It’s officially September, which means it’s also officially TV premiere season. And for many of us considering cutting the cord, that raises the question of whether to ditch cable and stream live TV. Is it worth it? Let’s take a look and find out.
An important note: Call and confirm what channels are available in your area before you commit to any service. Channel rights and who gets to stream them are a tangled knot, and some networks, even your local broadcasters, may be tied up in them. So know that first, before you sign on.
Hulu makes a strong bid to be your streaming live TV provider, with a price of $40 a month for 50 channels, two separate streams, access to the company’s shockingly deep streaming library, and a 50 hour cloud DVR. That said, you’ll still get ads when you stream shows from their library, which isn’t a dealbreaker but considering what you pay, it’d be nice to skip them. Also, your selection of devices beyond your phone is a bit limited; right now it’s just the Xbox One, Roku, Chromecast, and Apple TV to stream to your tube, although more devices are on the way. The streaming, however, works perfectly, even if the interface could be more user-friendly, and if you’re a TV junkie, it’s hard to beat that ever-growing library.
Sling takes a slightly different approach, dividing up your cable package into cheaper tiers and add-ons. For $20, you can get Sling Orange, which is equivalent to a basic cable skinny package with channels like AMC, ESPN, and the like. The $25 Sling Blue gets you more channels, including regional channels, but you lose the Disney networks like ESPN and Freeform. Sling Orange + Blue gets you both. Or you can add channels with $5 add-on packs. If all this seems confusing, that’s because it is; Sling doesn’t make it easy to figure out what you get for your money.
The good news? Once you hash out the labyrinthine structure, the app streams well, it’s on almost every system, and the interface is easy,
For $35, YouTube TV has the technical details down: Six accounts, excellent streaming, and unlimited DVR recording undeniably make it ideal for roommates sharing accounts. The channel list isn’t as comprehensive as some services, but it hits all the major bases. The problem, though, is the devices you can stream on. YouTube TV isn’t supported by any of the over-the-top boxes just yet, except of course for the Chromecast. It’s especially baffling because YouTube’s main app is everywhere. If you’re watching TV primarily on your phone, your laptop, and your Chromecast, YouTube TV is a good solution, but if you’re invested in other boxes, it’s probably not worth it.
PlayStation Vue has a problem right out of the gate: Figuring out what you get for what you pay is a complicated mess of a question. It’s also not the best interface; it was designed for PlayStation fans first, everyone else second, and that can show in the interface and its design. The pricing structure is no less confusing. The “Access” package has 50 channels or so for $40 a month, one of the better deals for a basic package, but there’s also three other tiers adding more channels, plus add-ons that drive up the cost even further, and PlayStation Plus subscribers get discounts on some add-ons, making all of this rather more complicated than it needs to be. The PS3 and PS4 are sturdy streaming boxes, though, so if you already have one it may be worth starting here.
DirecTV Now undeniably has the best deal when it comes to channels. For $35 a month, you get 60 channels, and can add networks like HBO and Cinemax for $5 a month extra. That makes it a better deal than many “skinny bundle” packages you find from cable networks. That said, the iOS and Android apps are still in beta, and there’s no Xbox One support yet, and that “work in progress” nature is reflected in the sometimes iffy streams during high-traffic times. So you should check carefully your box is compatible before you sign up. Also keep in mind there are outside factors in play here; this might become less of a good deal depending on regulatory decisions.
What do you use to stream live TV? Let us know in the comments!