Best Live TV Streaming Service for Cord Cutters in 2023
Hulu Plus Live TV, YouTube TV and Sling TV allow you to stream live sports, news and premium channels without a contract.
Updated Nov. 13, 2023 12:45 p.m. PT
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Reviews ethics statement
Ty Pendlebury is a journalism graduate of RMIT Melbourne, and has worked at CNET since 2006. He lives in New York City where he writes about streaming and home audio.
ExpertiseTy has worked for radio, print, and online publications, and has been writing about home entertainment since 2004. He majored in Cinema Studies when studying at RMIT. 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.
David KatzmaierEditorial Director -- Personal Tech
David reviews TVs and leads the Personal Tech team at CNET, covering mobile, software, computing, streaming and home entertainment. We provide helpful, expert reviews, advice and videos on what gadget or service to buy and how to get the most out of it.
ExpertiseA 20-year CNET veteran, David has been reviewing TVs since the days of CRT, rear-projection and plasma. Prior to CNET he worked at Sound & Vision magazine and eTown.com. He is known to two people on Twitter as the Cormac McCarthy of consumer electronics.Credentials
Although still awaiting his Oscar for Best Picture Reviewer, David does hold certifications from the Imaging Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Standards and Technology on display calibration and evaluation.
Live TV streaming services may offer different packages and add-ons for viewers, but you want to ensure you can watch your local channels along with cable networks and on-demand videos. Not every service provides access to local programming (like PBS, ABC or NBC), sports or channels you'd typically find on cable and satellite TV. Compare channel lineups before choosing.
You can choose a streaming service subscription that aligns with your budget, and there are multiple services available. Prices range from $25 to over $100 per month, depending on what you want. When considering costs, review the channel selection, cloud DVR abilities, price of premium add-ons, and how many devices you can stream on simultaneously.
Take note of how many screens you can watch at a time. For example, YouTube TV allows you to stream on three devices at once, while Hulu grants you two, with the option to pay extra for more screens. Look for platform offerings that fit your household's needs.
What's the best live TV streaming service overall?
Cutting the cable cord might require you to substitute it with a live TV streaming service. Unlike on-demand platforms, live TV streaming services offer you a live channel lineup, but Hulu's live offering comes with the added perks of the Disney bundle and unlimited DVR. That's why we've chosen Hulu Plus Live TV as our top provider. No other service gives you live channels with blended on-demand content from Hulu and Disney Plus. Its user interface is comparable to its biggest competitor, YouTube TV, and the service is our current top choice because of its layout and content lineup.
These cancel-anytime live TV bundles listed here give you the ability to watch local and national news as well as live sports and events. All you need is a streaming device or smart TV. Whichever you choose, you can stream live channels such as CNN, NBC, ESPN and Fox on a host of different devices. It's easy to get started. You don't even need a technician to stop by your home.
We reviewed and tested these streaming services based on features, cost and channels. Pricing and channel availability are two things that are still in a state of flux. For instance, YouTube implemented an $8 increase, Fubo went up by at least $5, and Hulu Plus Live TV is now $77. Yet, change is all part of the brave new world of live TV streaming over the internet. If you need help deciding on the best streaming service or streaming bundle, read on. We'll continue to update this best streaming service list periodically as things change (which they frequently do).
If you want the best mix of live streaming and on-demand, Hulu Plus Live TV is it. Its channel selection may not be as robust as YouTube TV or Fubo, but it's almost there -- especially with the addition of PBS and Magnolia. Yet, it's Hulu's significant catalog of on-demand content which helps set it apart. Not only does the $77 service include Hulu basic but also Disney Plus and ESPN Plus, plus an unlimited DVR. Hulu's exclusive titles such as The Bear, The Handmaid's Tale and Only Murders in the Building, plus its massive catalog of broadcast programming, grant it a content advantage no other service can match. Given that Hulu Plus Live TV offers you more with its live channels it's the service to choose for live TV streaming.
YouTube TV has more top channels than any competitor at this price, and it's one of only two with local PBS stations currently -- Hulu will be coming online later in 2023. The basic $73 YouTube TV service has an excellent cloud DVR, including both unlimited storage and a generous nine months to watch recordings (most rivals offer 30 days). The interface is no-nonsense, even if a little drab, and yet it offers most of the features a cable service can give you. YouTube TV is also the only one to offer surround sound on live broadcasts.
If you're looking for the cheapest live TV streaming service, and one which is still able to offer a usable amount of channels, then it's without a doubt Sling TV Blue. Yet, things are a little more complicated than they are for Sling's competitors. You see, Sling tenders two different $40-ish-per-month live TV streaming channel packages, Sling Orange and Sling Blue. While a number of live TV channels are common to both, Orange is essentially the ESPN/Disney package, while Blue is the Fox/Discovery package. Meanwhile, Orange & Blue combines the two offerings for $55.
Further, the addition of ABC to five markets has increased its price there to $45 -- while it remains $40 in others. As a result, Sling TV may cost up to $20 more than Philo, but it still has better channels, more options and a comparatively better live TV streaming interface. Sling is also cheaper than most other streaming services, let alone cable. In addition to a relatively affordable price, Sling TV has two new feathers in its cap: an upgraded DVR (increased to 50 hours); and a new interface (as seen above) which makes the service a lot more fun to use.
While Sling doesn't have a free trial, it does offer a cut-down version called Freestream with a number of included channels.
DirecTV Stream is the equal-most expensive service at $75, but it does have some pluses, including the flipper-friendly ability to swipe left and right to change channels. The service also offers unlimited DVR capability to new users, while existing subscribers need to pay an extra $10 a month.
For cord-cutters who want to follow their local NBA or MLB team, DirecTV Stream's $99 Choice package is our live TV sports pick, because it has access to more regional sports networks than the competition. Additionally DirecTV Stream includes channels some other services can't, including almost 250 local PBS stations.
The service is currently offering a $10 discount on the first three months for new subscribers.
Top channels not available in base package: MLB Network, NFL Network, Travel Channel.
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Live TV streaming services we also tested
Philo: This $25 live TV streaming service offers a variety of channels, but it lacks sports channels, local stations and big-name news networks -- although Cheddar and BBC news are available. Philo offers bread-and-butter cable staples like AMC, Comedy Channel, Nickelodeon and Magnolia Network (formerly DIY), and specializes in lifestyle and reality programming. It now includes an unlimited cloud DVR and optional add-ons from Epix and Starz. We think most people are better off paying extra for Sling TV's superior service, but if Philo has every channel you want, it's a decent deal. Read our Philo review.
Fubo: There's a lot to like about Fubo -- it offers a wide selection of channels, and its sports focus makes it especially attractive to football fans of all kinds. For NFL in particular, it's one of three services, alongside YouTube TV and Hulu, with NFL Network and optional RedZone. In addition, it's also suited to NBA, NHL and MLB fans who live in an area served by one of Fubo's RSNs. The biggest hole in Fubo's lineup is the lack of Turner networks, including CNN, TNT and TBS -- especially since the latter two carry a lot of sports content. Those missing channels and the price increase to $75 (plus additional RSN fees), make it less attractive than YouTube TV or Hulu for most viewers. Read our Fubo review.
How we test live TV streaming services
While you are probably familiar with the services on this list, it's not fully reflective of every live TV platform available. Fubo, Pluto and Vidgo are among the other services that may offer what you want. There are plenty of other ways to stream and other options to choose. As we analyzed these streaming platforms, we considered a few things.
This list is ordered based on the numerical value I assigned to each streaming service in their individual review, which I determined by design (ease of use and layout), features (like 4K HDR, DVR, number of multiple streams), content (number of channels, sports offerings, add-on packages and quality of originals and catalogs) and value (price compared to these other factors). Click through to the full reviews for more details.
How to shop for cord-cutting live TV services
Each of the TV streaming services above offers a different mix of channels, so your first step should be choosing one that carries your "can't miss" cable channels and shows. Some of the most important live channels are local, namely ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC. Not every service offers all of them in every area, but the best streaming service for you will include the majority of what you love to watch, so it's worth shopping around.
The live TV streaming service lineups are in constant flux as networks scramble to secure access to popular channels (ones with highly watched original shows and regional sports networks are especially in demand). There's also the chance that a certain cable channel could disappear from a certain service after a network contract expires, which is what happened in 2020 with the regional sports networks.
Broadly, each of these streaming services can be broken down into two main groups: budget, with prices ranging between $25 and $50 and few or no local channels; and premium, with prices from $70 and up, and local channels and supercharged cloud DVRs. That's right, all of the servicesallow you to record and play back shows, just like a traditional cable or satellite DVR, but they often come with restrictions.
Next, there's the multistream question. If you want to watch more than one program at the same time -- for example, on your living room TV and on a bedroom TV, or the main TV and a tablet or other devices -- you'll want to make sure the video streaming service you're watching has enough simultaneous streams. Sling Orange only allows one stream at a time, and if you try to watch a second, it's blocked. Other services have higher simultaneous stream limits.
Keep in mind that, especially if you do have more than one person watching at once on supported devices, you need to make sure you have fast, reliable broadband internet. A 100Mbps download service will cost around $50 to $60 a month, and sadly that's where the savings of cutting cable can get swallowed up.
Streaming TV services are great, but there are some things they can't do compared with a traditional cable box.
First, it's worth looking at the channels that you can't get with any of these live TV streaming services. For example, only two of the services are currently able to offer PBS: YouTube TV and DirecTV Stream. Meanwhile, PBS local stations will roll out on Hulu with Live TV in the coming months.
With sports, fans want to make sure they can find the sports channels to follow their teams. Most services carry ESPN and local channels for NFL football, but if you follow a professional baseball or basketball team, you might need its specific channel -- called a regional sports network or RSN -- to watch regular season games. RSN coverage varies widely for each service. Sometimes, even if you live in the right area, you may be mistakenly blacked out due to an IP address error. If this is the case, you can fix this by signing up for a sports-friendly VPN.
Every live TV service's video streaming is a few seconds to a minute or more behind the "live" stream you'll get from your local cable TV or satellite provider. That means you could get a preview of scores or big plays from Twitter, phone alerts or calls from friends slightly before you see the action on screen.
If you're used to 5.1-channel surround offered by cable or even OTA, then you may be disappointed that YouTube is the only service to offer surround sound on live broadcasts. The other services include stereo sound only on live channels, though 5.1 audio is available on some on-demand material.
Live TV streaming service FAQs
What if I prefer to skip live services? What are my alternatives?
Netflix: Netflix is so popular that it's become a generic term for streaming in the same way as "Magic Marker" has or even "Coke" in the South. And then there's the ever-popular "Netflix and chill." Ad-supported plans now start at $7 a month, and the service offers thousands of TV shows and movies, including original TV series like Black Mirror and Stranger Things (be aware you may need to trade up to the $15.50 plan to watch some content). Then there are Netflix original movies including Oscar winners Roma and The Power of the Dog.
Prime Video: The "other" major streaming service, which is included as part of a $139 annual Prime Membership, or on its own for $9 a month. The interface isn't as user-friendly as Netflix, but the service also offers shows not on its rival, including original content like The Rings of Power, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and The Expanse. Amazon Prime also has the ability to add premium channels (HBO and Showtime and more), making it a potential one-stop shop.
Disney Plus: One of the biggest streaming services to launch in some time, Disney has gathered a mix of movies, TV shows and exclusive content, including Loki, Andor and She-Hulk, starting at $8 a month. Read our Disney Plus review here.
Peacock: Peacock is NBC's answer to Paramount Plus. Its main claim to fame is that its basic tier, with 7,500 hours of content, is free. Peacock Premium unlocks more content for $6 a month -- including exclusive shows such as Poker Face and Mrs. Davis -- while an ad-lite version called Peacock Premium Plus is $12 monthly.
Paramount Plus: Paramount Plus costs $6 a month or $12 monthly for ad-free streaming. The service offers live TV for Premium subscribers, sports and on-demand content from CBS, MTV, BET, Nickelodeon and Paramount Network, plus its Paramount Pictures movie studio. Paramount Plus also offers exclusive originals such as Yellowjackets, 1923 and Picard.
Vudu and Movies Anywhere: Digital libraries (or lockers) that incorporate legacy UltraViolet content and streaming movies and TV that are only available for purchase, such as new releases.
A solid, lower-cost alternative to live TV streaming services is the combination of an antenna for live local channels and an on-demand service such as Netflix or Hulu. That way you'll still be able to watch live programming and also have a choice of on-demand content.
Is a live streaming service worth it versus cable?
Streaming live TV services are still in flux. Since launching, every single service has increased its prices by at least $10 a month, TV channel selections are changing all the time, and some services have even closed. While live TV streaming is here to stay, and cable is increasingly left in the past, it will be some time before both prices and the services offered settle in.
If you want a cable-like experience both at home and for on-the-go devices, without the dead weight that a cable subscription brings, a streaming service is worth a look. There's no contract to sign, and if you don't like the service you're on, you can easily switch. So whether you're looking for a basic package such as Sling TV or want to pay more for a deluxe experience from the likes of Hulu Plus Live TV, there should be a live TV streaming service to suit you.