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), DirecTV Now (by AT&T), Playstation Vue (by Sony), YouTube TV (by Google), and the most recent major competitor, Hulu.
All five 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. DirecTV Now vs. Playstation Vue vs. YouTube TV vs. Hulu
Here are the benefits of each of the four services.
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 DirecTV 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 DirecTV Now do not.
Hulu’s live TV service
Hulu’s live streaming service is the most recent entry and is available through the existing app. Hulu presents a very sleek interface, and price wise, Hulu costs $39.99 for 50 live and OnDemand channels. It includes a digital DVR so you never miss one of your favorite shows.
Other things to keep in mind:
- None of these services have annual contracts, meaning you can cancel at any time!
- 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 Hulu.
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.
Though Hulu’s new UI is questionable, the green streamer already has a huge library of content that you can watch on demand (and a growing list of excellent exclusives, like The Handmaid’s Tale)!
Thanks to Hulu’s name recognition, it’s all-in-one combo of live and on-demand, and it’s growing list of Originals, Hulu is the best way to go. It’s one app for everything!