Comparing Live TV Streaming Services

With rising cable prices, and an abundance of over-the-top internet cable TV services, it's never been easier to find alternatives to traditional cable TV. However, with rising competition, how can you figure out what the best option is?

It all boils down to what features and channels you would be okay with having or losing, as not all providers have the same feature and channel set. Where others have less channels, they have more perks, and vice versa. It also doesn't hurt to know what companies open what channels, for example, Disney owns ESPN, Viacom owns Comedy Central, and NBCUniversal or Comcast owns USA Network, so knowing the various media companies helps in finding out what channels will be available on each service. Here's a rundown of some of features of the top services you can sign up for today, and an extensive overview of Sling, as that is what I use.

  • Sling
    Full Disclosure: I've been an on-and-off user of Sling since January 2017. In looking through my emails to find out the first time I signed up for Sling, I found that I also signed up for more information about Sling before it released to the public in January 2015, so I may be a little biased. However, Sling is as a la carte as it gets when it comes to cable TV. This may end up being confusing to some who are used to having a few cable tiers to choose from.
    The base Sling package called Sling Orange is $20, which gets you 30 channels, only one simultaneous stream, and the Disney-owned channels. The next package up is called Sling Blue for $25, and that gets you 45 channels, three simultaneous streams, including the NBCUniversal and 21st Century Fox owned channels, so if you can't live without ESPN, you know what package to get. Also, if you know you can't live without the Disney Channel, or Disney Junior for the kids, Sling can get expensive fast if you also want the NBCUniversal and 21st Century Fox owned channels, especially when it comes to the regional sports channels that those companies also own. See what I mean when I said it gets confusing. Then you get to decide if you want to add channel packages to Sling, like comedy, sports, lifestyle, movies, foreign language, and premium movie channels. The best place to see the package details is on Sling's promo page. Cloud DVR can also be added for $5, however not all channels can pause and rewind live TV. You can record everything, especially while you're watching live TV to get that functionality, but it's unfortunate that not all channels allow this. Even worse, when channels allow you to pause and rewind live TV, some channels will block access to that feature during a commercial, even if you want to rewind to watch the commercial again, so there's some work that needs to be done there.
    As far as service goes, there has only been one outage I can report knowing about, otherwise it's very reliable. I have no issues with buffering or stuttering. One thing I have noticed is when the show ends and Sling recognizes the next show is on, sometimes there is a quick one second stutter, that I am assuming is the cloud DVR queuing up the next show. The interface is pretty intuitive, the central "My TV" tab shows favorite channels, DVR recordings, programs you can continue to watch, favorite programs set, and featured shows and movies. The rest of the tabs on top are self-explanatory, like guide, on now, sports, and others.
    As far as channels missing, CBS is notable, but the local channels like ABC, NBC, and Fox are only available in certain markets, so having an over-the-air TV antenna is a must if you like network shows.
    Sling is also the most distributed in terms of devices it supports. Anything can be thrown at it, like a Fire TV, Roku, Chromecast, you name it, it most likely supports it.
    Overall, Sling is a fantastic a la carte service, one that many cable subscribers have been clamoring for to give users a choice in what they watch. Depending on what you choose, Sling is a well-priced, well-executed service for people who like entertainment, news, and sports, and don't want to pay the cable company for it.
And now the runners-up for what I wanted in a platform:
  • Philo
    This one was tough. $16 for 37 channels, and if that's not enough for you, $20 for 46 channels, three simultaneous streams, with cloud DVR at no extra charge. AND all channels allow DVR to do it's full functionality. What went wrong? There's no sports, news, and channels from 21st Century Fox, The Walt Disney Company, NBCUniversal, CBS Corporation, and Time Warner are missing. That means no FX, which runs great shows, no USA for those marathons of SVU, no TBS for Conan, and no Freeform from Disney, which is a-okay with me. This one really tough to say no to because in using the 7-day trial, the service seems really robust and a fantastic value. You still get AMC, you still get Discovery, you still get the Viacom channels, but there's just too much missing. You can see what comes in the packages on Philo's Wikipedia page. It's a great price if you like entertainment programming, but with those missing channels, and that Philo only works on a Roku, iOS, Android, and PC, that was a deal-breaker. One that was painful to say no to.
  • DirecTV Now
    I will give credit where credit is due: AT&T did a fantastic job at combating this internet thing. AT&T owns DirecTV and they very well could've done absolutely nothing, and kept going where they were going, but they invested the resources into making DirecTV Now as great as it can be to compete really well in the market. Especially because Sling is owned by Dish Network, so why not compete. DirecTV Now pricing is also not bad, plus they also combine Disney owned channels with 21st Century Fox and NBCUniversal channels in the base package at $35, without needing to combine two different packages like Sling at $40, so a slight price advantage for DirecTV Now without the confusion. You only get two simultaneous streams, which isn't bad. The deal-breaker for me was the lack of DVR, otherwise this would've been a no-brainer. Pricing for the tiers in DirecTV Now is higher than other platforms, but DirecTV Now simply has more channels to choose from, including CBS depending on your market, which which is notable as CBS like to push people to their subscription service CBS All Access. If DirecTV Now gets a good cloud DVR, Sling will have to be set aside to allow DirecTV Now to be the best service.
  • PlayStation Vue
    Sony did a great job with PS Vue, cloud DVR included at no extra cost, five simultaneous streams, and NBCUniversal, 21st Century Fox, and Disney owned channels all under any package. It even has a good device support list, with Roku and Fire TV support. However, they lost me at no Viacom channels, and pricing is a bit high to get the channels you can get cheaper elsewhere. If you can live without Viacom channels, and won't be confused by the branding of PlayStation Vue, it's a highly rated service that just doesn't fit my programming needs. Seriously, why did Sony name this service after their gaming system, it confuses consumers that think they need a PlayStation to watch TV.
  • Hulu Live TV
    Hulu is owned by NBCUniversal, or Comcast, so technically you can consider this Comcast's hat thrown in the internet ring. Again, no Viacom owned channels, but you do get included cloud DVR, unfortunately, the cloud DVR is tiered with its features depending on your package. Higher packages get higher storage and ad-skipping, so beware. Also, very poor device support list, only allowing Xbox One, Apple TV, iOS, Android, and Chromecast. Oh well.
  • YouTube TV
    Again we see another company using a confusing branding platform. Maybe it's because Google has a fiber ISP with cable service, and they didn't want to confuse people thinking it's related to that service, I have no idea. What's also confusing is YouTube's "lean back" interface for interacting with YouTube from a computer is called http://youtube.com/tv, and entering a code to use YouTube on a streaming box is located at http://tv.youtube.com So, Google likes to confuse people I guess. Again, no Viacom channels, but device support is plenty, except for the Fire TV. You also get included cloud DVR, six simultaneous streams, and the inclusions of the locals including CBS, which again, notable. There are no additional packages you can get with YouTube TV, so at $40, what you see if what you get, unless you want to add a premium channel.
Competition is fantastic for the consumer, as companies respond in different ways with different feature sets to attract individual audiences. Read through the features and decide what works best for you, there is no right or wrong answer, just what you can live with.

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