You want to cancel that expensive cable bill without giving up live TV. How do you know what the best cable alternatives are for your family? You can choose between streaming TV services like:
Which one of these streaming TV services is the best cable alternative in the United States? This complete guide will let you know. It leads off with comparisons of specific features across the seven cable alternative services. We’ll identify any clear winners and losers and let you know how the other services stack up.
Next comes a deep-dive into each service’s subscription plans, channel lineups and add-on options. We’ll identify the kinds of customers that might find the services most appealing. Our pick for the best overall cable alternative in the United States completes our roundup.
- 1 Best Cable Alternatives
- 1.1 DirecTV Now
- 1.2 fuboTV
- 1.3 Hulu with Live TV
- 1.4 Philo
- 1.5 PlayStation Vue
- 1.6 Sling TV
- 1.7 YouTube TV
- 2 Is There a Best Cable Alternative?
- 3 How Do the Cable Alternatives Compare For…
Best Cable Alternatives
DirecTV Now has an aging infrastructure that could turn off potential subscribers. We gave it a good review for its core value and channel lineup earlier this year. A revamp in 2018 will address its current weaknesses.
Plans and channels
DirecTV Now includes more than 120 channels in its lineup with four subscription plans that let you get the best package for you.
- Live a Little: $35 per month, 60 channels. Includes major broadcast, sports, news and lifestyle networks.
- Just Right: $50 per month, 80 channels. Adds Travel Channel and more sports and lifestyle channels.
- Go Big: $60 per month, 100 channels. Adds sports-specific networks like NHL Channel, Golf Channel and Olympics channel.
- Gotta Have It: $70 per month, 120 channels. Adds entertainment channels like Starz, Chiller, El Rey Network and Boomerang.
Professional football is the only significant gap in DirecTV Now’s lineup. None of the plans offer the NFL Network, NFL Red Zone or ESPN Goal Line.
You can also subscribe to the premium channels Showtime, Cinemax, Starz and HBO through DirecTV Now.
Best for: people who can wait
DirecTV Now has a good channel lineup and reasonable subscription rates, but its infrastructure is aging. If it has the channels you want on the devices you use, then you might as well go for it. Or just wait to see how DirecTV Now changes its service in early 2018.
fuboTV got its start as a sports-only streaming service. It is now a more general streaming TV service that still offers a wider range of sports programming than other services. That deep catalog of live sports streams earned fuboTV a good review earlier this year.
Plans and channels
fuboTV only offers its $39.99-per-month fuboPremier plan. The seventy-channel lineup includes live local streams from CBS, FOX and NBC. Lifestyle channels like Food Network and HGTV as well as entertainment channels like SyFy and USA are also part of the mix.
In addition to each network’s own national and regional sports networks, a fuboPremiere subscription includes the beIN Sports network, the Golf Channel, NBA Network and NFL Network. Add-on plans let you expand coverage of college sports and world soccer.
fuboTV cannot offer channels from ABC or ESPN, keeping it from being the ideal sports service.
True to its sports-first heritage, fuboTV’s interface makes it easy to find the games and matches you want to watch. It consolidates all of the current and upcoming games across the fuboTV channel lineup.
Best for: sports fans – especially soccer fans
The mainstream programming is a nice addition to fuboTV’s sports-centric service. The lack of ESPN may be an issue for major league sports in the United States, but fuboTV’s ability to serve up soccer matches around the world can’t be matched.
Hulu with Live TV adds cable and broadcast channels to Hulu’s deep catalog of on-demand content. Its comprehensive feature set is as well-executed as any of the other options in our review.
Plans and channels
For $39.99 per month, Hulu with Live TV gives you full access to Hulu’s on-demand catalog and live streams from up to fifty-six channels. Optional subscriptions let you get Showtime, Cinemax and HBO.
The channel lineup includes all of the major broadcast networks and a mix of entertainment, lifestyle and kids channels. Sports coverage includes national and regional sports channels from ESPN, FOX, NBC and CBS.
League-specific channels like the NFL Network are not available on Hulu. Neither are Spanish-language channels like Univision or Telemundo.
Best for: anyone in the US and (maybe) military overseas
The solid live TV channel lineup and deep catalog of on-demand TV programs make Hulu with Live TV a competitive option. Large families may find their monthly costs rising as they add support for more devices and a larger DVR capacity.
If we get confirmation that overseas military personnel can get the live TV service, we will remove that “maybe” from the recommendation.
Plans and channels
Unlike any other streaming service, Philo does not require a credit card up front – only your mobile number. That unlocks the first two days of the seven-day free trial. You must provide a payment source and choose a subscription plan to keep the free trial going.
Assuming you don’t cancel after the trial ends, you get either a thirty-seven channel plan for $16 per month or a forty-six channel plan for $20 per month.
The higher subscription rate adds nine more channels like BET-her and Cooking Channel to Philo’s lifestyle-heavy channel lineup.
The broadcast networks and sports networks are not part of Philo’s strategy. Philo keeps its prices low by avoiding the hefty license fees these networks charge.
Best for: traditional TV watchers and YouTube TV subscribers
People who rely on a TV antenna for their broadcast channels can expand their programming with Philo for nearly half the cost of other services.
YouTube TV subscribers might consider subscribing to Philo to get the lifestyle channels YouTube does not offer. The two subscriptions will end up costing $51 per month which may make that combination less appealing than subscribing to one of the larger services.
Originally developed for gamers on Sony’s PlayStation console, the PlayStation Vue streaming service is now available to everyone.
Plans and channels
PlayStation Vue’s four subscription plans let you watch live streams from as many as ninety channels.
- Access: $39.99 per month, 48 channels. A core mix of broadcast networks, sports networks, lifestyle channels and entertainment channels.
- Core: $44.99 per month, 64 channels. Adds mostly sports channels.
- Elite: $54.99 per month, 92 channels. Adds international news channels, FOX Sports channels, e-sports channels and more movie channels.
- Ultra: $74.99 per month, 94 channels. Adds both HBO and Showtime.
Without any significant gaps in channel coverage, the well-thought-out plans follow a logical progression from basic to sports-centric to complete lineup to premium lineup.
The PlayStation Vue interface has a Sports section and a Kids section that consolidate related programs across all channels in your subscription, making them much easier to find.
Best for: large households
PlayStation Vue’s support for ten profiles will accommodate almost any family or roommate situation. Its large channel selection will, for a price, cover the interests of just about anybody who watches TV.
Treat Sling TV as a normal streaming service and you may find much to like. We found in our review that the otherwise good cable-alternative service does not live up to the “a la carte” hype of its marketing.
Plans and channels
Sling TV offers a 142-channel lineup. Unfortunately, a confusing combination of base, combo and add-on plans makes it difficult to understand what you get with your subscription.
- Orange: $20 per month, 29 channels. A mix of ESPN, entertainment and lifestyle channels. No broadcast networks.
- Blue: $25 per month, 44 channels. NBC and FOX broadcast and sports networks, entertainment channels.
- Orange + Blue: $45 per month, 53 channels. ABC, NBC and FOX broadcast and sports networks plus lifestyle and entertainment channels.
Sling TV’s add-on plans let you tailor your channel lineup around themes like sports and kids. The channels and pricing for each add-on, however, can depend on whether you are an Orange subscriber or a Blue subscriber.
Between the base plans and the add-on plans, Sling TV offers a good mainstream mix of channels for sports, entertainment, news and kids. If you are a fan of CBS programming, however, be aware that you cannot watch CBS on Sling TV.
Like a cable company, Sling TV offers movies on a pay-per-view basis rather than a free on-demand basis. Pricing range from $3 to $5 per title.
Best for: solo streamers and young families
Individuals will get the most out of Sling TV as will young families who treat it as the “family” streaming service. Larger households and families with older kids, however, will struggle with the cluttered favorites and recorded programs lists since it does not support profiles.
While the comprehensive coverage and pricing of the Orange+Blue plan are competitive with other services, you may have the least luck getting local channels with Sling TV.
Plans and channels
YouTube TV has a single $35-per-month subscription plan which gives you live streams from more than fifty channels. You can also subscribe to Showtime and more niche channels like Sundance Now, Shudder and FOX Soccer Plus.
YouTube TV’s standard lineup includes the major broadcast networks and their various sports and news channels. You also get a diverse mix of entertainment, indie film and Spanish-language channels.
What’s missing from YouTube TV? Mainly lifestyle channels like the Food Network. League-specific sports channels like NFL Network are not available either.
Best for: people who need local TV
If you don’t want the hassle of a TV antenna or you want all of your TV-watching and recording in a single interface, then YouTube TV is the right plan for you. As long as you live in a market YouTube TV serves.
Is There a Best Cable Alternative?
The best overall cable-alternative is Hulu with Live TV. It has a strong channel lineup and its base subscriptions are affordable. Even though it did not come first in any of the feature comparisons, it placed second for cloud DVR, device support, profile support, and local TV support. Combined with a deep catalog of on-demand TV programming, you get an alternative to cable that makes a lot of sense to a lot of people.
How Do the Cable Alternatives Compare For…
Hollywood licensing restrictions limit almost all streaming services to national coverage across the continental United States, Alaska and Hawaii. There are some notable exceptions:
fuboTV is also available in the United States’ territories and possessions.
Hulu’s on-demand service is available to Americans stationed to US military bases overseas – as long as they live on-base. However, whether this extends to Hulu with Live TV is unclear. We’d appreciate hearing about the Hulu experience from anyone serving overseas – just drop us a line in the comments or at the dctalkunite.com social media accounts.
YouTube TV is only available to people living in the fifty largest TV markets. If you qualify, however, you can access YouTube TV from anywhere in the US.
Streaming Local TV Channels
Another issue is the availability of the local streams for networks like the Big 4: ABC, CBS, FOX and NBC. Several reasons prevent the services from just putting local streams out there. As a result, you will find situations like in Phoenix where YouTube TV streams all four, Sling TV streams just FOX and DirecTV Now can’t stream local channels at all. You can read our review of the best services for streaming local TV for more details.
- The Best: YouTube TV carries the Big 4 in most of the major markets reviewed and has good coverage of other national networks.
- Hulu with Live TV: Good overall support for local stations, but its support for the Big 4 networks is weaker.
- PlayStation Vue and DirecTV Now: Firmly in the middle of the pack, you have a fifty-fifty chance of getting a local channel through these services.
- fuboTV: Local streaming is not fuboTV’s strength which could mean missing nationally televised sports.
- The Worst: Sling TV has not secured the deals it needs to be a reliable source of local TV streams.
Philo deliberately skips the major networks so it will never provide live streams of local TV.
Each household has a different combination of devices that could stream live TV. The only way a service can appeal to the entire public is by offering a complete suite of apps. Here is what we think that ideal app lineup would look like:
- Mobile and tablet: Amazon Fire tablets as well as iOS and Android devices.
- Set-top boxes and sticks: Roku, Apple TV, Chromecast and Amazon Fire TV.
- Gaming consoles: PlayStation, Xbox and Android TV systems.
- Smart TVs: Any TV running the Roku, Fire TV, Android TV or WebOS platforms.
Of course, none of the services are perfect. But some come awfully close. Here is how the cable alternatives compare for supporting apps:
- The Best: Sling TV developed apps for every major platform except PlayStation.
- Hulu with Live TV: The only TV service with a Nintendo Switch app. It does not offer apps for PlayStation game consoles or any smart TV platforms.
- DirecTV Now: No apps for gaming consoles or Amazon Fire tablets.
- fuboTV: Has not developed apps for game consoles or smart TVs. Its apps for Android TV and Amazon Fire TV devices are in “beta” so performance may vary.
- PlayStation Vue: No support for Amazon’s Fire TV devices. No support for Microsoft’s Xbox gaming consoles (I was shocked too). No support for smart TVs without the Android TV platform.
- YouTube TV: No support for Roku or Amazon Fire TV devices. No support for Amazon Fire Tablets or PlayStation game consoles. Apps for Apple TV and smart TV’s outside the Android TV platform are in the works.
- The Worst: Philo does not support Apple TV or Amazon Fire TV devices, Amazon Fire tablets, game consoles or smart TVs.
Bringing up issues with browser support for desktops and laptops is almost embarrassing. The compatibility, stability and security concerns surrounding proprietary video technologies like Adobe Flash have been widely known for years.
- The Best: YouTube TV uses industry-standard streaming technology for the broadest browser compatibility.
- Hulu with Live TV, fuboTV and PlayStation Vue require the Adobe Flash Player. You may have to change your browser’s security settings to watch those channels.
- Sling TV took a scorched-earth approach to its browser support. It only supports Chrome.
- The Worst: DirecTV Now bet that Microsoft’s Silverlight platform would outlast Flash. It lost. Many modern browsers – even Microsoft’s own Edge browser – will not run it due to security concerns. You may have a version of Chrome or Safari that lets it run, but the clock is ticking….
Like an old-school VCR, you can use a cloud DVR function to schedule recordings on the service’s servers. How many programs you can record and how long you can keep the recordings are the main differences between each service’s cloud DVR.
- The Best: YouTube TV lets you record an unlimited number of programs and keep them for up to nine months.
- Hulu with Live TV: 50 hours standard, 200 with a $14.99 monthly add-on. Oldest recordings deleted when DVR maxes out.
- fuboTV: 30 hours standard, 500 hours with a $10 monthly add-on. Oldest recordings deleted when DVR maxes out.
- Philo: unlimited recordings, but only kept for 30 days.
- PlayStation Vue: unlimited recordings, but only kept for twenty-eight days. Certain CBS local channels do not allow recording.
- DirecTV Now: It could have taken the crown for worst cloud DVR service since it doesn’t offer one. However…
- The Worst: Sling TV makes you pay $5 per month for its cloud DVR feature and only lets you record 50 hours of programming. You cannot record anything on the various ABC, ESPN or Disney channels you subscribe to.
There’s nothing much to catch-up services: they let you watch recently-aired programs up to three days after the programs air. Either the service offers catch-up or it does not. There is no best or worst.
Only DirecTV Now, fuboTV and PlayStation Vue offer catch-up services.
Some services let your subscription support the entire household. Profiles let family members or roommates have their own unique log-ins, profiles, viewing histories and recorded programs. If you need to balance competing viewing tastes within a household, profiles will matter. If you want a streaming service all to yourself? Not so much.
- The Best: PlayStation Vue lets you create as many as 10 profiles on one account.
- YouTube TV: 6 profiles
- Hulu with Live TV: 6 profiles.
- No Profile Support: DirecTV Now, fuboTV, Philo and Sling TV.
The ability to stream TV to more than one device also depends on your situation. Families will need better multi-stream support than someone living on their own.
- The Best: PlayStation Vue lets you stream to 5 devices at the same time.
- YouTube TV: 3 simultaneous streams.
- Philo: 3 simultaneous streams.
- DirecTV Now: 2 simultaneous streams.
- FuboTV: 2 simultaneous streams.
- Hulu with Live TV: 2 simultaneous streams. However, a $14.99 monthly add-on unlocks unlimited streams within your home network and up to 3 streams when away from home.
- The Worst: Sling TV for its inconsistent approach. Channels that are part of the “Blue” plan support 3 simultaneous streams. Channels exclusive to the “Orange” plan and its add-ons can only stream to 1 device. The single-stream limit applies to channels from ABC, ESPN and Disney.