Comparing the seven major live TV streaming services for cord cutters

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in iPod + iTunes + AppleTV edited July 2018
For all the appeal of services like Netflix and HBO Now, some people just can't bear to part with live TV when they cut the cord. Here are the major options compared, and how to decide which to get -- if any.

Fiber optic cables

Sling TV

Sling TV


One of the first internet-only live TV services and still often considered the go-to, Dish Network's Sling is divided primarily into "Orange" and "Blue" bundles, each costing $25 per month. The first includes 30 channels, while the second includes 42. The biggest difference is that while Blue includes Fox, NBC, and the pair's sports networks, Orange has ESPN 1, 2, and 3. $40 merges both packages with plenty of overlap.

Instead of selling additional tiers, Sling relies on small add-ons. Most, such as Epix, "Sports Extra," and "Best of Spanish TV," are $5 per month. There's a strong emphasis on international content -- indeed for some people Sling may be the only way to go, since it has add-ons for countries you may not find anywhere else, like China and India.

"Premium" channels like HBO, Showtime, and Starz are also available, but usually at a higher cost. HBO for example is $15, as much as a separate HBO Now subscription, although here you get the live feed on top of on-demand content. Basketball freaks can sign up for NBA "Team Passes" that cover specific teams for $18, or the entire league for $29.

Cloud DVR support is another $5 add-on. This includes up to 50 hours of material, so you can't go berserk picking shows and movies.

Supported Apple devices include iPhones, iPads, and the Apple TV.

PlayStation Vue

PlayStation Vue


In case there was any confusion, PlayStation Vue has long been available on more than just Sony's PlayStation consoles. As with Sling, it's on iPhones, iPads, and the Apple TV.

The platform is divided into four tiers: Access, Core, Elite, and Ultra. Access, priced at $45 per month, includes about 47 channels such as AMC, Cartoon Network, SyFy, and ESPN 1 and 2. Notably this includes sports networks from NBC and Fox.

Sony has a pretty hefty amount of sports content included in its default plans, and even some non-sports channels you might have a hard time finding. To sum up though, Core costs $50 for over 60 channels, Elite is $60 for 87, and Ultra is $80 for over 90. Notably, Ultra incorporates HBO and Showtime.

There are far fewer add-on options for Vue than Sling, but some include channels that are missing even from the Ultra package, such as Cinemax or some of the more niche sports channels.

Some perks of the service include up to 10 profiles, the ability to stream on as many as five devices simultaneously, and hold as much DVR content as you want for up to 28 days and 500 programs.

YouTube TV

YouTube TV


This one has just a single $40 plan, but with over 60 channels, some highlights being several ESPN options, and the four major broadcast networks: ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox, along with a bunch of their affiliated channels. Naturally Google also tosses in YouTube Red Originals.

Showtime, Starz, Shudder, Fox Soccer Plus, and Sundance Now are the only add-ons available, so people wanting the likes of HBO will have to turn elsewhere. It also lacks important channels like Comedy Central, so keep that in mind.

As features go there isn't much to distinguish YouTube -- a subscription includes six accounts, and the ability to stream to three devices simultaneously. The biggest selling point may be its cloud DVR functions, which are practically unlimited since you can keep any and all recordings for as long as nine months.

The service was initially heavily mobile-focused, but you can now watch it on the Apple TV as well as iPhones and iPads.

Hulu with Live TV

Hulu Live TV


Hulu is a relative latecomer to live TV, but it may be hard to beat for the simple reason that $39.99 gets you not just 50-plus channels, but access to the company's regular on-demand library, including shows and a spattering of movies. Depending on your tastes, a Hulu account could eliminate the need for separate services like Netflix.

Most of the usual suspects are present in the service's channel lineup, but there are some conspicuous gaps, such as Comedy Central once again. And on-demand content is included in the form of a "Limited Commercials" plan, so expect to be annoyed by advertising that would you wouldn't run into with Netflix.

All Apple devices are supported, but by default you can only stream on two devices simultaneously. Likewise, cloud DVR functions are normally restricted to 50 hours of material.

Hulu not only charges you for premium channels -- $14.99 for HBO, $9.99 for Cinemax, and $8.99 for Showtime -- but extra for a 200-hour DVR and/or more screens (unlimited at home, three on the road).

DirecTV Now

DirecTV Now


If you absolutely insist on having a cable-like experience, AT&T's DirecTV Now foregoes anything like a "skinny" bundle. There are five tiers, the smallest offering over 60 channels and the biggest over 120. Every recent Apple device is compatible.

For a while the service was considered something of a bargain, so long as you were willing to put up with early disruptions and a clunky interface. AT&T has tried to clean up the experience, and as of this writing it's even still offering a free Apple TV 4K if you're willing to prepay for three months. Prices are going up on Aug. 1 however, such that packages will cost $40, $55, $65, and $75 -- roughly aligned with the rest of the market.

The service is also relatively stingy in features, offering just a 20-hour beta DVR and charging customers $5 to stream to a third screen on top of the first two. You can however add HBO or Cinemax for just $5, while Starz and Showtime are $8 apiece.

WatchTV

WatchTV


Another AT&T offering, the newest service on this list is only $15 per month, but currently offers just 31 channels. None of these carry sports, so if you want to watch the NFL, you're out of luck.

The main reason to subscribe to WatchTV at this stage is if you have one of AT&T's "Unlimited &More" data plans, in which case the service is free and even lets you add one of several "premium" services at no extra cost. You can add something like HBO or Showtime, but a few non-video services are available too, such as Pandora Premium and Amazon Music Unlimited.

Philo

Philo


The next cheapest option on our list gets you 40 channels for $16 per month, or 49 for $20 per month. And the base package includes some decent channels too, such as AMC, Comedy Central, BBC World News and more.

The catch? No Cartoon Network, no local channels, no sports channels, and several major news channels are missing, among them CNN. If you subscribe to Philo, you'd better really be into the likes of "The Daily Show" and "The Walking Dead."

Apps for the Apple TV and Amazon Fire TV are now available, joining support for iPhones, iPads, Macs, and Roku. Other perks of the service include a 30-day cloud DVR, and the ability to stream on three devices simultaneously.

Which should you choose?

Monthly Package Cost July 2018


Before anything else, make sure to check that a service or package has channels you'll actually use. Having 120 channels is meaningless if you never see most of them. Accordingly many people will probably be happy with Sling Orange or Blue, and as we said, Hulu may be appealing to people who want more on-demand content.

Cost per channel


It's also worth evaluating whether you like the interface a service has. All of the above options are usable, but some will suit your style of viewing better than others. We found DirecTV Now to be more awkward than Sling or YouTube for example, yet your experience may vary.

We strongly recommend taking advantage of the trials each service offers before making a commitment. There's no skin lost as long as you're quick to cancel anything you don't want to keep.

You may even find yourself questioning the value of live TV. Sports fans don't have much choice, but people who only care about news, shows, and movies can possibly combine a few on-demand services and still save money -- say, Netflix and HBO Now.
o1sowise
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 37
    o1sowiseo1sowise Posts: 2member
    Would you be able to create matrix of channels?  i.e. service along the x-axis and channel along the y-axis?
    I'd like to see who offers what and for how much?  HBO? Starz? Netflix? Network TV?

    Also, can you add AppleTV to the matrix?


  • Reply 2 of 37
    Mike WuertheleMike Wuerthele Posts: 3,872administrator
    o1sowise said:
    Would you be able to create matrix of channels?  i.e. service along the x-axis and channel along the y-axis?
    I'd like to see who offers what and for how much?  HBO? Starz? Netflix? Network TV?

    Also, can you add AppleTV to the matrix?


    Not really. The number of channels and what is offered varies very much region to region, even for the same service -- and that's not even including the local channels.

    And, even if we did, why would we add Apple TV? It isn't a streaming television service, any more than Netflix or Amazon are.
    edited July 2018 gatorguy
  • Reply 3 of 37
    MacProMacPro Posts: 17,835member
    For me the only reason for a cable TV account is so as to able to sign and watch stuff on the TV.  Luckily for us our HOA includes Comcast HD, we never watch it but it gives us access to CNN, ESPN etc on the TV.  They Networks must surely be thinking of doing deals with Apple Amazon et alia to simply cutting the cable providers out of the loop.  

    I know I know we'd all miss the Comcast / Verizon customer service though ... ;)
    edited July 2018
  • Reply 4 of 37
    So the proposed solution to cord cutters is get a less expensive cord??  But not that much less expensive for most options outlined here.  Someone needs to make a device the sends over the air broadcast to the AppleTV.  Then I just have to pay internet.  Or better yet, provide the ota channels via internet to the AppleTV.  Also, these skinny services still give you channels that are complete garbage.  Which was a main driver of people cutting the cord in the first place.  All these companies are doing is repacking and rebranding the same old crap and people are dumb enough to buy it.  Until there is a true ala cart option I will continue to just stream stuff for free.  
  • Reply 5 of 37
    hq.nychq.nyc Posts: 2member
    o1sowise said:
    Would you be able to create matrix of channels?  i.e. service along the x-axis and channel along the y-axis?
    I'd like to see who offers what and for how much?  HBO? Starz? Netflix? Network TV?

    Also, can you add AppleTV to the matrix?


    Not really. The number of channels and what is offered varies very much region to region, even for the same service -- and that's not even including the local channels.

    And, even if we did, why would we add Apple TV? It isn't a streaming television service, any more than Netflix or Amazon are.
    If possible, can you add the streaming quality for each services? I believe most of them do only 720p? Thanks!
    DiRT
  • Reply 6 of 37
    Mike WuertheleMike Wuerthele Posts: 3,872administrator
    So the proposed solution to cord cutters is get a less expensive cord??  But not that much less expensive for most options outlined here.  Someone needs to make a device the sends over the air broadcast to the AppleTV.  Then I just have to pay internet.  Or better yet, provide the ota channels via internet to the AppleTV.  Also, these skinny services still give you channels that are complete garbage.  Which was a main driver of people cutting the cord in the first place.  All these companies are doing is repacking and rebranding the same old crap and people are dumb enough to buy it.  Until there is a true ala cart option I will continue to just stream stuff for free.  
    There are a few of these already.
    DiRTgatorguy
  • Reply 7 of 37
    christopher126christopher126 Posts: 4,159member
    Oooof! I tried the the seven free trial of Hulu. I'd been w/o cable for about 15 years. I was astonished at the amount, insanity and intensity of the commercials! Ugh! I don't want to know about Taco Bell's new Cheesy Fries (Are they trying to kill us?).

    I got it mainly to watch F1. Spent the first 30 minutes staring at a live camera shot of turn one (Not Hulu's fault), could not DVR it and again the race was interrupted every 10 minutes with 5 minutes of commercials. Really a sh*t sandwich experience. Canceled it in 3 days.

    I subscribe to Fareed Zakaria's GPS on iTunes w/ no commercials for a $1/episode. (Best show on TV, BTW) and HBO $14.95/mo for Bill Maher, John Oliver and the occasional movie/series.

    But mainly all in with AppleTV and renting/buying stuff thru iTunes.

    Hate Netflix although Osarks was pretty good as was Ken Burns Viet Nam.

    Best
    GeorgeBMacdasanman69
  • Reply 8 of 37
    And,,, where if Philo on this comparison?
    DiRT
  • Reply 9 of 37
    Mike WuertheleMike Wuerthele Posts: 3,872administrator
    okicowboy said:
    And,,, where if Philo on this comparison?
    Philo has not yet responded to some questions we have posed. When and if they do, we'll add them.
  • Reply 10 of 37
    A.JamesA.James Posts: 1member
    It's a complicated choice, since each service is different in each market. And there are add-on packages. There are useful comparison websites to sort through it all.
    edited July 2018
  • Reply 11 of 37
    DiRTDiRT Posts: 2unconfirmed, member
    Where's FuboTV? Sure, it's sports centric (ok, soccer centric) but it has plenty of other channels, DVR/VOD, and the World Cup in 4K HDR.
  • Reply 12 of 37
    Someone needs to make a device the sends over the air broadcast to the AppleTV.  Then I just have to pay internet.  Or better yet, provide the ota channels via internet to the AppleTV. 
    You mean like this?

    https://www.silicondust.com

    Or this?

    https://www.tablotv.com/for-appletv/

    I have an HD HomeRun. I'm 50k outside downtown Toronto, so I get about 50 channels, 20 of them HD the others SD second-tier channels. Since the only thing you need live TV for is news, special events like the Oscars, and the odd free sports, this covers everything I need that isn't on Netflix or iTunes.


  • Reply 13 of 37
    boltsfan17boltsfan17 Posts: 2,070member
    For sports fans, Fubo TV is probably the best choice. 
  • Reply 14 of 37
    DiRTDiRT Posts: 2unconfirmed, member
    I subscribe to Fareed Zakaria's GPS on iTunes w/ no commercials for a $1/episode. (Best show on TV, BTW) and HBO $14.95/mo for Bill Maher, John Oliver and the occasional movie/series.
    I'd LOL but I'm afraid you're serious.
  • Reply 15 of 37
    eightzeroeightzero Posts: 2,209member
    Someone needs to make a device the sends over the air broadcast to the AppleTV.  Then I just have to pay internet.  Or better yet, provide the ota channels via internet to the AppleTV. 
    You mean like this?

    https://www.silicondust.com

    Or this?

    https://www.tablotv.com/for-appletv/

    I have an HD HomeRun. I'm 50k outside downtown Toronto, so I get about 50 channels, 20 of them HD the others SD second-tier channels. Since the only thing you need live TV for is news, special events like the Oscars, and the odd free sports, this covers everything I need that isn't on Netflix or iTunes.


    There is something to be said for having all your content accessible behind one box and remote. An ATV with a OTA coax jack on it and a few tuners inside would be a very welcome product (and maybe fix the less than wonderful ATV siri remote) but it is never going to happen. There's no business model to justify Apple doing that, and it potentially pisses off the content providers that want to sell subscriptions to you on the same box. 

    I discovered something interesting when I ditched the cable box some years ago now: finding a roof antenna installer is not an easy thing to find. I am way past the age where I'm ok crawling up ladders onto roofs, and have found an acceptable location for a mohu leaf in a window. Plenty of channels, but a few artifacts depending on weather at times. A mast mounted quality antenna might clean that up, but it's not a priority for me. YMMV.


  • Reply 16 of 37
    I am curious which (if any) services offer full support for Single Sign-On using the system-level TV Provider.

    For example, I have YouTube TV, and can select it as the provider for many apps — but I have to do so manually in each app; iOS pops up a warning for me along these lines when I first select YouTube TV.
  • Reply 17 of 37
    I just quit DirecTV Now because they raised the price $5 with no added value. I got Spectrum TV Choice which has about 50 channels, including local in which 10 of those channels I can choose anything I want for $21 a month.
  • Reply 18 of 37
    brosenzbrosenz Posts: 6member
    In my experience Sling is the most reliable and easy to use
  • Reply 19 of 37
    pdnoblepdnoble Posts: 21member
    I have FiOS (1 gigabit) and cut the cord primarily to unify and simplify control down to an Apple 4K TV remote and am extremely pleased with the results. However, in the above comparison service quality is not discussed and maybe the assumption is (and frankly was for me) that QoS is not an issue. However it very much is, from my experience. 

    I tried Hulu Live since I already had their regular service and it’s live streaming was totally unwatchable, certainly for the channels we watch, though streaming of their back catalog always was and is fine.  I switched to Google and it was and is absolutely perfect. 

    All these services come with free trials and no contracts but if the service you select is anything but perfect (assuming adequate bandwidth) switch to another.

    I tolerated Hulu for several weeks out of ignorance and regret it: constant glitching, buffering, loss of sync, sudden sub SD quality and worse: try sound not only several seconds out of sync, but duplicated another second further out of sync. Stereo from hell. 

    I also had to contend with my wife’s highly justified demands that I switch back to cable!
    Daekwan
  • Reply 20 of 37
    mbenz1962mbenz1962 Posts: 114member
    I cut the cord in 2012 and never looked back.  It served me well as we moved to Europe 2 years later and I would have had to deal with the transition anyway.  We use Prime and Netflix.  I don't (and really never did) watch live TV.  I'm not a huge sports fan and I prefer to read the news, although I do miss Real Time and probably would have watched Last Week Tonight.  Unfortunately HBO doesn't have any option for watching their content internationally.  I'd likely pony up $15/mo if it did.  I keep hoping Amazon will add it to thier Amazon Channels option like they did with Starz last year.  I had just finished Black Sails (didn't find out about it untill the series was already airing season 4) when they added Starz to Channels here or I would have gladly signed up to binge the whole thing right inside my Prive Video app.
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