Tip: You might hear the term 'analog' and 'digital/HDTV' antennas, although there isn't any real difference between them. All antennas operate the same way - however, antennas that are designed to capture both UHF and VHF signals are generally bigger. When choosing an antenna, make sure that it can receive both UHF and VHF signals to ensure you can receive all the channels available.
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).
Although HBO and Showtime are perhaps better-known these days for original programming, they still show recent theatrical releases, and they make them available through their subscription services. Starz is also excellent for anyone seeking current blockbusters. Consider tacking on a subscription to one, two or all three of these to an Amazon Prime Video account. Video-on-demand rentals are also an option, facilitated by multiple retailers. And if you’re interested in owning digital copies of your movies, the service Movies Anywhere is a helpful way to manage and view your library.
For the technically competent, I’d recommend setting up a Home Theater PC. A $70 AMD A6-5400K should handle all of your HTPC needs. If you’d like to game as well, consider a more expensive A8 or A10. Of course, you need to couple this with a case, PSU, motherboard, RAM, HDD, wireless 802.11n adapter, wireless keyboard/mouse, and OS. Most people who go this route aren’t starting from scratch, but if you are, it’s a significantly more expensive option than a set top box.
Even so, no service we've reviewed is incomplete enough to discourage you from using it outright. If a service sounds like it might be a good fit for you, your best bet is to investigate which channels that service offers and see if it falls within your price range. Most of these services give you anywhere from a week to a month to evaluate them before charging you, and none of them require a contract. At worst, you'll be stuck with a service you don't like for a month.
Perhaps the biggest selling point for DIRECTV NOW is that you get a DIRECTV experience without the contract or setup fees. There’s no need to install a satellite dish, so you don’t have to pay for that, and though the streaming service isn’t quite as robust as its satellite counterpart, you don’t have to sign a contract. It really makes it easier to stomach some of the higher-priced packages from DIRECTV NOW because, guess what? You can cancel anytime.
Channel lineup. TV service providers typically sell you a bundle of channels for a monthly fee. What you pay depends on what you include in your package. Naturally, more channels mean higher fees. Getting all the popular channels in one package will be costly, so if you don't have the budget for it, work around the channels that are essential for you.
Here's how the pay-TV business works: Traditional distributors such as Comcast (which owns CNBC parent company NBCUniversal), Charter, Altice and Cox — the largest U.S. cable TV distributors — pay a per-subscriber rate for the right to broadcast a channel. Little-watched networks don't cost much — say, 5 cents per month per subscriber. The popular broadcast networks and cable stations, such as ESPN and Fox News, cost more.
I've tried all the formentioned services except Hulu Live so far. Found the $35 DTVN package to be the perfect channel line up (especially that $5 HBO!) and user interface for me. However the technical issues cause me to long for something better. I had such high hopes for YouTube TV but the limited channel and device selection is a deal breaker. I'll be trying Hulu Live very soon (when my YouTube TV trial is over). This process of finding the best deal on high speed internet and the best streaming service is hard work. I also have a couple of Mohu antennas as my security net. Having choices is great!
Streaming live TV services are still in their infancy, and the industry is still in flux. Since launch every service has increased prices by $5 a month, channel selections and cities with local channel access are changing all the time, and reports persist about some services losing money. While streaming is undoubtedly the future, it will be some time before both prices and the services offered settle in.
Some people make the assumption that cable or satellite TV limits you to watching live programming from your television set at home. However, most of the nation's largest TV providers offer SO much more than that. Seriously, the perks are endless. Let's say you're Drew. Drew watches all sorts of different networks: sports, reality TV, sitcoms, HBO, you name it. He also hates dealing with commercials. Every Friday Drew has a movie night with friends and family, so he wants lots of on demand options. He travels often and likes to watch TV on his tablet in the hotel room while he's away. Sometimes he misses his favorite premieres while he's on the road. So what can a TV package do for Drew?
If there's one particular movie or show you want to watch, your best bet is to look it up with JustWatch: a website that trawls more than 20 streaming, à la carte and on-demand services to show you where your content is available. If there's a series you want to watch, for example, looking it up on JustWatch and subscribing to that service for just a few months could save you a lot of money.
Cable TV uses coaxial cables to transmit programming into your home. Because its infrastructure is underground, cable TV is generally less prone to service interruptions. Satellite TV delivers programming using antennas that receive signals from satellites orbiting in space. Satellite TV covers more locations than any other TV type and is available at most homes in the country.
Sony's cable-replacement service began life as a PlayStation exclusive, but now you can find PlayStation Vue just about anywhere. Viewers can choose from among four packages, ranging in price from $45 per month to $80 per month (although these prices can vary by location). Each plan will land you staples such as Cartoon Network, CNN, Discovery, Disney Channel, FX, Syfy, TBS and a variety of broadcast networks, depending on where you live. You can also record hundreds of programs and hang onto them for 28 days at a time. What really puts PS Vue at the top of the list is the service's interface, which is sleek, fast and instantly comprehensible. The service's DVR feature is also simple and robust.
If sports is your primary TV watching concern, FuboTV is a name you’ll want to remember. With FuboTV, you’ll get 90+ live entertainment and sports channels starting at $44.99 a month with access to their niche sports selection and sports local programming. If you choose this cable alternative, you’ll get free Cloud DVR and three-day replay for nearly any game or recently aired movie. Plus, for an additional $6 a month, you can add Family Share so three people can watch different channels at the same time. There are tons of other add-ons available, but these are FuboTV’s most basic packages:
DISH TV has one of the highest customer satisfaction ratings of any TV provider. It scored a perfect 5/5 Power Circle Rating from J.D. Power and this year stole the top spot from DIRECTV. DISH TV also ranks in the top three for customer satisfaction on the 2018 ACSI Telecommunications Report. Customers like DISH TV for its nationwide availability, two-year price guarantee and good channel variety.
One of the more popular options for watching streamed TV shows leaves out the media streaming software and network media device altogether, and has you just connecting your desktop or laptop directly to your HDTV. With this option you all you need is a TV and a desktop or laptop with a video output. Our laptop has a HDMI output, so it works well to connect it to our HDTV if we want.
Then there's the multistream issue. If you want to watch more than one program at the same time -- for example, on your living room TV and on a bedroom TV, or the main TV and a tablet -- you'll want to make sure the service you're watching has enough simultaneous streams. Some of the least expensive services only allow one stream at a time, and if you try to watch a second, it's blocked.