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Philo Review: Budget Live TV Streamer Has a Lot to Offer but Misses Key Channels

Philo costs much less than its competitors, but its channel lineup might not appease cord cutters.

Ty Pendlebury Editor
Ty Pendlebury has worked at CNET since 2006. He lives in New York City where he writes about streaming and home audio.
Expertise Ty has worked for radio, print, and online publications, and has been writing about home entertainment since 2004. He is an avid record collector and streaming music enthusiast. Credentials
  • Ty was nominated for Best New Journalist at the Australian IT Journalism awards, but he has only ever won one thing. As a youth, he was awarded a free session for the photography studio at a local supermarket.
Meara Isenberg Writer
Meara covers streaming service news for CNET. She graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a degree in journalism. When she's not writing, she likes to dote over her cat, sip black coffee and try out new horror movies.
Ty Pendlebury
Meara Isenberg
6 min read

Philo serves up 71 livestreaming channels for $25 per month.


People looking to cut the cord and opt for a live TV streaming service have quite a few options to consider. You're probably familiar with YouTube TV and Hulu Plus Live TV, but also vying for your attention is Philo, a service that boasts a much lower price compared with those rivals. 

After spending time with Philo, we found that it offers a decent channel count, an intuitive interface and an impressive, unlimited DVR. But the service is missing sports channels, big news networks and locals, and this may take it out of the running for folks looking for a true cable alternative. 

At $25 a month, Philo is positioned between the free TV services, such as Freevee and Tubi, and Sling, another bargain live TV streamer. So does it fill the gap between them, or are either of the other options better?

Read more: Best live TV streaming services for cord cutters

What is Philo?

Philo is a service designed to largely replicate your cable TV subscription but at a much reduced price. For $25 per month, you get access to 71 channels, including highlights such as AMC, A&E, Discovery Channel, Food Network, History, Nickelodeon, TLC, Lifetime, MTV, BET, Hallmark Channel and Paramount Network. MGM Plus and STARZ are available if you pay extra. 

Philo is a relatively small service, with more than 800,000 subscribers in 2020, while competitor Sling TV had at least 2.3 million at last count. Hulu Plus Live TV and YouTube TV each counted a couple of million more subscribers than that in 2022.

In addition to offering live TV, Philo is also an on-demand service with more than 75,000 titles included. This is compared with Sling TV's 80,000 on-demand shows and movies in 2021. (Sling didn't immediately get back to us about whether this number has changed and whether both Sling Blue and Orange customers have access to all the titles).

In comparison, free ad-supported services like Pluto TV and Tubi offer a compelling alternative. These services let you surf channels, but it's a significantly different channel makeup than Philo's (instead, think of a channel just for Baywatch or one with original Showtime programming called Showtime Selects). There are also on-demand titles to browse. You can't skip around in shows or movies in the free TV channels like you can in live channels on Philo -- and pausing might not even be an option -- but again, these services are totally free and ad-supported.


The guide in Philo.

Screenshot by Meara Isenberg/CNET

Using Philo

I tested Philo for about a week on my laptop and TV with Roku, but it's also available on iOS, Apple TV, FireTV and Android devices.

When using a web browser, people are greeted by tabs at the top that display the home page and the guide that serves up live channels. There's also Top Playable, showcasing "what's new, popular, and watchable now," according to Philo. 

Philo has profiles for shows such as for The Walking Dead or Chopped, providing a handy way to see what you can watch at a given moment live or with on-demand, DVR or 72-hour Rewind (Philo says it lets you replay most shows that have aired within the last 72 hours). When I selected a few on-demand episodes of Storage Wars on A&E, marked with a little box that says VOD, unskippable ad breaks were scattered throughout. 

The profiles include the option to Save (you'll also find this button when clicking on specific episodes or movies in the guide), and this is where the unlimited DVR comes into play. Philo lets you save anything currently airing or scheduled to air on its platform, with titles appearing under the Saved tab. For shows, saving records all future airings. 

A 2021 price rise also extended the window of time that recordings are kept in the DVR from 30 days to one year. So with the unlimited DVR, you don't have to worry about maxing out your storage, you have a year to watch and, best of all, you can fast-forward through all the commercials. 


A show profile for 1883.

Screenshot by Meara Isenberg/CNET

If what you're really here for is to watch something live, that's catered to as well. Philo says it doesn't insert more ads into programming beyond what's defined by a network's schedule, but if you haven't watched live TV in a while, I'll remind you what that's like. In my testing, I found a live episode of Parks and Recreation on Comedy Central had three ad breaks that added up to roughly 13 minutes of the show's total 34 minutes. An episode of BBQ Across America on Cooking Channel, more in the hour-long range, had about 18 minutes of commercials over five ad breaks. 

The Roku interface is very similar to the web browser version, but I preferred looking at the guide on my Roku. The way the live titles are presented -- kind of like rows of square-ish bubbles -- looked sleeker on my TV. I did encounter some strange behavior on both platforms, but it was nothing that stopped me from wanting to use it entirely. For instance, on entering the Roku app and trying to watch something live, I was kicked out of the show immediately and saw an error message. After I restarted the Philo app, everything worked fine. On my laptop, I wasn't able to leave the picture-in-picture mode without it booting me out of a program. 


Saved (aka DVR-ed) content in Philo.

Screenshot by Meara Isenberg/CNET

Other things to note are that Philo has a seven-day free trial and users are able to watch on up to three screens at once. The home page lets you quickly access saved content and content you want to continue watching. Something I liked about the guide is that it doesn't automatically start to play or preview content while you're selecting something to watch. In Philo's settings, you can also adjust if content on a live channel starts from the beginning or its current live position. 

Philo vs. Sling TV

When it comes to live TV streaming on a budget, on the next price rung up is Sling, which lets you choose between Blue and Orange services that each cost $40 per month. In addition to picking between those colors/plans, you can personalize your service with mini channel collections that cost extra. Depending on where you live, you might get local ABC, NBC or ABC with Blue, and the combination of all three might mean your subscription price is $5 higher.

Each of these options -- Sling Blue, Orange and Philo -- has some channels that you can't get with another. Blue exclusively has Bravo, NFL Network, FS1, MSNBC and Fox News, while Orange is the only way to get ESPN, Freeform and Disney Channel. With both Blue and Orange, you're getting access to CNN, TNT, TBS and Cartoon Network, which doesn't come with Philo. 

On the other hand, you'd need Philo to watch Animal Planet, Cooking Channel, BBC World News, Nickelodeon, Paramount and Hallmark, among other channels. 

Should you get it?

Philo straddles the worlds between the Netflix/Prime Video on-demand model and live cable TV channels. Though it lets you watch live TV for less compared with its rivals, its price is higher than traditional on-demand streaming services. It's worth checking to see if the content you want is available elsewhere. For example, when I looked for AMC Walking Dead spinoff Dead City, I saw that it hits AMC's streaming service days before it even airs on the AMC channel on Philo. 


The Philo home page.

Screenshot by Meara Isenberg/CNET

In conclusion, Philo does offer a lot of features for the money, including a stack of channels and a useful unlimited DVR. It's a bargain compared with other live TV streaming services, but that might not mean much if it doesn't offer the channels you want to watch. If you're intrigued nonetheless, the free trial makes it easy to give Philo a go.