Cut out the sports, news and local channels, and suddenly live TV is cheaper than ever.
A new multichannel live TV streaming service called Philo launches today, and it's just $16 per month. That's the least-expensive of its kind yet, undercutting former lowball champ, which starts at $20. Philo is less than half as much as , , and .
And Philo has more channels -- 35 -- than you might expect for such a low price. Sling TV has about, for example, and YouTube TV has about 40.
With those headline features, you might already be reaching for your wallet or dialing up your. But for many people, the devil is in the channel details.
Cheap(er) channels: No sports or locals, very little news
Philo bills its selection of channels as "entertainment, lifestyle and knowledge-focused programming," which is a cute way to say "No ESPN, Fox News or CBS."
Those channels, and many others that focus on sports and news including CNN, MSNBC, Fox Sports and NFL Network, aren't available on Philo. It does have financial news network Cheddar and BBC World News, but that's it.
The service also lacks access to your, as well as first-run shows from those networks (full disclosure: CNET is owned by CBS). Cord-cutters who might not mind the omission, but others might not want to do without NFL football, local news or prime-time network shows.
So what channels does Philo have? The programming groups A+E, AMC, Discovery, Scripps and Viacom invested a total of $25 million to launch the service, and many of their channels are on board. They include AMC, Comedy Central, HGTV, TLC, A+E, Food Network and Discovery Channel. See the bottom of this post for the full lineup.
In addition to the base package you can also pony up another $4 per month to get nine more channels, including Cooking Channel and MTV Live.
Available on Chrome, iOS and Roku, complete with cloud DVR
Just like competitors Sling TV, YouTube TV and the rest, Philo streams live over the internet, no cable box required. You can cancel or re-up anytime, without having to sign a contract, and there's a free seven-day trial. With Philo's trial there's no need to enter a bunch of info, just your phone number. One subscription allows you to stream to up to three devices simultaneously.
You'll use the Roku app to stream to a TV. You can also stream via Chromecast or other TV-connected Google Cast device from a Chrome browser on your computer. At launch Philo doesn't support any other TV devices, although the company says more are planned, including AirPlay support for Apple TV.
Beyond the TV you can stream to Apple phones and tablets using the Philo iOS app, available now. People with Android phones will have to use the Chrome mobile browser, although an Android app is in the works, too. You can also watch on a PC via browsers.
Philo has a cloud DVR included in the price, just like YouTube TV and PlayStation Vue. Storage capacity is unlimited but shows expire after 30 days. There's the ability to pause any live channel, start programs from the beginning, and watch programs that have aired in the past three days. Philo also has a library of shows available on-demand.
Simple interface, social coming soon
I gave the service a quick spin on a Roku and Chrome browsers via Android and a Mac computer, and it was mostly simple and well-executed.
On Roku responses were quick and satisfying. The Home page serves up last-viewed shows and ones you've saved to your cloud DVR. The Live page shows thumbnails of currently playing shows, while the Saved page gathers all of your DVRs shows in one place. There's also keyword search. When watching a show you can access the menu by clicking up and options by clicking down.
At times Philo's video quality did seem a bit softer than other services on the big screen via Roku, although the phone and PC-based images were fine.
The browser-based player adds a grid-style guide not available on Roku, but otherwise the two are similar. I was impressed by the web app on my Android phone. Yes a "real" Android app would be better, but bring able to just use the browser is pretty cool.
Compared to Vue or YouTube TV Philo goes for simplicity, and it mostly works. I still like the numerous browsing and categorization options on those apps better, and YouTube in particular is great at wrangling a large collection of recordings. But for an early effort and a relatively niche product, Philo is phine.
In a demo given to me by Philo's representatives they showed off some of the social features coming soon to the service. For friends and family with Philo, you can see what shows they like and are watching. You can even synch viewing with friends so you can follow along together, or see how far they've watched so you can avoid spoilers. For people without Philo it's easy to send an invite.
The takeaway: Definitely not for everyone
Compared to 100-plus-channel cable packages any live TV streaming service has compromises. Philo just has more than any of the others, which makes it even more niche than Sling TV and company.
Not being able to tune to a live newscast or browse sporting events will be a deal-breaker for a lot of people. For those who don't care about the absent channels, a basic Hulu subscription offers enough "entertainment, lifestyle and knowledge-focused programming" to make a lot of Philo redundant -- for half the price. Let's face it: beyond news and sports, watching something live isn't that important for a lot of people.
Philo is available starting today nationwide.
Full channel lineup on Philo ($16/month):
- Animal Planet
- AXS TV
- BBC America
- BBC World News
- Comedy Central
- Discovery Channel
- Food Network
- Lifetime Movies
- Nick Jr.
- Sundance Channel
- Travel Channel
- TV Land
- We TV
Additional channels for another $4 per month:
- American Heroes Channel
- BET Her
- Cooking Channel
- Destination America
- Discovery Family
- Discovery Life
- MTV Live