All of us love streaming our favorite TV shows, movies, and music, but what about live TV? The options for live streaming TV without a cable box can be difficult to sort through.
Cable boxes are so early 2000s. With everyone switching to Netflix, Amazon, Apple, etc. to stream their media, the traditional cable box and DVR have become increasingly unnecessary. Who wants to be forced to watch their shows at a certain time, at a high cost, with lots of extra fees? And who needs all those damn channels?
Enter live TV streaming. Though it’s taken a few years to get deals in place, there are now a few big players in the live TV streaming market. They are: Sling TV (by Dish), Direct TV Now (by AT&T), Playstation Vue (by Sony) and the most recent major competitor, YouTube TV (by Google).
All four options boast most of the major channels, and all can be streamed live for a flat fee with no extra or hidden costs. No renting of a cable box either. All you have to do is pay for internet (or in the case of one service, you don’t even need to pay for that!).
Sling TV vs. Direct TV Now vs. Playstation Vue vs. YouTube TV
Here are the benefits of each of the four services, plus some early information on Hulu’s upcoming service which could possibly beat the competition.
Starting at: $20 for 30 channels
High-end: $40 for 49 channels, plus add “Extras” packages for an additional $5 per month.
Virtual DVR? Yes, but only in beta right now for Roku devices. Wider release coming later.
Promo: 7-day free trial.
Starting at: $35 for 60+ channels
High-end: $70 for 120+ channels
Virtual DVR?: No, but coming soon.
Promo: 7-day free trial.
Unique benefit: AT&T Wireless customers can stream Direct TV Now while on the go and it won’t count toward monthly data limits.
Starting at: $40 for 45 channels.
Virtual DVR? Yes.
High-end: $90 for 75 channels, including HBO and Showtime.
Unique benefit: Currently the only service available with a cloud DVR (YouTube TV will be the second when it launches in your market). They just announced a feature that lets you watch three channels at once, too (currently PS4 only, but expanding from there).
Starting at: $20 for 30 channels — this is the only package available, though Showtime is available for an extra monthly charge.
Virtual DVR? Yes.
High-end: Not available.
Unique benefit: YouTube TV includes CBS, whereas Sling TV and Direct TV Now do not.
Coming soon: Hulu’s live TV service
Hulu’s live streaming service is coming sometime this spring and will be accessed through a revamped version of their existing apps. Previews have made the new experience look sexy as hell (just look at that pretty UI above!). Price wise, Hulu recently hinted that packages will start at under $40. The number of live channels is still a mystery, as is the cloud DVR benefits (but we do know a DVR will exist).
Other things to keep in mind:
- None of these services have annual contracts, meaning you can cancel at any time!
- All of these services are missing The CW. To watch this network you must use their plethora of free apps.
- Netflix is not bundled with any of the packages, meaning you’ll have to tack on another $8 per month if you love to Netflix and Chill (and honestly, who doesn’t?). Same deal with Amazon Instant Video ($9), but at least the online retailer’s service can be included with Amazon Prime.
- HBO and Showtime can be bundled with many of these packages, but not at a reduced price. This means you’ll need to add another $10 – $15 to your monthly bill if you want either of these channels and access to HBO Now / Showtime Anytime
- CBS All Access is the exclusive home of The Good Wife spinoff The Good Fight, and beginning later in 2017, the new Star Trek TV series Star Trek Discovery. This service costs $6 per month.
- Most of these services work on major phones (like iPhone and Android) and digital TV boxes (like Apple TV and Roku), but you’ll want to double check each streaming service’s website to make sure it’s compatible with your devices.
Which live streaming TV service is best?
Channel differences aside (which are scant), I think most people would love a cloud DVR for the convenience and flexibility. With that in mind, I recommend the Playstation Vue’s service.
All of these services are in their infancy, and each has their own positives and negatives on the user interface front. The good news is that — unlike with traditional cable boxes — the UI’s can be updated with software updates in the weeks, months, and years ahead, meaning they should only get better. Vue blends great features, UI, and channel line-up to be named the best live streaming TV service by Hypable.
That said, be sure to take a close look at Hulu’s once it’s released later this year. Their service is highly-anticipated since they’ve already established themselves as a great competitor to Netflix. I’m definitely going to give Hulu’s live TV service a try once it’s released. Coupling live TV with their existing, extensive TV library will be a tempting service to purchase.