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ESPN used to be the domain of cable viewers, but now you have options.
As World Cup madness comes to a close and football season approaches, you’re probably starting to wonder how to watch ESPN without cable.
Just a few short years ago, cutting the cord with your cable company meant having to compromise your desires. No one felt this pain more than professional sports fans. If you wanted to watch sports without cable you had four options: hope it was on broadcast TV, go to the game live, befriend someone with cable, or hang out in a sports bar.
Fret not, for those days are no more. You no longer have to swear allegiance to a cable company if you want Monday Night Football and SportsCenter. All your favorite programming can now be accessed through a number of streaming services.
How to watch ESPN without cable: Sling TV
When it comes to replacing your cable company, no one makes it easier for less than Sling TV. Sling TV works by serving up blocks of channels for a low price. There are two tiers, Blue and Orange, each offering different options. If you’re looking for ESPN, pick up a subscription to Sling TV Orange. For just $25 a month, you get streaming access to ESPN, ESPN2, and ESPN3 along with 22 other channels and local options.
Sling TV can be streamed off a number of devices, from smartphones to game consoles, Roku, Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, and more. You can only stream on one device at a time, but if you decide to splurge for the Blue+Orange package, you get more channels and the power to stream on up to four devices at once. It’s cheaper for four friends to split a Blue+Orange package than it is for one person to get Blue by themselves. With both the Blue and Blue+Orange packages, however, only one person can stream ESPN at a time.
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For $5 a month, Sling TV offers 50 hours of cloud DVR, so you can catch up on your favorite shows even if you’re away from the house. Sling TV logins can also be used on the WatchESPN app, giving you on-demand access to a large chunk of ESPN’s programming.
Thinking about giving Sling TV a try? They offer a seven-day free trial to see if it’s right for you.
Sling TV had a shaky launch, with some customers complaining about the quality of streams and difficulty using the service. Many of those issues have been worked out since then, but use the free trial period to make sure it’s up to your standards.
How to watch ESPN without cable: PlayStation Vue
Of the three options available for watching ESPN without cable, PlayStation Vue is the best reviewed but also potentially the most expensive. PS Vue was previously $29.99 a month, but this past July Sony raised the price of its basic package to $44.99 a month for most of U.S. That include 40 channels plus any available local channels.
The plus side is that PS Vue can be watched on up to five different devices at once and comes with cloud DVR. This package, known as Access, only includes ESPN and ESPN2, so if you want ESPNews or ESPNU, you’ll need to buy the $44.99 a month Core package.
Your PS Vue logins can also be used on the WatchESPN app, giving you on-demand viewing. If you’d like to try PlayStation Vue before you buy, the service offers up a five-day free trial. (Here’s a complete list of PlayStation Vue channels.)
How to watch ESPN without cable: DirectTV Now
If you’re looking to add ESPN back into your life but also want the largest selection of other channels, DirectTV Now is well worth considering. At $40, it’s more expensive than PS Vue, unless you live in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Dallas, Miami, or San Francisco, in which case, it’s actually cheaper. That gets you 60 channels, plus local channels, which is far more than either PS Vue or Sling TV.
DirectTV Now’s basic $40 package comes with both ESPN and ESPN2. If you want ESPNews, you’ll need to buy the next tier of service, which is $50 a month. Best of all, there’s no equipment to install or annual contracts.
There are a few catches to consider, however. First, there are no DVR options if that matters to you. Secondly, you can only watch on two devices at once, so if you’re looking to split the cost, you won’t be able to spread it out as much.
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However, if you have an AT&T Unlimited package, you should seriously consider DirectTV Now. Subscribers with AT&T Unlimited can get DirectTV Now for a big discount over the normal price. Sometimes your mobile carrier makes your TV life better. Go figure.
If you want to try DirectTV Now, it offers a free seven-day trial.
No matter what you end up deciding on, thank your lucky stars you live in the modern world, where the cable company doesn’t have all the power. If you want to watch ESPN without cable, it’s easier—and cheaper—than ever.
How to watch ESPN without cable: Hulu with Live TV
For sports fans, Hulu with Live TV is an excellent choice. Not only does it work with just about every device you can throw at it—iOS, Android, Xbox, Apple TV, and Amazon Fire TV and Fire TV Stick, with support for Roku and Samsung smart TVs coming soon—but it also unlocks 50-plus channels, including, of course, ESPN.
Launched in May 2017, Hulu with Live TV replicates a traditional basic cable package, with channels like the Food Network, FX, TBS, and Syfy. The standard package costs $39.99 (plus your first week free) which includes 50 hours of Cloud DVR storage. For an extra $15 a month, you can bump that storage to 200 hours and can skip commercials in recorded programs. And for $4 per month, you can upgrade to Hulu with No Commercials.
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The base price might seem steep, but it also includes Hulu membership, which includes an incredible lineup of movies, TV shows, documentaries, and must-see Hulu originals, making it one of the best deals available.
How to watch ESPN without cable: YouTube TV
YouTube has been promoting its live TV service pretty heavily. YouTube TV sponsored the World Series and its commercials have been appearing in NFL games this season. YouTube TV’s basic package costs $40 per month and offers just over 50 channels, which includes AMC, FX, and, of course, ESPN, ESPN2, and ESPNews. YouTube TV obviously works with Android devices and Google Chromecast, but you can also stream via iOS, some smart TVs, and Xbox One—just not via PlayStation, Roku, or Apple TV, though the latter two are reportedly coming in early 2018. The service is ideal for those looking to split the cost of a subscription: You can have up to six accounts per household, and each one of those come with unlimited DVR.
For the price, it’s hard to beat, but if you’re looking to add premium channels like HBO, you’ll want to look elsewhere.
How to watch ESPN without cable: ESPN+
At just $4.99 per month or $50 per year, the cheapest option to keep up to date with (some) of your favorite ESPN content is the newly launched ESPN+. ESPN+ is what happens when a great idea is handed to a giant corporation. In truth, a channel like ESPN deserves an HBO Now-style streaming service. ESPN+ is a promising half-measure—it’s not a replacement for ESPN. For example, it only features an abridged version of its signature SportsCenter program, but it does provide some supplemental content and originals like 30 for 30.
ESPN+ shines the brightest for live sports, featuring live games from MLB, MLS, and NHL, along with select PGA Tour golf, college sports, and Grand Slam tennis matches. Plus, if you subscribe to MLB.tv or NHL.tv, ESPN+ will unlock some out-of-market games. ESPN+ includes coverage of major events like Wimbledon and the U.S. and Australian Open. There are even live international soccer matches from the EFL and UEFA Nations Cup, and options for streaming rugby and English League One football.
Sadly, ESPN+ isn’t your solution for watching Monday Night Football. The service is notably lacking content from the NBA and NFL. We feel your pain.
We tested the app out by streaming NHL games and 30 for 30 documentaries on an iPhone SE and Roku Streaming Stick. On both devices, streams were clear, without buffering issues or distortion. If you don’t have unlimited data, however, you’ll want to hunt down a Wi-Fi source.
ESPN+ works on Amazon Fire TV, Android, Apple, and Chromecast devices, along with Roku players. Depending on your sports tastes, the content that’s there is terrific, but the lack of NBA and NFL content will be a deal breaker for many fans. Still, $4.99 per month for this many games is a steal.
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