First, the best TV moved from networks to cable. Now a similar transition is moving top talent from cable to the streaming world. Netflix ($8.99 per month for HD streaming) has House of Cards, Orange Is the New Black, and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt—all of which have received almost universal acclaim—and Amazon ($99 per year for video and a variety of other services) isn’t too far behind with comedy Alpha House, crime drama Bosch, and the Golden Globe-winning Transparent.
If you aren’t willing to spend the money for any of the above options, some of the networks will stream events like the Superbowl for free on YouTube or within their own app for smart TVs and mobile devices. The top networks know that people are cutting off their cable subscriptions in droves, and in order to keep them interested in the sports they broadcast, they are coming up with new ways for you to watch. So, just check with the channel that will be airing the event you want to see and find out if they are going to allow the public to stream it for free, with commercial interruptions, of course.
Believe it or not, you can still have all this for significantly less than the price of cable. Even after subscribing to HBO Now, Netflix, Hulu, CBS All Access, and Amazon Prime Video, you’ll still be more than $250 in the black. Don’t care for Girls or Game of Thrones? You can replace the HBO option with Sling TV for $60 more per year ($5 more per month); about the same price as buying two individual TV seasons.
All that said, Google TV does have a feature that is—in my opinion—the Holy Grail feature of set-top boxes: universal search. If you enter the TV & Movies app and search for a TV show, it'll show you a list of seasons and episodes. Select an episode and it'll show you which services it's available on (like Netflix, Amazon, and YouTube). You can then decide from there which service you want to use to watch it. It's a lot nicer than having to search each library separately for that show that's harder to find. Every device should implement this, and I really hope Google expands it to include other apps in the future.
Today you've got plenty of options. Six major services -- DirecTV Now, Fubo TV, Hulu with Live TV, PlayStation Vue, Sling TV and YouTube TV -- stream multiple channels of live TV over the Internet, including local channels. Each has its plusses and minuses, including pricing (starting at $25 per month), features (like cloud DVRs) and user interface, but the biggest differentiator is channel lineup.
Always take a moment on a new TV to switch off any special features that are meant to reduce motion-blurring. (These go by different names depending on the manufacturer, but the setting typically has the word “motion” in it, as in Sony’s “Motionflow” or LG’s “TruMotion.”) These settings tend to make movies and even most modern television shows look more flat and artificial, in what’s often called “the soap opera effect.”
The cost to networks of paying huge sums for sports rights get passed on to customers in the form of higher monthly bills. Broadcast channels like Fox, CBS, and NBC are also shelling out billions of dollars on sports because it’s one of the few things consumers still watch live, which helps the companies sell advertising. Those broadcasters are raising the prices they charge cable operators, leading to higher consumer bills. Congress handed that new-revenue stream—known as retransmission consent fees –to broadcast channels in the early 1990s.
The interface is great. It's fast, smooth, and incredibly simple. You have all your basic channels on the front page in a grid, letting you access your movies, TV shows, and music from iTunes, as well as streaming channels like Netflix, Hulu Plus, and sports sites like MLB.tv, NBA, and NHL. It even has a list of recent and popular movies along the top if you aren't sure what you want to watch, which is kind of fun. Anything else you want to play can be shot to the Apple TV through AirPlay on an iOS device, or via AirPlay mirroring on a Mac. It isn't ideal, but it'll get the job done for just about anything you want to watch.
Cons: Those unlimited screens come at an extra cost. Available only to Hulu With Live TV subscribers, the add-on costs an additional $14.99 per month, nearly twice the price of the basic subscription itself. One of users' biggest gripes with the service is that it doesn't allow for offline viewing. A lot of subscribers also recommend the no commercials add-on.