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Best live TV streaming services for cord cutters in 2019

Sling TV, YouTube TV, Hulu with Live TV and others let you ditch your cable company but keep the live channels and DVR. Here's how they stack up.

Cable TV can seem a lot like a landline phone these days: an unnecessary expense that's shackled to outdated hardware. All the cool kids and a lot of the cool grownups are cutting the cable TV cord.

If you want to join them but still want to keep live TV, you've come to the right place. Live TV streaming services like YouTube TV and Sling TV let you watch most if not all of your favorite TV channels -- from ABC to NBC to ESPN to CNN to Nickelodeon to Fox News -- streamed live over the internet. And they probably cost far less than you're paying the cable company for TV.

Prices start at $15 per month with no extra fees or contracts. In place of a cable box, and the monthly fee to rent it, you'll use an app on your smart TV, RokuApple TVAmazon Fire TV or game console. And you can watch at home or on the go via a tablet, phone, other mobile devices, or even a PC browser.

Update: AT&T announced that on Nov. 19, 2019, it will raise the price of its AT&T TV Now service packages, and Hulu with Live TV will also increase by $10 in December. In addition, Sony recently said that it's pulling the plug on its PlayStation Vue streaming service. 

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These services have plenty of benefits -- no more cable fees, no more contracts, yay! -- but the savings can be outweighed by other downsides such as internet fees, DVR restrictions, buffering and a lack of things to watch, especially live sports. And just like cable TV, the costs of these services just keep going up.

Meanwhile, plenty of heavy hitters have been entering the fray, including Apple with its Apple TV Plus subscription video service which launched Nov. 1, and Disney with its Disney Plus streaming service, which comes out Nov. 12. But both Apple TV Plus and Disney Plus don't have live TV and are instead "add on" services, meaning they're not meant to replace your full live streaming service.

LIVE TV STREAMING SERVICES COMPARED


YouTube TV Sling TV Hulu with Live TV AT&T TV Now
Base price $50/month for 70-plus channels $25/month for 30-plus channels $45/month for 60-plus channels $65/month for 40-plus channels
Free trial Yes Yes Yes Yes
ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC channels Yes, in many markets Fox and NBC only in select cities Yes, in many markets Yes, in many markets
Simultaneous streams per account 3 1 or 3 2 ($15 option for unlimited) 2 ($5 option for 3)
Family member/user profiles Yes No Yes No
Cloud DVR Yes (keep for 9 months) Yes ($5 per month, can't record Disney or ESPN channels) Yes Yes (20GB, keep for 30 days)
Fast-forward through or skip commercials with cloud DVR Yes Yes Yes No (Yes with $15 option)

Read: Best TV antennas for cord-cutters, starting at just $10

And while PlayStation Vue was among our top picks for premium options, unfortunately Sony is shuttering its PS Vue streaming service in January 2020. With all that in mind, here's a guide to brave the new world of live TV streaming over the internet, as well as other cord-cutting options available today, starting with our favorite recommendations for the best TV streaming service.

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YouTube TV has more top channels for the base price than any competitor, including all four local channels (ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC -- note that CBS is the parent company of AppaEconomicDevelopment) in most areas of the country. It also has the best cloud DVR of the bunch, including unlimited storage and a generous nine months to watch recordings (most are 30 days). YouTube TV's interface is no-nonsense, if a little drab, and yet it offers most of the features a cable service can give you. And unlike Sling and others, it's dead simple: one package, one price, done.

With its best-in-class channel selection and cloud DVR, YouTube TV is our favorite option for cord-cutters who want the perks of cable without the hassle. Like all premium-priced ($50-ish) services, however, its relatively high monthly fee makes it more difficult to save money over a traditional cable subscription.

Top channels not available: A&E, Comedy Central, History, Lifetime, NFL Network, Nickelodeon. Read the YouTube TV review.

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Sling TV costs more than AT&T Watch TV ($15) and Philo ($20) but has better channels, more options and a better interface, so it's worth the extra money in our opinion. And it's still dirt-cheap compared to the other services, let alone cable.

Sling is cheaper than premium services like YouTube TV and Hulu with Live TV because it has very few local stations. Confusingly, it also has two $25-per-month channel packages, Sling Orange and Sling Blue. While some channels are available on both Sling Orange and Sling Blue, the two differ significantly with other channel offerings: Orange is basically the ESPN/Disney package, while Blue is the Fox/NBC package.

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, so check out Sling TV: Everything you need to know for all the details.

Top channels not available on Sling Blue: ABC, CBS, Animal Planet, Disney Channel, ESPN, Fox News, Nickelodeon. Fox and NBC only available in select major cities.

Top channels not available on Sling Orange: ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC, Animal Planet, Bravo, CNBC, Discovery Channel, Bravo, Fox News, Fox Sports 1, FX, MSNBC, USA Network Read the Sling TV review.

Read more: YouTube TV vs. Sling TV: Which live TV streaming service is best for you?

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Why is Watch TV so cheap? It lacks locals, much like Sling TV, doesn't have any dedicated sports channels and, with the exception of CNN, is missing news channels, too. And many of the shows on the channels it does have can be watched on-demand with a Hulu subscription for less. 

On the other hand, it's solid for the price. Its lineup of include 30 channels, some of which -- like AMC, HGTV, and BBC America -- are no longer available on the more expensive AT&T TV Now. The interface is fun and easy to navigate. It's available on most other major streaming platforms, except for Roku, and some AT&T wireless plan customers get it for free.

Top channels not available: ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC, Bravo, CNBC, Disney Channel, ESPN, Fox News, Fox Sports 1, FX, MLB Network, MSNBC, NFL Network, Travel Channel, USA Network Read the AT&T Watch TV review.

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With the least cable-like interface of its competitors, Hulu's greatest asset is the integration of live TV with its significant catalog of on-demand content for one price. Unfortunately, the interface frustrations apparent with the standard service are amplified once you add live TV. Another issue is that you'll have to pay another $10 per month to get the ability to skip commercials on Hulu's cloud DVR (the base cloud DVR, included, doesn't permit skipping ads). Its channel count is solid, however, and with Hulu's catalog included (Handmaid's Tale, anyone?) it's a top competitor, especially since it costs at least $5 per month less than other premium services.

Top channels not available: AMC, BBC America, Comedy Central, MLB Network, MTV, NBA TV, NFL Network, NFL Red Zone, Nickelodeon. Read the Hulu with Live TV review.

Read: 20 Google Chromecast tips and tricks

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Formerly known as DirecTV Now, AT&T TV Now has one major extra the other premium services lack: HBO included in the price. Whether you not you care about HBO (or Game of Thrones) it's still not a good deal. First off, as of November it'll be the most expensive service starting at a base of $65, plus it's missing more of the top channels from than any competitor (although you can pay extra to get most of those channels if you want). Its DVR is also a step behind those of our top choices. The traditional-style interface is good, however, including the flipper-friendly ability to swipe left and right to change channels.

Top channels not available in base package: A&E, AMC, Animal Planet, Discovery Channel, HGTV, History, Lifetime, MLB Network, NFL Network, Travel Channel Read the AT&T TV Now review.

How to shop for cord-cutting live TV services

Each of the services above offers a different mix of channels, so your first step should be choosing one that carries your "can't miss" cable channels and shows. And some of the most important channels are locals, namely ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC. Not every service offers all of them in every area.

The services can be broken down into two main groups: budget, with prices starting at $15 but without local channels; and premium, with prices from $45 which include locals as and often other extras like a superior cloud DVR. Yes, most of the services (barring AT&T Watch TV) allow you to record and play back shows, just like a traditional cable or satellite DVR, but they often come with restrictions. 

Then there's the multistream issue. If you want to watch more than one program at the same time -- for example, on your living room TV and on a bedroom TV, or the main TV and a tablet or other devices -- you'll want to make sure the service you're watching has enough simultaneous streams. Some of the least expensive services only allow one stream at a time, and if you try to watch a second, it's blocked.

Keep in mind that, especially if you do have more than one person watching at once on supported devices, you need to make sure you have fast, reliable broadband internet. A 100Mbps download service will cost around $50 to $60 a month, and here's where the savings of cutting cable can get swallowed up. 

Here's a live TV streaming shopping list to consider: 

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Hulu with Live TV

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What streaming TV services won't give you

Streaming TV services are great, but there are some things they can't do compared to a traditional cable box. 

First, it's worth looking at the channels that you can't get with any of these services. A big one has been PBS, as the broadcaster reportedly hadn't acquired the streaming rights to all of the shows that it airs. However, the good news is that YouTube TV will be the first to include PBS "later this year".

Another biggie is sports. Sure, most services carry ESPN and local channels for NFL football, but if you follow a professional baseball or basketball team, chances are you'll need their specific channel -- called an RSN, or regional sports network -- to watch regular season games. RSN coverage varies widely for each service.

And fans of live sports beware: every live TV service's video streaming is a few seconds to a minute or more behind the "live" stream you'll get from your local cable or satellite provider. That means you could get a preview of scores or big plays from Twitter, phone alerts or phone calls from friends slightly before you see the action on-screen.

Read more: NFL streaming: Best ways to watch football live without cable

While AT&T TV Now offers HBO as part of its base subscription, most other services either sell it as an add-on or require you to sign up separately for HBO Now. In addition, NFL Red Zone and NHL Network are either not available or only as part of a package. 

If you're used to the 5.1 surrounds offered by cable or even OTA, then you'll probably be disappointed that all of the services only include stereo sound on live broadcasts. AT&T TV Now does include 5.1 audio on some on-demand material, though.

(Note that AppaEconomicDevelopment is owned by CBS, which is a compensated programming provider on all cable, satellite and online TV services that offer CBS channels, which include Showtime, Pop, CBS Sports, and The CW, among others. CBS also owns and operates its own online service, CBS All Access, which is mentioned below.)

Other options

Philo

Price: Starts at $20 per month

Another cheap service with no sports or local channels, Philo offers bread-and-butter cable channels like AMC, Comedy Channel, Nickelodeon and BBC America. Unlike Watch AT&T, it includes a cloud DVR, but it lacks a big-name 24-hour news channel like CNN. 

Read more: This is the best cheap live-TV streaming service for cord cutters

CBS All Access

Price: Starts at $6 per month

CBS All Access stands out from all of the other services as it offers live (in some cities) and on-demand from just one channel. In addition to broadcast video-on-demand it offers exclusive online content such as Star Trek: Discovery. The on-demand stuff has ads, but you can get an ad-free option for $10 a month.

Now playing: Watch this: How to cut the cord for $10: installing an indoor antenna
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Fubo TV

Price: Starts at $55 per month

Fubo TV is a sports-centric service that also offers a number of other channels including local OTA stations (except ABC) -- and more RSNs (regional sports networks) than any other service. Especially for fans of professional baseball, basketball and hockey teams, FuboTV offers what might be the only way to watch regular-season games without cable. There's no ESPN, however, and a convoluted user interface and high price mean it's not the first service we'd choose.

Don't care about live TV? More cord-cutter staples

Netflix: One of the first streaming TV services and it's so popular that it's become a catch-all term in the same way as "Magic Marker" or "Coke" in the South. Plans start at $13 a month, and it covers thousands of TV shows and movies, including original content like Daredevil and Orange Is the New Black.

Amazon Prime Video: The "other" major streaming service, which is included as part of a $99 annual Prime Membership or $9 a month. The interface isn't as user-friendly as Netflix, but the service also offers shows not on its rival, including original content like The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. Amazon Prime also has the ability to add premium channels (HBO and Showtime and more), making it a potential one-stop shop.

Vudu/Movies Anywhere: A digital library (or locker) that incorporates both UltraViolet content and streaming movies and TV that are only available for purchase, like new releases.

It's also worth investigating free, ad-supported services such as Roku Channel, IMDB Freedive, TuBi TV, Pluto, and Sony Crackle, which offer a wealth of content.

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Is an indoor or outdoor antenna a viable option?

If you have a TV in your house -- that is, a screen that incorporates a tuner -- you're part-way to cutting the cord already. An affordable indoor antenna hooked up to your set-top box will let you watch free TV over the air from any channel you receive in your local broadcast area. Antennas cost as little as $10. See our comparison of indoor antennas here.

You can also add a DVR such as the Amazon Fire TV Recast or TiVo Bolt OTA if you want. Then you can record those live TV antenna channels, play them back and skip commercials, just like on a standard cable TV DVR. Here's AppaEconomicDevelopment's roundup of the best OTA DVRs for cord-cutters.

A solid, lower-cost alternative to live TV streaming services is the combination of an antenna for live local channels and an on-demand service such as Netflix or Hulu (which is now only $5.99 a month). That way you'll still be able to watch live programming and also have a choice of on-demand content.   

08-amazon-fire-tv-recast

Amazon's Fire TV Recast DVR is a cord-cutting antenna user's friend.

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Conclusion: Try it yourself

Streaming live TV services are still in their infancy, and the industry is still in flux. Since launch, every service has increased prices by at least $5 a month, channel selections and cities with local channel access are changing all the time, and reports persist about some services losing money. While streaming is undoubtedly the future, it will be some time before both prices and the services offered settle in.

That said, if you want a cable-like experience both at home and for on-the-go devices without the dead weight that a cable subscription brings, then a streaming service is worth a look. There's no contract to sign, and if you don't like the service you're on, you can easily switch. So whether you're looking for a basic package such as Sling TV or want to pay more for a deluxe experience from the likes of AT&T TV Now, there should be a streaming TV service to suit you.

Originally published earlier.