At some point or another over the past few years, you’ve likely considered cutting the cable cord. Most of what you watch is on streamers anyway, and it could save you a decent chunk of change. But every time you think about it, 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 like Netflix, Amazon Prime Video or HBO Max, live TV streaming services such as YouTube TV and Sling TV offer a live channel lineup. Packages 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 your smart TV, Android TV, Roku, Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV devices, game consoles, or on the go with a mobile device. And you don’t need a technician to visit your home in order to watch live and original programming.
Read more: Best streaming service
Stream your favorite TV shows anywhere you are
The downside? The services are in constant flux, with the most common revisions being channels and prices. For instance, Hulu Plus Live TV just hiked its subscription by an extra $5 a month. Meanwhile, DirecTV Stream is on its fourth new name in two years, after being AT&T TV most recently. Changes can also occur when competition is squeezed out — our former cheap picks AT&T TV Watch TV and TVision either stopped accepting customers or shut down entirely, while PlayStation Vue shuttered in 2020.
With all of this in mind, welcome 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 sports channels) 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).
Top live TV streaming services compared
Hulu Plus Live TV
$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
Yes, in many markets
Simultaneous streams per account
20 (in home, 3 outside of it)
2 ($15 option for unlimited)
1 (Orange), 3 (Blue)
3 ($20 adds unlimited and 4K streams)
Family member/user profiles
Yes (20 hours, unlimited for $10 a month)
Yes (250 hours, 1,000 hours for $17 a month
Yes (50 hours, 200 hours for $5 a month)
Fast-forward through or skip commercials with cloud DVR
No (Yes with $15 option)
No (Yes with $10 option)
Best live TV streaming service overall
YouTube TV has more top channels than any competitor at this price and it’s one of only two with local PBS stations. Though it doesn’t add any more channels, the video streaming service announced a $20 monthly add-on that 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).
The basic $65 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.
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.
It’s worth noting that the service had recent contract disputes with both NBCUniversal and Roku. Until Dec. 8, 2021, new users were unable to download either YouTube TV on their Roku device — this has now been resolved.
Top channels not available: A&E, History, Lifetime.
Read our YouTube TV review.
See at YouTube
Best TV streaming for the money
Sling TV Blue
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 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.
Read our Sling TV review.
$35 at Sling TV
Best on demand
Hulu Plus Live TV
With a series of price hikes has come a number of additional channels, including access to Disney Plus and ESPN Plus. 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, for a $5 discount, YouTube TV is a better TV streaming service choice than Hulu. The price for the base package increases to $70 on Dec. 21.
Top channels not available: AMC, BBC America, MLB Network, NBA TV.
Read our Hulu Plus Live TV review.
See at Hulu
Best for channel flippers, sports fans
If you’re speaking of tumult, no other service exemplifies it better than DirecTV Stream. Now on its fourth name in two 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. Additionally it includes some channels the other services can’t, including PBS in some cities. 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. Check out our guides to streaming the 2021 MLB season for more details.
Top channels not available in base package: MLB Network, NFL Network, Travel Channel.
Read our DirecTV Stream review.
$70 at DirecTV
Best if you don’t need sports or news
At its new price of $25 Philo is still a cheap live TV streaming service with a variety of channels, but no sports channels or local stations. Philo offers bread-and-butter staples like AMC, Comedy Channel, Nickelodeon and BBC America. It also includes a cloud DVR and 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.
Read our Philo review.
$25 at Philo
Best for soccer fans
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. 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.
In August 2020, FuboTV 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, in particular NBA and MLB. Those programming holes, and the $65 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.
$65 at FuboTV
How to shop for cord-cutting live TV services
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. 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 last year with the regional sports networks.
These negotiations mean things are changing constantly too. Over the past year, Sling TV, Hulu, Philo and the newly renamed DirecTV Stream have all raised their prices. Google and Roku are have resolved a contract dispute which prevented users from downloading the YouTube TV app
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 while including locals 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:
Does the service offer your “must-have” channels? See CNET’s comparison of the top 100 channels here.Does it offer local channels in your area? See CNET’s comparison of local channel access here (last updated August 2018).How good is the cloud DVR? Does the interface make it easy to browse for shows? Are there enough simultaneous streams for you and your family?Is your internet connection up to snuff? See CNET’s guide to improving streaming quality here. 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 live TV streaming services. For example, only two of the services are able to offer PBS — YouTube TV and DirecTV Stream — and reportedly this is because PBS hadn’t acquired the streaming rights to all of the shows it airs.
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 though 5.1 audio is available on some on-demand material.
Don’t care about live TV? More cord-cutter staples
HBO’s Mare of Easttown is one of 2021’s best shows.
In 2021 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 $14 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’s Netflix original movies like Roma and The Irishman.
See it at Netflix
Amazon Prime Video: The “other” major streaming service, which is included as part of a $99 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.
See it at Amazon
Disney Plus’ Loki premiere on June 9 was the most-watched on the streaming service.
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.
See it at Disney
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.
See it at Paramount Plus
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.
See it at Vudu
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.
See it at Peacock
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.
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. 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.
Amazon’s Fire TV Recast DVR is a cord-cutting antenna user’s friend.
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, 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.
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