Perhaps the biggest enabler for those aiming to quit cable for good — without giving up live TV — is the growing list of live TV streaming services available, all of which come with free trial periods and no contracts. There are several to choose from, each with its own advantages (and disadvantages). We’ve got a detailed comparison piece that breaks down each of these services in finer detail, but below is a general overview.
Sling is the company that kickstarted the TV streaming category and still has the cheapest offering of the Big 5 (although sports-free options from Philo and AT&T Watch TV are cheaper at $16 and $15 monthly; see below). The main reason Sling can offer such low prices is it carries very few local stations (ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC), so many subscribers supplement the service with an antenna. Sling's interface isn't much to look at, but it offers all of the options you need without cluttering the screen. The only real letdown is its arcane live pause and DVR exceptions (you can't record Disney-owned channels like ABC, for example). Its options are myriad, including two base channel lineups (Orange and Blue) and numerous add-ons, so check out Sling TV: Everything you need to know for all the details.
The Sling TV local channel offering is dependent on your level of service, your geographic location, and Sling TV’s contractual and other rights to distribute local channels. Not all local channels may be purchased from Sling TV today, and some local channel content may include blackout restrictions. Explore our channels and discover what service you need to receive them here.
Cable-replacement streaming services work exactly the same as having cable — live channels presented in real time — except they come streaming over the Internet rather than via an analog wire. The upside is that you don't have to give up the channels that you love. Sling TV carries multiple ESPN stations, plus Cartoon Network, TBS, Bloomberg, CNN, History and dozens of others. PlayStation Vue offers SyFy, Spike, USA, VH1, Fox News, Nickelodeon and more. You can also record programs to watch later on PS Vue, just like you would with a cable DVR box.
While DirecTV Now is more for the type of customer who is looking to replace their cable service, AT&T WatchTV is more like Philo. You shouldn’t look at it as a replacement for all of your live TV needs. Instead, look at it as a supplement to on-demand streaming services like Netflix. If you’re mainly a binge watcher but want the occasional bit of live TV, WatchTV might be for you. Throw in an HD antenna and you’ve got a pretty good setup.
Launched in 1981 by United Video Satellite Group, the network began its life as a simple electronic program guide (EPG) software application sold to cable system operators throughout the United States and Canada. Known simply as the Electronic Program Guide, the software was designed to be run within the headend facility of each participating cable system on a single, custom-modified consumer-grade computer supplied by United Video. Its scrolling program listings grid, which cable system operators broadcast to subscribers on a dedicated channel, covered the entire screen and provided four hours of listings for each system's entire channel lineup, one half-hour period at a time. Because of this, listings for programs currently airing would often be several minutes from being shown. Additionally, because the EPG software generated only video, cable operators commonly resorted to filling the EPG channel's audio feed with music from a local FM radio station, or with programming from a cable television-oriented audio service provider such as Cable Radio Network.
Philo is unique among the other skinny bundle internet TV services in that it does not offer any sports channels. That means if you love both MTV and ESPN, Philo is not the service for you. By eschewing sports channels, Philo is able to offer entertainment-only networks for a low cost, but this does ultimately create a more niche service, compared to other options like Sling TV and DirecTV Now. You won’t get any sports coverage at all with Philo.
From April to August 2011, RT ran a half-hour primetime show Adam vs. the Man, hosted by former Iraq War Marine veteran and high-profile anti-war activist Adam Kokesh. David Weigel writes that Kokesh defended RT's "propaganda" function, saying "We're putting out the truth that no one else wants to say. I mean, if you want to put it in the worst possible abstract, it's the Russian government, which is a competing protection racket against the other governments of the world, going against the United States and calling them on their bullshit." The conservative media watchdog Accuracy in Media criticized Kokesh's appearance on RT, writing RT uses Americans like Kokesh to make propaganda points.
This option is for you if you like to follow the latest network and non-premium cable shows, like The New Girl, The Voice, The Flash, or Modern Family. Hulu Plus ($7.99 per month) offers current programs from FOX, NBC, ABC, the CW, as well as delayed or archived content from cable channels like Comedy Central and FX. You can add CBS shows, like Big Bang Theory, for another monthly fee of $5.99.
We don't always think of the major streaming devices as tools for watching local TV, but we really should. Each of the skinny bundles and apps listed above have awesome platform support, meaning that you can grab virtually any service on this list and have it work with whatever streaming device you own – whether that means a Roku, Fire TV, Apple TV, Chromecast, iOS device, Android device, or Android TV box (like the Nvidia Shield).
PlayStation Vue’s packages used to be scaled based on whether your market had access to local live channels or not, but now all pricing tiers are priced identically regardless of where you live. The vast majority of markets include at least some live local channels on PS Vue, as the service now offers more than 600 local affiliates. Fox channels, in particular, get a special highlight on the service, with a specialized Fox feed that curates Fox-owned channels like Fox News, FS1, Fox Business, Fox Soccer Plus, and local Fox affiliates into a single feed that includes both live and VOD content. You can find which local channels are available in your area on Sony’s PS Vue page.
Because Vue allows you to watch on up to 5 devices at the same time, the whole family can watch exactly what they want to. This is why we recommend Vue to families and large households with roommates. You can stream FOX News and the rest of the channels you love on streaming players like your PS3 or PS4 consoles, Amazon Fire TV, Roku (Vue is a great way to watch live TV on Roku), Apple TV, or Chromecast. They also offer iOS and Android apps, but there are some limitations with those. Your PlayStation Vue account is tied to your home network, so streaming while on the go is restricted. Even with the mobile apps, what you can watch away from home will be limited.
The Amazon Fire TV has gone through a few iterations now, getting better with each one. The current version is a veritable revolution in streaming boxes, offering simple operation, as well as the ability to control your entire home theater and smart home system with your voice. That includes the ability to turn on and control basic functionality on other devices, including not only your TV, but also your A/V receiver and even your cable box thanks to CEC control and IR blasters — all with the power of your own voice. The result earned the Cube a perfect score in our recent review and a place on our TV console.