What to Know Before You Buy a Live TV Streaming Service

Illustration for article titled What to Know Before You Buy a Live TV Streaming Service
Photo: Sam Rutherford (Gizmodo)

Listen, there are some very good reasons for cutting the cord, and with no end to the absolutely relentless parade of newly announced streaming services in sight, consumers have a veritable buffet of services to choose from, and not just for on-demand content. If live television is important to you, there are plenty of very good options—and some you’d be wise to stay away from.

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AT&T TV, which launched in early March, is one such service. Different from AT&T TV Now, this hardware-based streaming product that runs on Android TV sounds nice on paper and, for the most part, is fine as a live television option. But lurking in the fine print, you’ll find a sneaky two-year contract agreement that sees the service’s prices roughly double during the second year to eye-watering prices of between $93 and $142, depending on which of its three tiers you select. Think that you’ll just cancel after the first year? Think again. AT&T states on its website that it will charge a termination fee of $15 per month for each remaining month on the agreement.

What you’re seeing with this service is the kind of bad Big Cable behavior that soured people on traditional cable to begin with. Nobody wants to sign up for a service only to learn it’s advertised pricing doubles after the first year, and that they’re expected to pay just to leave the service. So first and foremost, make sure you know what you’re signing up for.

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Second, check local services for a special deal. Your cable company may have an appealing offer. One Gizmodo staffer was offered live TV for $24 a month from Spectrum, provided they supplied their own set-top box, and didn’t mind having just local TV, a handful of cable channels and on-demand shows, plus zero ability to DVR content. They also had to be prepared to embrace Spectrum’s buggy app for on-demand content.

This leads to the third thing you need to know: You won’t be changing channels or using a DVR like you might have for years. Live streaming apps deliver the content and let you look for stuff to watch in a very different way from terrestrial services. If you’re used to punching in a number for a channel or mindlessly flipping from channel to channel, you may be a little disappointed with the less hassle-inclined livestreaming way.

With that said, the following are some good services to consider if you’re in the market for a streaming service that offers live TV.

Illustration for article titled What to Know Before You Buy a Live TV Streaming Service
Photo: Sam Rutherford (Gizmodo)
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Hulu + Live TV

We recently named Hulu + Live TV the best overall streaming service you can subscribe to right now—and for some good reasons. It comes standard with more than 65 live television channels and some additional options for premium viewing, 50 hours of cloud storage, and best of all, you get all of Hulu’s massive library of quality content, meaning there’s a good mix of live TV and on-demand programming you’ll actually watch. Plus, the service can be bundled with Disney+ and ESPN+ for an additional monthly fee.

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Exactly how much you pay for Hulu + Live TV depends on how many add-ons you select, and there are quite a few to choose from. But the service starts at $55 for ad-supported Hulu or $61 per month to go ad-free. To bundle with Disney+ and ESPN+, you’ll pay $62 per month with Hulu ads or $68 per month with ad-free Hulu. If additional DVR space is important to you, you can pay $10 extra a month to bump up to 200 hours, and the Enhanced DVR feature allows you to skip through commercials for shows you’ve recorded. And, to its benefit, Hulu’s available on most major platforms, including iOS, Android, Xbox, Chromecast, Mac, PC, Apple TV, select Roku models, Fire TV and Fire TV Stick, Android TV, Playstation 4, select Samsung and LG TVs, and Nintendo Switch.

While I think Hulu is the best all-around service with the greatest number of perks, it’s probably not the service for you if local coverage is important to you (Hulu’s is limited), or if, say, you’re a sports fan who wants to be able to watch every game—when sports return. But if you’re looking for a good service to serve a variety of needs, Hulu + Live is one to consider. And if you want to keep your subscription cost down, take it easy on the add-ons. Those can quickly add up.

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Illustration for article titled What to Know Before You Buy a Live TV Streaming Service
Image: Sling TV

Sling TV

If you want a lot of live programming customization at a very low price and don’t mind the occasional connectivity hiccup, Sling TV might be the service for you. Its two primary tiers, Orange and Blue, each come with a good mix of channels for $30 per month, but you can bundle them both for $45 per month. The extras are really what makes Sling special, though.

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Sling offers more than 20 “a la carte” channels starting at $3 each that include Starz, Showtime, Docudrama, Dog TV, Cinefest, and more. A sports package with nearly 20 additional channels starts at $10 per month. Kids, news, and lifestyle, international, and comedy programming packages can be added for an additional $5 per month each. And Sling will send you a free HD antenna to pick up local programming if you commit to two months. In other words, you can pretty much build your own service from scratch around your specific interests.

There are a couple of downsides. Sling only comes standard with 10 hours of cloud DVR storage, but you can bump up to 50 for an extra $5 per month. Sling Orange doesn’t support simultaneous streaming, but Sling Blue supports three streams at once. The bundled package supports four simultaneous streams but is limited to one stream for channels offered through Sling Orange. Plus we’ve historically had more issues with connectivity. But overall, Sling is a great service worth considering if you’re looking for a good variety of options at a very reasonable price.

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Illustration for article titled What to Know Before You Buy a Live TV Streaming Service
Photo: Sam Rutherford (Gizmodo)

YouTube TV

We here at Gizmodo are big fans of YouTube TV. For $50 per month, you get more than 70 channels that include local sports and news broadcasts. YouTube TV really, really leans into the anti-Big Cable schtick, but it’s true to its word. You won’t get any of those bullshit hidden fees that traditional cable companies have tended to tack on to your monthly bill, and YouTube TV comes standard with some pretty compelling perks that aren’t offered for free by some of its rival live TV services.

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For one, YouTube TV allows for unlimited storage space for recording shows at no additional cost. It also supports six individual user accounts and three simultaneous streams—again at no additional cost to the user. YouTube TV does have on-demand movies, series, and originals. I’m not as big of a fan of the service’s on-demand selection as, say, Hulu’s. But if unlimited DVR, simultaneous streaming, and local coverage are two of your biggest priorities in a service, this one’s not a bad option. It’s available on Fire TV, Xbox One, most smart TVs, Apple TV, Chromecast, Roku, Playstation, Android and iOS.

Illustration for article titled What to Know Before You Buy a Live TV Streaming Service
Photo: FuboTV
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FuboTV

FuboTV is a good bet for sports-first households and offers three primary subscription tiers: a Standard plan for $55 per month, a Family plan for $60 per month, and an Ultra plan for $80 per month. The Standard plan comes with 109 channels and more than 130 events in 4K (assuming your device supports it), 30 hours of cloud DVR storage, and supports simultaneous streaming on up to two screens. The Family plan offers 500 hours of storage and supports three simultaneous streams, and a Showtime package that includes 9 channels with on-demand viewing can be added for $10 per month. And the Ultra plan comes with 180 channels and includes the Fubo Extra package (which offers 40 additional entertainment channels), Sports Plus (22 additional sports channels), and the Showtime package. (There’s also a Fútbol Quarterly option for $20 per month with just 30 channels.)

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While stuffed with sports programming, all of FuboTV’s plans also come with a ton of non-sports channels too, including news, information, and entertainment channels. That means it’s a pretty good live television option for even the non-sports streamer. But FuboTV’s additional add-on packages make it one of the best options for someone who wants the greatest access to sports programming from a single service. Plus, the hefty DVR storage that comes standard with the more expensive plans means you have plenty of space to save a game you can’t watch in real-time.

Illustration for article titled What to Know Before You Buy a Live TV Streaming Service
Image: Philo
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Philo

If a low price-point for a bare basics channel lineup is more what you’re looking for, Philo may be the service for you. A $20 monthly subscription buys you a pretty good mix of 59 channels. Plus, Philo gives you unlimited cloud DVR storagewhere recordings will be saved for 30 days before they’re deleted—and allows for up to three simultaneous streams. The service is available on the web, iOS, Android, Android TV, Roku, Apple TV, and Amazon Fire TV.

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Illustration for article titled What to Know Before You Buy a Live TV Streaming Service
Image: Star Trek: Picard (CBS)

CBS All Access

Here’s the deal with CBS’s streaming service: It’s not a live television-first platform. But hear me out: If you’re really only looking for a couple of channels to see the news and are primarily interested in good on-demand content, CBS All Access may offer all that you need—and on the super cheap, too.

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The service has two tiers, an ad-free version for $10 per month and an ad-supported version for $5 per month. What you’ll get is your local CBS station, CBSN, CBS Sports HQ, and ET Live, a ton of on-demand content from the CBS digital vault, and some very good original content that includes Star Trek: Picard and Jordan Peele‎’s The Twilight Zone. And for these prices, you could very easily bundle CBS All Access with another streaming service like Netflix or Hulu and have pretty much all you need—but again, only if you’re looking for just a couple of live channels to keep tabs on the news.

Illustration for article titled What to Know Before You Buy a Live TV Streaming Service
Image: Pluto TV
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Pluto TV

Pluto TV may be free, but it’s still worth noting here as one option among many for making services work for your specific needs. Pluto TV is a mix of both live programming and on-demand movies (which are decent, but not great). But this little service offers live TV for more than 250 channels, and it’s fairly easy to use when you need cable in a pinch. It’s a perfectly great streaming option for the casual live TV viewer who doesn’t need anything fancy.

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