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Video Streaming Services That Let You Cut Cable TV

Services like Sling TV and DirecTV Now try to replicate cable TV at a lower price

Cable replacement services being used by a couple watching video on a laptop screen.

Cable TV channels used to keep you tethered to pay TV. But a number of online video streaming services now give any cord cutter with an internet connection unprecedented TV-watching freedom.

Subscription streaming video services such as Amazon Prime and Netflix have been around for years. What’s newer are the growing number of video streaming services, such as DirecTV Now and Sling TV, that are designed to replace a typical cable TV package.

Because the content you get with these cable-replacement services, especially local channels, can vary by region, you should go to each company’s website, plug in your ZIP code, and see which channels are available in your area. These video streaming services have been adding more local broadcast channels, such as ABC and CBS, but they’re not always available in smaller communities.

MORE ON cutting the cord

If you’re missing some local channels, consider adding an antenna to get free over-the-air broadcasts. When we tested 10 indoor models, our testers found that sometimes the picture looked even better than what they were getting from cable.

All the cable-replacement services offer some type of free trial period, so you can try before you buy. Because most require a credit card number, you’ll have to keep track of when the trial period ends and cancel if you don’t want to continue the service. 

And remember that package details can change often, so check the latest offers before signing up.

DirecTV Now

Monthly bill: $50 or $70.

What you get: DirecTV Now should appeal to anyone who wants DirecTV service but not the satellite dish. The company recently hiked prices by $10 and made changes that will remove several popular networks from plan lineups.

In a surprise move that appears to be related to cost cutting, AT&T has also informed DirecTV Now and U-verse TV customers that it's dropping the NFL Network. That programming will still be available to regular DirecTV satellite TV subscribers.

There are now only two choices—down from five—for new subscribers. The $50-a-month DirecTV Now Plus plan has about 40 channels, and the $70-a-month DirecTV Now Max has about 50 channels, plus Cinemax and a number of sports channels, including regional sports. Both plans include HBO, which had been a $5-a-month add-on. You get a free cloud DVR with 20 hours of free storage, and two users can stream at the same time. You can get a third simultaneous stream for an extra $5 a month.

AT&T has reinstated a few of its deals. For example, you can get a free Apple TV if you prepay four months of the services. There's also a $15-a-month price break for the first two months when you sign up for one of the two new plans.

The company, which recently added Viacom channels such as BET, Comedy Central, MTV, and Nickelodeon to its plans, is expected to launch a next-generation version of its satellite TV service, but over the internet this year. The streaming device is currently being beta-tested by some users.

What you don’t get: Live TV still isn’t available in some smaller markets, and the new plans eliminate some popular networks that were available under the older plans, including A&E, AMC, and Discovery. Those who subscribed before the change are allowed to keep their current plan and channel lineup but are subject to the $10-a-month price hike.

FuboTV

Monthly bill: $55

What you get: The sports-centric Fubo offers a mix of live and on-demand channels from broadcast networks (CBS, Fox, and NBC in most markets), cable channels (A&E, Bravo, FX, SyFy, USA), and sports networks (BeIn Sports, FS1, Golf Channel, NBA TV). With the addition of TNT and TBS from Turner, you also get NBA and NCAA basketball, Major League Baseball, and PGA golf. There's also a robust roster of regional sports networks—including those from NBC, Fox, and Yes—for local-team action, including MLB and NHL games.

Fubo has upped its deal with Discovery, and is adding Discovery Channel, TLC, and more to its base subscriber package. It now also has channels from AMC, Turner (Cartoon Network, CNN, TBS, TNT), and Viacom (BET, CMT, Comedy Central, MTV, Nickelodeon). Recently, the company changed prices and plans, so it now offers a base pacakge with about 100 channels and a DVR for $55 a month. You can add more storage for an extra $10 a month, and more channmels via packages that cost anywhere from $5 to $28 more a month.

What you don’t get: Most notable for a sports-oriented service, ESPN isn’t available.

Hulu + Live TV

Monthly bill: $45 and up.

What you get: The Hulu + Live TV service offers about 60 channels, including major networks in some areas and sports channels such as CBS Sports, ESPN, and Fox Sports. You can watch on two devices at a time and record 50 hours on a cloud DVR. Hulu has now cut the price of several add-ons. For example, both the enhanced cloud DVR, with more storage and the ability to skip commercials, and unlimited screens at home, which each cost $15 per month, are now priced at $10 each per month. A combination of the two, which was $20 a month, now costs $15 per month. A second option, without ads, is now $51 per month, a $7 increase. Both services combine everything you get in the regular Hulu plan with the additional channels available on Hulu With Live TV. 

What you don’t get: Most streaming devices are now supported, but right now the network doesn’t include AMC or Viacom (Comedy Central, MTV, Nickelodeon).

Sling TV

Monthly bill: $25 and up.

What you get: With recently updated pricing, Sling’s Orange package is now $25 and includes about 30 cable channels but no broadcast TV. It supports one user at a time. Sling Blue, also $25 per month, supports three users and a different mix of about 40 channels, including local broadcasts and regional sports. (Among other differences: Sling Orange includes ESPN.) A combined plan costs $40. Themed add-on packs cost $5 per month, and you can add HBO, $15; Showtime, $10; and Starz, $9. Sling is currently running a promotion that gives you either the Blue or Orange plans for $15 a month or the combined plan for $25 a month.

Sling is also pushing a new promotion, called the Total TV Deal, which combines seven Extra programming packs—with content in genres such as sports, news, Hollywood, and comedy—with a cloud DVR with 50 hours of storage, for an extra $20 a month. Sling has also updated pricing for Sports Extra for Sling Orange customers. It now costs $10 a month, the same as for Blue subscribers.

What you don’t get: Sling lacks CBS, and Fox News is available only in some markets. Also, Sling includes some Viacom channels as part of its plans, but others require that you purchase a $5-per-month add-on pack. But the service recently added the Discovery Channel. The cloud DVR is now more widely available and includes more channels and some new features, such as the ability to protect recordings from being deleted.

Sony PlayStation Vue

Monthly bill: $50 to $85.

What you get: PlayStation Vue can be configured to resemble an expansive, if somewhat pricey, cable-TV-style programming plan. After yet another recent price hike, packages range from a $50-per-month basic option to an $85 Ultra plan with about 90 channels, including premium channels such as HBO and Showtime. You get local channels in many major markets and a cloud DVR for recording shows. Vue supports up to five simultaneous users. There’s now also a mobile option, so new users can sign up and start watching the service directly from mobile phones, tablets, or PCs even when they’re outside the home.

What you don’t get: Vue lost access to Viacom stations (Comedy Central, MTV, Nickelodeon, Spike) last year. 

T-Mobile TVision Home

Monthly bill: $90 (at launch).

What you get: TVision Home launched April 14 in just eight metro areas—Chicago; Dallas-Fort Worth; Longmont, Colo.; Los Angeles; New York City; Philadelphia; San Francisco; and Washington, D.C.—but will roll out to other markets later this year. You get more than 150 channels, plus local broadcasts and regional sports, and you can add premium channels for an extra monthly fee. The service will support 4K video when it's available.

Family members get their own profile and DVR, sharing 1TB of storage. The company says it will use artificial intelligence to make personalized recommendations. TVision supports both Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant, so you can use voice controls.

What you don't get: A lot of savings. Compared with other streaming services, TVision Home is pricey. For a limited time, it will cost $90 a month for all subscribers, but after a promotional period only T-Mobile mobile customers will pay that price; others will have to pay $100 a month. There's also an extra $10-a-month fee for each additional TV you want to connect. Right now, the service is missing some key apps and services, including Amazon Prime, Netflix, and YouTube, though the company says they're coming.

YouTube TV

Monthly bill: $50 and up.

What you get: YouTube TV offers access to more than 70 networks, including all the major local networks. It also has a cloud DVR with unlimited storage, and it allows up to three simultaneous users and up to six individual accounts. Thanks to a recent expansion, the service is now available in most national markets. With YouTube TV, you also get the original programming on YouTube Red Originals. You can add Showtime for $7 per month, Starz for $9 per month, CuriosityStream for $3 more per month, or AMC Premiere for an additional $5 per month. Google, YouTube TV's parent company, just hiked the price of the service from $40 to $50 a month.

YouTube just signed a deal with Major League Baseball to bring 13 live MLB games exclusively to both YouTube and YouTube TV during the back half of the 2019 season. You won't be able to see those game elsewhere.

What you don’t get: Right now, YouTube TV lacks programming from Viacom (Comedy Central, MTV), but it just added Discovery Communications (Discovery, Food Network, HGTV). You can add Showtime for $10 more a month, but not HBO. Also, Amazon and Google have apparently ended their longstanding feud, so YouTube TV (as well as YouTube and YouTube Kids) will soon be available on Amazon's Fire TV devices.


Digital and All-Access members can see CR’s top-rated TVs and streaming media devices below.


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