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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.

best streaming service 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.

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 shares the latest TV streaming news, and links to our in-depth reviews, where you can learn more about how each bundle works. 

Latest TV streaming news

  • The National Resources Defence Council (NRDC) has discovered an unexpected upside to cord-cutting: A one-third reduction in energy consumption by set-top boxes since 2012. That translates to $1.4 billion in savings to consumers each year, according to the agency, as well as 8 million fewer tons of carbon emissions into the atmosphere in 2017 alone. The NRDC says voluntary efforts by cable and satellite TV service providers to build more efficient set-top boxes also contributed to the savings. 
  • Roku has launched The Roku Channel for the Web, offering free streaming movies and TV shows to anyone with a computer or mobile device. Viewers can navigate to TheRokuChannel.com and create an account (or log in if they already have one) and immediately stream a variety of video entertainment at no cost. 
  • Sony's PlayStation Vue service has added FX+ as a $5.99-per-month add-on to its Access, Core, Elite, and Ultra subscription packages. FX+ is an advertising-free video-on-demand service featuring content from FX and FXX, including episodes of AtlantaAmerican Horror Story, and Sons of Anarchy. The service is also available to viewers who haven't cut the cord, provided they're also a customer of one service provider or another (DirecTV, Comcast, Dish, etc.).
  • Sling TV is getting ready for the pro football season by offering NFL RedZone for an additional $10 per month to subscribers who also pay for $35 per month for its Sling Blue tier with the Sports Extra add-on.

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

On the surface, Hulu with Live TV doesn’t seem much different from other streaming TV bundles. You get dozens of live channels for $40 per month, but what sets it apart is the inclusion of Hulu’s on-demand service (normally $8 per month), which includes a large catalog of network shows, plus originals such as The Handmaid’s Tale and Castle Rock. Hulu’s interface can be busy, but it ties everything together in a way that encourages discovery, and the service is extendable with more DVR storage and additional simultaneous streams—if you’re willing to pay.

Best TV streaming service for sports fans

Despite a recent $5-per-month price hike for all plans, PlayStation Vue offers the most complete selection of sports channels, including national sports, regional sports, and league-specific networks (NFL Network/Redzone, MLB Network, and NBA TV). And while DirecTV Now comes close, it's DVR service is much stingier, with a 20-hour recording limit. PlayStation Vue also supports a wide range of streaming devices beyond PlayStation consoles, despite what the name suggests. One caveat: Visit Sony's website to make sure all your local broadcast networks are available; otherwise, you'll need an antenna for backup.

Other options to consider

Sling TV offers a less-expensive starting point than most other streaming bundles, with Orange and Blue plans priced at $25 per month each. (The former includes ESPN and other Disney-owned channels, while the latter includes channels owned by Fox and NBC.) From there, you can add several channel packs and still come out ahead of other bundles, especially if you're using an antenna for local channels. Still, DVR service is $5-per-month extra, and while you can combine the Orange and Blue packages for a total $40 per month, at that point you're not really saving over other bundles, which offer slicker interfaces.

DirecTV Now has improved considerably in recent months, and the service has finally added cloud DVR, although AT&T allows you to record only 20 hours of video which is stored for a maximum of 30 days. It’s also the only bundle that faithfully reproduces 60-frames-per-second video on every applicable broadcast. And if you’re looking to score a free media streaming-device, DirecTV Now offers new subscribers their choice of an Apple TV or a Roku Stick (these are limited-time offers).. 

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.

AT&T WatchTV is a $15-per-month service that offers a grab bag of cable channels, most of them lacking sports. AT&T wireless subscribers with an "&More" unlimited data plan can get the service for free. It could help fill in some holes left by other streaming bundles.

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 certain markets—especially those outside of cities—live feeds may not be available due to ongoing rights negotiations with local broadcast affiliates. In lieu of those local feeds, most streaming bundles offer prime-time 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 (click to enlarge to a readable size):

streamingfeaturescompared Jared Newman / IDG

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 (click to enlarge to a readable size):

streaming bundle apps compared Jared Newman / IDG

Finally, here’s a chart showing all the channels you can get through TV streaming bundles, and the minimum price you’ll need 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 that you can click to enlarge. We've also provided a means of downloading the chart as a PDF, although you’ll need to do that each time we update it. This version was created July 13, 2018.

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.

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