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Here’s how the competition really stacks up.
There are few things more satisfying than breaking up with your major cable company. You no longer have to install a satellite or pay through the nose for a massive cable package when you only care about a handful of channels. But while Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime might satisfy your need for on-demand movies and TV shows, you may still find yourself wanting live TV streaming, especially if there’s a series you want to watch in real time or there’s a big game on you just can’t miss.
Thankfully, there are plenty of live TV streaming options to choose from—too many in fact. In the last two years, the market has been flooded with new services, and they’re gaining popularity quickly. According to a January 2018 CNBC report, YouTube TV now has over 300,000 subscribers while Hulu with Live TV boasts 450,000.
Figuring out which live TV streaming service is right for you can get complicated quickly. We’ve broken down all of the best options below to help the decision-making process easy for you.
The best live TV streaming options
Launched in 2017, Hulu with Live TV is exactly what it sounds like: a live TV streaming option from one of the leaders in on-demand entertainment. The best part about it is that it comes with free access to Hulu with Limited Commercials (a $7.99/month value), unlocking its deep library of movies, TV shows, anime, documentaries, scary movies, and must-see Hulu originals.
Cost: Hulu with Live TV has just one tier of pricing: $39.99 per month. Hulu also offers premium channel offerings like HBO ($14.99/month), Cinemax ($9.99/month), and Showtime ($8.99).
Channels: Hulu with Live TV offers over 50 channels, though the exact number is dependent upon on the number of local channels you’ll be able to pick up. You can expect to find popular favorites like Food Network, Nat Geo, TNT, and the Travel Channel, along with ESPN and each of the major news networks. Sadly, Hulu doesn’t have a deal with Viacom, so you won’t get Comedy Central, MTV, Spike, or Nickelodeon. AMC is also missing.
Special features: Each subscription comes with 50 hours of DVR recording time, with no time limits on how long you can store material. If 50 hours isn’t enough, you can get 200 hours of Cloud DVR for $15 a month. Please note, you can’t fast forwards through ads on your DVR’d shows unless you subscribe to Hulu’s $4 a month ad-free service.
Why you’ll love it: Hulu is a brilliant middle ground, offering a world-class streaming service in addition to streaming live TV. However, while its design is beautiful, it can take some getting used to, especially given the way it curates channels based on what you watch. If you want to surf or find your DVR shows, you’ll need to dig through menus, which often feels like a hassle. Still, for the cost and what you get, Hulu with Live TV is an incredible deal. We just don’t recommend it if you find existing streaming services difficult to navigate.
Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need to own a PlayStation to use PS Vue. Launched in 2015, PS Vue is a standalone streaming service that offers some of the best bonus features around but at a premium price.
Cost: PS Vue comes in four different tiers of service: $39.99 for 45-plus channels, $44.99 for 60-plus channels, $59.99 for 90 channels, and $74.99 for those same 90 channels plus HBO and Showtime. In addition to the standard tiers, Vue offers several add-on channel packages, such as the Español Pack or the gamer-focused Machinima.
Channels: Each of PS Vue’s four tiers comes a myriad of channels, with popular channels like ESPN, SYFY, FX, Disney, and Food Network includes at all levels. The major difference between the base Access package ($39.99/month) and the Core package ($44.99/month) is the addition of sports channels like ESPN 3 and the NFL Network, while the Elite package ($59.99/month) adds BBC World News, Epix, and NBA TV. Finally, the $74.99 Ultra package gives you everything included in the Elite plan, with the addition of both HBO and Showtime. For even more sports action, the add-on Sports Pack tacks on NFL RedZone, MLB Network Strike Zone, ESPN Goal Line and a few other channels for $10/month. Like Hulu with Live TV, PS Vue doesn’t have access to Viacom channels anymore, though it once did and perhaps might again someday.
Special features: Vue subscribers can store most shows on cloud DVR for up to 28 days after they were recorded, though some channels and sporting events are blocked from recording. While Vue’s DVR is limited, the service’s Catch-Up feature makes up for it. It allows you to go back to your channel listings up to three days and watch almost anything. Users who watch on a PS4 can watch up to three live channels at once on their screen, a particularly nice perk for Sony loyalists.
Why you’ll love it: If you long for the days of your massive cable package and don’t mind paying a little extra, PS Vue is in a competitive position for live TV streaming, but it’s the most expensive service available. That said, with PS Vue, up to five total streams are supported at once, so if you’re trying to find a package that you can split with roommates or family, it’s a great option.
Sling TV is arguably the most established and well-known live streaming TV service. It launched in 2015 and has earned a loyal following for its cheap plans and à la carte options.
Cost: Sling TV’s Orange package is just $20 a month, its Blue package costs $25 a month, while the combination Orange + Blue package run $40 a month. Yes, you have to pay extra for ABC ($5/month). HBO costs $14.99, the same it does most other places. While the start-up cost is low, when you factor in add-on channels, Sling TV quickly adds up.
Channels: Sling Orange comes with around 30 channels, while the Blue package comes with 45, depending on what local options are available to you. If you bundle the two packages together there is some overlap, so you’ll only end up with about 50 channels. If you’re looking for the cheapest access to ESPN, Sling TV is for you, with the $20 Orange package delivering all the sports you can handle. Each of the three packages includes CNN, Comedy Central, Cartoon Network, FX, AMC, NFL Network, and more. Sadly there’s no MTV.
Devices: Sling TV works on a remarkable number of devices, with the notable exception of Sony devices. Sling TV can be streamed via Amazon Fire devices, Apple TV, Android TV, iOS and Android devices, Chromecast, certain LG smart TVs, Roku, and Xbox One.
Special features: Sling offers DVR, but it costs an extra $5 a month for 50 hours of storage, but take note that many channels can’t be recorded. You can find a complete list of those channels here.
Why you’ll love it: Sling TV is a winner when it comes to price and interface. It’s hard to beat its $20 entry point, and once you’re logged in, navigating is a breeze. Unlike Hulu with Live TV and PS Vue, Sling TV has a menu system that’s easy to pick up from the get-go. Still, if you’re looking to add channels beyond the standard live TV streaming package, Sling TV’s monthly price can creep up.
Technically, you wouldn’t be breaking up with your cable company if you signed up for DirecTV Now, but its live TV streaming service has a lot to offer, especially if you already have an AT&T Unlimited plan.
Cost: DirecTV Now offers four different channel packages: Live a Little ($35/month), Just Right ($50/month), Go Big ($60/month), and Gotta Have It (a whopping $70/month). DirecTV Now has the best price for HBO as an addon (just $5/month) and Starz ($8). Even better, AT&T Unlimited data plan subscribers can knock $25 off the cost of service each month, making the starting price just $10 a month.
Channels: DirecTV Now gives viewers a lot for their money, starting with the $35 package. The base level package gives you 60-plus channels, which includes ESPN, CNN, Cartoon Network, SYFY, Food, Disney and more. Each tier beyond that adds an average of 20 channels, meaning you get 80-plus channels with Just Right, 100-plus channels with Go Big, and 120-plus channels in the Gotta Have It level. That’s more channels for your dollar than PS Vue offers, but it also might be more than you’ll need.
Devices: DirecTV Now supports Apple TV, iOS and Android, Chromecast, Fire TV and tablet devices, Roku, and select smart TVs.
Special features: Similar to PS Vue, DirecTV Now subscribers can go back 72 hours in their channel listings to watch almost any program that has already aired. At the moment, DirecTV Now does not support cloud DVR, but the service has started beta testing the feature, meaning it will be available in the near future. The service is also zero-rated for AT&T subscribers, even if they don’t have an unlimited plan. That means you can watch DirecTV Now content on your phone without it using up all of your data allotment.
Why you’ll love it: DirecTV Now feels just like a normal cable experience, down to its grid interface for surfing channels. Beyond that, it’s an incredible deal, giving you more for less than any other live TV streaming service. As soon as they fix its DVR situation, DirecTV Now will be the clear leader of the pack.
Originally launched as a way to watch sports online, FuboTV has expanded its offerings to compete with other live TV streaming, and it’s competitively priced.
Cost: FuboTV offers three levels of service. Fubo Premier, the standard package, costs $39.99/month (after a two-month introductory rate of $19.99/month). The service also offers two specialty streaming packages—Fubo Latino for $14.99 a month, and Fubo Portugues for $19.99 a month—but those packages come with deeply limited channel options.
Channels: If you want a mostly standard TV package, Fubo Premiere is the only way to go. Subscribers get 70-plus channels, depending on what local channels are available in your area. FuboTV is heavily weighted towards sports, particularly soccer. In fact, over 20 of the channels that come with the basic package are focused on sports, but it glaringly omits ESPN. Other standard programming channels like Bravo, FX, FXX, Nat Geo, USA, MSNBC, Fox News, SyFy, Food Network, Travel Channel, History, and other major cable options are included. Yet again, Viacom properties like MTV, Comedy Central, and VH1 are absent.
Fubo’s Latino and Portugues packages are expensive for what you get, but a useful option for the people they’re intended for. Fubo Latino offers 13 channels with your subscription, while Fubo Portugues offers just five. Fubo Latino includes Univision, Univision TDN, Fox Deportes, UniMas, and Nat Geo Mundo among its channels. Meanwhile, Fubo Portugues comes with Benfica TV, a Portuguese sports channel; RTP International, the international service for Portuguese public broadcasting; and the soccer-focused GOL TV.
Devices: FuboTV is another live TV streaming service that leaves game console viewers out in the cold, but thankfully there are plenty of other options to choose from. Roku, Apple TV, iOS and Android, Amazon Fire devices, Android TV, and Chromecast all support FuboTV.
Special features: Fubo has recently upgraded its service, offering 30 hours of cloud DVR to all users, upgradable to 500 hours for an extra fee. In addition, the service has also introduced its own 72-hour lookback feature, letting you go back to your listings to watch shows that have already aired.
Why you’ll love it: FuboTV feels like a good service on the verge of becoming a great one. For a sports-focused company, the lack of ESPN is odd, but no one else in the game offers as many options for sports fans, and its’ Sports Plus package adds 15 additional channels that include NFL RedZone and five Pac 12 channels.
Launched in April 2017, YouTube TV offers solid competition in the world of live TV streaming and boasts some of the best features around. You’ll get a free Google Chromecast just for signing up.
Cost: YouTube TV’s basic plan costs $35/month. Additional channels like Shudder and Sundance can be added for an extra $5 and $7 a month, respectively.
Channels: The service boasts just over 50 channels, ranging from CBS to ESPN, though there are some odd holes in the lineup. You get Fox and MSNBC, but not CNN, for example.Still, there are plenty of solid options, including AMC, FX, and SYFY, and Nat Geo. Showtime, Fox Soccer Plus, Shudder, and Sundance are all also available for an extra fee.
Devices: Other than the PlayStation ecosystem, YouTube TV works almost everywhere. It supports iOS, Android, Chromecast, Android TV, some Samsung and LG smart TVs, and Xbox One.
Special features: YouTube TV has some of the most generous special features in the live TV streaming world. While every service allows multiple users to watch at the same time on one account, YouTube takes it to the next level by offering six accounts per household. Each with their own personal login and unlimited DVR, meaning you’ll never accidentally record over your roommate or Mom ever again. YouTube is also one of the only services that lets you fast forward through ads on your DVR’d shows, which is always a bonus. YouTube TV also gives you access to YouTube Red Originals.
- The best free movies on YouTube
- The most-viewed YouTube videos of all time
- The 25 most-subscribed-to YouTube channels
Why you’ll love it: YouTube TV is an odd choice for live TV streaming. It’s more expensive than Sling TV and only $5 less than Hulu with Live TV, but its unlimited cloud DVR is hard to beat. The interface takes some getting used to, but the service’s live TV grid view is helpful for planning your viewing schedule. YouTube TV is best for houses with multiple viewers all sharing an account.
Philo is a recently launched live TV streaming option focused on lifestyle, entertainment, and educational programming. It’s a budget-friendly option that makes it easy to get started.
Cost: Philo starts at just $16/month, with an extra batch of channels available for $4 more. Want to give it a try? Philo only requires a phone number for a free trial, no credit card or payment needed.
Channels: For a budget-priced service, Philo comes packing some big names, including all the Viacom channels other providers are lacking. Beyond MTV and Comedy Central, Philo alos offers Discovery, A&E, AMC, Animal Planet, Discovery Channel, and the Food Network. Oddly, the only news network included is BBC World News, and you can’t access local channels. It’s basically the perfect cable package for a college dorm.
Devices: Philo is severely limited at the moment as to how it can be streamed, with just Roku, iOS, Android, and browser options available.
Special features: Philo allows users to record shows. However, each program will be deleted 30 days after being recorded.
Why you’ll love it: While limited in its channel selection (there’s no ESPN or American news network) and ways to watch, you get more than you pay for with Philo, and it’s perfect for late-night channel surfing.
Editor’s note: This article is regularly updated for relevance.
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John-Michael Bond is a tech reporter and culture writer for Daily Dot. A longtime cord-cutter and early adapter, he's an expert on streaming services (Hulu with Live TV), devices (Roku, Amazon Fire), and anime. A former staff writer for TUAW, he's knowledgeable on all things Apple and Android. You can also also find him regularly performing standup comedy in Los Angeles.