Live TV Without Cable
Canceling your cable contract does not mean that you can no longer watch live TV, because there are many video streaming services that deliver live channels over an internet connection—though not all of them target the same audiences. For instance, some live TV services are good for general audiences, others offer the best sports coverage, and a few focus on entertainment and lifestyle channels.
All of the options in this roundup are available across many platforms, including mobile devices, web browsers, gaming consoles, and media streaming devices. Depending on which (and how many) services you subscribe to, you may not end up saving money over cable, but not everyone leaves cable to save money. Some people may just cherish the freedom to build an à la carte channel plan (though this flexibility is becoming rare). Whatever your reason for leaving cable behind, know that the number of streaming options continues to rise.
Network Shows, News, and More
So long as the video streaming service you choose offers affiliate broadcast channels in your market, you can watch all your favorite network shows from the likes of ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC. Most of the services here, including YouTube TV and Hulu + Live TV host these networks.
Other television channels aren't dependent on your geographic location. Philo is an excellent option for watching such entertainment networks, including AMC, Animal Planet, Food Network, HGTV, Lifetime, Nickelodeon, and Travel Channel. Many video streaming services with entertainment channels also include on-demand content from those channels that you can watch at your leisure and record to DVR storage. Other services combine live TV with more traditional on-demand libraries. A subscription to Hulu + Live TV, for instance, allows you to watch all the shows and movies from Hulu's on-demand service, including its original shows.
Although news channels may not be the primary way people stay informed about the world these days, they are still a good resource for live coverage of national and international events. For complete news coverage, make sure the service you choose includes both commercial broadcast affiliates (ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC) and cable news channels (such as BBC America, CNN, CNBC, Fox News, and MSNBC). Some services also include news networks not based in the US, such as BBC News and Al Jazeera English. AT&T TV Now, fuboTV, and Sling TV, for instance, all offer international channels, though you will need to pay extra for some of them.
Stream All Your Favorite Sports, Live
When picking a service, verify that it carries all the channels you want to watch in your area, including regional sports networks (RSNs) for coverage of local teams. Not all services include all the major league channels either, such as NFL Network, NBA Live, or MLB Network. Ensuring that a service covers all the affiliate broadcast channels in your area from CBS, Fox, and NBC is also important, since many games air on those channels. Know that you are not exempt from local market restrictions or coverage blackouts.
We assume that you want the best streaming quality for watching your favorite teams no matter what device you use. YouTube TV is the only service that supports 1080p live streams, though fuboTV does broadcast select events in 4K. A few services also have useful capabilities for sports fans. AT&T TV Now and fuboTV, for instance, both include features that respectively let you start over broadcasts from the beginning and watch games that have aired in the past few days. Note that these features are only available on select channels.
If you don't want to pay additional fees every month to watch NFL games, there are some free options. For instance, the NFL and Yahoo Sports apps allow you to watch in-market and national broadcast games, including Thursday Night Football, Sunday Night Football, and Monday Night Football. Subscribers to Amazon Prime can also watch Thursday Night Football games at no additional cost.
DVR and Apps
All of the streaming services in this roundup offer some DVR capabilities. If you are the kind of viewer that likes to save and rewatch significant TV moments, you should ideally look for a service that lets you record many hours' worth of shows and keep them indefinitely. Robust DVR capabilities are useful for sports fans too; some games may air at an inconvenient time. Families can benefit from DVR features as well if there are more shows on at the same time than you have simultaneous streams.
One convenience with video streaming services is they work on many different platforms and don't require any additional hardware or configuration. The best live TV streaming services support mobile devices, game consoles, web browsers, streaming devices, and smart TVs. With some services, you also get greater control over accessibility settings and parental controls than with cable. Sling TV lets parents restrict what their kids can watch by rating, for example.
Additional Live TV Options
We don't include single-channel options such as CBS All Access or ESPN+ in this roundup, since they don't offer nearly enough content to replace cable. Technically, Amazon Prime Video (Thursday Night Football) and Dazn (boxing and MMA matches), allow you to watch some live TV, too. However, these services are not a reasonable alternative to a cable subscription, as they are far too narrow in scope.
You don't absolutely need to pay to stream live TV. Pluto TV and Xumo, for example, offer live TV for free, though their channels do not include traditional content. Locast is another option for people in major broadcast markets such as Boston, Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, and San Francisco. That service is currently tied up in a lawsuit with several commercial broadcast networks, so we are not sure how long it will be a viable option. In that same vein, you could absolutely set up a digital antenna and tuner to pull down local channels over the air. Also, if an event is popular enough, such as a political debate or the Super Bowl, the broadcast may be free to stream online from the organizer's web site.
Although you may intend to replicate your cable experience on a 1:1 basis with video streaming services, we recommend that you don't. Take some time to reflect and determine which channels you actually watch on a regular basis. On-demand services open up an entirely new world of content, with many shows that don't ever air on traditional cable. These on-demand shows also tend to be the subject of pop culture discussions and critical acclaim. Amazon Prime Video's The Marvelous Ms. Maisel, CBS All Access' Star Trek: Discovery, Hulu's The Handmaid's Tale, and Netflix's Stranger Things are just a few examples. Upcoming services such as Apple TV+, Disney+, and HBO Max also feature original content that you can't get anywhere else.
*Features in bottom table only available via add-ons.
Best Live TV Services Featured in This Roundup:
$5.99 per month; $54.99 for Hulu + Live TV
Hulu's live TV service features approximately 60 channels of news, sports, and entertainment programming. News channels include ABC, CBS, CNBC, CNN, CNN International, Fox Business, Fox News, and MSNBC. Animal Planet, Cartoon Network, Discovery, Disney, Food Network, FX, HGTV, National Geographic, and SYFY cover the entertainment genre, but Hulu does lack Viacom channels, such as Comedy Central, MTV, and Nickelodeon. For sports fans, Hulu offers BTN, CBS Sports, ESPN, Golf Channel, and the Olympic Channel. Hulu also gets you access to local CBS, Fox, and NBC affiliates. HBO or Showtime add-ons are available for $14.99 and $8.99 per month, respectively. Note that the Hulu + Live TV plan used to only cost $44.99.
If Hulu's standard DVR allotment of 50 hours is not enough, you can add the Enhanced Cloud DVR option (increases limit to 200 hours). By default, you can stream from up to two devices simultaneously, but the Unlimited Screens package removes those limitations. Either add-on costs $14.99 per month, but you can get both for $19.99 per month. Hulu supports an impressive range of gadgets, and recently added support for live TV on the PlayStation 4.
$64.99 per month
YouTube TV is still a great all-around cable replacement service with an impressive range of sports, news, and entertainment channels, despite its recent price hike. Top networks include ABC, AMC, CBS, CNN, ESPN, Fox, and NBC. The service has added content from the Discovery network and ViacomCBS, plus local PBS channels. HBO Max, NBA League Pass, Showtime, and Starz are available as subscription add-ons.
YouTube TV can keep an unlimited number of DVR recordings for up to nine months and you can stream from up to three devices simultaneously. We particularly like its sleek apps and solid performance in our tests. PlayStation 4 owners should take a look at this service in particular, since it is the best live TV option for that console.
$60 per month
Although fuboTV may be associated with sports coverage, its 90-channel lineup delivers lots of news and entertainment channels, too. Starting with sports, fuboTV offers NBC, CBS, Fox, NFL Network, and NBA TV, as well as beIN network and Univision for international coverage. Notably, fuboTV recently announced that it will soon include Disney channels (including ESPN), though it has since lost WarnerMedia channels such as CNN. Entertainment channels include AMC, The Food Network, FX, National Geographic, SYFY, and USA. Viacom and Discovery channels are the latest additions. Aside from the live programming on these channels, fuboTV offers a ton of on-demand shows and movies too.
You can supplement the base fubo Standard plan with add-ons, including the Sports Plus ($8.99 per month) and Adventure Plus ($4.99 per month) options. Fubo Extra, which offers an additional 35 channels of content, adds $4.99 more to your monthly bill.
FuboTV offers good DVR capabilities (starting at 30 hours) and solid streaming performance in our tests. It also includes useful capabilities such as Lookback, which lets you watch anything you may have missed up to 72 hours after it first aired, and Startover, which enables viewers to watch currently airing events from the beginning no matter when they tune in.
$20 per month
Philo is an entertainment-focused streaming service and an excellent value. A $20-per-month subscription lets you stream 60 channels, including AMC, Animal Planet, BBC America, BET, Cooking Chanel, Comedy Central, Discovery Channel, Food Network, HGTV, and the Travel Channel. Philo offers few news channels and no sports coverage, so it's best for users who don't care about either genre.
Philo's DVR capabilities work differently than other services; it allows users to save the entire available catalog of a show for on-demand (but not offline) viewing, instead of just a single episode. Philo keeps saved shows for 30 days but does not impose any storage limits. Philo supports up to three concurrent streams and performed well across all platforms in testing. The service recently added Starz and Epix channel add-ons.
$30 per month
Sling TV distributes channels across its Orange and Blue plans (each $30 per month). You should subscribe to the combined $45-per-month Sling Orange & Blue plan for the best selection of channels. That tier supports four simultaneous streams. Sling Orange & Blue's 50-channel lineup includes AMC, CNN, Disney Channel, ESPN, Food Network, NFL Network, TNT, Travel Channel, and SYFY. Note, however, that Sling TV is not a good option for getting local affiliate channels; if you want Fox and CBS channels you need to install an antenna or find an alternative. NBC channels are available in select markets.
Sling's channel add-ons start at $5 per month. For instance, the Kids Extra add-on includes Disney XD, Nicktoons, and Boomerang, while the Sports Extra add-on features ESPN U, NBA TV, NHL Network, and PAC 12 Network. Sling TV allows you to record up to 10 hours to DVR storage, but you can expand that space to 50 hours with a $5-per-month add-on. Sling is available on mobile phones, streaming devices, the Xbox console (but not PlayStation), and via the web (Chrome and Edge).
AT&T TV Now
$55 per month
AT&T TV Now, previously DirecTV Now, offers several tiers, ranging from the 40-channel Plus plan for $55 per month to the 125-channels Ultra plan, which costs $135 per month. These plans cover a broad collection of sports, news, and entertainment channels. You can add HBO, Cinemax, Showtime, and Starz to your plan, though note that the first two channels are included with the two cheapest plans. AT&T TV Now also caters to international audiences with Brazilian, Korean, and Vietnamese channel packages, in addition to its Español and Deportes add-ons.
AT&T TV Now lets subscribers record up 20 hours of content for up to 30 days, but most other services let subscribers keep more content for longer. If the default limit of two simultaneous streams is not enough for your household, you can pay an additional $4.99 per month to increase that limit to three devices. Other features include the Lookback and Rewind feature, which respectively let you watch previously aired content (up to 72 hours in the past) and start over live streams from the beginning of the broadcast. These capabilities are only available for select channels and programs.
If you don't want to pay money to watch live TV, Pluto TV is your best legal option. However, most of Pluto TV's 190 channels are not those that you would find on cable or even on other live TV services. Pluto TV does have a few top-tier live feeds of news (CBSN, Cheddar News, CNN, NBC News) and entertainment (BET Pluto TV, Comedy Central, MTV Pluto TV, Paramount Movie Channel) content, but sports fans won't find much in the way of live coverage. Music channels and eclectic entries, such as Cats 24/7 and Slow TV, round out its lineup.
You shouldn't expect to find many of the top features that other live TV streaming services offer, such as DVR capabilities or elegant apps, but Pluto TV does notably have a small library of shows and movies you can watch on-demand. Since Pluto TV is free and doesn't even require an account to watch, it effectively has no simultaneous streaming limits. Note that most of Pluto TV's content streams in sub-HD resolution and at 30fps though.
Xumo is another free video streaming service that is similar to Pluto TV. In total, you get about 180 channels to watch, but know that these are not the same as traditional cable channels. Xumo’s news channels make up the majority of its actual live content, with 24/7 feeds from outlets such as ABC, Bloomberg, CBSN, Cheddar, and NBC. You also get comedy; entertainment; food, drink, & travel; music; and sports channels, though these mostly consist of short programming segments, highlights, and commentary. Xumo also includes a few channels with on-demand movies and TV shows, but don’t expect to find popular content here.
In testing, I found Xumo’s mobile app to be vastly superior to its web experience, because of a more consistent design and better organization features. You can also download Xumo apps on media streaming devices (Amazon Fire TV, Android TV, and Roku) and TVs from manufacturers such as Hisense, LG, Panasonic, Philips, Samsung, Sony, and Vizio. Xumo does not offer apps on Apple TVs, Chromecasts, or gaming consoles, such as the Xbox One and PlayStation 4. Xumo matches Pluto TV’s streaming quality, with most channels available in 720p.