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.
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.
Some of AT&T U-verse’s channels may not be what you expect. With almost 80 music channels and a smattering of lesser-viewed channels, like Hot Buy and Jewelry Television, the listed number of channels feels a little overhyped. But this doesn’t mean you can’t get your favorites: Carefully compare packages to ensure you’re getting the programming you and your family want.
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In an effort to entice cord cutters and cord nevers, some cable television providers have begun offering Internet-only streaming services. Cablevision began to offer "Cord Cutter" packages that include a free digital antenna and access to its Optimum WiFi network, as well as the option to add HBO Now to the service, making it the first ever cable provider to do so. In 2015, Comcast and Time Warner Cable (TWC) began to trial television services delivered via their managed internet infrastructures; Comcast's "Stream" service offered access to broadcast networks, HBO, Xfinity StreamPix, and their respective TV Everywhere services. Outside of TVE apps, the service can only be accessed via Comcast home internet on supported devices. In October 2015, TWC began to trial a service under which subscribers are given a Roku 3 digital media player to access their service via the supplied TWC app, rather than a traditional set-top box. A TWC spokesperson emphasized that this offering would provide "the same TV and same packages delivered to the home today", but delivered over TWC-managed internet rather than a cable line. This service has since been transferred to the current Spectrum service after Time Warner Cable's merger with Charter, with an equivalent Apple TV app forthcoming.
This does not mean, however, that you can never watch ESPN again after you cancel cable. Nearly every major media brand is moving toward offering its own standalone subscription service. Until then, though, if it’s important to you to maintain some continuity with your current cable-viewing habits, proceed to the next section for your best options.
Top shows include: Empire, The Real World, Seinfeld, Inside Amy Schumer, The Shield, The Twilight Zone, Daria, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Cheers, The Mindy Project, Survivor, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Battlestar Gallactica, Top Chef, Masters of Sex, The Daily Show, Weeds, The Good Wife, Ally McBeal, The Affair, How to Get Away with Murder, and more.
In terms of subscriptions, Acorn is an absolute must for anyone who wants to spend hours every day touring around quaint villages and gritty British city streets, enjoying gentle comedy and hard-hitting crime stories alike. But Netflix is also well-stocked with great BBC, ITV and Channel 4 productions, and Sundance Now has been expanding its overseas catalog. Get those three and stay diligent with your PBS app, which makes a lot of its “Masterpiece” productions available for free for a limited time after they air. You could also try BritBox, a streaming service from the BBC and ITV.
Currently, you can try DIRECTV NOW free for 7 days. I find the best option to be their “Live a Little” package. It is priced at $40 per month and contains Fox News, CNN, Nickelodeon, MSNBC, Hallmark Channel, ESPN, Disney, HGTV, USA, ID, TNT, Food, TBS, History, Discovery, Disney Jr, TV Land, Nick Jr, AMC, FX, FXX, Bravo, Lifetime, A&E, Animal Planet, BBC America, Bloomberg, BET, Cartoon Network, CMT, CNBC, Comedy Central, Disney XD, E!, ESPN2, Fox Business, FS1, Galavision, HLN, MTV, MTV2, Paramount Network, Syfy, TCM, TLC, Univision, VH1, and more
The reality, however, is that cord cutting does not make sense for everyone. There are some individuals -- and even more families -- that still benefit from the traditional cable package. And while it seems expensive compared to paying for a few popular streaming services, it's a question of value and how much you actually use (or don't use) what you pay for.
K.C. That’s a great way to save money, especially if you aren’t much of a TV watcher. I don’t personally watch much TV, but the shows my wife and I watch tend to be on cable – often the Travel Channel, Food Network, Discover, History, ESPN, and The Disney Channel for our little one. That said, I don’t think we would be heartbroken to cut the cord and go without – just as long as I can keep my fast internet connection! 😉
Some providers have both TV and internet available to bundle. Other providers sell TV only or internet only. Companies that offer only one service often partner with TV-only or internet-only counterparts to provide a complete service. For example, satellite TV can be paired with DSL or fiber internet to save you time and money. Using our handy comparison tool, you can look at all TV-only, internet-only, and TV-and-internet options available in your area.
Do you have a bundle? If you are currently bundling your internet with your cable — and possibly your cellular plan, you may have a bigger complication. The major communications companies like AT&T have spent the past several years building and marketing systems designed to keep their customers “in the family” by packaging a variety of necessary services and then sending one bill. Before you embark on this cord-cutting adventure, be sure to do some comparison-shopping in your area to find the right I.S.P. for you that accounts for your entire internet, phone and cable bundle.
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.
DIRECTV also offers more full-time high-definition (HD) channels than anyone, and it has the ability to record up to 200 hours of HD video content. So whether you’re tuning in to see Tom Brady’s piercing baby-blue eyes or just want to marvel at the realistic zombie makeup on The Walking Dead, you can expect a crystal clear picture for both live TV and recorded shows off your Genie DVR.
You will see a map of your area. Wait a few seconds for the colored list of stations to appear on the left. You should be able to pick up the green and yellow channels with a good indoor flat antenna. The ones in orange will probably require an outdoor antenna. The list is not exact, but will give you a ballpark idea of the number of channels you should be able to get.
Dependability and other quality issues related to the streaming Internet TV services are all over the board. Internet speed, type of Internet connection (wired vs. wireless), and platform (game console vs. computer vs. other devices) are among the things to consider. I chose PlayStation Vue because it has the widest choice of channels at a price I couldn't pass up. Its feature set is considered by many to be superior to the alternatives. Buffering of streaming content is more noticeable on certain platforms, with Roku often cited as one of the worst. When considering how much you'll save over traditional cable/satellite, you need to factor in the cost of Internet service. That wasn't an issue for me. As a heavy computer user, I would have Internet access to pay for anyway, regardless of my TV usage. If you have a family with several members using your Internet connection all at the same time, streaming TV service performance will take a hit, as it requires a fair amount of horsepower. If more than one person in the home is watching PS Vue at the same time, they each need to be on a different platform, with some exceptions. Sony's PS Vue website explains those limitations in more detail.
Other important factors include cloud DVR and the interface itself. Yes, most of the services above allow you to record and play back shows, just like a traditional cable or satellite DVR, but they often come with restrictions. Some services have a traditional, cable-box-like menu system, while some are more experimental (read: they have a steep learning curve).