The Best Live TV Streaming Services

A subscription with a cable company can feel like a one-sided relationship. You may not have many providers to choose from, leaving you with no recourse for annoyances like rate hikes. The best live streaming services give you another option: the same TV channels you love for a fraction of the cost.

The 3 Best Live TV Streaming Services

Best Channel Selection
DirecTV Now
DIRECTV
Starting at $40/mo.
Pros
Channel lineup
High-value base package
Cheap premium networks
Cons
Stingy DVR storage
Not compatible with gaming consoles

Why we chose it

Channel lineup

DIRECTV NOW has the best lineup of any streaming service, and it’s not particularly close. The $40 “Live a Little” package has all of TiVo’s top ten most wanted channels, 18 of the top 20, and 42 of the top 50. Of the eight channels that DIRECTV NOW was missing, two were premium channels HBO and Showtime (available for an extra $5 and $8, respectively), two weren’t available on any streaming services (PBS and Ion), and the others — Oxygen, Travel Channel, and Weather Channel — are available if you move up a tier. Of similarly priced options from competitors, Hulu and Playstation Vue tied for second with 14 of the top 20 channels and 30 of the top 50.

DIRECTV NOW has more channels that respondents in TiVo’s surveys said they want than any other live streaming service.

And if you’re worried that “most popular channels" won’t necessarily cover your interests, DIRECTV NOW also impressed us in terms of sheer quantity: Its “Live a Little” package includes 72 total channels.

High-value base package

If you're looking to level up, DIRECTV NOW does have three other package options, but generally, a provider's cheapest package (in this case, "Live a Little") is by far the best deal. As you upgrade, you pay more per channel, and the channels that get added are generally of lower quality. TV streaming companies do tend to withhold a few key channels from each level that are essential for very specific viewers, like the Big Ten and SEC networks for college sports fans. But for the most part, moving up a tier means paying for obscure channels like Comedy.tv and Justice Central, the self-described home for the “sassiest and savviest judges in all of court television.”

Most of the value for DIRECTV NOW comes in its cheapest package.

Cheap premium networks

DIRECTV NOW is also the cheapest option for anyone who wants to add premium channels, like HBO and Showtime. HBO is only $5 extra per month, and you’ll get access to its HBO Go service, which streams the entire HBO catalog on-demand (and costs $15 a month directly from HBO). Cinemax is also available for $5 a month, while Showtime and Starz both go for $8.

Cost to add on premium networks to each service

Hulu
Sling
Playstation Vue
DIRECTV NOW
YouTube TV
FuboTV
Philo
HBO
$5 (for first six months), then $15
$15
$15
$5
N/A
N/A
N/A
Showtime
$9
$10
$11
$8
$11
$11
N/A
Starz
N/A
$9
N/A
$8
$9
N/A
N/A
Cinemax
$10
$10
$15
$5
N/A
N/A
N/A

Points to consider

Stingy DVR storage

DIRECTV NOW does fall behind its competitors when it comes to its cloud DVR storage. It was very late to the game with this feature, only adding it in May 2018 when most streaming services had included it for years. It currently offers 20 hours for free, and will store content for 30 days. In comparison, Philo, PlayStation Vue, and YouTube TV all provide unlimited storage with their plans.

Not compatible with gaming consoles

Device compatibility isn’t as robust as we'd like, either: You won’t be able to use DIRECTV NOW with Playstation, Xbox, or Nintendo Switch. While it does work with most smart TVs and streaming devices, it’s still not ideal for anyone who likes to use their gaming console as their main entertainment hub.

Best for Sports Fans
PlayStation Vue
Sony
Starting at $45/mo.
Pros
National games
Regional sports networks
Extra perks
Cons
Missing popular channels

Why we chose it

National games

If you’re part of the 91% of sports fans who only keep a cable subscription to watch live games, Playstation Vue is a slightly better option than DIRECTV NOW. At $50, the Core package has every channel needed to stream national sports games, from the NFL, MLB, NBA, and PGA to NASCAR. It doesn't have every possible channel for NCAA football and basketball games — conference-specific channels like the PAC-12 and ACC networks are missing — but you won’t find these in most cable subscriptions, either.

PlayStation Vue carries 96% of the channels that show live sports.

For football fans, Playstation Vue carries all four of the local networks, plus ESPN and the NFL Network. You’ll never miss a game, and you’ll have tons of gridiron programming to keep you busy between Sundays. It's the same story with MLB and NBA games: All the channels that show nationally televised games — ESPN, ESPN 2, FS1, TBS, and TNT — plus league-specific channels NBA TV and MLB Network.

Regional sports networks

Of course, for most sports fans, following local teams is just as important as catching national games. Regional sports networks broadcast live games for leagues like the MLB, NBA, and NHL. Again, Playstation Vue had more than any other streaming service. It has deals with both Fox Sports and NBC Sports, which cover the vast majority of regional markets. You should definitely run your zip code through its website before signing up, but Playstation Vue had the right RSNs in all of our test runs.

Extra perks

PlayStation Vue also has some of the most generous supplemental features we saw from any live TV streaming service. We loved how it comes with unlimited cloud DVR storage. Running late for the big game? You can schedule a recording from your phone so you don’t miss a minute of action. You can also stream on five devices at a time — two more than any other streaming service.

Points to consider

Missing popular channels

We think PlayStation Vue is the best option for sports fans, but it does have some noticeable gaps for anyone who wants a more well-rounded TV streaming experience. Out of the top 25 most sought after channels in TiVo’s survey, PlayStation Vue is missing History, A&E, Comedy Central, Lifetime, and The Weather Channel from all of its packages.

Best Skinny Bundle
Philo
Philo
Starting at $16/mo.
Pros
Great value
Best skinny bundle lineup
Extra perks
Cons
No local or sports channels
No premium networks

Why we chose it

Great value

If you’re looking to drastically reduce your cable bill, Philo is the best service for streaming on a budget. Its 37 channel package is only $16 a month (the cheapest option we found), and we were impressed with its high-quality programming. Its selection held up against much bigger names, with cable classics like the Discovery Channel, History Channel, A&E, AMC, and Food Network all included — a lineup that only DIRECTV NOW could match.

Best skinny bundle lineup

The other major player in the “skinny bundle” corner is Sling. At $20, Sling Orange offers 31 channels compared to Philo’s 37 for $16. Even without the small price difference, we found Philo’s channel selection a lot stronger. Both providers share a lot of overlap, but Philo separates itself with favorites like Discovery Channel, Animal Planet, TLC, Nickelodeon, MTV, and TV Land.

Extra perks

Philo also provided some really nice bonus features for such a cheap price. It comes with free unlimited DVR storage, although it will only store each program for 30 days. You can also stream on three devices at one time (the second highest number we saw after Playstation Vue’s five).

Points to consider

No local or sports channels

Philo is dirt cheap for a reason: It doesn’t include a lot of the channels that keep people tethered to live TV. You won’t get any of the big four networks (ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC ), or any channels that broadcast live sports. It would be impossible to keep prices so low if they did — ESPN charges $7.21 per subscriber, by far the most of any network, and nearly half of Philo’s entire monthly fee.

No premium networks

Unfortunately, Philo doesn’t have any deals with premium channels. If you want HBO or Showtime you’ll have to purchase them directly, which costs nearly as much as Philo’s entire service.

Guide to Live TV Streaming

How to stream live TV

Check your zip code

While ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC are the most sought after channels, each provider’s offerings will vary by location. ABC could be available to live stream in San Diego but available only on-demand in Omaha, or not at all in San Antonio. The same goes for regional sports networks. If these channels are important to you, we recommend checking your zip code on each provider’s website before signing up. We ran zip codes for Seattle, Cleveland, New York, Los Angeles, and Boston and found that DIRECTV NOW, Hulu with Live TV, Playstation Vue, and YouTube TV all had the big four networks in these regions, while our other finalists were more hit or miss.

Connect your TV

Most TVs sold in the past few years can connect to the internet and download apps for streaming, and this is by far the most popular option for streaming content. TiVo’s survey found that 26.8% of respondents use their smart TV for this purpose. Coming in second are gaming consoles — specifically Xbox and PlayStation — at 21.9%.

If you don’t already own one of these streaming-ready pieces of equipment, a cheaper option is to invest in a streaming device like a Fire TV or Roku. These devices usually cost around $50, plug into your TV’s HDMI port, and connect to your home’s WiFi or Ethernet to provide access to streaming apps. In our review of the best TV streaming devices, we found the Amazon Fire TV to be the best in class.

Ethernet is better for streaming than WiFi

If waiting for videos to buffer is the bane of your existence, consider an Ethernet connection. Although WiFi has gotten significantly faster over the years, Ethernet is still the more consistent option for streaming TV. Unfortunately, your TV will have to be relatively close to your wireless router for this to work, but the result is a much more reliable connection.

Live TV Streaming FAQ

What internet speed do I need to stream live TV?

According to the FCC, you’ll need at least 5-8 Mbps download speeds to stream in HD, and 25 Mbps for 4K Ultra HD. And that number will need to be higher for every additional device you’re using at the same time. If you’re not sure how fast your internet is, Ookla’s Speedtest.net is a great way to measure your connection.

Can I stream on an old TV?

If your TV is more than ten years old, you might find that it doesn’t have an HDMI port. This leaves you with three options: Buy a new TV, Buy a Roku Express+, or invest in an HDMI to AVI converter. If you're partial to your current TV set, the Roku Express+ costs $35, and is the only streaming device on the market that works with the yellow, red and white composite jacks that you’ll find on older TVs. (Although we weren't impressed with Roku streaming devices when we tested them.)

The other option for old TVs is to purchase a converter. The New York Times recommends a model from Cirago that goes for $70, but there are several cheaper models on Amazon for around $20. This option allows you to use any streaming device rather than being stuck with Roku. Just be aware there have been some complaints about some older TV models and converters not working well together.

Can I live stream NFL games?

The NFL airs its Sunday games on CBS, Fox, and NBC, plus Monday Night Football on ESPN and a handful of Thursday night games on the NFL Network. If your live streaming service carries these channels, you’ll be able to watch the games live. Unfortunately, you’ll only get the games that would normally air in your market. If you’re a Browns fan living in Seattle, for example, the only way you’ll be able to catch Cleveland games is through NFL Sunday Ticket — available exclusively through DIRECTV for $239.96 for the entire season.

The Best Live Streaming Service: Summed Up

DIRECTV NOW
Playstation Vue
Philo
Best Channel Selection
Best for Sports Fans
Best Skinny Bundle
Local networks
ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC
ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC
None
Regional sports networks
Cloud DVR storage
20 hours free (stores for 30 days)
Unlimited (stores for 28 days)
Unlimited (stores for 30 days)
Simultaneous streams
Two
Three for $5/mo.
Five
Three
View plans
View plans
View plans

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