For those fed up with their cable or satellite TV company, there has never been a better time to cut the cord.
Streaming video services are giving traditional pay TV stiff competition by delivering live sports and primetime programming online, often for a drop in price, while premium channels like HBO and Showtime are available as separate streaming services or add-on bundles. In addition, there are no hidden charges with streaming TV, and if you ever decide to cancel, it’s easy and painless — a refreshing change from the woes of dealing with cable and satellite call centers.
PlayStation Vue, Sling TV, DirecTV Now, YouTube TV, and the recently launched Hulu with Live TV are emerging as major competition to traditional pay TV. Offering both live and on-demand programming and — in some cases — cloud-based DVRs, the services are more than capable cable alternatives. But which is best — or more to the point, which is best for you? In order to help you sift through the chaos, we’ve put together this handy guide detailing each service’s features and content offerings so you can size up each directly against its rivals.
|PlayStation Vue||Sling TV||DirecTV Now||YouTube TV||Hulu with Live TV|
|Pricing||Access/Access Slim: $40/$30 per month for 45+ channels*
Core/Core Slim: $45/$35 per month for 60+ channels*
Elite/Elite Slim: $55/$45 per month for 90+ channels*
Ultra/Ultra Slim: $75/$65 per month for 90 channels, plus HBO and Showtime
|Sling Orange: $20 per month 30+ channels
Sling Blue: $25 per month 40+ channels
Orange + Blue: $40 per month 45+ channelsAdditional channel add-on packs from $5-$15
|Live a Little: $35 for 60+ channels;
Just Right: $50 for 80+ channels;
Go Big: $60 for 100+ channels;
Gotta Have It: $70 for 120+ channels
Add-on packs available for $5
|$35 per month for 44 channels||$40 per month for 50+ Channels and Hulu Premium
($15 add-ons allow for additional streams and/or additional cloud storage)
|Free trial for new customers||5 days||7 days||7 days||30 days||7 days|
|Major Networks*||ABC, NBC, FOX (Major networks live in select cities; on-demand all other locations)
CBS (Only available in select markets)
|ABC, FOX, NBC (Major networks live in select cities; on-demand all other locations)||ABC, FOX, NBC (available in select cities)||ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC (Major networks live in select cities; on-demand all other locations)||ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC (Major networks live in select cities; on-demand all other locations)|
|Subscription Type||Monthly, no contract, cancel anytime||Monthly, no contract, cancel anytime||Monthly, no contract, cancel anytime||Monthly, no contract, cancel anytime||Monthly, no contract, cancel anytime|
|Cloud DVR||Yes (keep titles up to 28 days)||Yes, in beta (up to 100 hours-worth of content storage; currently available for Roku and Amazon devices)||No||Yes (keep titles up to nine months)||Yes (up to 50 hours-worth of content of content storage; 200-hour upgrade available)|
|Video On Demand||Yes (on select channels, shows, including local channels where available*)||Yes (on select channels, shows)||Yes (on select channels, shows)||Yes||Yes (including content from Hulu Premium streaming service)|
|Pause, Rewind, Fast Forward||All channels||Only select channels||VOD only||All Channels||Yes, but not during ads|
|Replay/Catch-up||Select channels and shows||Select channels and shows||Yes (72 hours after recording)||Select channels and shows||Select channels and shows|
|Number of streams per account||5||1 or 3 (depending on subscription)||2||3||2 (unlimited in-house streams for $15 more per month)|
|Audio||2-channel stereo, 5.1 for some on-demand content on supported devices||2-channel stereo||2-channel stereo, 5.1 for some on-demand content on supported devices||2-channel stereo||TBD|
*Each service has conditional inclusion of the major networks it carries. Some markets will have access to live network channels, including local programming, while others will be on-demand, and in some select locations, one or more of the networks — or even an entire service — may not be available at all. Be sure to check the websites for PlayStation Vue, SlingTV, DirecTV Now, YouTube TV, and Hulu for availability in your area.
Channel offerings differ quite a bit between the services and the multiple packages they offer. Follow us below for a detailed breakdown.
Note: Channels are added or removed from these services often and with little warning. Availability of specific channels may differ by market. We update this article regularly, but be sure to check channel listings on each service’s website for updates in your area.
We’ll be honest: PlayStation Vue’s pricing and packages are confusing, in part because the service’s local channel affiliate contracts are extremely complicated. Which channels you get — and even which plans are offered — will depend on your location. PlayStation Vue’s packages come in two varieties: With local channels or without. The packages that do not include local programming are noted as “slim.” So, for example, the basic package, Access, costs $40 per month in markets where local channels are included. In all other markets, however, Access Slim is $30 per month and doesn’t include live local programming (primetime content is still available on demand, however). This is the same across all Vue packages.
With that explanation out of the way, let’s dig into the plans themselves. Access/Access Slim grants you access to 45 live channels, including ESPN, CNN, AMC and more, for $40/$30 per month respectively. Those with the Access plan will have access to live ABC, NBC, FOX and (in select markets) CBS local affiliates, while Access Slim customers will have on-demand access to programming from those networks.
Beyond Access/Access Slim Slim, Vue has three more subscription tiers. Core/Core Slim, which offers 60 channels at $45/$35 per month, adding channels like CSN, ESPNEWS, and ESPN U, as well as Turner Classic Movies to the previous tier’s list. Up next is Elite/Elite Slim, which provides 90 channels at $55/$45 per month, adding EPIX Hits, Machinima, and many others.
The top tier package for PlayStation Vue is Ultra/Ultra Slim, which includes the full suite of 90-plus channels, plus HBO and Showtime bundled in for a grand total of $75/$65.
There aren’t many options when it comes to a la carte choices, however. Standalone subscriptions are available for the aforementioned Showtime and HBO, as well as Machinima, Fox Soccer Plus, and EPIX Hits at varying prices. Bear in mind that most or all of these add-ons appear in the Elite and Ultra package tiers.
Recently, Vue removed Viacom-owned channels from its service — MTV, MTV2, VH1, Spike, and Comedy Central all got the ax. Conversely, several previously unavailable channels were added, including ESPN, BBC America, VICE, NBC Sports, and more. You can view PlayStation Vue’s full channel lineup on the service’s homepage.
Sling TV offers two different basic channel packages, Sling Orange ($20/month) and Sling Blue ($25/month), but they aren’t as straightforward as Vue’s options (which, as we noted, is already complicated enough). Instead of simply adding more channels to a base selection like Vue does, Sling’s two packages vary quite a bit from one another. With Sling Orange you’ll get 20 channels, including several of Disney’s ESPN properties. Sling Blue ditches the Disney-owned channels — including Disney Channel, Freeform, and most importantly, ESPN — but bumps the total number of channels to over 40 a $5 increase, adding in Fox sports channels to supplement.
Those who wish to have the broader channel offerings of both packages can get both Sling Orange and Sling Blue for $40 per month.
From there, Sling offers a number of add-on channel packages at varying prices, including broadcast networks like ABC, favorites like MTV and Spike, or premium cable options like HBO or Showtime. Depending on your base package, though, some channels may not be available. For a detailed breakdown of Sling TV’s numerous offerings, add-ons, and limitations (especially important when it comes to sports packages), check out our Sling TV guide which covers everything you need to know about the service. A major new inclusion with Sling TV is regional sports channels. If you’ve been hesitant to ditch cable because you don’t want to miss your team playing on a local sports channel, you can now cut the cord without feeling you’ll be missing out.
DirecTV Now’s packages are more straightforward. There are four packages, each building upon the previous one. The cheapest is Live a Little, which provides 60 plus channels for just $35. This tier offers most of the obvious choices, including broadcast networks ABC, FOX, and NBC (CBS is currently not included) and plenty of favorites like Cartoon Network, ESPN, and FX. The package also has Viacom channels — MTV, Comedy Central, Spike, etc. — which currently aren’t available on PlayStation Vue.
Next is the Just Right plan, which bumps up the channel count to over 80 for $50 per month, followed by Go Big, which boasts 100 channels for $60 per month. The real bummer there is that — before January 1, 2017 — the service was offering the package for a scant $35 for as long as you subscribed. Alas, that deal is now past. The final package tier is called Gotta Have It, and tops the channel count to over 120 for $70 per month.
DirecTV Now also offers HBO and Showtime for just $5, which is a fraction of the price charged by Sling or Vue, and well below the standalone cost. In addition, there are many promotional offers. At the time of publication, the service was not only offering free HBO for a year, but also a free Apple TV if you prepay for three months up front. (Note: these promotional offers expire quickly, so be sure to check DirecTV Now’s site directly to see what’s still available.)
We do feel it’s necessary to point out that, at a certain point, the high prices and glut of unnecessary channels you’ll get with either DirecTV Now or PlayStation Vue are exactly the reasons most people quit cable in the first place. Add on a streaming service or two, and you’re right back to the high prices of cable. However, it’s hard to argue with DirecTV Now’s generous promotions as the service aggressively seeks new subscribers, and the best part is you can always cancel quickly and easily.
YouTube TV’s sole package costs $35 per month for 45 channels. That makes it a bit more expensive than the basic offerings from Sling TV and PS Vue, and equal to DirecTV’s entry package. However, the only service it beats in the number of included channels is Sling TV. That might raise questions about its value, but a closer look reveals a few notable perks. It includes all four major networks (offers ABC, NBC, Fox, and CBS) at a reasonable price. Local affiliate programming is also available to customers in its initial launch locations, including Chicago, Los Angeles, New York City, Philadelphia, and the San Francisco Bay area.
YouTube TV also has the widest number of sports channels for the money, including ESPN, ESPN2, ESPN3, ESPNU, ESPN News, SEC Network, CBS Sports Network, CSN, NBC Sports Network, Fox Sports, BTN, FS1, and FS2. You’d have to subscribe to one of the higher-tier packages from PS Vue or Sling TV to get all that elsewhere. Like with the other services discussed here, YouTube TV will also likely be adding channels as time goes on. YouTube TV also carries all original video content from YouTube’s other premium service, YouTube Red. Finally, you can get a 30-day trial and, for a limited time, a free Chromecast when you sign up.
That said, there are some niche gaps like MTV2 and Nick Jr., and the only two add-on channels currently available are Showtime and Fox Soccer Plus, with Sundance and Shudder being added sometime in the future. Sure, you can get HBO as a separate streaming service at $15 per month, but if you’re looking to combine all your internet TV into one package, YouTube TV isn’t the route we’d recommend.
Overall, YouTube TV is an impressive package for the money, especially for sports fans and those who want all the major networks. We like the idea of a single price point that delivers a respectable number of desirable channels (though we’re curious to see if Google opts for more packages once it has made more deals). We also like the simplicity of a single package, making it much easier to know what you’re getting.
Hulu with Live TV
Hulu’s single $40 per month plan gives subscribers 50-plus live channels (the exact number will be dependent on your market). You’ll get ABC, NBC, CBS, and Fox, either live or on-demand depending on your location, plus dozens of popular channels like CNN, A&E, The Disney Channel, Fox News, and FX. The inclusion of all four networks avoid the pitfalls of CBS’ conditional inclusion for PS Vue customers, and the package-dependent offering of Sling TV’s ABC add-on. Otherwise, Hulu has similar market-based restrictions for live coverage of these channels as every other service.
Much like PS Vue and YouTube TV, the only major omissions from Hulu’s package are Viacom-owned channels like Comedy Central and MTV.
Hulu With Live TV offers stiff competition when it comes to sports, providing 12 different sports channels, including ESPN, CSN, and Fox Sports 1, nearly matching YouTube TV’s 13. On top of this, Hulu with Live TV will let users follow their favorite sports teams from the NFL, NCAA, NBA, MLS, MLB, and NHL, and will record their games, provided they’re available.
On top of the 50+ channels of live TV, Hulu with Live TV subscribers will also be granted full, unrestricted access to all of Hulu’s on-demand streaming library and Hulu original content, essentially coupling a basic Hulu subscription (normally $8 per month) with 50+ channels of TV. This could give Hulu’s new service a serious edge for some customers, in that it consolidates a live streaming TV service and a Hulu sub into a single monthly bill.
Finally, Hulu With TV has a truncated number of add-on channels available right now compared to the others, only offering Showtime for $9 per month, which is the same offer and price you get with a basic or premium Hulu subscription. This makes it the service with the slimmest available add-ons.
So who wins? When it comes to the top choice, for its glut of channels at a low starting price, DirecTV Now takes the trophy here.