Your bracket is set. Your pool money is paid. Your co-workers are ready to be taunted. But cable TV isn't accessible.
Don't worry, there's an app for that. Actually a whole bunch of apps, and websites, and compatible devices.
This year it's easier than ever to watch March Madness and Final Four games live without a cable subscription. And if you do have cable, it's easier to stream the games to another device, including your phone, tablet or PC.
Here's how to do it.
On your computer, phone or tablet (for free)
Go to the official NCAA.com March Madness site or download the official NCAA March Madness app (for Android or iOS), where every game is available to stream for free, no cable or other subscription required, thanks to a "live video pass." And yes, there's a boss button.
The catch? The free pass is only available on PC or mobile (not on TV devices), and is only unlimited for games broadcast on CBS (CBS is the parent company of CNET). That's 24 games, including the Final Four playoffs and the championship game.
The other 43 games are being broadcast by Turner's networks (TBS, TNT, TruTV), and for them the free pass expires after three hours.
On your computer, phone or tablet (with sign-in)
If you have a participating TV provider (cable, satellite or PlayStation Vue) username and password, use it to sign in to the March Madness site and/or the mobile app. Doing so allows unlimited streaming of every live game.
Not every local TV provider participates, however. And among the three nationwide live TV streaming services, only PlayStation Vue supports login to the March Madness app and web site. DirecTV Now and Sling TV do not.
If you do subscribe to one of those three live TV services, to CBS All Access or to a cable TV provider that lets you sign in to Turner's apps and sites, you can also stream games there instead of using the official NCAA app and site. Here's the breakdown:
- PlayStation Vue: CBS games currently available in 99 major cities covering about 60 percent of the US viewing population. Turner games available on all packages.
- Sling TV: No CBS games (but you can stream all CBS games for free using the NCAA app or website). Games on TNT and TBS are available to all Sling TV customers. Sling Blue customers can access TruTV games too, while Sling Orange customers need to get the Comedy Plus Extra add-on package to watch TruTV games.
- DirecTV Now: No CBS games (but you can stream all CBS games for free using the NCAA app or website). Turner games available on all packages.
- CBS All Access: Live CBS games available to subscribers ($6 per month, with a free trial) via its website or mobile or Windows 10 app.
- Watch TNT/Watch TBS/Watch truTV: Live games on these Turner networks are available via their mobile apps and websites, if you have sign-in information (typically from a cable subscription).
On your TV (for free)
There are three main ways to get live games on an actual television for free:
- Connect your PC, phone or tablet to a TV (with a wire)
- Connect an antenna
- Get a "free trial" of PlayStation Vue, Sling TV, PlayStation Now or CBS All Access
The first involves a good old-fashioned "hack:" follow the instructions above to get the live games running on your computer, phone or tablet with the official NCAA March Madness website or app. Then physically connect that device to the TV using, yes, a wire.
If you have an HDMI output (on many laptops and some phones) it's easy. Otherwise you might have to get creative. Check out How to connect your Android phone to an HDTV and How to connect an iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch to your TV for some ideas. And no, you can't use the Chromecast ($53 at eBay) or AirPlay wireless protocols (see below) to stream games to a TV without logging in.
The second option is also old-fashioned: get an antenna. It will allow you to watch CBS games for free, but not Turner games since they aren't broadcast over the air. It's not technically "streaming," but it's still worth a mention.
The third option technically requires sign-in, but it's free: get a free trial. PlayStation Vue, Sling TV or DirecTV Now all offer week-long trials. I suggest Vue because it's the only one with both CBS and Turner games (see above). You could also get a free trial from CBS All Access to watch CBS' games. Remember that for any of these trials you'll need to supply a valid credit card number, and you'll automatically be charged when the trial period ends.
On your TV (with sign-in)
In general, streaming to a TV device requires logging in to the official NCAA app or another app that carries some or all of the games. It all depends on the device you connect to the TV. Here's what you need to know.
Roku, Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, Xbox: To watch live games broadcast by Turner, download the official NCAA March Madness app from your device's app store, sign in using your cable, satellite or Vue credentials, and go to town.
Unfortunately, live games on CBS are not available on Apple TV, Roku, Fire TV, and Xbox via the official NCAA March Madness app. To watch those games you'll need to use the CBS All Access app ($6/month with a 7-day free trial) or the PlayStation Vue app (starting at $30/month with a 7-day free trial).
All of these devices also offer apps for PlayStation Vue, Sling TV, DirecTV Now, CBS All Access and Turner's channels. See above for details.
Chromecast: Owners of Chromecast or another device with the Chromecast built-in feature -- like an Nvidia Shield, Sony Android TV or Vizio SmartCast TV -- can cast all of the games (including CBS games) to a TV using the official NCAA app or website.
PlayStation: The only option is PlayStation Vue, but it's a good one, as described above. PlayStation 4 users can also take advantage of the new MultiView feature, which allows you to watch three channels (and yes, three games if available) simultaneously.
Good luck, and remember to keep that boss button handy.