Aside from sports-free options Philo and AT&T Watch TV (see below), Sling is the cheapest multi-channel live TV streaming service out there. That's because it carries few local stations (ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC). It has two base packages, Orange and Blue. Orange doesn't offer any locals, while Blue has Fox and NBC but only in a handful of cities. That's why Sling makes a good complement to OTA antenna TV. Sling's interface isn't much to look at, but it offers all of the options you need without cluttering the screen. The only real letdown is its arcane live pause and DVR exceptions (you can't record Disney-owned channels like ABC, for example). Its options are myriad, so check out Sling TV: Everything you need to know for all the details.
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If you aren’t close enough to the TV towers to use an indoor antenna you may need an outdoor solution. Furthermore, today’s digital TV signals require a TV with a digital tuner. If your TV was made before 2007, it may not have one. For solutions to these issues, check out my post How To Get Local Channels Without Cable. I also expand on this a bit in the TV Antenna section later in this guide.
Satellite providers like DISH and DIRECTV host service in all 50 states. The only clear differentiator between satellite and cable TV, is that satellite requires a dish on your roof. Unlike the slow speeds that come with satellite internet service, there are no restrictions on your television service. In fact, both DISH and DIRECTV offer a vast range of channels and exclusive sports packages like NFL Fantasy Zone and MLB Network Strike Zone.
Streaming TV service Sling offers an impressive list of channels without cable on your TV, SlingBox, Apple TV, Roku, Chromecast, Xbox One, Amazon Fire TV, Android TV, laptop, phone, or other internet connected device through Sling Television. The $40 per month Orange + Blue plan includes ESNP and NFL Network, along with many other channels such as Fox, Fox Sports, NBC, NBC SN, and ESPN2.
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.
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.
The different types of television available to you will vary by location. For the most part, cable TV can be delivered through 3 different types of connections: wired, satellite, or online streaming. A wired cable connection delivers all of the shows that you love through copper and fiber-optic cables that are strung along telephone poles or buried underground. The second option for cable TV delivery is a satellite connection. This is a great choice for rural residents, as telephone lines and underground cables are limited in remote locations. Satellite TV is also a great option in highly populated areas, thanks to its widespread availability, diverse channel offerings, and competitive pricing. The last option for watching cable TV is through online streaming. TV streaming has become popular due to the rise of streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, and HBO Now. Many of the nation's top cable TV providers now offer streaming services in their packages, so you can get all of the shows that you want. Whatever it is that you need, we're here to make sure you find the best TV provider and plan that fits your budget and preferences.
YouTube TV and Sling TV give consumers the option to have at least some live TV without paying for a full cable package. That's almost certainly something that's going to increase as consumers look for ways to cut their bills, so while I haven't made the switch, it's easy to see the appeal. Furthermore, it's also a valuable market to help DISH offset subscriber losses, while offering Alphabet yet another way it can grow.
Roku ($29.99 - $99.99): One of the pioneers in the concept of cheaply and simply turning any TV into a streaming portal, Roku offers a wide range of products, from simple sticks to bigger (yet still compact) boxes. Because it’s been around so long, Roku has agreements with pretty much every major and minor streaming video service, and it is even integrated into some smart TV models. The company has also been giving its customers more power to control the sound of what they’re watching, with features like “night mode” (which mutes explosions and amplifies whispers) and “private listening” (which allows viewers to watch a show or movie on their TVs but listen to it through headphones).
Amazon Prime is a membership program that gives you access and benefits to Amazon's full list of services and products, such as free shipping, access to their Kindle and Prime Music library, as well as other Amazon-specific deals and services. Prime Video on the other hand, only grants access to their video library. Subscribing to Amazon Prime automatically includes Prime Video as part of the subscription.
Given that the average cost of TV service in the United States is around $100 per month, cutting the cord starts to look like a pretty attractive option. Even if you’re just replacing a cable bundle with a live TV streaming service such as YouTube TV or PlayStation Vue, you could still potentially chop your TV bill in half. Unlike traditional cable or satellite TV, these services achieve lower prices by cutting out certain channels and not making customers rent expensive set-top boxes. They also subsist on slimmer or nonexistent profit margins while trying to build a larger audience for targeted ads. Because these services have lots of competition—both from other live TV providers and from on-demand services such as Netflix—the pressure’s on to keep prices low.
Google was comparatively late to the game, but YouTube TV is now our favorite live TV streaming service in this price range. The main reason is because it's the cheapest of the four to offer local channels, and its local channel coverage includes all four locals in most areas of the country. It also has the best DVR of the bunch, including unlimited storage, with one catch: If an episode you've recorded appears in YouTube TV's VOD library, it gets replaced by the on-demand version -- so you lose the ability to fast-forward through commercials. Its interface is no-nonsense, even drab, and yet it offers most of the features a cable service can give you. And unlike Sling and others, it's dead simple: one package, one price, done.