We picked DIRECTV NOW as the live TV streaming service that’s best for most people, especially for those who want the look and feel of a big cable provider without the one- or two-year contracts (and all those nasty fees).
Our other picks are tailored for value shoppers (Sling TV), life-long learners and enthusiasts (YouTube TV), binge-watchers (Hulu with Live TV), and those who want the best user experience (PlayStation Vue).
Streaming services prices, plans, and features
|Features||DIRECTV NOW||Sling TV||Hulu with Live TV||YouTube TV||PlayStation Vue|
|Best for||Best for most||Best Value||Best for TV binge-watchers||Best DVR||Best streaming quality|
|DVR price||Included||$5/mo.||Included or $14.99/mo.||Included||Included|
|DVR hours||20 hrs.||50 hrs.||50 hrs. or 200 hrs.||Unlimited (9 mos.)||Unlimited (28 days)|
|Max streams available*||3||4||2 or Unlimited**||3||5|
|Learn more||View plans||View plans||View plans||View plans||View plans|
*At premium level of service
**Requires $14.99 per month upgrade
DIRECTV NOW doesn’t make you upgrade to get the majority of popular channels, making it an easy pick for people switching from cable or satellite TV service. While Sling TV’s pricing beats out the other providers, you gotta make sure that price includes the channels you want.
YouTube TV stands out with its great price per channel, meaning that $40 goes a long way. Hulu’s pricing is very reasonable—at least until you start adding in the monthly DVR or unlimited streams pricing.
And PlayStation Vue may be expensive, but it does have great streaming quality, DVR storage, and the most simultaneous streams.
DIRECTV NOW—Best overall
The closest you can get to traditional TV without the long-term commitment
DIRECTV NOW may help you transition to streaming TV better than other services. It’s a really good bang for the buck—not only in terms of high channel counts, but channels we actually care about like ESPN, HGTV, and AMC.
Compared to Sling TV, Philo, and fuboTV, DIRECTV NOW’s higher channel count and local channel inclusions are enough to warrant the price. Plus, you don’t have to pay extra for DVR use (although that could use some improvement).
DIRECTV NOW packages
|Live a Little||$40/mo.||60+||View plans|
|Just Right||$55/mo.||80+||View plans|
|Go Big||$65/mo.||100+||View plans|
|Gotta Have It||$75/mo.||120+||View plans|
*Data effective 9/20/18
Although they sound like the names of ice cream sizes rather than TV packages, DIRECTV NOW’s plans make sense by adding about 20 more channels for every $10–$15 you spend. You pay more, you get more—makes sense.
At $40 per month, DIRECTV NOW has a higher channel count than either Sling or PlayStation Vue. It’s not all about the numbers though, and DIRECTV NOW knows that. The service gives you the goods even in its most basic packages. We’d recommend the Just Right package so you can scoop up IFC and BBC World News too.
Premium channels priced better than most
For fans of Westworld and Game of Thrones, you have to pay only $5 per month for HBO, which is a killer deal considering just paying for HBO NOW costs $15 per month.
Same goes for SHOWTIME—only $8 a month to watch politicians get pranked by Sacha Baron Cohen on Who Is America? Count us in. CINEMAX and STARZ are also cheaper with DIRECTV NOW compared to other streaming services ($5 and $8 per month, respectively).
DIRECTV NOW’s DVR isn’t exactly impressive
You get 20 hours of DVR storage included with your DIRECTV NOW subscription, and you cannot upgrade it. This is the lowest amount of storage for DVR out of any streaming service we reviewed.
For some people, this may be plenty, but if you want to watch Top Gear all day while you clean, relax with reruns of Seinfeld, and then invite some friends over to binge-watch a whole season of Vikings, then you may want to look elsewhere.
Get DIRECTV NOW if you want…
1. High channel counts
2. A wide variety of news, sports, and entertainment channels
3. The feeling of a traditional TV provider without long-term contracts
4. Up to three streams (Gotta Have It package only—all other packages have two)
Sling TV—Best value
Balance inexpensive packages with customized add-ons to get the best bang for your buck.
Sling TV is a balance between cheap and customizable. You’ll get channels like ESPN, HGTV, CNN, and Food Network for a pretty cheap price. And even with an add-on pack or two (HBO, anyone?), you’re still getting away for cheaper than most cable TV packages, especially when you take equipment and other fees into account.
Sling might be the best deal out there, especially if you’re not picky about missing certain channels, like Fox News. The only other thing we’d caution you about is you get only one stream per account with the Orange package. The Blue and Orange + Blue packages give you three and four streams, respectively.
Sling TV packages
Sling TV packages and pricing
|Sling Orange||$25/mo.||30||View plan|
|Sling Blue||$25/mo.||45||View plan|
|Sling Orange + Blue||$40/mo.||50+||View plan|
*Data effective 9/20/18
While it’s unclear what “Orange” and “Blue” could possibly mean, we recognize that by going with either one, you may have to trade a favorite channel or two. We’d prefer something more organized by categories like “Entertainment” or “Sports,” but both packages have a little bit of everything, for better or worse.
If we had to get Sling, we’d probably get the Sling Orange + Blue package to cover our bases and then add the $5 per month for DVR use. However, at that price, you’re paying as much as other streaming providers like DIRECTV NOW, but getting fewer channels and a lower streaming quality.
Sling’s price can grow pretty high if you’re not careful with choosing your add-on packages, so show some self-restraint.
Mixed feelings for mixed packages
We have mixed feelings about Sling TV’s packages, to the point where we compared both Orange and Blue in another article.
The overlap of what you do and don’t get is strange. You have to get the combination Orange + Blue package to get a really broad overview of channels. And at $40 per month, DIRECTV NOW and YouTube TV have more channels. However, for a basic package, Sling is one of the cheapest live TV streaming options out there (along with Philo, which we’ll talk about later).
No love for the locals
Out of all of our services, Sling TV has the worst local channel offering. That means no CBS (unless you add CBS All Access) and limited viewing of ABC, FOX, and NBC. You can always get an antenna, but if you don’t want to fuss between input menus, you’ll probably want to look to YouTube TV or Hulu with Live TV.
Get Sling TV if you want…
Hulu with Live TV—best for binge watchers
Look no further to get your fix of the latest and greatest shows, but you’ll have to pay more to see them commercial-free.
Hulu is a binge-watcher’s best friend, especially if you want to keep up with current shows instead of re-runs from yesteryear. Hulu gets most new shows added as on-demand content either right after they air or the next day, which is better than the month or year wait times from other streaming services.
Hulu has some of the best on-demand content out there, especially when you consider its original content like The Handmaid’s Tale.
Hulu with Live TV packages
|Hulu Limited Commercials with Live TV||$39.99/mo.||60||View plan|
|Hulu with Live TV, Commercial Free||$43.99/mo.||60||View plan|
*Data effective 9/20/18
There’s only one package, but you can still rack up your monthly price with add-ons from Hulu.
You won’t gain any additional channels for upgrading your Hulu with Live TV plan, but you won’t have to watch commercials—which, for some of us, is one of the purest joys that comes with Live TV streaming and on-demand content.
Loads of locals and on-demand content
Out of all the services we reviewed, Hulu with Live TV had the most local stations available. That means catching the most popular shows on ABC, CBS, NBC, and FOX without the need for an antenna.
You’ll also get a big library of on-demand content, which means you can watch more shows on your own schedule. Even if you mostly watch live TV, wouldn’t it be nice to have the option to pull up your favorite shows?
Good perks, but they’ll add to your bill
To make Hulu with Live TV as great as it can be, you’ll have to add on a lot to your monthly bill. For a commercial-free experience, add an extra $3 per month (no big deal for most of us).
However, for DVR use, you’re looking to add an extra $15 per month—which is just as much as cable, but the most expensive DVR option among streaming services. And if you want more than three simultaneous streams, you’ll have to dish out another $15 per month for unlimited streams.
Get Hulu with Live TV if you want…
YouTube TV—Best DVR
YouTube TV has a great DVR. Oh, and its got a solid selection of local channels too.
YouTube TV gives you a great selection of channels, perhaps the best DVR experience, and all the local channels.
Not only that, but YouTube also integrates its huge user-uploaded library—making it perfect for hobbyists, enthusiasts, and other lifelong learners to gain insight from the comfort of their couches.
The major caveat with YouTube TV is that it might not be available in your area. It’s still rolling out, but it has most major metro areas covered.
You also get the content from YouTube Red included with your subscription. However, you don’t get the commercial-free benefit, which is disappointing because that’s our favorite YouTube Red feature. We don’t like ads getting in the way of our Adventure Time.
YouTube TV packages
|YouTube TV||$40/mo.||73||View plan|
*Data effective 9/20/18.
YouTube makes it simple with just one package—which is great if it has what you need, but kind of a bummer if you want more sports or niche interest channels.
YouTube TV’s only plan gives you 73 channels for $40 per month, which gives you a really low price per channel ($0.55). On top of that, YouTube TV will also search regular YouTube’s library for related content—but if you’re looking for something specific, we suggest switching to the original YouTube app because YouTube TV app’s is hit or miss sometimes.
Unlimited DVR storage for nine months
YouTube’s DVR is more like an on-demand library, but you can choose which shows you automatically “record” and have pop up in your feed.
You don’t have any storage restrictions, but the recordings get erased after nine months. That means that if you get pregnant, you can start watching How I Met Your Mother, and you’ll have time to wrap it up before you spend time with your new baby.
Good, but not the highest, channel counts
While you may find the endless stream from YouTube’s library stimulating, when it comes to actual live TV channel counts, it lags behind other providers like DIRECTV NOW, Sling TV (with add-ons), and PlayStation Vue. If you like what it offers, great, but if you’re an endless channel surfer, you might want to catch a different wave.
Get YouTube TV if you want…
PlayStation Vue—Best streaming quality
We applaud PlayStation Vue for its user-friendly and stylish interface, but it comes at a heavier price than other streaming services.
We think Sony did a great job with PlayStation Vue by keeping the user in mind. Every button is clear, and the interface really makes it an enjoyable experience. We were just a little disappointed to see that the price is so high.
Aside from that, PlayStation Vue lets you explore while watching your show, has unlimited DVR storage for 28 days, and comes with up to 90+ channels.
Reminder: PlayStation Vue does not require a PlayStation console to work. You can use about every streaming option out there.
PlayStation Vue packages
*Data effective 9/20/18.
PlayStation’s packages are decent, but not as comprehensive channel-wise as we’d like.
PlayStation Vue does a great job of giving you the major networks, but it may be missing some big players like A&E or Nickelodeon. That being said, we found plenty we liked even in the Access package. While PlayStation isn’t the cheapest service, you’re paying for the good stuff.
The most simultaneous streams
For bigger families, or to spread the streaming wealth among your roommates, PlayStation Vue is a great bang for your buck.
The only other provider that can give you that kind of streaming power is Hulu with Live TV, but at quite a price—it’s an extra $15 per month for unlimited streams. Yeesh. Playstation gives you up to five streams at every package level.
Unlimited DVR use for 28 days
PlayStation’s DVR isn’t quite as impressive as YouTube’s, but it’s enough to record all your favorite shows that you can watch within just another month. At 28 days, PlayStation has the February of unlimited DVRs, which is still better than DIRECTV NOW’s 20 hours for 30 days.
Get PlayStation Vue if you want…
These services didn’t make our top five, but they’re still worth checking out.
If you’re not sold on our picks, you may want to consider these options, which are a little more niche.
Philo offers a great variety of entertainment and lifestyle options, but it lacks sports and local channels. If you’re a fan of HGTV, Discovery Channel, AMC, TLC, IFC, and a lot more, this inexpensive option may be the best way to go.
(Review coming soon) / View plans
We really like fuboTV, but it’s a little niche for most TV watchers. If you’re a fan of international sports (think fútbol/soccer, competitive cycling, etc.) then it may be the perfect answer.
To see if fuboTV has the right channels for you, check out our channel lineup comparison of DIRECTV NOW vs. SlingTV vs. fuboTV.
CBS All Access
Paying six bucks for some of the most popular TV shows, news, and sports isn’t a bad deal at all. Plus, you may need it if your streaming service doesn’t include local CBS channels. An added bonus of getting CBS All Access is getting exclusive shows like Star Trek: Discovery, or SURVIVOR.
On the other hand, you may already be covered for most of your shows by your streaming service, or you could always opt for an antenna.
Finding the stream of your dreams is easy when you can try them all for free.
DIRECTV NOW has high channel counts, a wide variety of networks, and a price that makes it our recommendation for most people.
Sling TV offers the best value at a low price if you want a less expensive option and local channels aren’t a big deal.
YouTube TV is great because it integrates live TV streaming with YouTube’s huge on-demand library.
Hulu with Live TV has the latest episodes and multiple full seasons of popular shows, you know, for the binge-watchers out there.
PlayStation Vue is a great option with one of our favorite interfaces and DVRs, but it’s not exactly the cheapest streaming service we’ve come across.
How has your experience been with live TV streaming from online services? Tell us about your favorite experiences with the service, or if you’ve had any major horror stories—we wanna know!
What is streaming?
Any service that provides a way to watch TV shows online can be considered streaming. However, in this article, we focused specifically on live TV streaming rather than the on-demand content of services like Netflix.
In other words, live TV streaming services give you a way to watch what’s on TV just like you would with cable, plus most of them have the benefit of time-shifted viewing, which means on-demand content and DVR (digital video recorder) capabilities.
What do I need to watch streaming services?
How to stream live TV:
Step 1) Buy and install a streaming device (you may already have one).
Step 2) Try out a streaming service.
Step 3) Watch on the screen of your choice.
Get a live-streaming device
Most of the time, we use our laptops, cell phones, and Rokus to connect to our TVs, but there’s a wide array of options out there.
If you want to know how to stream live TV, here’s a list of the most popular streaming devices that work with your internet connection to deliver a signal to your screen—be it your laptop, big screen TV, cell phone, or tablet.
|Service||Roku||Amazon Fire TV||Google Chromecast||Apple TV||Details|
|DIRECTV NOW||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||View plans|
|Sling TV||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||View plans|
|Hulu with Live TV||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||View plans|
|YouTube TV||Yes||No||Yes||Yes||View plans|
|Playstation Vue||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||View plans|
As you can see the only major exception is that YouTube TV isn’t currently compatible with Amazon Fire TV. Seems strange, but it has to do with a minor turf war between Amazon and Google (which owns YouTube).