Streaming TV services are becoming valid cable replacements for many people, but there are a lot of choices out there at this point. We’ve looked at the five biggest—now it’s time to compare them.
To be clear, what we’re looking at here is not regular streaming services, like Netflix and Amazon Instant Video. Rather, we’re talking about services that let you stream live TV, and offer many of the same channels you’d get with a cable subscription.
There are really five major competitors in the streaming TV space:
There are other choices out there, but these have proven to be the biggest, most popular, and best choices for most people. But how do they compare to each other? Which one is right for you? These are the questions we look to answer today.
What’s interesting with some streaming options is that a few of them offer one plan, and one plan only—this is the strategy for both Hulu and YouTube TV. Others, like Vue and DirecTV Now, offer more traditional plan packages. And then there’s Sling, that offers base packages and multiple add-ons so you can piecemeal your streaming plan. It can all get quite overwhelming.
Then there’s also the choice of channels—the packages and plans make no difference at all if the channels you want aren’t available. That further throws a wrench into trying to find the best fit for your family. While we won’t be able to list literally every channel offered by every service—especially since channel selection is very objective—we’ll do our best to play out the numbers.
Sling: Best Bet For a Cheap Starter Package
There is no true a la carte cable subscription, but Sling is about as close as it’s going to get—for now, anyway. Sling offers two base packages—Blue and Orange—and then allows you to add all sorts of other packages to the deal. It’s worth noting that Cloud DVR costs $5 extra per month. Here’s an overview of the what each offers, as well as how much they cost:
- Sling Orange: 30+ channels, one stream at a time, $20 a month
- Sling Blue: 40+ channels, multiple streams at a time, $25 a month
- Sling Orange+Blue: Both packages combined into one, $40 a month
The channel packages are very similar to basic cable, but it’s worth noting that some of the add-on packages are different depending on whether you have Sling Orange or Blue as your base package. For instance, if you have Blue, you won’t get access to the Disney channel, which also means that the Kids Extra package won’t have Disney Junior or XD. If you choose Orange+Blue, of course, you’ll have access to all of them.
Here are some of the add-on plans and how much they are. You can further explore the channel options on Sling’s website.
- Cloud DVR: $5 per month
- Sports Extra: $5/$10 a month (Orange/Blue)
- Kids Extra: $5 a month
- Comedy Extra: $5 a month
- Lifestyle Extra: $5 a month
- Hollywood Extra: $5 a month
- News Extra: $5 a month
- Broadcast Extra: $5 a month
- Heartland Extra: $5 a month
- International: $5 a month
- Espanol: $5 a month
- HBO / Showtime / Cinemax / Starz: between $10-15 a month
Sling is a great deal if you only watch certain channels—for instance, if you just want to watch news and some sports, you can just get Sling Orange for $20, and maybe the Sports add-on for $5, and you’ve got everything you need for $25 per month. If you want to have tons of channels, though, it starts to add up really quickly and gets too expensive. I
When it comes to using Sling, it’s nice. It has an intuitive, familiar interface. The DVR works like you’d expect, and it’s just overall really reliable. It’s available on pretty much any device you can imagine—on the web, Android, iOS, Apple TV, Fire TV, Chromecast, Roku, and more. The only thing it’s missing from is PlayStation.
You can sign up for Sling here.
YouTube TV: Multiple Users, Streams, and Unlimited DVR Storage
YouTube TV admittedly got off to a bit of a rocky start, but it has since really stepped up and became one of the best streaming TV packages you can get. YouTube TV takes an all-or-nothing approach to plans. There is one plan, and it’s $40 a month. YouTube TV also offers one killer feature that none of the others can match—cloud DVR with no storage limits. That’s the power of Google right there.
If you want premium movie channels, you can add those too: Showtimes ($11), Fox Soccer Plus ($15), Shudder ($5), and Sundance Now ($7). There’s a distinct lack of two highly desired options: HBO and Cinemax. Google has done a good job of adding new channels to YouTube TV over the last few months, so hopefully it can eventually add more premium channels too. The good news is that you can buy HBO Now as a standalone service, so you don’t have to miss an episode of Game of Thrones.
Another benefit of going with YouTube TV is the fact that it offers each family member a distinct login. Up to six users per plan get their own login, which means their own favorites and DVR recordings. How cool is that?
YouTube TV offers three simultaneous streams with access on Android TV, Android, iOS, Apple TV, Samsung TVs, LG TVs, Chromecast, Roku, and Xbox One.
You can sign up for YouTube TV here.
Hulu with Live TV: Good If You Already Use Hulu (and Can Live With a Terrible Interface)
Hulu keeps things about as simple as they’re going to get in this department: it offers one streaming TV package, and if a channel you want isn’t available, well…tough luck.
For $39.99 a month, you get access to 60 channels, a cloud DVR service, and access to Hulu’s entire on demand catalog (with “limited” commercials). Considering the Limited Streaming Package is $7.99 on its, that’s a pretty solid deal—if you can handle the absolutely wretched interface. Alternatively, you can opt to get Live TV without access to the streaming catalog, but that will only save you a dollar. Not worth it. And in case you’re wondering, yes, you can get the commercial-free streaming package with your TV package for a few extra bucks per month.
Additionally, you can add movie channels, like HBO ($4.99 for the first 6 months, 14.99/month after), Cinemax ($9.99/month), and Showtime ($8.99/month).
While regular Hulu is available on pretty much every platform under the sun, its Live TV service isn’t as widely reaching. It’s currently absent from Android TV, and its Roku availability is limited to “select devices.” You’ll have to dig into Hulu’s full list of devices to verify.
The only way we think Hulu with Live TV is something to even kind of consider is if you’re already a Hulu subscriber and only want to use one service. Otherwise, just stay away from this one—at least until they do something to update the nearly-unusable disaster of an interface.
You can sing up for Hulu here.
DirecTV Now: Traditional Cable-Style Channel Bundling
DirecTV has been in the TV business for a long, long time. As a result, it wouldn’t be surprising for the company’s entry into the streaming market to feel like a dated, out of touch approach to remain competitive…which couldn’t be further from the truth. DirecTV Now is an excellent choice if you’re looking to start streaming your TV and want to stick with a familiar interface.
The company does take a more traditional package-based approach to its streaming plans, however, so finding one that’s right for you might feel a like like shopping for traditional cable. Still, that doesn’t make it a bad thing. Here’s a quick overview of what it has to offer:
- Live a Little: 60+ channels, $35 a month
- Just Right: 80+ channels, $50 a month
- Go Big: 100+ channels, $60 a month
- Gotta Have It: 120+ channels, $70 a month
All of these packages offer access to local channels too, though the inclusion is regional—your locals may or may not be available. You can also add movie channels for some really reasonable prices: HBO ($5/month), Cinemax ($5/month), Showtime ($8/month), and Starz ($8/month). It looks like DirecTV may have used some of that big boy muscle to negotiate better deals on the premiums than the other guys—for less than you can get just HBO from the others, you can get HBO and Cinemax with DirecTV Now. That’s solid.
Note: At the time of writing, you can sign up for three months of DirecTV Now service for just $10 a month. Visit DirecTV Now for more info.
While DirecTV Now was late to the DVR game—the lack of this feature was the biggest drawback when the service launched—it recently added a free plan that allows users to record up to 20 hours of video. You can also add up to 100 hours of recorded TV for an extra $10 a month if 20 hours isn’t enough for you. It’s a good deal either way.
When it comes to device support, you’ll find DirecTV Now on a lot of platforms, including Fire TV, Chromecast, Roku, iOS, Apple TV, and Android. It’s currently not available on Samsung Tizen Smart TVs, Xbox (or other game consoles), or Android TV.
You can sign up for DirecTV Now here.
PlayStation Vue: Good Pricing and Available on a Lot More Than Just PlayStation
“Sony” and “PlayStation” may not be the first names that come to mind when you think about streaming TV, but don’t discount Vue as a service—it’s solid as a rock, and it’s available for most platforms.
Much like DirecTV Now, Vue takes a package-based approach. Here’s a quick overview:
- Access: 45+ channels, $39.99 a month
- Core: 60+ channels, $44.99 a month
- Elite: 90+ channels, $54.99 a month
- Ultra: All channels, plus HBO and Showtime, $74.99 a month
There are a couple of additional packages you can tack onto your base plan if you’d like: the Sports Pack ($10), Epix ($3.99, included in Ultra), and Espanol ($4.99). Additionally, you can add premium movie services: HBO ($15), Showtime ($10.99), Cinemax ($15), HBO/Cinemax ($21.99), Epix/Showtime ($13.99), and Fox Soccer Plus ($14.99).
Existing PlayStation Plus subscribers can also take advantage of some discounts on these add-ons. For example, Showtime drops to $8.99 a month and the HBO/Cinemax package is $19.99. There are a few other discounts sprinkle throughout—a nice perk if you’re already paying Sony for some other PlayStation stuff anyway.
Really, when it comes to getting a lot of bang for your buck, PlayStation Vue offers a lot of value. It has access to almost any channel you could want, includes DVR and on-demand video, and offers extremely reasonable pricing.
There is one caveat, however: Sony recently lost all access to any Sinclair-owned local channels, so if you’re in a Sinclair network coverage area, you won’t get local stations. If you’re not, however, you should be unaffected by this.
When it comes down to device support, Sony has done an excellent job—you’ll find Vue on basically any platform that’s out there. This includes Roku, Fire TV, Apple TV, Android TV, iOS, Android, Fire Tablets, Chromecast, PlayStation 3, and PlayStation 4. The only option that’s missing here is Xbox, but something tells that shouldn’t come as a surprise.
You can sign up for PlayStation Vue here.
Finding a good streaming platform to replace your existing cable subscription can be a challenge—and involves a lot of research. Hopefully this piece can help you narrow it down some (or even make a firm choice on which one is best for you).
For us, it kind of shakes out this way. If all you want is the standard channels you’d get with cable (and maybe a few extras), Sling is probably your best bet for an inexpensive and reliable service. DirectTV is a good choice if you want more channels, and especially if you want several premium channels (they’re cheaper on DirecTV than on any of the others). YouTube TV is great if you have several family members, since it offers six separate sign-ins, each with their own favorites and DVR storage. YouTubeTV also offers unlimited cloud DVR storage, which is great if you record lots of shows.
But any of these package might be right for you, depending on your situation. For what it’s worth, this writer has been using PlayStation Vue for several months and couldn’t be be happier with the service.
Image Credit: madeaw_ec/Shutterstock.com
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