Best TV streaming service for cord cutters: Hulu, Sling TV, YouTube TV and more
As the nation continues to face financial uncertainty during the ongoing, more and more people are looking to cut back on costs. And one good way to save money is on family entertainment by . Thanks to streaming services, you can cut cable while still keeping the live TV channels you love. Live news from both local and national TV channels is more important than ever, and live sports including the , , and are finally back. And you can watch them all using a low-cost streaming device, no cable box or required.
Prices of streaming TV services start at $20 per month with no extra fees or contracts. In place of a cable box and the monthly fee to rent it, you can use streaming apps on your smart TV, Apple TV, Roku,or game console. And you can watch at home or on the go via a tablet, phone, other mobile device or even a web browser.
You can watch most, if not all, of your favorite TV channels (including ABC, NBC, ESPN, CNN and The Disney Channel) live over the internet thanks to streaming services likeand . In some instances they cost far less than you’re shelling out to the cable company for TV, but these services don’t require a visit from an installer — which is an important factor to consider during .
The downside? The prices and the services themselves are in a constant flux. Earlier in July, YouTube TV added a handful of channels but, for example, and FuboTV also put its price up by $5 and altered its channel lineup, too. Change also means that competition is squeezed out — our former cheap pick , and PlayStation Vue back in January.
With all of that in mind, here’s a guide to the brave new world of live TV streaming over the internet, as well as other cord-cutting options available today, starting with our favorite recommendations for the best TV streaming service.
(Note that CNET is owned by ViacomCBS, which is a compensated programming provider on all cable, satellite and online TV services that offer CBS channels, which include Showtime, Pop, CBS Sports and The CW, among others. CBS also owns and operates its own online service, CBS All Access, which is mentioned below.)
Top live TV streaming services compared
|AT&T TV Now||FuboTV||Hulu Plus Live TV||Sling TV||YouTube TV|
|Base price||$55/month for 45-plus channels||$60/month for 100-plus channels||$55/month for 60-plus channels||$30/month for 30-plus (Orange) or 45-plus (Blue) channels||$65/month for 85-plus channels|
|ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC channels||Yes, in many markets||Yes, in many markets||Yes, in many markets||Fox and NBC only in select cities||Yes, in many markets|
|Simultaneous streams per account||2 ($5 option for 3)||2 ($6 option for 3)||2 ($15 option for unlimited)||1 (Orange), 3 (Blue)||3|
|Family member/user profiles||No||Yes||Yes||No||Yes|
|Cloud DVR||Yes (50 hours, 200 hours for $10 a month)||Yes (30 hours, 500 hours for $10 a month)||Yes||Yes||Yes (keep for 9 months)|
|Fast-forward through or skip commercials with cloud DVR||No (Yes with $15 option)||Yes||No (Yes with $10 option)||Yes||Yes|
When YouTube TV bumped its price by $15, Hulu Plus Live TV became our overall favorite. Its channel selection is robust for the price and Hulu’s integration of live TV with its significant catalog of on-demand content, including exclusive titles like The Handmaid’s Tale, give it a content advantage no other service can match. Its interface and DVR do lag behind YouTube TV — you’ll still have to pay another $10 a month to get the ability to skip commercials on Hulu’s cloud DVR (the base cloud DVR, which is included, doesn’t permit skipping ads) — but it’s now a better value.
Top channels not available: AMC, BBC America, Comedy Central, MLB Network, MTV, NBA TV, NFL Network, NFL Red Zone, Nickelodeon.
Read our Hulu Plus Live TV review.
Sling TV costs more than Philo ($20) but has better channels, more options and a comparatively better interface, so it’s worth the extra money in our opinion. And it’s still dirt-cheap compared to the other streaming services, let alone cable.
Sling is cheaper than premium services like YouTube TV and Hulu Plus Live TV because it has very few local stations. Confusingly, it also has two $30-per-month channel packages, Sling Orange and Sling Blue. While some channels are available on both Sling Orange and Sling Blue, the two differ significantly with other channel offerings: Orange is basically the ESPN/Disney package, while Blue is the Fox/NBC package.
Top channels not available on Sling Blue: ABC, CBS, Animal Planet, Disney Channel, ESPN, Nickelodeon. Fox and NBC are only available in select major cities.
Top channels not available on Sling Orange: ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC, Animal Planet, Bravo, CNBC, Discovery Channel, Bravo, Fox News, Fox Sports 1, FX, MSNBC, USA Network.
Read our Sling TV review.
With the addition of eight new channels at the end of June, YouTube TV has more top channels for the base price than any competitor and it’s the only one with local PBS stations. YouTube TV has the best cloud DVR of the bunch, including unlimited storage and a generous nine months to watch recordings (most are 30 days). The streaming platform interface is no-nonsense, if a little drab, and yet it offers most of the features a cable service can give you. And unlike Sling and others, it’s dead simple: one package, one price, done.
Despite its best-in-class channel selection and cloud DVR, with its recent price increase it’s now the most expensive live TV streaming service, and if you want to save money over a traditional cable subscription, Hulu and Sling TV are superior bargains.
Top channels not available: A&E, History, Lifetime, NFL Network.
Read our YouTube TV review.
There’s a lot to like about FuboTV — it offers a wide selection of channels second only to YouTube TV, and its sports focus makes it especially attractive to soccer fans in particular. The service added a bunch of channels including ESPN and Disney channels, but at the same time it dropped Turner networks including CNN, TNT and TBS — the latter two also carry a lot of sports content. Those programming holes, and the $60 price tag, make it less attractive than the others.
Top channels not available in base package: Cartoon Network, CNN, MLB Network, TBS, TNT, TruTV.
Read our FuboTV review.
Until recently AT&T TV Now bundled HBO into its base package, but now it’s an optional $10 extra. With or without it, the service is still missing more top channels than any premium competitor (although you can pay extra to get most of those channels if you want). Its DVR is also a step behind those of our top choices. The traditional-style interface is good, however, as it includes the flipper-friendly ability to swipe left and right to change channels.
Top channels not available in base package: A&E, AMC, Animal Planet, Discovery Channel, HGTV, History, Lifetime, MLB Network, NFL Network, Travel Channel.
Read our AT&T TV Now review.
How to shop for cord-cutting live TV services
Each of the services above offers a different mix of channels, so your first step should be choosing one that carries your “can’t miss” cable channels and shows. And some of the most important channels are locals, namely ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC. Not every service offers all of them in every area.
The services can be broken down into two main groups: Budget, with prices ranging from $20 to $30 and no local channels, and Premium, with prices from $55 and up and include locals and often other extras like a superior cloud DVR. That’s right, all of the services allow you to record and play back shows, just like a traditional cable or satellite DVR, but they often come with restrictions.
Then there’s the multistream issue. If you want to watch more than one program at the same time — for example, on your living room TV and on a bedroom TV, or the main TV and a tablet or other devices — you’ll want to make sure the service you’re watching has enough simultaneous streams. Sling Orange only allows one stream at a time, and if you try to watch a second, it’s blocked. Other services have higher simultaneous stream limits.
Keep in mind that, especially if you do have more than one person watching at once on supported devices, you need to make sure you have fast, reliable broadband internet. A 100Mbps download service will cost around $50 to $60 a month, and that’s where the savings of cutting cable can get swallowed up.
Here’s a live TV streaming shopping list to consider:
What streaming TV services won’t give you
Streaming TV services are great, but there are some things they can’t do compared to a traditional cable box.
First, it’s worth looking at the channels that you can’t get with any of these services. For example, only one of the services offers PBS —— and this is because the broadcaster reportedly hadn’t acquired the streaming rights to all of the shows that it airs.
With sports returning from hiatus, fans will want to make sure they can follow their teams. Most services carry ESPN and local channels for NFL football, but if you follow a professional baseball or basketball team, you might need their specific channel — called an RSN, or regional sports network — to watch regular season games. RSN coverage varies widely for each service.
Every live TV service’s video streaming is athe “live” stream you’ll get from your local cable or satellite provider. That means you could get a preview of scores or big plays from Twitter, phone alerts or phone calls from friends slightly before you see the action on screen.
If you’re used to 5.1-channel surround offered by cable or even OTA, then you’ll probably be disappointed that all of the services only include stereo sound on live broadcasts. 5.1 audio is available on some on-demand material, though.
Other live TV options
Price: Starts at $20 a month
A cheap service with no sports or local channels, Philo offers bread-and-butter cable channels like AMC, Comedy Channel, Nickelodeon and BBC America. It also includes a cloud DVR. We think most people are better off paying another $10 for Sling TV’s superior channel selection, but if Philo has every channel you want, it’s a great deal.
CBS All Access
Price: Starts at $5.99 a month
CBS All Access stands offersfrom just one channel: CBS. In addition to a healthy selection of video-on-demand, it also offers exclusive originals such as . You can get an ad-free option for $10 a month.
Don’t care about live TV? More cord-cutter staples
Plenty of heavy hitters have entered the on-demand fray recently, including Apple withand Disney with , both of which debuted in late 2019. In 2020 streamers have even more choices including NBC/Comcast’s , AT&T’s and mobile-centric upstart . All of these services lack traditional live channels — focusing instead on — but they can still eat into your entertainment budget.
: One of the first streaming TV services and it’s so popular that it’s become a catch-all term in the same way as “Magic Marker” or “Coke” in the South. And then, of course, there’s the ever-popular “Netflix and chill.” High-definition plans start at $12.99 a month, and the service covers thousands of TV shows and movies, including original TV series like Daredevil and Orange Is the New Black.
: The “other” major streaming service, which is included as part of a $99 annual Prime Membership or $8.99 a month. The interface isn’t as user-friendly as Netflix, but the service also offers shows not on its rival, including original content like . Amazon Prime also has the ability to add premium channels (HBO and Showtime and more), making it a potential one-stop shop.
: One of the biggest streaming services to launch in some time, Disney has gathered a mix of movies, TV shows and exclusive content, including the Star Wars show , for $6.99 a month. .
Vudu/: A digital library (or locker) that incorporates legacy UltraViolet content and streaming movies and TV that are only available for purchase, like new releases.
: Live now nationwide, Peacock is NBC’s answer to CBS All Access. Its main claim to fame is that its basic tier, with 7,500 hours of content, is free.
It’s also worth investigating free, ad-supported services such as, , TuBi TV, Pluto and Crackle, which offer a wealth of content. Read .
Is an indoor or outdoor antenna a viable option?
If you have a TV in your house — that is, a screen that incorporates a tuner — you’re part-way to cutting the cord already. Anwill let you watch free TV over the air from any channel you receive in your local broadcast area. Antennas cost as little as $10. .
You can also add a DVR such as theor if you want. Then you can record those live TV antenna channels, play them back and skip commercials, just like on a standard cable TV DVR. Here’s .
A solid, lower-cost alternative to live TV streaming services is the combination of an antenna for live local channels and an on-demand service such as Netflix or Hulu (which is). That way you’ll still be able to watch live programming and also have a choice of on-demand content.
Conclusion: Try it yourself
Streaming live TV services are still in flux. Since launch, every service has increased its prices by at least $5 a month, channel selections and cities with local channel access are changing all the time, and reports persist about some services losing money, or even closing in the case of PlayStation Vue. While streaming is undoubtedly the future, it will be some time before both prices and the services offered settle in.
That said, if you want a cable-like experience both at home and for on-the-go devices, without the dead weight that a cable subscription brings, then a streaming service is worth a look. There’s no contract to sign, and if you don’t like the service you’re on, you can easily switch. So whether you’re looking for a basic package such as Sling TV or want to pay more for a deluxe experience from the likes of YouTube TV, there should be a streaming TV service to suit you.