month for 30-plus channels; Sling Blue: $25 per month for 40-plus channels; Orange + Blue: $40 per month for 45-plus channels; additional channel add-on packs and features from $5-$20

Free trial: Seven-day free trial

Included major networks: ABC (inclusion varies by channel package), NBC, FOX, CBS (CBS only available in select markets)

Supported devices: Amazon Fire TV and Fire tablets, Android, Apple TV, Airplay, Chromecast, Channel Master DVR, iOS, Mac, Nvidia Shield, Select LG Smart TVs, Roku, Samsung Smart TVs and Blu-ray players, Chrome web browser, Windows, Xbox One consoles, Xiaomi Mi Box

Number of simultaneous streams: Sling Orange: One; Sling Blue: Three

Who it’s for: Customers who want a customizable, à la carte experience

Sling TV currently offers the most flexibility of all the live TV streaming services out there, at least when it comes to your content and pricing options. SlingTV uses an à la carte model, with base channel packages and a bevy of add-ons. The base packages, while largely similar, do have some major differences — namely that ABC and Disney-owned channels (including ESPN, and therefore supports ESPN+) are only present in Orange, while Blue carries NBC, CBS, Fox, and other sports channels like NFL Network and NFL Redzone.

If you want all of those channels, you’ll need to spring for the $40 package, which includes everything in Blue and Orange, or you can augment either package with add-on channels. Add-on packages also vary in pricing and included channels, depending on which package you’re subscribed to, but you can expect to pay between $5 and $20 per month for each.

It’s a little confusing, but it’s fairly easy to parse when you see all the packages laid out in front of you. You’ll find full listings on SlingTV’s website.

In terms of bonus features, SlingTV is pretty standard, but it does have some unique standouts. The first is game finder, a search feature on the Sling TV website that finds live and upcoming sports content available for your channel package and region. There’s also a bandwidth limiter, which will help keep you from going over you data limits — streaming video content can eat up data quickly, after all, so this is a welcome feature.

Otherwise, it’s fairly standard. Sling Orange subscribers will have access to a single stream, while Blue allows for up to three streams simultaneously. As for other features, VOD (video on demand), pause/rewind/fast forwarding and “catch-up watching” are content specific. You can get the gist of everything SlingTV has to offer by reading our SlingTV guide.

PlayStation Vue

Price: Access/Access Slim: $40/$30 per month for 45-plus channels; Core/Core Slim: $45/$35 per month for 60-plus channels; Elite/Elite Slim$55/$45 per month for 90-plus channels; Ultra/Ultra Slim: $75/$65 per month for 90 channels, plus HBO and Showtime; add-on packages range from $9-$15

Free trial: 14-day free trial

Included major networks: ABC, FOX, NBC, CBS (CBS only available in select cities)

Supported devices: Amazon Fire TV and Fire tablets, Android phones/tablets, Android TV, Apple TV, Chromecast, iOS, Mac, Nvidia Shield, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4 and PS4 Pro, Roku, Web browsers, Windows

Number of simultaneous streams: Five

Who it’s for: PlayStation users, and PS Plus subscribers, and those with large channel appetites.

PlayStation Vue offers the largest number of channels of any of the services, but it’s also the most expensive, and it’s pricing structure can be confusing to wrap your head around at first. Which channels you get — and even which plans are offered — will depend on your location. PlayStation Vue’s packages come in two varieties: With local channels (regular) or without (Slim). So, for example, the most basic package, Access, costs $40 per month in markets where local live channels are included.

PlayStation Vue offers the largest number of channels of any of the services, but it’s also the most expensive

In all other markets, however, Access Slim is $30 per month and doesn’t include live local programming (prime-time content is still available on demand, however). This is the same across all Vue packages. If you currently only have access to the Slim packages, the good news is that Sony adds new markets quite frequently, so it’s possible live local channels will be available for you in the future (though, at a higher monthly bill). You can find which local channels are available on Sony’s PS Vue page.

There are a few add-on channels and features available, as well. Subscribers to PlayStation Plus (Sony’s premium online service for PS4 and PS3) will get discounts on some of those packages, and some channels are exclusive only to Plus subscribers in the first place. Similarly, PS Vue ties directly into the PS4 interface and the PlayStation ecosystem at large, which makes adopting it almost a no-brainer for PlayStation players looking to add online TV — provided the pricing and channel listings meet your needs.

This is not to say that only PlayStation users should adopt PS Vue; the service’s robust channel listings will appeal to anyone who wants lots of stuff to watch, and it could be a good option for larger families sharing one account. PS Vue lets users create up to five user profiles, with up to five streams at a time. Keep in mind, however, that using PlayStation Vue on a TV or set-top device is a very different experience than using it on a mobile device — some channels will be inaccessible on the go due to licensing restrictions. Further, you can’t access any of your recorded content on a mobile device.

If you’re eager to read more about Sony’s service and its litany of pricing options and features, give our PS Vue guide a peak.

DirecTV Now

Price: Live a Little: $35 per month for 60-plus channels; Just Right: $50 per month for 80-plus channels; Go Big: $60 per month for 100-plus channels; Gotta Have It: $70 per month for 120-plus channels; add-on channels and features available for $5 per month

Free trial: Seven-day free trial

Included major networks: ABC, FOX, NBC, CBS (CBS only available in select cities)

Supported devices: Amazon Fire TV, Android, Apple TV, Chromecast, iOS, Mac, Roku, Chrome web browsers, Xbox One console (coming soon)

Number of simultaneous streams: One

Who it’s for: Those who don’t mind trading features for lots of channels

DirecTV is another service with high channels counts and multiple package tiers, but it offers a more straightforward pricing model than PlayStation Vue.

Those considering the service will want to do some research to see if DirecTV Now is offering any deals or discounts. In the past, the service has offered some pretty impressive limited-time promotions that could get you some better entry-level prices, and even a free streaming device.

While you may get a great deal, DirecTV lacks some features shared by most of the other systems, specifically a cloud DVR. It has been reported that AT&T is currently testing DVR features, which could allow users to store up to 100 hours of content, but nothing has yet been confirmed by AT&T or DirecTV. It’s also worth noting that DirecTV Now has a severe limited on channels that can be paused, fast-forwarded, or rewound compared to other services.

Those shortcomings aside, DirecTV Now is, like PS Vue, closer to the experience you’ll get with cable or satellite when it comes to available channels. Its pricing is also consistent regardless of where you live, so no worries about a sudden bump in your bill.

YouTube TV

YouTube TV

Price $35 per month for 48-plus channels; add-on packages ranging from $5-$15

Free trial: Seven-day free trial

Included major networks: ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC, CW

Supported devices: Android, Android TV, Apple TV, Chromecast, iOS, Nvidia Shield, Roku, Chrome web browser, Xbox One consoles

Number of simultaneous streams: Six

Who it’s for: Those who are deeply devoted to Google, live in a covered area, and want a simple package

YouTube TV’s sole package costs $35 per month for 45 channels. That makes it a bit more expensive than the basic offerings from Sling TV and PS Vue, and equal to DirecTV’s entry package. The only service it beats in the number of included channels is Sling TV. It’s also only available in select regions at present, so before digging too deeply you’ll want to check its website for available locations.

YouTube TV costs $35 per month for 45 channels, including all major networks (ABC, NBC, Fox, CBS, and CW)

That might raise questions about its value, but a closer look reveals a few notable perks. It includes all the major networks — ABC, NBC, Fox, CBS, and CW — and a bevy of other popular channels at a reasonable price, and its local affiliate programming has also expanded and is now reportedly available to nearly 50 percent of customers. It also has a large number of sports channels for the price (short of FuboTV, that is). 

You won’t be doing much customizing or adding to your content with YouTube TV — there are currently only four add-on channels available: Showtime, Fox Soccer Plus, Shudder, and Sundance Now. Sure, you could add HBO as a stand-alone streaming service at $15 per month, but if you’re looking to combine all your internet TV into one package, YouTube TV isn’t the place.

YouTube TV also falls a bit short in its device support, especially compared to the services we’ve previously covered. It does have the most flexible cloud DVR support, though, allowing users to store programming up to nine months after recording, with standard pause/rewind and catchup features available. If you have a Google Home device and a Chromecast, YouTube TV can be controlled with voice commands via Google Assistant. Similarly, Google Assistant can even inform you of what content is currently saved to your DVR. If you’re an Android die-hard who utilizesGoogle’s ecosystem to its fullest, then YouTube TV may be the perfect addition. Read our YouTube TV guide for more info.

Philo

Philo TV screenshot

Price: $16 per month for 37 channels, or $20 per month for 46 channels

Free trial: Seven-day free trial

Included major networks: Zero

Supported devices: Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, iOS, Chrome, Roku

Number of simultaneous streams: 3

Who it’s for: Lovers of popular cable channels who don’t mind skipping local networks and sports (or can get them elsewhere).

Philo, like nearly every other service listed here, gives you a long list of popular cable channels to watch live over the internet. But it differs significantly in what content is supports — or more accurately, doesn’t support. Despite boasting a bevy of channels, including Viacom-owned favorites like MTV and Comedy Central  (absent from many competing services), the four major networks — Fox, NBC, CBS, and ABC — are not carried by Philo, nor is anything from ABC’s parent company, Disney. That means, along with no local affiliates, there’s also no ESPN. When it comes to locals, though, many viewers can get them over the air with a simple (and affordable) HD antenna for free.

There is a benefit to this network-less approach, too. Since Philo doesn’t have to sign deals with the networks to carry specific markets, Philo’s full channel packages are available regardless of where you live.

Feature-wise, Philo is similar to the other services above (and cheaper, to boot). Users have cloud DVR access for recording and storing content, though like Playstation Vue, your DVR content will only stick around for a limited time — 30 days, in this case. While that might seem like a drawback, let’s be honest — if you put off watching something you recorded for that long, you probably weren’t going to watch it anyway. One feature Philo includes is the ability to access content from pay-walled apps for channels sarried by Philo. For example, since Phio’s channel packages includes AMC and Nickelodeon, you’ll be able to download and watch through the dedicated AMC and Nickelodeon apps at no extra charge by signing in with your Philo account.

Philo does lack the comprehensive app and device support of its rivals. Only Roku, iOS devices, and the Chrome browser are currently supported, but Apple TV and Amazon Fire TV support is right around the corner. Philo claims even more devices are on the way, but for now, the truncated device support is a drawback. That said, if you’ve got a supported device and don’t mind skipping sports and the big networks (or can find them with an antenna), Philo is the most affordable way to get live TV. For more on the service, check out our Philo guide.

Amazon Prime Live Channels

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Price: Free and premium channels at varying prices

Included major networks: N/A

Supported devices: Live channel features only available on Amazon Fire TV; channel content can be access by any device that supports Prime Video Now

Number of simultaneous streams: N/A

Who it’s for: Amazon Prime users who want to consolidate their apps and monthly bills to a single location

Amazon Prime has a long list of perks for its members, but one of the lesser-known incentives is the ability to augment your Prime Video library with a handful of curated TV channels. Compared to the other services here, Amazon Prime’s channel add-ons don’t pose much competition. Prime simply offers a small number of channels supported currently by just Fire TV. 

For Amazon Fire TV users (no coincidence that it requires an in-house device), a small selection of these channels can be browsed via a “Live Now” menu, which includes a programming guide so you can see what’s on next. As of this writing, only a small number of premium channels — including HBO, Cinemax, Starz, and Showtime — will show up on the “live now” section, and only if you’re subscribed to them through Amazon Prime’s “Channels.” The number is growing, however, and we’re hopeful for a more varied selection in the near future.

A perk to a setup like this is that it will directly integrate into Amazon’s growing ecosystem of connected devices. That means you’ll be able to check what’s on the premium Prime add-on channels just by talking to Alexa. That feature might not be a game changer, but it’s helpful nonetheless, and only serves to strengthen the case for subscribing to these channels if you’re an Amazon Prime member not subscribed to them elsewhere.

For now, this isn’t quite an option for supplanting a subscription to Sling, PS Vue, etc., but it is a worthwhile Prime feature that will hopefully continue to grow and evolve.

Pluto TV

Pluto TV

Price: Free

Included major networks: N/A (CBSN, NBC News, and MSNBC news programming available)

Supported devices: Amazon Fire TV and Fire tablets, Android, Android TV, Apple TV, Chromecast, iOS, Roku, Web browsers, select Sony, Samsung, and Zivio Smart TVs

Number of simultaneous streams: N/A

Who it’s for: Live TV streaming newbies who want to see what all the fuss is about

Pluto TV might be a new name to some, but the service has been quietly plugging along since 2013. Like the other services on this list, it’s become a solution for those who want easy access to a library of both live and on-demand content — everything from TV series, to movies, to popular internet content creators. Unlike the others, however, Pluto TV is entirely free.

Pluto TV features more than 40 live channels including CNBC, MSNBC, Sky News, movie channels, and live sports, plus 15 music-streaming channels.

No, really. For the cool price of zero dollars a month, Pluto TV will provide you access to select content from more than 40 live channels, including CNBC, MSNBC, Sky News, movie channels, and live sports, plus 15 music-streaming channels. Users will also enjoy a library of on-demand content.

You’re likely thinking “What’s the catch?” The answer is simple: Ads. Pluto TV is entirely ad supported. These ads are not skippable, but it may be a worthwhile price to pay for totally free content.

The other caveat is that the majority of these channels aren’t actually TV channels but internet channels, meaning stuff from websites and online creators like IGN, CNET, and Cheddar, rather than traditional TV channels. You’ll still get those, too, but you won’t find any of the major prime-time networks or cable favorites like Comedy Central, Syfy, or FX here.

You also won’t find many special features here, either — no DVR, no user profiles, etc. Still, PlutoTV has a solid collection of free, curated TV, film, music, and internet video content, and it’s available on a respectable number of platforms. For those considering the dive into online TV streaming, Pluto TV is a good first dip of the toes.

For a more in-depth examination, head over to our PlutoTV explainer.

FuboTV

Price: $45 per month for 70-plus channels (special $20 introductory price for first month); add-on packages ranging from $3-$15

Free trial: Seven-day free trial

Included major networks: NBC, CBS, Fox, CW

Supported devices: Amazon Fire TV (Beta), Android, Android TV (beta), Apple TV, Chromecast, iOS, Roku, web browsers

Number of simultaneous streams: Two

Who it’s for: Those who mainline live sports, and not much else

A few of the previous services have been notable for their sports content (YouTube TV and Hulu, in particular), but if you only care about sports, you’ll want to look into FuboTV. This is another relatively new service that has been gaining some recognition for the niche it appeals to, especially after it was advertised as a way to easily watch Super Bowl 52 with its free trial.

FuboTV offers more than 65 channels for $45 per month, though your first month will only be $20 at the time of publication. NBC Sports Network, NFL Network, NBA TV, Pac 12 Network, and the Olympic Channel are just a few examples of its sports-heavy lineup, alongside a small handful of other channels such as HGTV and FX. 

Sports nuts would have to spend more money with another service to get a portion of the channels offered by FuboTV, but there is one glaring omission to its sports listings: ESPN. The service does not currently carry ESPN or ABC channels, and can’t be used to access ESPN+ through the ESPN app, so if those are a staple of your sports coverage consumption, FuboTV isn’t going to satisfy your appetite.

Given its intensely niche appeal, it’s hard to recommend FuboTV to any one other than sports fanatics; if you want to be able to watch the nightly news or catch the next episodes of your favorite network sitcoms, we would advise you to look elsewhere.

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