We're not spending as much time watching TV as we used to, but at an average of three hours a day, we're still watching a lot. You might think that would be good news for the cable companies. Nope. More people than ever are dumping cable and satellite TV for streaming. Today, 69% of watchers prefer streaming to traditional TV offerings.
People want to save money. At the same time, though, 60% of viewers are paying for both cable TV and one or more streaming channels. That's because they want both their regular channels and fresh, new offerings from video-on-demand (VoD) streaming services.
Guess what? With today's streaming services, you can have the best of both worlds with two kinds of streaming. The first is VoD, from such providers as Amazon Prime Video and Netflix. Increasingly, there are free -- with commercials -- VoD services such as Crackle, Peacock, and Pluto TV. Then, there are live TV streaming services including AT&T Now, Philio, and Sling TV. Combine them, and you can get all your old channels alongside fresh new shows for less money than you're paying your cable or satellite TV provider.
With no further ado, let's first take a look at the best live TV streaming services.
Best live TV streaming service overall
Features: 2 package options | Sports channels | AirTV 2 and AirTV Mini streaming devices
Sling TV has an à la carte approach to channels that separates it from its competitors and makes it our top overall pick. While the others tend to offer only one or two packages, Sling TV offers two basic packages -- Blue and Orange -- plus a wide variety of packages bundling up to a dozen related channels. This is a mixed blessing, as it can be a tad confusing. But I like it because it lets me get only the channels I want.
It starts with two $35 per month channel packages. Some channels are available on both Sling Orange, over 30 channels, and Sling Blue, over 45 channels. Orange is basically an ESPN/Disney package, while Blue offers a Fox/NBC package. Your best deal, if you want a broad selection of channels, is to combine them for $50.
What you won't get are local ABC, CBS, and PBS channels. For those, Sling TV urges you to use an over-the-air (OTA) antenna. Indeed, Sling TV has its own streaming devices, AirTV 2 and AirTV Mini, to watch both Sling TV and your local channels. I've used and liked them both.
Sling TV's packages, besides such common offerings as Showtime channels, cost from $6 to $10 monthly. For example, the $10 Sports Extra comes with 15 channels, including NBA TV, ESPNU, ESPNEWS, NHL Network, and several college sports networks. It also offers a personal favorite, Willow Cricket, for $10 per month. The $6 Hollywood Extra offers seven channels including -- for my way of thinking -- the essential Turner Classic Movies (TCM) and ReelZ.
On its cloud DVR, Sling TV offers 50 hours. If you want more, you can up to 200 hours of storage for an additional $5 per month. You can also fast-forward through commercials with this service.
Your streaming options are… interesting. Sling Orange only lets you stream one channel at a time, while Sling Blue allows for three. If you get the package with both, you can stream four shows at once.
Finally, if you want non-English channels, Sling TV is better than all the other services combined. It includes numerous Asian and European language offerings. It also offers Arabic and Brazilian Portuguese.
Personally, I've liked Sling TV since it pioneered live TV streaming back in 2016. I like the interface, I like its speed, and I like that I can pick and choose my channels. Its combined Blue and Orange price is still below that of its main competitors, making Sling TV today's best streaming service for the price.
- Pioneered live TV streaming back in 2016
- It starts with two $35 per month channel packages
- What you won't get are local ABC, CBS, and PBS channel
- On its cloud DVR, Sling TV only offers 50 hours (or 200 hours for an extra $5).
Best for DVR
Features: More than 85 channels | Sports package | 4K livestreams
I used to love Google's YouTube TV, and I still like it a lot. But there's this one not-so-little problem: the price tag. At $65 per month, YouTube TV isn't cheap.
That said, there's a lot to love here. With over 85 channels, it offers more of the most popular ones than its competitors. It also enables you to watch not only your local ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC channels in most areas, but your local PBS stations as well.
The service also recently released its first add-on $11 per month Sports Plus package. This includes NFL RedZone, Fox College Sports, GolTV, and Fox Soccer Plus.
This video streaming service also has a $20 monthly add-on which, while it doesn't add any channels, lets you watch 4K livestreams and a limited amount of on-demand content. It also adds an unlimited number of simultaneous streams (up from three).
YouTube TV unquestionably has the best cloud DVR. It comes with unlimited storage and a generous nine months to watch recordings. And, yes, you can zoom by commercials on your recorded shows as well.
The other streaming services prices are catching up with YouTube TV. I still prefer Sling TV by a nose, but YouTube TV is great as well, and you can't beat its cloud DVR service.
- Over 85 channels
- Watch your local ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC, and PBS channels
- Add-on $11 per month Sports Plus package
- Unlimited cloud DVR
- Watch 4K live streams
- Unlimited number of simultaneous streams
- The price tag -- at $65 per month, YouTube TV isn't cheap
Hulu with Live TV
Best combination of live TV and VoD
Features: Sports bundle | Unlimited DVR | 75 channels
Hulu with Live TV's big selling point is it's the one service that combines both live TV and VoD. Besides great original content, such as exclusive titles like Only Murders in the Building, it also has a large catalog of on-demand shows and movies. On top of that, you get over 75 live and on-demand channels.
Its channel selection has some blanks in it. Some favorites, such as the AMC, the CW, Comedy Central, Nickelodeon, and VH1, are only available in extra-price add-ons. On the other hand, basic sports are well-covered with the ESPN and Fox sports networks. Like most of the other services, it gives you access to local ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC channels in most areas. You don't, however, get your local PBS station.
That said, Hulu with Live TV now comes in a bundle with Disney Plus and ESPN Plus for $70 per month. If you like Marvel, Disney, Pixar, or Star Wars -- everyone on the planet must like at least one of those -- this is a very attractive deal. Except for when it's Big 12 Basketball season, I don't find ESPN Plus that interesting. NHL and MLS fans, however, will find a lot to like.
Hulu with Live TV's interface and performance has been consistently improving over the years. Today, I find it the easiest live TV service to use. And as of April 13, 2022, all Hulu with Live TV customers will have an unlimited DVR which includes fast forward for no extra charge.
For another $10 per month, you can play as many streams as you want at once (without the add-on, you can stream two). But, unlike the other services, you can't easily stream outside your home. As Hulu puts it, "Our Live TV plans are intended for single-home use." You can stream away from home on your smartphone, but if you try to stream on your dad's Roku, you'll find it won't work.
Finally, if all you want is Hulu VoD streaming, it's still available. The cheapest version of the ad-supported streaming library is only $7 per month. The no-ads version is also available for $13.
I wish Hulu with Live TV had more channels. But, on the other hand, I like that it only has one simple package, and that combination includes Disney. So, all-in-all, I can highly recommend Hulu with Live TV for most people.
- Hulu with Live TV now comes in a bundle with Disney Plus and ESPN Plus for $70 per month
- An unlimited DVR which includes fast forward for no extra charge
- Large catalog of on-demand shows and movies
- AMC, the CW, Comedy Central, Nickelodeon, and VH, are only available in extra-price add-ons
Best for sports fans
Features: 3 plan options | 22 add-on options | 1,000 hours of video DVR storage
Are you a serious sports fan? And when I say "serious," I mean besides watching the US favorite trilogy of football, basketball, and baseball, do you want to watch the English Premier League, F1 Racing, and cricket?
Yes? Then, you should check out FuboTV.
While great for sports lovers, FuboTV has some odd holes in its lineup. For example, it no longer carries TNT and TBS, both of which show a lot of sports. It also doesn't include the Fox regional sports networks. Still, if your sporting tastes run to European sports, you'll find a lot to like here.
Besides sports, FuboTV is a full-fledged streaming service with all the usual stations. It comes with two basic English-language plans and one Spanish-language plan. The first, Pro, has 109 channels and 1,000 hours of video DVR storage, and you can stream to up to three screens at once for $70 per month. This comes with a free trial.
The other selection, Elite, currently offers 162 channels, 1,000 hours of cloud DVR storage, and up to 10 screens streamed at once for $80 per month. Both plans offer your local ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC channels in many regions. Another nice feature is you can fast-forward or skip commercials on your recorded shows.
For those who like Spanish-language sports and TV, there's the Latino Quarterly offering. This costs $33 per month for 43 channels, three simultaneous streams, and 250 hours of DVR space.
Put it all together, and you have the best streaming service for European sports fans and other non-mainstream US sports. Personally, I'd like to see them add Willow TV, the cricket-specific streaming service, but that's a small matter unless you're a serious cricket fan. FuboTV is also a good, general-purpose streaming service in its own right.
- Watch European sports like English Premier League, F1 Racing, and cricket
- Over 100 channels and 1,000 hours of video DVR storage
- No longer carries TNT and TBS
- Also doesn't include the Fox regional sports network
Best budget-friendly option
Features: 65 channels | Movie channel add-ons | Unlimited DVR storage
Short on cash? Not all that interested in sports? If that's you, then Philo is the service you want. For only $25 per month, you get 65 channels.
But you won't get any local or sports channels. Still, if you like popular entertainment and lifestyle shows with just enough news -- BBC World News and Cheddar News -- to keep you informed, Philo is well worth checking out.
Philo has also started offering movie channels: Epix for $6 per month and Starz for $9 per month. The network is also starting to add original content of its own. Stay tuned for more on that.
Philo boasts exceptional DVR capabilities; most of Philo's channel TV shows and movies are available on-demand for 72-hours after their first live airing. It also gives you unlimited DVR storage. Once stored, however, you'll have one year to watch the shows. Still, that's a sacrifice I'm willing to make for unlimited storage. You can also fast-forward your way through your saved shows.
The service enables you to watch three different streams at the same time. If you go over that, the oldest stream stops working.
You can't beat the price, and Philo's cloud DVR functionality is second to none. If you live in an area with a lot of over-the-air stations you can pull in with an antenna, it may be all you need. For what it offers, I quite like Philo.
- For only $25 per month, you get 65 channels
- Unlimited DVR storage -- but you have one year to watch the shows
Reminiscent of old cable services
Features: Up to 140+ channels | 4 plan options | 20 hours of DVR storage
I follow streaming services for a living, and even I have trouble keeping up with AT&T/DirecTV streaming service names. Today, it's DirecTV Stream. By whatever name, it's become better over the years, but its offerings and price have gotten poorer.
In the early days, it came with a great price: 100 channels for $35 per month. We wish it were anything like that today.
DirectTV Stream is an expensive service. The entry-level Entertainment package comes with 65+ channels and 40,000 VoD titles for $70 per month; the Choice package includes 90+ channels and 45,000 VoD selections for $85 per month; the Ultimate with 130+ channels and 55,000 VoD selections is now $105 per month; and the Premier with 140+ channels and 65,000 VoD shows costs $150 per month.
Every package offers access to local ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC channels in most -- but not all -- areas. And except for the bottom-tier Entertainment offering, all packages come with a large selection of regional sports networks (RSN).
Once upon a time, DirecTV Stream included a generous 500 hours of cloud DVR storage. Now, it offers a mere 20 hours of video storage. You can get unlimited DVR storage for an additional $10 per month.
On the other hand, you can stream up to 20 devices simultaneously on your home network. When you're away from home, you can stream to up to three devices.
DirecTV Stream also offers its own streaming device, the DirecTV Stream Device. But, for $120, you'd be much better off paying far less for an Amazon Fire TV Cube or Roku Express 4K Plus
If you have a large family or live with a lot of friends and you can actually use up to 20 streams at once, I can see why subscribing to this service would be enticing. Otherwise, the new DirecTV Stream reminds me too much of the old cable services both in its looks and cost.
- You can actually use up to 20 streams at once
- Every package offers access to local ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC channels
- An expensive service
- Mere 20 hours of video storage
What is the best live TV streaming service?
The best live TV streaming service overall is Sling TV.
Starts at $35/month
Basic plan offers 30 channels
More than 85 channels
1 plan with 2 add-on options
Hulu with Live TV
1 plan with 8 add-on options
3 plans with 22 add-on options
1 plan with channel add-ons
Up to 140+ channels
Which live TV streaming service is right for you?
If you want or are…
Sling TV, with YouTube TV right behind it. If you like storing movies and series for watching later, YouTube TV takes the lead.
Best for a budget
Philo easily gives you the most for the least money.
Best all-in-one live TV and VoD
Hulu with Live TV is the only contender.
Soccer and other European sports fans
|Best for large groups.|
You should realize that these services' pricing, channel lineup, DVR capabilities, and how many streams you can watch at one time are all subject to change. They're also the most important factors to consider before subscribing to a service. So, even if one service sounds perfect for you, go directly to its site and make sure that you're still getting what I'm describing.
Everyone has different needs. Here are my thoughts on which services could work for you:
How did we choose these live TV streaming services?
I watch a lot of TV. I always have. My dad had his own TV sales and repair shop. So I literally grew up with an oscilloscope probe in one hand and a soldering iron in the other. I spent my summers climbing up and building TV towers in rural West Virginia, where the only way you were going to watch a TV show was with an antenna 50 to 100 feet in the air.
Since then, I've been streaming since before most of you knew what streaming was... With that in my background, it shouldn't surprise you to know that I watch and subscribe to pretty much every major streaming service out there. Although those I don't subscribe to, I at least sample every now and again. So, when I tell you about the services I recommend, it's because I know them well and I really like them.
What is the best live TV streaming service for sports?
The best live TV streaming service is Fubo TV since it features both mainstream sports like football and hockey and non-mainstream sports like F1 racing and cricket. There are also eight sports channel add-ons to choose from, including an NBA League Pass channel and International Sports Plus, so there is literally something for every sports fan.
What live tv streaming service has the best picture quality?
YouTube TV and Hulu + Live TV support 1080p/60fps live streams on select platforms, so if picture quality is something that's important to you, these are both good options.
Is streaming cheaper than cable?
Not really. Back in 2009, when I first cut the cable cord, I saved over $100 per month and still got to watch all my shows. Just over 10 years later, my internet video streaming bills are closing in on cable TV-level bills. Why? Internet streaming is copying the tired, old cable business models.
Sure, the delivery technology is different. Instead of a set-top box, you use a streaming device, such as my own favorite, the Roku Express 4K Plus. Or you can just buy high-end TVs with full-featured streaming built-in. But the bills are increasingly getting higher. That said, you can still save money.
Do you need fast internet to stream live TV?
To make use of any of these services, you'll need broadband internet. If you're living on your own, you may be able to get by with as little as 10Mbp. If you're sharing your home with others and/or you want to watch 4K videos, I recommend you have at least a 25Mbps internet connection. Not sure how fast your connection is? Run the Ookla Speedtest.
And, by the way, you won't lose anything by switching from a cable box to a Roku or Amazon Fire TV 4K stick. The only real difference between conventional cable and internet TV is that live streaming sports lag 15 seconds to a minute behind live broadcasts.
Which streaming device should you use?
For the most part, all of these support the most popular streaming devices. For example, no matter which service you subscribe to, an Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV Cube, Roku Express, or Google Chromecast will almost certainly support it. But if you're using a more obscure streaming gadget, such as an Nvidia Shield TV Pro, it might not work with your preferred service. Smart TVs also frequently don't support newer streaming offerings. In short, make sure the service will work with your hardware before subscribing.
ZDNet has compared the top streaming devices here:
Are there alternative live TV streaming services worth considering?
Here are a few other options to look into: