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Ready to cut the cord and jump into the stream? Let CableTV.com help you navigate the waters of streaming TV.

About streaming TV

Despite the hype, streaming TV isn’t an entirely new concept—we’ve been glued to YouTube for over a decade, after all. But internet-delivered TV has become more sophisticated than its early days as a low-res portal for cat videos and rickrolls.

Streaming has also gotten more crowded. There are currently over 100 streaming TV services available, ranging from the Big Three of on-demand streaming (Netflix, Hulu, and Prime Video) to live platforms (Sling TV, DIRECTV NOW, and fuboTV) to network-owned apps (HBO NOW, CBS All Access, and FX+).

Even YouTube has jumped into the on-demand and livestreaming TV game with its YouTube Premium and YouTube TV services.

All of that’s great news for TV consumers, in both choice and price. Streaming TV is a great option for viewers who know exactly what they want and how much they want to pay for it (spoiler: the answer is universally “less”).

While no single streaming TV service gives you everything a cable or satellite hookup does, they’re at least cheaper and more easily tailored to your tastes.

Pros and cons of streaming TV

Lower monthly bills and no long-term commitments are easy arguments for potential cord-cutters, but there are other factors to consider before breaking out the scissors. Also, don’t break out the scissors; “cord-cutting” is just a figurative term.

Pros

  • Cheaper price than cable or satellite
  • More on-demand options
  • Free trial periods
  • No contracts
  • No equipment rental or installation

Cons

  • Inconsistent channel lineups
  • Internet connection dependency
  • Simultaneous stream restrictions
  • Limited sports options
  • Limited local channels

Streaming TV is completely dependent on an internet connection, preferably a fast one, to get the full HD and 4K TV experience. Anything less than 5 Mbps is going to result in buffering frustration.

Other downsides to streaming TV lie with channel availability. A couple of providers come close, but no one streaming service offers the complete channel lineup you’re used to with cable and satellite.

Finding live sports and local network affiliate channels can also be a challenge, and some networks (like PBS) aren’t available to livestream on any service.

Another thing to look out for: streaming services place caps on how many simultaneous streams can be viewed through one account and then charge extra if you want to add more. Blame the password sharers who dare deprive struggling Netflix of its monthly $12.99.

CableTV.com’s verdict: Streaming TV is still new and far from perfect, but it’s a viable alternative to cable and satellite—not to mention cheaper.

If you’re averse to contracts, missed cable guy appointments, and paying for hundreds of filler channels you’ll never watch (like MTV Classic—why all the “music” videos, but no Teen Mom?), streaming might be for you.

Popular streaming TV services

ServiceChannelsPrice rangeBest forWebsite
Netflix N/A$8.99–$15.99/mo.Original programmingTry it now
HuluN/A$5.99–$11.99/mo.Network shows, original programmingTry it now
Hulu + Live TV60$44.99–$50.99/mo.Hulu experience with live channelsTry it now
Prime VideoN/A$12.99/mo.Movies, original programming Try it now
Sling TV30–45$25–$40/mo.Budget packagesTry it now
DIRECTV NOW45–125$50–$135/mo.Channel selection Try it now
fuboTV75–95$54.99–74.99/mo.Soccer, niche sports Try it now
YouTube TV70$49.99/mo.Local channelsTry it now
PlayStation Vue49–92$44.99–$79.99/mo. DVR usageTry it now
Philo TV58$20/mo. Budget entertainment programmingTry it now
AT&T WatchTV35$15/mo. Cable networksTry it now
HBO NOWN/A$14.99/mo. Original programming, moviesTry it now
CBS All Access1$5.99–$9.99/mo. CBS showsTry it now
ESPN+N/A$4.99/mo.Sports events and documentariesTry it now
ServiceNetflix
ChannelsN/A
Price range$8.99–$15.99/mo.
Best forOriginal programming
WebsiteTry it now
ServiceHulu
ChannelsN/A
Price range$5.99–$11.99/mo.
Best forNetwork shows, original programming
WebsiteTry it now
ServiceHulu + Live TV
Channels60
Price range$44.99–$50.99/mo.
Best forHulu experience with live channels
WebsiteTry it now
ServicePrime Video
ChannelsN/A
Price range$12.99/mo.
Best forMovies, original programming
WebsiteTry it now
ServiceSling TV
Channels30–45
Price range$25–$40/mo.
Best forBudget packages
WebsiteTry it now
ServiceDIRECTV NOW
Channels45–125
Price range$50–$135/mo.
Best forChannel selection
WebsiteTry it now
ServicefuboTV
Channels75–95
Price range$54.99–74.99/mo.
Best forSoccer, niche sports
WebsiteTry it now
ServiceYouTube TV
Channels70
Price range$49.99/mo.
Best forLocal channels
WebsiteTry it now
ServicePlayStation Vue
Channels49–92
Price range$44.99–$79.99/mo.
Best forDVR usage
WebsiteTry it now
ServicePhilo TV
Channels58
Price range$20/mo.
Best forBudget entertainment programming
WebsiteTry it now
ServiceAT&T WatchTV
Channels35
Price range$15/mo.
Best forCable networks
WebsiteTry it now
ServiceHBO NOW
ChannelsN/A
Price range$14.99/mo.
Best forOriginal programming, movies
WebsiteTry it now
ServiceCBS All Access
Channels1
Price range$5.99–$9.99/mo.
Best forCBS shows
WebsiteTry it now
ServiceESPN+
ChannelsN/A
Price range$4.99/mo.
Best forSports events and documentaries
WebsiteTry it now
Streaming TV Apps On the Go

Live TV streaming vs. on-demand TV streaming

The on-demand TV streaming model is well established at this point—you see a show or movie in the menu, click it, play it, and you’re done. Basically, you watch on your own schedule, not a network’s.

Livestreaming content works on a real-time schedule, so you scroll through a set of channels like you would with cable or satellite to choose a show that’s on right now. Watching tonight’s new Brooklyn Nine-Nine episode as it airs on NBC rather than waiting for it to turn up tomorrow or next week on Hulu, for example.

Cable and satellite still have the edge in live TV, though streaming services like DIRECTV NOW and Sling TV come close to re-creating the experience. That’s probably because they’re owned by DIRECTV and DISH respectively.

Right now, no single livestreaming TV service carries the complete roster of channels you could get with a standard cable package. So don’t assume your favorite channels are there; look over the lineups.

And look over this, too: CableTV.com has reviewed 11 of the top streaming TV services, including livestreaming and on-demand flavors. We go into greater detail about channel lineups, device availability, and the pros and cons of streaming to help ease your cord-cutting mind.

Streaming TV devices

Most streaming TV apps are available on smart TVs and Blu-ray players, but the optimal way to stream is through a dedicated device separate from your screen, connected to the internet through an Ethernet cable or Wi-Fi.

Streaming TV devices come in either HDMI dongle or small set-top box form. Either takes up less entertainment-center space than the average cable or satellite box because there’s no physical DVR hard drive. You can still record, though; livestreamed shows are stored on a cloud DVR, and total hours allowed vary by service.

Conveniently, CableTV.com has also reviewed five of the top streaming devices for you, including Roku, Amazon Fire TV, and Apple TV.

Internet connection

If your household already has heavy internet demands between web surfers and gamers, streaming TV is going to add considerably to the load.

Services like Netflix recommend at least 25 Mbps of download speed for HD viewing, which is fine if you’re watching Black Mirror and engaging in nothing else online.

But let’s get real: if we weren’t compulsive internet multitaskers, Black Mirror wouldn’t even be a show.

That said, if streaming is important to you, make “the more Mbps the better” your new motto. Especially if you like HD and 4K viewing, which compete for a huge chunk of bandwidth, you’ll need at least 25 Mbps to keep everybody un-pixelated and happy. Some DSL connections can achieve those numbers, but cable or fiber-optic internet is a better bet for handling the extra data strain.

Before you sign up for any streaming service, test your internet speed. If it doesn’t meet the minimum double digits, it’s probably time to switch internet providers.

Streaming TV has (almost) arrived

Cord-cutting isn’t like switching from one cable provider to another. There are expectations to be adjusted and compromises to accept. Streaming TV doesn’t yet cover everything cable and satellite can deliver—in the traditional viewing sense.

But in the non-traditional sense, streaming TV can already do far more, and new innovations are coming along every day.

Even if you have to subscribe to more than one service to get everything you want, it can still add up to less than a cable bill, and the convenience can’t be overstated. So shop around for yourself, and you might find you’re a cord-cutter after all.

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