At some point or another over the past few years, you’ve likely considered cutting the cable cord by opting for streaming services instead. Most of what you watch is on streaming anyway, and it could save you a decent chunk of change. But there always seems to be that one show or channel stopping you from taking the plunge. Enter live TV streaming services. These give you access to the familiar channels you love, plus local and national news and live sports, from an inexpensive streaming device — no cable box or antenna required.
Not to be confused with on-demand platforms such as Netflix, Amazon Prime Video or HBO Max, live TV streaming services such as YouTube TV and Sling TV offer a live channel lineup. Packages for live TV streaming services start at $25 a month with no extra fees or contracts, which is a lot less than a cable subscription. You can stream live channels including CNN, NBC, ESPN and Fox on a host of devices including set-top boxes and mobile devices. Moreover, you don’t need a technician to visit your home to watch live TV and original programming.
Read more: Best Streaming Service of 2022: Netflix, Disney Plus, HBO Max, Prime Video, Hulu and More
The downside? The live TV streaming services are in constant flux, with the most common revisions being channels and prices. For instance, Disney briefly pulled all of its channels including ESPN and ABC from YouTube TV, and Hulu Plus Live TV just hiked its TV streaming service subscription by an extra $5 a month, and so did DirecTV Stream. Sometimes competition is simply squeezed out — AT&T TV Watch TV, TVision and PlayStation Vue have either stopped accepting customers or shut down entirely.
Welcome, then, to the brave new world of live TV streaming over the internet. If you need help deciding on the best streaming service or streaming bundle, then read on. We’ll break down which services offer the most popular channels (including live sports channels) with tons of original content and how to make the most of your streaming box, streaming stick or other streaming device. We’ll update this best streaming service list periodically as things change (which they always do).
|DirecTV Stream||FuboTV||Hulu Plus Live TV||Sling TV||YouTube TV|
|Base price||$70 per month for 65-plus channels||$65 per month for 100-plus channels||$70 per month for 70-plus channels||$35 per month for 30-plus (Orange) or 45-plus (Blue) channels||$65 per 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 (Blue only)||Yes, in many markets|
|Simultaneous streams per account||20 (in home, 3 outside of it)||3||2 ($15 option for unlimited)||1 (Orange), 3 (Blue)||3 ($20 adds unlimited and 4K streams)|
|Family member/user profiles||No||Yes||Yes||No||Yes|
|Cloud DVR||Yes (20 hours, unlimited for $10 a month)||Yes (250 hours, 1,000 hours for $17 a month||Yes||Yes (50 hours, 200 hours for $5 a month)||Yes (unlimited)|
|Fast-forward through or skip commercials with cloud DVR||No (Yes with $15 option)||Yes||No (Yes with $10 option)||Yes||Yes|
YouTube TV has more top channels than any competitor at this price and it’s one of only two with local PBS stations. The basic $65 YouTube TV service also has the best cloud DVR of the bunch, including unlimited storage and a generous nine months to watch recordings (most rivals offer 30 days). The interface is no-nonsense, if a little drab, and yet it offers most of the features a cable service can give you.
The video streaming service has a $20 monthly add-on which, while it doesn’t add any channels, lets you watch 4K livestreams and a small amount of on-demand content. It also adds an unlimited number of simultaneous streams (up from three).
If you want the best service available and don’t mind paying for it, then YouTube TV is the one to get. However, if you just want to save money over a traditional cable subscription, Sling TV is the superior TV streaming bargain.
Top channels not available: A&E, History, Lifetime
At $35 Sling TV Blue may cost $10 more than Philo, but it has better channels, more options and a comparatively better live TV streaming interface, so it’s worth the extra money in our opinion. And Sling is still dirt-cheap compared to most 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 (no local ABC or CBS stations, and availability of local Fox and NBC is very limited). Sling offers not one but two $35-per-month live TV streaming channel packages, Sling Orange and Sling Blue. While some live TV channels are available on both, the two differ significantly with other channel offerings: Orange is basically the ESPN/Disney package, while Blue is the Fox/NBC package and offers more channels overall.
In addition to an affordable price Sling TV has two new feathers in its cap: an upgraded DVR (increased to 50 hours); and a new interface (as seen above) which makes the service a lot more fun to use
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.
With a series of price hikes has come a number of additional channels, including access to Disney Plus and ESPN Plus included in the new $70 price. But despite all that, Hulu Plus Live TV is still second banana to our top live TV streaming premium pick, YouTube TV. Its channel selection still isn’t as robust as YouTube TV and FuboTV, yet it’s Hulu’s significant catalog of on-demand content which sets it apart. Exclusive titles such as The Handmaid’s Tale and Only Murders in the Building give it a content advantage no other service can match. Its DVR lags behind competitors, however, and you’ll still have to pay another $10 a month to skip commercials on Hulu’s cloud DVR (the base cloud DVR, which is included, doesn’t permit skipping ads). In short YouTube TV is a better TV streaming service choice than Hulu Live TV and costs $5 less to boot.
Top channels not available: AMC, BBC America, MLB Network, NBA TV.
If you’re speaking of tumult, no other service exemplifies it better than DirecTV Stream. Now on its fourth name in three years, this service is also the equal most expensive at $70 (with Hulu Plus Live TV). The service does have its pluses though — for example, it includes the flipper-friendly ability to swipe left and right to change channels. It’s also offering unlimited DVR capability to new users, while existing subscribers need to pay an extra $10 a month.
Additionally DirecTV Stream includes some channels the other services can’t, including almost 250 local PBS stations. For cord-cutters who want to follow their local NBA or MLB team, DirecTV Stream’s $85 Choice package is our live TV streaming pick because it has access to more regional sports networks than the competition. Although you’ll want to make sure your channel is included, and not available on one of our preferred picks, before you pony up.
Top channels not available in base package: MLB Network, NFL Network, Travel Channel.
At $25 Philo is still a cheap live TV streaming service with a variety of channels, but it lacks sports channels, local stations and big-name news networks — although Cheddar and BBC news are available. Philo offers bread-and-butter cable staples like AMC, Comedy Channel, Nickelodeon and Magnolia Network (formerly DIY), and specializes in lifestyle and reality programming. It also includes a cloud DVR and optional add-ons from Epix and Starz. We think most people are better off paying another $10 for Sling TV’s superior service, but if Philo has every channel you want, it’s a decent deal.
There’s a lot to like about FuboTV — it offers a wide selection of channels and its sports focus makes it especially attractive to soccer fans or NBA, NHL and MLB fans who live in an area served by one of FuBoTV’s RSNs. It’s also a great choice for NFL fans since it’s one of three services, alongside YouTube TV and Hulu, with NFL Network and optional RedZone. The biggest hole in Fubo’s lineup is the lack of Turner networks, including CNN, TNT and TBS — especially since the latter two carry a lot of sports content, in particular NBA, NHL and MLB. Those missing channels, and the same $65 price tag, makes it less attractive than YouTube TV for most viewers.
Top channels not available in base package: Cartoon Network, CNN, MLB Network, TBS, TNT, TruTV.
Each of the TV streaming 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, but the best streaming service for you will include the majority of what you love to watch, so it is worth shopping around. The live TV streaming service lineups are in constant flux as networks scramble to secure access to popular channels (ones with highly watched original shows and regional sports networks are especially in demand). There’s also the chance that a certain cable channel could disappear from a certain service after a network contract expires, which is what happened in 2020 with the regional sports networks.
These negotiations mean things are changing constantly too. Over the past two years, Sling TV, Hulu, Philo and the newly renamed DirecTV Stream have all raised their prices. Google and Roku have resolved a contract dispute which prevented users from downloading the YouTube TV app, while users lost the use of Disney channels for two days due to a different dispute.
Broadly, each of these streaming services can be broken down into two main groups: Budget, with prices ranging between $25 and $35 and few or no local channels; and Premium, with prices from $65 and up including local channels and supercharged cloud DVRs. 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.
Read more: Top 100 Channels Compared Across Hulu, Sling TV, YouTube TV, FuboTV, DirecTV Stream and Philo
Next, there’s the multistream question. 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 video streaming 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 sadly that’s where the savings of cutting cable can get swallowed up.
Here’s a live TV streaming shopping list to consider:
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 live TV streaming services. For example, only two of the services are able to offer PBS — YouTube TV and DirecTV Stream.
With sports returning from the pandemic-enforced hiatus, fans will want to make sure they can find the sports channels to 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 a regional sports network or RSN — to watch regular season games. RSN coverage varies widely for each service.
Every live TV service’s video streaming is a few seconds to a minute or more behind the “live” stream you’ll get from your local cable TV 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 may be disappointed that YouTube is the only service to offer surround sound on live broadcasts. The other services only include stereo sound on live channels, though 5.1 audio is available on some on-demand material.
In 2022, streaming fans have more choices than ever, including NBC/Comcast’s Peacock, AT&T’s HBO Max, Apple TV Plus and Disney Plus. While Peacock differs in that it has live news the other services lack traditional live channels — focusing instead on back catalogs and new original programming — but they can still eat into your entertainment budget.
Netflix: 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 $15.50 a month, and the service covers thousands of TV shows and movies, including original TV series like The Queen’s Gambit and Stranger Things. Then there are Netflix original movies like Roma and The Irishman.
Amazon Prime Video: The “other” major streaming service, which is included as part of a $119 annual Prime Membership or $9 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 The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and The Expanse. Amazon Prime also has the ability to add premium channels (HBO and Showtime and more), making it a potential one-stop shop.
Disney Plus: One of the biggest streaming services to launch in some time, Disney has gathered a mix of movies, TV shows and exclusive content, including Loki, The Mandalorian and WandaVision, for $8 a month. Read our Disney Plus review here.
Paramount Plus: Recently renamed from CBS All Access, Paramount Plus costs $5 a month or $10 monthly for ad-free streaming. The service offers live TV (in some cities), sports and on-demand content from CBS, MTV, BET, Comedy Central, Nickelodeon and Paramount Network, plus its Paramount Pictures movie studio. Paramount Plus also offers exclusive originals such as Star Trek: Discovery, Picard and the Good Fight.
Vudu/Movies Anywhere: Digital libraries (or lockers) that incorporate legacy UltraViolet content and streaming movies and TV that are only available for purchase, such as new releases.
Peacock: Now live nationwide, Peacock is NBC’s answer to Paramount Plus. Its main claim to fame is that its basic tier, with 7,500 hours of content, is free. Peacock Premium unlocks more content for $5 a month while an ad-lite version called Peacock Premium Plus is $10 monthly.
It’s also worth investigating free, ad-supported services such as Roku Channel, IMDb TV, TuBi TV, Pluto and Crackle, which offer a wealth of content. Read CNET’s roundup of free TV services here.
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. An affordable indoor antenna hooked up to your TV will let you watch free TV over the air from any channel you receive in your local broadcast area. Antennas cost as little as $10. See our comparison of indoor antennas here.
You can also add a DVR such as the Amazon Fire TV Recast or TiVo Edge for Antenna 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 CNET’s roundup of the best OTA DVRs for cord-cutters.
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. That way you’ll still be able to watch live programming and also have a choice of on-demand content.
Streaming live TV services are still in flux. Since launch, every service has increased its prices by at least $5 a month, TV 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 T-Mobile’s TVision. While streaming is undoubtedly the future, and cable the past, 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, 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.