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Best live TV and video streaming services: Top picks for cord-cutters

Looking to ditch your cable package? Here are the absolute best alternatives -- whether you want to watch specific shows and movies on demand, stream live TV, or get access to archived libraries from specific networks.

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Topic: Innovation
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1 of 12 CNET

Amazon Prime Video

Try it now: Amazon Prime Video

If you're a Prime subscriber, you should look into Prime Video. It's included in your membership and provides access to not only Amazon's own originals, like The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, but also a huge library of content from major studios and networks at no extra cost. Amazon also lets you rent or purchase just about any TV show and movie made available to stream but not included for free in your membership. Lastly, there are add-on channels (most require a separate subscription) like HBO and Starz that offer up plenty more content to watch on demand.

  • Cost: Included in Prime membership ($119 annual or $12.99 monthly)
  • Features: Original Amazon content, some free TV shows and movies on demand, rental or purchase options, and add-on channels.
  • Devices: Amazon Fire TV, Kindle, Roku, smart TVs, iOS and Android devices, the web, and more. See the full list of devices from here.

Also: Amazon Prime vs Amazon Business


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Disclosure: ZDNet may earn commissions from some of the services or products mentioned in this gallery.

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2 of 12 CBS

CBS All Access

Try it now: CBS All Access

If you want to watch live local TV and sports (including the NFL) direct from CBS, plus get access to CBS All Access originals like Star Trek: Discovery and The Twilight Zone, and watch CBS's entire library of video content on demand, this is your one-stop shop. It's also one of the cheapest streaming services out there. (Heads up: ZDNet is owned by CBS). 

  • Cost: It starts at $5.99 monthly. The ad-free plan is $9.99 monthly.
  • Features: Live CBS and local TV and sports (jn most cities), CBS All Access originals, and over 10,000 episodes from the CBS library.
  • Devices: Apple TV, Fire TV, Roku, smart TVs, iOS and Android devices, the web, and more. See the full list of devices from here.

Also: Star Trek technology still influential after over 50 years


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3 of 12 CNET

DirecTV Now

Try it now: DirecTV Now

DirecTV is a more traditional live TV streaming service for cord cutters. There are two main base packages: Plus, which includes over 40 live and on-demand channels and premium networks (like HBO, Cartoon Network, CW, Disney, TCM, CNN, and CBS); and Max, which has over 50 live and on-demand channels including Cinemax and sports coverage (through ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNews, EPSNU, SEC ESPN Network, and more). There's even add-on channels, like Showtime and Starz, as well as over 40,000 on-demand shows and movies. Finally, you get limited cloud DVR, but if you want to stream on more than two screens at once, you have to pay extra.  

  • Cost: Starts at $50 monthly for Plus. Max is $70 monthly.
  • Features: Over 125 live and on-demand channels, some TV shows and movies on demand, Cinemax and some sports coverage, add-on channels, and limited cloud DVR.
  • Devices: Apple TV, Fire TV, Roku, smart TVs, iOS and Android devices, the web, and more. See the full list of devices from here.

Also: AT&T to launch 5G across 19 cities


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4 of 12 ESPN

ESPN+

Try it now: ESPN+

ESPN+ is an ad-free video streaming service. You can only access it within the existing ESPN app, which is available on a range of devices. All ESPN+ content is designated with a gold icon, so you can easily see if it's available with your subscription. It offers highlights and live games for niche sports like soccer, boxing, golf, tennis, rugby, cricket, etc. You can also access add-on packages like MLB.TV or NHL.TV for extra. Don't expect to live stream NFL or NBA games. But ESPN+ does have original programming, like Detail with Kobe Bryant, and a deep well of archived content that includes titles like OJ: Made in America and the 30 for 30 films. ESPN+ is not a replacement for ESPN. It merely complements the cable channel and doesn't include live access to all of ESPN's core linear networks.

  • Cost: $4.99 monthly
  • Features: Highlights, live games for niche sports like rugby, one live MLB and NHL game per day during their seasons, original ESPN+ content, archived ESPN content, and add-on packages. 
  • Devices: Android and iOS devices, Apple TV, Chromecast, Fire TV, the web, and more. See the full list of devices from here.

Also: Why Tom Brady should be replaced by a robot


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5 of 12 HBO

HBO Now

Try it now: HBO Now

If you haven't cut the cord yet because you don't want to give up HBO, we have good news: Subscribe to HBO Now. It's available on a range of devices and provides access to all of HBO's original series (yes, that includes Game of Thrones), movies, documentaries, specials, and so on. New episodes of original programming and theatrical films will become available on HBO Now at the same time they premiere on HBO, though live programming and some shows (like Westworld) won't be added until shortly after broadcast. HBO Now also has a decent library of TV shows and movies from other major studios and networks. Note: If you already have an HBO subscription through your TV provider, use HBO Go -- not HBO Now -- to access HBO's content on a variety of devices.

  • Cost: $14.99 monthly
  • Features: Original HBO content and TV shows and movies on demand.
  • Devices: Amazon Fire TV devices, Android and iOS devices, Roku, consoles, the web, and more. See the full list of devices from here.

Also: Game of Clouds: Lock-in is coming


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6 of 12 CNET

Hulu with Live TV

Try it now: Hulu with Live TV

First, there's basic Hulu, which is either ad-supported or not, depending on your subscription tier. Both come with original Hulu programming, like Handmaid's Tale, as well as several hit TV shows from the major US networks (think: Seinfeld, Rick and Morty, This is us, etc). It also has a decent library of theatrical movies. If you want even more content, you can get add-on channels, like HBO, Cinemax, Showtime, and Starz, and if you want some live TV, simply upgrade your package to Hulu + Live TV. Just check to make sure it's in your area first. It adds over 60 live and on-demand channels. You can also pay more to get extra features like "enhanced DVR" and "unlimited streams."

  • Cost: Starts at $5.99 for ad-supported Hulu and $44.99 for ad-supported Hulu + Live TV (with no extra features).
  • Features: Original Hulu content, popular network TV shows and movies on demand, add-on channels, Live TV package, and cloud DVR. 
  • Devices: Amazon Fire TV, Roku, smart TVs, consoles, iOS and Android devices, the web, and more. See the full list of devices from here.

Also: Hulu with Live TV hits 1 million subscribers CNET


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7 of 12 CNET

Netflix

Try it now: Netflix

Netflix is synonymous with cord-cutting. It was one of the first video streaming services, and it's probably the most popular option. With a Netflix subscription, you get ad-free access to all of Netflix's original programming -- from Stranger Things to Bird Box. You also get a huge selection of TV shows, movies, documentaries, and specials from other studios and networks, though a good chunk of it is "older" content. There's no live TV package, add-on channels, or extra features like cloud DVR storage, which makes Netflix both super simple to use but also somewhat limited compared to rival services. 

  • Cost: Starts at $9 monthly for the SD plan. There's also a $13-per-month HD plan and $16-per-month Ultra HD 4K plan.
  • Features: Original Netflix content and TV shows and movies on demand.
  • Devices: Amazon Fire TV, Roku, smart TVs, consoles, iOS and Android devices, the web, and more. See the full list of devices from here.

Also: Netflix leads the most successful Facebook brands in 2018 


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8 of 12 Sony

PlayStation Vue

Try it now: PlayStation Vue

No longer limited to the PS4, a Vue subscription can provide access to live TV broadcasts, sports, and premium channels. It really depends on where you're located and your subscription plan. The base Access plan, for instance, has essential networks like AMC, ESPN, NBC, and HGTV. The next step up, the Core plan, includes the NFL Network, NBA TV, MLB Network, and some live TV broadcasts. The Elite plan has a whopping 85+ channels for news and movies, plus live TV. Lastly, there is the Ultra plan, which gets you 85+ channels and premium networks like HBO and Showtime. There's also unlimited DVR storage and the ability to skip commercials. If you're looking for a cable-like experience with local news, live sports, and TV channels, this is one of the best options available. 

  • Cost: Starts at $44.99 monthly for Access. Core is $49.99 monthly, while Elite and Ultra are $59.99 and $79.99 monthly, respectively.
  • Features: TV channels, live TV broadcasts, live sports, local news, premium networks, and unlimited DVR storage.
  • Devices: PS4, Fire TV, Roku, smart TVs, iOS and Android devices, the web, and more. See the full list of devices from here.

Also: The tech that changed us: 50 years of breakthroughs


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9 of 12 Showtime

Showtime

Try it now: Showtime

If you want ad-free access to Showtime's original programming (think: Shameless, Californication, Dexter, Escape at Dannemora, and Homeland), as well as some live TV, sports, and a decent library of documentaries, specials, and hit movies on-demand, subscribe to the Showtime standalone streaming service (it's also available as an add-on channel through so-called rivals such as Amazon Prime Video). Note: If you have a Showtime subscription through a TV provider, use the Showtime Anytime app to access Showtime content across a range of devices.

  • Cost: $11 monthly
  • Features: Original Showtime content, some live TV and sports, and TV shows and movies on demand.
  • Devices: Amazon Fire TV, Roku, smart TVs, iOS and Android devices, the web, and more. See the full list of devices from here.

Also: Spotify adds Showtime to $5-a-month plan for college students CNET


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10 of 12 Sling

Sling TV

Try it now: Sling TV

Sling is like a cheaper, lighter, more customizable version of PlayStation Vue. For instance, there are different tiers with various live and on-demand channels. The Orange plans has 22 channels, including ESPN and Disney, with one stream at a time. The Blue plan has 35 channels, including Fox and NBC (but no ESPN or Disney), with up to three streams at a time. And the Orange + Blue plan combines them both and offers four streams at a time (but only one stream for Orange channels). It has very few local stations (ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC), but there are numerous add-on packages, including a Sports one that has ESPNU, ESPNews, SEC network, NHL Network, and NBA TV. You can also pay extra for cloud DVR.

  • Cost: Starts at $25 monthly for Orange or Blue (often reduced to $15 each during promos) and goes up to $40 monthly for Orange + Blue.
  • Features: Nearly 60 live and on-demand channels, some local stations, add-on packages including sports, and cloud DVR storage.
  • Devices: Amazon Fire TV, Kindle, Roku, smart TVs, iOS and Android devices, the web, and more. See the full list of devices from here.

Also: Sling TV: Everything you need to know CNET


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11 of 12 CNET

YouTube TV

Try it now: YouTube TV

YouTube TV offers live TV from major broadcast networks, cable networks, and premium networks. You can even get live sports, local sports, and news on ABC, CBS, FOX, and NBC, all depending on your area. Stand-out channels include AMC, Cartoon Network, ESPNU, SEC ESPN Network, FX, E, Disney Channel, and CBS Sports Network. There's also add-on channels available at an extra cost, such as Stars and Showtime. Lastly, a core built-in feature is unlimited cloud DVR for up to six different people (each of whom get their own login, too).

  • Cost: Starts at $40 monthly.
  • Features: Over 60 live and on-demand channels, live and local sports, local news, add-on channels, cloud DVR, and separate logins.
  • Devices: Smart TVs, Fire TV, Kindle, Roku, Xbox, iOS and Android devices, the web, and more. See the full list of devices from here.

Also: This is how YouTube influencer scam artists operate


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Couple Sitting On Sofa At Home Using Laptop Computer And Watching TV
12 of 12 Getty Images/iStockphoto

Still looking?

If absolutely none of these streaming services interest you, there are a handful of other options available, ranging from free to premium. Go explore IMDB Freedive or Sony Crackle, both of which have a limited selection of free TV shows and movies on demand. You should also check out Vudu, which is a digital library of titles you can rent or buy. 

We didn't go in-depth on lesser-known streaming packages either, such as: Philo, a basic offering that starts at $16 per month and gets you AMC, Comedy Channel, Nickelodeon, and cloud DVR; Fubo TV, a sports-centric service that starts at $45 per month; and AT&T Watch, which is $15 monthly and has 30 channels like AMC but no sports or local channels.

Hit up the links below for more information on each of these services:


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