Credit: ShutterstockTom's Guide compared all three services head-to-head-to-head, and discovered that Netflix is generally the best of the three. However, the services do not offer exactly the same thing. Netflix is a good all-purpose service, while Hulu focuses on recently aired TV, and Amazon Prime is part of a larger service that also offers free shipping on Amazon orders, e-book loans and other perks. (Viewers who just want Amazon Video without any other perks can now subscribe to it for $9 per month.)
1 Number of available channels may vary by area. Please refer to your local channel lineup for details. An HDTV, HD cable box and HD cabling are required to view HD programming. HBO, Cinemax and related channels and service marks are the property of Home Box Office Inc., LLC. SHOWTIME is a registered trademark of Showtime Networks Inc., a CBS Company. Starz® and STARZ ENCORESM related channels and service marks are the property of Starz Entertainment, LLC. All other trademarks are the property of their respective owners.
Most of the leading cable TV providers in the country such as Cox Communications®, Charter Communications®, and Comcast Corporation® provide an option to their customers to bundle their internet, home phone, and cable TV services in a single package. Customers can either bundle two of these service or all of them. Either way, this choice allows you to save money and enjoy various services under a single bill.
Here’s what I’m excited about: I have been recording all of my favorite shows on a Tablo Dual digital video recorder that hasn’t cost me a dime in subscription fees. And I’m loving it. It has truly opened my eyes to the fact that ATT can take its $100/month U-Verse TV service that keeps crapping out on us and stay away. I may never look to cable again.
If you want a more affordable way to watch TV, you can always rely on internet TV, or TV that you can view with the internet. There are various services that allow for streaming video, but you can always opt for live TV streaming services too. Streaming video services include Amazon Video, Netflix, and Hulu, whereas live TV streaming services include Sling TV, DirecTV NOW, and PlayStation Vue.
With the Digital Starter package starting at $49.99 per month, Xfinity comes in with the best all-around package out of all our recommended TV providers. The channel selection for Xfinity’s entry package is pretty similar to DISH’s base-level package (including channels like ESPN, TNT, AMC, and Discovery). It’s also a better bargain than the satellite service (and the next-closest cable TV provider, Spectrum) by about $10 per month.
Netflix offers up to thousands of movies and hundreds of TV shows like Breaking Bad, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, and Bob’s Burgers. Unlike Hulu, their originals are what they take pride in. These include Emmy-nominated series House of Cards and Orange is the New Black, as well as Derek, Hemlock Grove, and the acquired Arrested Development. The best thing going for Netflix is the fact that it has no adds. It’s $7.99/month for one screen, $8.99 for two screens, $11.99 for four screens. So is it worth our subscription? Definitely. Binge watching to its critically acclaimed collection of originals makes the streaming experience worthwhile.
Now there are some things about Tablo TV I need to get used to. When I bring up the app on the Roku box, I oddly have to remind it every time which Tablo TV box I’m tapping -- even though I only have one. And when I go to watch live TV, it takes a good 20-to-25 seconds to load each channel. This makes channel surfing rather impossible, especially when I have to return to the Live TV menu first before selecting another channel. And I’ve also had several scheduled recordings not record because the reception was too weak, according to the error message. As I mentioned, that’s a problem with our home and not Tablo.
If you (and your significant other) are comfortable with a larger, more industrial design, the $100 ClearStream 2 is an indoor/outdoor antenna that boasts a 50-mile range. The benefit of the more powerful Clearstream 2 is that I could place it anywhere in the room and pull in 70 channels, ranging from the major networks to PBS affiliates and local Spanish and Chinese language broadcasts.
HBO®, CINEMAX® and related channels and service marks are the property of Home Box Office, Inc. HBO GO® and MAX GO® are only accessible in the U.S. and certain U.S. territories where a high-speed broadband connection is available. Minimum 3G connection is required for viewing on mobile devices. Some restrictions may apply. All devices, titles and related trademarks are property of their respective owners. For specific technical requirements for devices, go to hbogo.com/devices or maxgo.com/#devices.
What you get: The sports-centric Fubo now offers about 75 channels for the base $45-a-month package, or more than 90 channels with the new $50-a-month Fubo Extra plan. With Fubo you get a mix of live and on-demand channels from broadcast networks (CBS, Fox, and NBC in most markets), cable channels (A&E, Bravo, FX, SyFy, USA), and sports networks (BeIn Sports, FS1, Golf Channel, NBA TV). You also now get Turner channels, plus sports programming such as the MLB on TBS and the NBA on TNT. Also in the mix: a robust roster of regional sports networks—including those from NBC, Fox, and Yes—for local-team action, including MLB and NHL games. The service comes with a free cloud DVR that lets you store 30 hours of shows, movies, and games.
Top-rated HDTV indoor antennas include the window-mountable Moho Leaf Metro ($17, above) or the tower-like Terk Omni ($60), both non-amplified antennas that plug directly into a TV tuner. Outdoors, you could try the roof-mountable Antennas Direct ClearStream 2Max or 4Max models, with 60- and 70-mile ranges, respectively. Other antenna makers include 1byOne and View TV.
This technology eliminates some of the problems associated with cable TV. For example, because satellite TV doesn’t depend on physical cable connections, satellite service is available to a much wider range of customers. This means that satellite TV is available in most parts of the US, basically to anyone with a satellite dish, so some of the people in remote areas who can’t get cable TV can get satellite TV without issue.
A Nielsen report showed that during the fourth quarter of 2011, the number of people paying for television had dropped by 15 million people (a rate of 1.5 percent), and the number of cable subscribers dropped by 2.9 million. A 2012 Deloitte report said 9% of television households dropped cable service during 2011 and an additional 11% planned to cancel their service. Sanford Bernstein estimates 400,000 dropped pay video services during the second quarter of 2012, up from 340,000 in 2011. One reason for the drop was college students' returning home for the summer, while the companies made up for the loss in other quarters. However, the number of new homes paying for television service is less than the total number of new homes. Another possible reason is services, such as time shifting and live recording capabilities, that were once exclusive to pay television services, are now being offered to cord cutters. Although the number of subscribers usually increases in the third quarter, in 2012 only 30,000 people added pay television service, according to a study by the International Strategy & Investment Group. Cable lost 340,000 subscribers (with Time Warner Cable accounting for 140,000 of that number) and satellite gained only 50,000; telephone companies added 320 subscribers. Throughout 2012, pay television added only 46,000 new subscribers, out of 974,000 new households overall, according to SNL Kagan. 84.7 percent of households subscribed, compared to 87.3 percent in early 2010.
Sling TV. Cheaper than PlayStation Vue, Sling TV features slim packages. Sometimes, they are too slim, so if you want the full deal with local channels, sports channels, etc., you are going to end up paying as much as PlayStation Vue. They also charge for their Cloud DVR service, which adds on to the monthly fee. Sling TV sill beats traditional cable but it is really best for those who are only interested in either their Orange or Blue bundles. If you want the whole package, you might be better off with a different provider.
The comments about Spectrum DVRs are not accurate based on our experience. We have Spectrum (previously Time Warner) and our DVR allows us to record 4 channels simultaneously (not 2) while watching a fifth channel. Also, our DVR can store substantially more than 21 hours of HD content as the review claims. I’m only guessing, but I’m sure we are able to store at least 100 hours of content. Overall, we’ve been satisfied with the Gold package. There are lots of channels including premium channels (HBO, Showtime, NFL Network, etc.) and there are decent mobile viewing capabilities. The Spectrum app allows you to watch all content and manage DVR settings when you’re connected to your home Wi-Fi. Substantially fewer channels are available on the Spectrum app when accessed via the internet; however, this is shortfall can largely be made up by downloading the apps for individual channels such as HBO Go, Show Anytime, Max Go, etc. On the negative side, Spectrum is expensive and the internet speeds never measure up to what they advertise. Instead of getting 100Mbps we get about 50 down/35 up. In fairness, most people I talk to all seem to have the same complaint about their service provider. And, of course, the customer service generally stinks.
Switching to streaming isn’t just for binging The Office on Netflix or watching yesterday’s episode of Bob’s Burgers on Hulu. You can sign up for services that allow you to stream select live TV channels, too. Some popular options are DIRECTV Now, PlayStation Vue, and Sling TV. Each allows you to choose between tiers of channels, but their base packages often offer many popular channels and for much cheaper than traditional cable. Curious about your options? We compare the best options in our TV streaming review.
As far as content goes, Spectrum is relatively expensive for what it offers with one key exception. The Silver TV package gives you access to premium channels like HBO, SHOWTIME, and Cinemax for a better entry price than any other competitor ($84.99 per month). So if you’re really into premium channels, Spectrum might be your go-to for the best bargain.
If you mean DirecTV Now, it’s a very solid service. I do like it a lot. And as stated above, it will be a big contender in 2017, especially if they start streaming in 4K as promised. I haven’t decided whether I’m sticking with PS Vue after my rate increases. I’m leaning toward switching to YouTube TV, but have another month to decide before my monthly rate increases.
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So why recommend an HTPC over a set-top box? Full keyboard/mouse lets you actually use the device as a computer, allowing you to type and navigate comfortably. You can play games on it (a PC has always been a better gaming device than consoles, for my money). You can view Hulu on it without paying for Hulu+ (which, in addition to unlocking certain content and providing HD streams, allows you to view Hulu content on mobile and set-top devices). Bringing full computer functionality to your big screen is a big win.
PlayStation Vue streams with 720p resolution. I use an Amazon Fire TV, but with an Ethernet connection to get a nice picture. Right now, if you look at PS Vue, Sling TV and DirecTV Now and fuboTV, they all stream at about the same quality. I can tell you that when I have family or friends over, they think the TV is showing cable. (I don’t have a 4K TV.) Check out a video of my TV streaming PS Vue on Amazon Fire TV: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RabL1GGhA6Y
There are drawbacks, most having to do with content licensing restrictions. Netflix still has a good number of films in its vast library that are unavailable for streaming. With Hulu Plus, TV shows are generally embargoed until at least the day after their original network air dates. And there can also be restrictions on which seasons of a show are available. Perhaps most frustrating, licensing terms for some shows stipulate that while they can be watched on a computer or mobile device for free on Hulu's website, they are prohibited from being viewed on the TV even with a paid Hulu Plus subscription. But remember, an antenna gets you free OTA network channels, so if you're able to work your schedule around the networks' (like in the old days) you can minimize this inconvenience.
Parker’s commentary suggests that the deal is good news for all parties, but she touches on something in passing that shouldn’t be overlooked: end-users are “growing fatigued with the dizzying number of choices they have for watching multiple video services over a myriad of devices.” At one point, switching from traditional television to streaming was a simple proposition that involved one or two online subscriptions, with Netflix and Hulu as the hubs for the majority of available content.
The major network channels are all broadcast in HD. And you'll be pleasantly surprised to learn that the quality of uncompressed HD video in an antenna feed is actually superior to what you've been getting with your cable box. Cable operators have to deliver hundreds of channels, plus broadband and phone service over a single connection to your home, so the TV signal is usually compressed to conserve bandwidth. Not so with your OTA feed. The difference is immediately noticeable. Outside of a Blu-ray movie, this is the best output I've ever seen on my TV. And did I mention the channels are free?
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Apple TV. This could be considered the luxury car version of streaming devices except for a couple of snags. Apple went all in with Apple TV when it placed some of its fastest processors in the unit and opened up an App Store for Apple TV. Apple has done a good job of opening up the system and adding great features like the TV app, which compiles much of your streaming library together in one spot.