The best live TV streaming service: PlayStation Vue, Hulu, Sling TV, and more
For those fed up with their cable or satellite TV company, there has never been a better time to cut the cord. Streaming video services are giving traditional cable and satellite TV stiff competition by delivering live sports and prime-time TV programming online, often for a drop in price, while premium channels like HBO and Showtime are available as separate streaming services or add-on bundles.
Live streaming TV has other advantages, too: There are no hidden fees, and if you ever decide to cancel, it’s easy and painless — a refreshing change from the hassle of dealing with cable and satellite call centers, even if prices are on the rise. Some services even offer special features like cloud-based DVR storage.
There are many services out there, however, and they all have different prices, channels, and feature sets. So, which is the best live TV streaming service for you? To help you sift through the chaos, we’ve put together this handy guide detailing each service’s features and content offerings so you can size them up directly against their rivals, and decide exactly how you want to dump cable.
Editor’s note: Each service has the conditional inclusion of the major networks it carries. Some markets have access to live network channels, including local programming, while others will be on-demand only. In some select locations, one or more of the networks — or even an entire service — may not be available. Check each service’s website for availability in your area.
Price: $40 per month for 55-plus channels and Hulu’s on-demand movie and TV library; add-on channels and features range from $9-$15
Free trial: 30-day free trial
Included major networks: ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC, CW
Supported devices: Amazon Fire TV, Android, Apple TV, Chromecast, iOS, Mac, Nintendo Switch, select Roku and Roku TV models, select Samsung Smart TVs and Blu-ray players (coming soon), web browsers, Xbox One consoles
Number of simultaneous streams: Six.
Who it’s for: Hulu users looking to upgrade to live TV … and just about everyone else.
Hulu’s single $40-per-month plan (called simply Hulu with Live TV) gives subscribers 55-plus live channels (the exact number will be dependent on your market). You’ll get ABC, NBC, CBS, and Fox, either live or on-demand depending on your location, plus dozens of other popular channels, which Hulu lists in full on its website.
Hulu With Live TV also presents some stiff competition when it comes to sports, providing 12 different sports channels, including ESPN, CSN, and Fox Sports 1, which nearly matches YouTube TV’s 13 (though falls short of FuboTV’s sports-laden lineup in terms of sheer numbers). Hulu with Live TV also lets users follow their favorite sports teams from the NFL, NCAA, NBA, MLS, MLB, and NHL, and record their games, provided they’re available. Furthermore, you can use your Hulu with Live TV login information to sign in to the ESPN App to access live ESPN coverage via ESPN+.
Hulu with Live TV subscribers also have full access to Hulu’s full on-demand streaming library and Hulu original content, essentially coupling a basic Hulu subscription (normally $8-12 per month) with 50-plus channels of live TV. This gives the service a serious edge for current Hulu fans, consolidating live TV with everything subscribers already get with Hulu into a single monthly bill. Hulu’s on-demand library is already very good, with some of the best original TV series around, and Hulu with Live TV offers one more reason to sign up.
Hulu’s guide and curation are also worth mentioning. Hulu allows users to organize the programming into a “favorites” tab and control content suggestions by removing items from their watch history or a selecting the “stop suggesting this” option on recommended content they’re not interested in.
In the “points against” category, Hulu with Live TV only offers a single add-on channel at the time of publication, offering Showtime for $9 per month (as opposed to $11 per month as a stand-alone channel). That said, subscribers will be able to upgrade from some basic features like unlimited simultaneous streams and enhanced cloud DVR storage.
Price: Sling Orange: $25 per month for 30-plus channels; Sling Blue: $25 per month for 40-plus channels; Orange + Blue: $40 per month for 45-plus channels; additional channel add-on packs and features from $5 to $15.
Included major networks: ABC (inclusion varies by channel package), NBC, Fox (NBC and Fox only available in select markets)
Supported devices: Amazon Fire TV and Fire tablets, Android, Apple TV, Airplay, AirTV, Chromecast, iOS, Mac, Nvidia Shield, Select LG Smart TVs, LeEco devices, Roku, Samsung Smart TVs and Blu-ray players, Chrome web browser, Windows, Xbox One consoles, Xfinity X1, Xiaomi Mi Box, ZTE devices
Number of simultaneous streams: Sling Orange: One; Sling Blue: Three
Who it’s for: Customers who want a customizable, la carte experience.
Sling TV currently offers the most flexibility of all the live TV streaming services out there, at least when it comes to your content and pricing options. Sling TV uses an la carte model, with base channel packages and a bevy of add-ons. The base packages, while largely similar, do have some major differences — namely that ABC and Disney-owned channels (including ESPN, and therefore supports ESPN+) are only present in Orange, while Blue carries NBC, Fox, and other sports channels like NFL Network and NFL Redzone.
If you want all of those channels, you’ll need to spring for the $40 package, which includes everything in Blue and Orange, or you can augment either package with add-on channels. Add-on packages also vary in pricing and included channels, depending on which package you’re subscribed to, but you can expect to pay between $5 and $20 per month for each.
It’s a little confusing, but it’s fairly easy to parse when you see all the packages laid out in front of you. You will find full listings on Sling TV’s website.
In terms of bonus features, Sling TV is pretty standard, but it does have some unique standouts. The first is Game Finder, a search feature on the Sling TV website that finds live and upcoming sports content available for your channel package and region. There’s also a bandwidth limiter, which will help keep you from going over your data limits — streaming video content can eat up data quickly, after all, so this is a welcome feature.
Otherwise, it’s fairly standard. Sling Orange subscribers will have access to a single stream, while Blue allows for up to three streams simultaneously. As for other features, VOD (video on demand), pause/rewind/fast forwarding and “catch-up watching” are content specific. For DVR, users will have to add another $5 for 50 hours of cloud DVR. Despite the extra cost, the good news is that cloud DVR is available on just about every Sling TV-supported device except for the Xfinity X1. You can get the gist of everything Sling TV has to offer by reading our Sling TV guide.
Price: Access: $45 per month for 45-plus channels; Core: $50 per month for 60-plus channels; Elite: $60 per month for 90-plus channels; Ultra: $60 per month for 90 channels, plus HBO and Showtime; add-on packages range from $9-$15.
Free trial: 14-day free trial
Included major networks: ABC, Fox, NBC, CBS (only available in select cities)
Supported devices: Amazon Fire TV and Fire tablets, Android phones/tablets, Android TV, Apple TV, Chromecast, iOS, Mac, Nvidia Shield, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4 and PS4 Pro, Roku, Web browsers, Windows
Number of simultaneous streams: Five
Who it’s for: PlayStation users, and PS Plus subscribers, and those with large channel appetites.
PlayStation Vue’s channel count is among the largest of any of the services on this list, but it’s also one of the most expensive, and its pricing structure can be confusing. Which channels you get — and even which plans are offered — will depend on your location.
PlayStation Vue’s packages used to be scaled based on whether your market had access to local live channels or not, but now all pricing tiers are identical regardless of where you live. In the past, users paid less if their area didn’t get live local coverage, but that is no longer the case. Luckily, despite Sony and Sinclair Media Group parting ways in 2018 and axing all Sinclair-owned local stations from the service, the vast majority of markets include at least some live local channels on PS Vue. Fox channels, in particular, get a special highlight on the service, with a specialized Fox feed that curates Fox-owned channels like Fox News, FS1, Fox Business, Fox Soccer Plus, and local Fox affiliates into a single feed that includes both live and VOD content. You can find which local channels are available in your area on Sony’s PS Vue page.
Speaking of locals, you might find that you have more available to you now than you did before. In September 2018, PlayStation Vue added more than 85 local affiliates, with the vast majority being ABC affiliates. This brings the service’s local channel count to more than 540 stations across the United States.
Whether you get live channels or not, PS Vue’s biggest selling point is just how many channels you get. It boasts some of the largest channel packages of any services out there. Plus, you can bolster your services with add-on channels and features. Subscribers to PlayStation Plus (Sony’s premium online service for PS4 and PS3) will get discounts on some of those packages, and some channels are exclusive only to Plus subscribers in the first place. Similarly, PS Vue ties directly into the PS4 interface and the PlayStation ecosystem at large, which makes adopting it almost a no-brainer for PlayStation players looking to add online TV — provided the pricing and channel listings meet your needs.
This is not to say that only PlayStation users should adopt PS Vue; the service’s robust channel listings will appeal to anyone who wants lots of stuff to watch, and it could be a good option for larger families sharing one account. PS Vue lets users create up to five user profiles, with up to 10 streams at a time. Keep in mind, however, that using PlayStation Vue on a TV or set-top device is a very different experience than using it on a mobile device — some channels will be inaccessible on the go due to licensing restrictions, and you can’t access any of your recorded content on a mobile device.
If you’re eager to read more about Sony’s service and its litany of pricing options and features, give our PS Vue guide a peak.
Price: Live a Little: $40 per month for 60-plus channels; Just Right: $55 per month for 80-plus channels; Go Big: $65 per month for 100-plus channels; Gotta Have It: $75 per month for 120-plus channels; add-on channels and features available for $5 per month; additional cloud DVR space for $10 per month.
Included major networks: ABC, Fox, NBC, CBS (only available in select cities)
Supported devices: Amazon Fire TV, Android, Apple TV, Chromecast, iOS, Mac, Roku, Chrome web browsers, Safari, Xbox One console (coming soon)
Number of simultaneous streams: Two; Three for $5 per month
Who it’s for: Those who don’t mind trading features for lots of channels.
DirecTV is another service with high channels counts and multiple package tiers, but it offers a more straightforward pricing model than PlayStation Vue.
Those considering the service will want to do some research to see if DirecTV Now is offering any deals or discounts. In the past, the service has offered some pretty impressive limited-time promotions that could get you some better entry-level prices, and even a free streaming device. DirecTV Now is, like PS Vue, closest to the experience you’ll get with cable or satellite when it comes to available channels. Its pricing is also consistent regardless of where you live, so no worries about a sudden bump in your bill.
In August 2018, DirecTV Now took a major leap forward for football fans, adding the NFL Network to several of its base packages. While competitors like Sling TV and PlayStation Vue have offered the NFL Network for some time, it was one of just a few key channels missing from a service known for its channel count. Subscribers of the Just Right package and above now have the channel, meaning it’s only missing from the $40 per month Live a Little package.
DirecTV Now offers a base DVR for free, with 20 hours of recording per month, and will store recorded content for up to 30 days, after which it will be deleted to make room for new recordings. If that’s not quite enough for you, an upgrade is available for $10 per month that increases your DVR allowances to 100 recording hours and up to 90 days for storage. While these DVR features are better than most, it’s worth noting that DirecTV Now’s True Cloud DVR is technically still in beta, and the service has a severe limitation on channels that can be paused, fast-forwarded, or rewound compared to other services. On the plus side, though, you’ll be able to watch all your DVR content from any device, even when on mobile devices outside your home WiFi network.
Another consideration is the number of simultaneous streams if you share the account with multiple people. By default, DirecTV Now offers just two simultaneous streams in ever subscription level. You can up this to three streams for $5 per month.
For more information, see our guide to everything you need to know about DirecTV Now.
Price $40 per month for 48-plus channels; add-on packages ranging from $5 to $15.
Included major networks: ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC, CW
Supported devices: Android, Android TV, Apple TV, Chromecast, iOS, Nvidia Shield, Roku, Chrome web browser, Xbox One consoles
Number of simultaneous streams: Six
Who it’s for: Those who are deeply devoted to Google, live in a covered area, and want a simple package.
YouTube TV’s sole package offers 45 channels at $40 per month for new subscribers. That makes it a bit more expensive than the basic offerings from Sling TV and PS Vue, and equal to DirecTV’s entry package. The only service it beats in the number of included channels is Sling TV. It’s also only available in select regions at present, so before digging too deeply you’ll want to check its website for available locations.
That might raise questions about its value, but a closer look reveals a few notable perks. It includes all the major networks — ABC, NBC, Fox, CBS, and CW — and a bevy of other popular channels at a reasonable price, and its local affiliate programming has also expanded and is now reportedly available to nearly 50 percent of customers. It also has a large number of sports channels for the price (short of FuboTV, that is).
You won’t be doing much customizing or adding to your content with YouTube TV — there are currently five add-on networks available: Showtime, Fox Soccer Plus, Shudder, Sundance Now, and Starz. Sure, you could add HBO as a stand-alone streaming service at $15 per month, but if you’re looking to combine all your internet TV into one package, for now, YouTube TV isn’t the place.
YouTube TV also falls a bit short in its device support, especially compared to the services we’ve previously covered. It does have the most flexible cloud DVR support, though, allowing users to store programming up to nine months after recording, with standard pause/rewind and catch-up features available. If you have a Google Home device and a Chromecast, YouTube TV can be controlled with voice commands via Google Assistant. Similarly, Google Assistant can even inform you of what content is currently saved to your DVR. If you’re an Android die-hard who utilizesGoogle’s ecosystem to its fullest, then YouTube TV may be the perfect addition. Read our YouTube TV guide for more info.
Price: $16 per month for 40 channels or $20 per month for 49 channels.
Included major networks: Zero
Supported devices: Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, iOS, Chrome, Roku
Number of simultaneous streams: Three
Who it’s for: Lovers of popular cable channels who don’t mind skipping local networks and sports (or can get them elsewhere).
Philo, like nearly every other service listed here, gives you a long list of popular cable channels to watch live over the internet. But it differs significantly in what content is supports — or more accurately, doesn’t support. Despite boasting a bevy of channels, including Viacom-owned favorites like MTV and Comedy Central (absent from many competing services), the four major networks — Fox, NBC, CBS, and ABC — are not carried by Philo, nor is anything from ABC’s parent company, Disney. That means, along with no local affiliates, there is also no ESPN. When it comes to locals, though, many viewers can get them over the air with a simple (and affordable) HD antenna for free.
There is a benefit to this network-less approach, too. Since Philo doesn’t have to sign deals with the networks to carry specific markets, Philo’s full channel packages are available regardless of where you live.
Feature-wise, Philo is similar to the other services above (and cheaper, to boot). Users have cloud DVR access for recording and storing content, though, like Playstation Vue, your DVR content will only stick around for a limited time — 30 days, in this case. While that might seem like a drawback, let’s be honest — if you put off watching something you recorded for that long, you probably weren’t going to watch it anyway. One feature Philo includes is the ability to access content from pay-walled apps for channels carried by Philo. For example, since Philo’s channel packages includes AMC and Nickelodeon, you’ll be able to download and watch through the dedicated AMC and Nickelodeon apps at no extra charge by signing in with your Philo account.
Philo does lack the comprehensive app and device support of its rivals. For a long time only Roku, iOS devices, and the Chrome browser were supported, but the service came to the Apple TV and Amazon Fire TV devices in July 2018. Philo claims even more devices are on the way, but for now, the truncated device support is a drawback. That said, if you have a supported device and don’t mind skipping sports and the big networks (or can find them with an antenna), Philo is the most affordable way to get live TV. For more on the service, check out our Philo guide.
Price: $15 per month for 30 channels (free with some AT&T wireless plans)
Included major networks: Zero
Supported devices: Apple TV, Chromecast, Amazon Fire TV, iOS, Android
Number of simultaneous streams: Two
Who it’s for: AT&T Customers; Casual TV viewers who aren’t looking for sports or local programming.
AT&T’s WatchTV is one of the more recently launched streaming services on this list, and it might also be a little confusing. AT&T owns DirecTV, so doesn’t it already have its own streaming service? That’s true, but the two are going for two completely different types of customer.
While DirecTV Now is more for the type of customer who is looking to replace their cable service, AT&T WatchTV is more similar to something like Philo. You shouldn’t look at it as a replacement for all of your live TV needs. Instead, look at it as a supplement to on-demand streaming services like Netflix. If you’re mainly a binge watcher but want the occasional bit of live TV, WatchTV might be perfect for you. Throw in an OTA antenna and you’ve got a pretty good setup.
One group that WatchTV really shines for is AT&T Wireless customers. If you have one of AT&T’s wireless plans with unlimited data, you get WatchTV for absolutely free. If you have the &More plan, you even get a few bonus channels to choose from including HBO, Showtime, Cinemax, and Starz, though you only get to pick one.
You won’t find any fancy features in WatchTV like time-shifting or any other DVR features, but if all you need is a few live channels and you’re not looking to pay much, it’s definitely an option worth considering.
Amazon Prime Live Channels
Price: Free and premium channels at varying prices.
Included major networks: n/a
Supported devices: Live channel features only available on Amazon Fire TV; channel content can be access by any device that supports Prime Video Now
Number of simultaneous streams: n/a
Who it’s for: Amazon Prime users who want to consolidate their apps and monthly bills to a single location.
Amazon Prime has a long list of perks for its members, but one of the lesser-known incentives is the ability to augment your Prime Video library with a handful of curated TV channels. Compared to the other services here, Amazon Prime’s channel add-ons don’t pose much competition. Prime simply offers a small number of channels supported currently by just Fire TV.
For Amazon Fire TV users (no coincidence that it requires an in-house device), a small selection of these channels can be browsed via a “Live Now” menu, which includes a programming guide so you can see what’s on next. As of this writing, only a small number of premium channels — including HBO, Cinemax, Starz, and Showtime — will show up on the “live now” section, and only if you’re subscribed to them through Amazon Prime’s “Channels.” The number is growing, however, and we’re hopeful for a more varied selection in the near future.
A perk to a setup like this is that it will directly integrate into Amazon’s growing ecosystem of connected devices. That means you’ll be able to check what’s on the premium Prime add-on channels just by talking to Alexa. That feature might not be a game changer, but it’s helpful nonetheless, and only serves to strengthen the case for subscribing to these channels if you’re an Amazon Prime member not subscribed to them elsewhere.
For now, this isn’t quite an option for supplanting a subscription to Sling, PS Vue, etc., but it is a worthwhile Prime feature that will hopefully continue to grow and evolve.
Included major networks: n/a (CBSN, NBC News, and MSNBC news programming available).
Supported devices: Amazon Fire TV and Fire tablets, Android, Android TV, Apple TV, Chromecast, iOS, Roku, Web browsers, select Sony, Samsung, and Zivio Smart TVs
Number of simultaneous streams: n/a
Who it’s for: Live TV streaming newbies who want to see what all the fuss is about.
Pluto TV might be a new name to some, but the service has been quietly plugging along since 2013. Like the other services on this list, it’s become a solution for those who want easy access to a library of both live and on-demand content — everything from TV series to movies, to popular internet content creators. Unlike the others, however, Pluto TV is entirely free.
No, really. For the cool price of zero dollars a month, Pluto TV will provide you access to select content from more than 40 live channels, including CNBC, MSNBC, Sky News, movie channels, and live sports, plus 15 music-streaming channels. Users will also enjoy a library of on-demand content.
You’re likely thinking “What’s the catch?” The answer is simple: Ads. Pluto TV is entirely ad-supported. These ads are not skippable, but it may be a worthwhile price to pay for totally free content.
The other caveat is that the majority of these channels aren’t actually TV channels but internet channels, meaning stuff from websites and online creators like IGN, CNET, and Cheddar, rather than traditional TV channels. You’ll still get those, too, but you won’t find any of the major prime-time networks or cable favorites like Comedy Central, Syfy, or FX here.
You also won’t find many special features here, either — no DVR, no user profiles, etc. Still, PlutoTV has a solid collection of free, curated TV, film, music, and internet video content, and it’s available on a respectable number of platforms. For those considering the dive into online TV streaming, Pluto TV is a good first dip of the toes.
For a more in-depth examination, head over to our PlutoTV explainer.
Price: $45 per month for 75-plus channels, or $50 for 90-plus channels (a special $20 introductory price for the first month is available for both plans); add-on packages ranging from $3 to $15.
Included major networks: NBC, CBS, Fox, CW
Supported devices: Amazon Fire TV, Android, Android TV, Apple TV, Chromecast, iOS, Roku, web browsers
Number of simultaneous streams: Two
Who it’s for: Those who mainline live sports.
A few of the previous services have been notable for their sports content (YouTube TV and Hulu, in particular), but if sports is one of your primary concerns, you’ll want to look into FuboTV. This is another relatively new service that has been gaining some recognition for the niche it appeals to, especially after it was advertised as a way to easily watch Super Bowl 52 with its free trial. It is quickly on the rise, too: The service announced that as of September 2018 it was approaching 250,000 subscribers, up from 100,000 in September 2017. That may not be the millions of subscribers boasted by Sling TV and DirecTV Now, but it is substantial growth.
FuboTV offers two plans. The first, “Fubo, includes more than 70 channels for $45 per month, and the second, “Fubo Extra,” bumps the package up to 80-plus channels for $50, though your first month on either plan will be discounted by $5. Both plans include a healthy mix of both sports and nonsports channels, such as NBC Sports Network, NFL Network, NBA TV, and the Pac-12 Network on the sports side, along with staples like HGTV, FX, and widespread local network channel support on the other. In August 2018, FuboTV signed a multiyear deal bringing the Turner networks — including TNT, TBS, CNN, Cartoon Network, Adult Swim, TruTV, TCM, and HLN — to the service. Not only did the service add these channels, but it did so without upping the price.
One notable way in which FuboTV differs from every other service on this list is that it is currently the only service to offer streaming in 4K resolution with HDR10 high-dynamic range. Currently content is limited — so far the service has only shown some 2018 World Cup games on Fox and Fox Sports 1 with 4K and HDR — but this is a major step forward for streaming services. For more info, see the support page on the FuboTV website.
Sports nuts would have to spend more money on another service to get a portion of the channels offered by FuboTV, but there is one glaring omission to its sports listings: ESPN. The service does not currently carry ESPN or ABC channels, and can’t be used to access ESPN+ through the ESPN app, so if those are a staple of your sports coverage consumption, FuboTV isn’t going to satisfy your appetite.
Given its niche appeal, it’s hard to recommend FuboTV as a first choice to anyone other than sports fanatics. That said, FuboTV has quickly evolved into a more well-rounded service and may be an alternative for viewers for whom other services are not yet available, or where other services are lacking in local network support.