Update

Best TV streaming service: YouTube TV vs. SlingTV vs. Hulu vs. PlayStation Vue, and all the rest

Which streaming TV bundle is the best deal for cord cutters? Our head-to-head reviews hash it out.

Rob Schultz / IDG

It’s great what a little competition will do. Ever since cord cutting became a genuine trend, TV networks and pay TV providers have scrambled to bring their channel bundles to the internet.

But with more competition comes more confusion. Between Sling TV, PlayStation Vue, DirecTV Now, Hulu with Live TV, YouTube TV, FuboTV, and Philo, prospective cord cutters who still want a bundle of traditional TV channels have a lot to consider before making the leap. And while these services tend to be cheaper and more flexible than cable, each comes with its own quirks and caveats.

Editors' note: February 26, 2018: As a result of YouTube TV undergoing a number of improvements, becoming available on more streaming TV hardware, and in more markets, our opinion of the service—and the competitive landscape overall—has changed. We now think YouTube TV is the best TV streaming service overall, which knocks Sony’s PlayStation Vue into the runner-up position. We’ve also added our full review of Philo to this roundup.

We created this guide to make your decision easier. It compares the features of all the current TV streaming bundles, lists which devices each one supports, provides a full side-by-side channel list, and provides our bottom-line recommendations. It also links to our in-depth reviews, where you can learn more about how each bundle works. Read on for our best streaming bundle picks, a whole bunch of handy charts, and our individual reviews.

Best TV streaming service 

YouTube TV still isn’t available in every single market in North America, but it’s accessible to the vast majority of U.S. residents. Between that expansion and its new availability on on the Roku and Apple TV platforms, it has become the best overall services for cord cutters. 

Runner-up

Despite a recent price hike in many markets, PlayStation Vue’s $45-per-month Core package remains a solid value for a combination of primetime broadcast shows from all four major networks, ESPN channels, regional sports networks, and cable news. A new $10-per-month sports pack also adds several premium sports channels including NFL Redzone, which some one-size-fits-all bundles don’t even offer.

Best budget TV streaming service

Regardless of what the marketing folks say, Sling TV is not a la carte TV. But it does offer a less-expensive starting point than most other streaming bundles. The $20-per-month Orange plan is almost cheap enough to serve as a de facto ESPN subscription, while the $25-per-month Blue plan combines regional sports with loads of popular entertainment channels. From there, you can tack on several add-on channel packs and still possibly come out ahead of other bundles.

Sling TV’s apps have also improved over the past couple years, adding more personalized menus, a proper grid-based channel guide, and a $5-per-month DVR add-on with 50 hours of perpetual storage. With higher video quality and a few more features, it could top PlayStation Vue at any price.

A highly anticipated TV streaming service 

As of this writing, Hulu’s streaming bundle is still in beta (which is why we haven’t assigned it a bottom-line score), but it’s a compelling package that combines popular cable channels with access to Hulu’s existing on-demand catalog for $40 per month. The interface also has some clever ideas about how to discover new shows, though it’s in need of some streamlining. That’s one of the things Hulu is working on before it lifts the beta tag.

Other options to consider

DirecTV Now has a lot of navigational quirks, and it’s currently the only streaming bundle that lacks DVR service. But it’s still worth considering if you have one of AT&T’s newer unlimited wireless plans, which brings a $25-per-month discount on all DirecTV Now packages. It’s also the only bundle that faithfully reproduces 60-frames-per-second video on every applicable broadcast.

FuboTV is a $45-per-month sports-centric bundle that doesn’t include ESPN channels. Strange as that sounds, it does free up room for other channels, such as Fox Soccer Plus and Eleven Sports at a much lower cost than with other bundles.

Philo is the only streaming bundle that has no sports channels. As such, it only costs $16 per month, with channels from AMC, Viacom, Discovery, and A&E. Philo is a fine supplement if you can get prime-time shows and sports from an antenna.

TV streaming features and channel guide

Ready to dig deeper? Below you’ll find even more information to help make your decision.

Let’s start with local channels. In many markets—especially those outside of major cities—live feeds are not available due to ongoing rights negotiations with local broadcast affiliates. In lieu of those local feeds, most streaming bundles offer primetime on-demand programming from whatever major broadcast networks they carry. (The sole exception is YouTube TV, which has opted to stay out of markets where it can’t offer live local coverage.)

To see which local stations are available in your area, visit the websites for Sling TV, PlayStation Vue, DirecTV Now, Hulu with Live TV, FuboTV, and YouTube TV.

The chart below provides even more information on the features that each streaming bundle offers:

Jared Newman / TechHive

To see which specific TV Everywhere apps each service reports, check out the support pages for Sling TV, PlayStation Vue, DirecTV Now, Hulu with Live TV, and FuboTV (along with this Reddit page for YouTube TV).

Of course, none of those features will do you any good if your devices don’t support the streaming service in question. Here’s a rundown of which bundles work on each major streaming platform:

Jared Newman / TechHive

Finally, here’s a chart showing all the channels you can get through TV streaming bundles, and the minimum price you’ll have to pay to get each one. If you see a “+” sign, that means the price is in addition to the cost of a base package. It’s a large chart, so you might want to click on it to view in full screen: You can also download it, although you’ll need to do that each time we update it. This version was created January 31, 2017.

Click the link above to view a PDF comparing all the major TV streaming services. Jared Newman
 
Jared Newman / TechHive
 

Our TV streaming bundle reviews

For deeper dives into each streaming bundle, check out the reviews below.

Because online services are often iterative, gaining new features and performance improvements over time, this review is subject to change in order to accurately reflect the current state of the service. Any changes to text or our final review verdict will be noted at the top of this article.

At a Glance

YouTube TV doesn't have every channel for everyone, but it's still the best streaming bundle for most people.

Pros

  • Solid mix of channels for the money
  • Includes DVR with no storage limits
  • Easy-to-understand app design

Cons

  • Still not available in some markets, or on Amazon Fire TV devices
  • Ad-riddled on-demand videos can override DVR
  • Some channels don't support 60-frames-per-second video yet

Sony's TV streaming bundle has all the features and channels you might want, but it's hardly the cheapest or most interesting option.

Pros

  • Straightforward interface for those who know what they want
  • Broad assortment of channels for a reasonable price
  • Support for high frame rates on a wide range of streaming devices

Cons

  • 28-day DVR limit won't make sense for everyone
  • Few helpful recommendations on what to watch
  • Unusual restrictions on out-of-home streaming

Steady improvements have turned Sling TV into a great budget streaming bundle—with a few lingering frustrations.

Pros

  • Lower entry price than any other streaming bundle
  • Simple menu system with easy access to favorites
  • DVR supports ad-skipping, partial recordings, and time-shifting

Cons

  • Price can quickly escalate to get certain channels
  • Most channels top out at 30 frames per second
  • Only supports one user profile

The AT&T-owned streaming bundle comes cheap with wireless service, but odd design choices and feature limitations hold it back for everyone else.

Pros

  • Unbeatable pricing for AT&T subscribers
  • Smart mash-up of live and on-demand TV
  • Video quality is crisp and supports 60 frames per second for sports and news

Cons

  • No DVR
  • Regional sports bundle is pricier than other services
  • User interface dies by a thousand cuts

FuboTV’s lineup is unlike other streaming bundles—for better and for worse.

Pros

  • Unique lineup of sports channels that are much pricier in other bundles
  • Well-designed TV apps make sporting events easy to find
  • Live streams have much lower latency than other bundles

Cons

  • Missing some major sports sources, such as ESPN and TNT
  • Included DVR storage is skimpier than other bundles
  • Inconsistent 60 fps support on sports channels

To be clear, that's not a score of zero. We won't assign Hulu with Live TV a score until the service emerges from beta testing.