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Best live TV streaming services for cord-cutters in 2020

por Abigail Molineux (2020-01-15)


id="article-body" class="row" section="article-body"> If you want to cut the cable TV cord but still want to keep live TV, the future is in streaming. Live TV streaming services like YouTube TV and Sling TV let you watch most, if not all of your favorite TV channels -- from ABC to NBC to ESPN to CNN to Nickelodeon to Fox News -- streamed live over the internet. And they probably cost far less than you're paying the cable company for TV.

John_Lennon_Imagine_1971.jpgPrices start at $15 per month with no extra fees or contracts. In place of a cable box, and the monthly fee to rent it, you'll use an app on your smart TV, Roku, Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV or game console. And you can watch at home or on the go via a tablet, phone, other mobile devices, or even a PC browser.

Now playing: Watch this: Live TV streaming services for cord cutters: How to choose... 2:44 These services have plenty of benefits -- no more cable fees, no more contracts, yay! -- but the savings can be outweighed by other downsides such as internet fees, DVR restrictions, buffering and a lack of things to watch, especially live sports. And just like cable TV, the costs of these services just keep going up. AT&T will raise the price of its AT&T TV Now service packages, Hulu with Live TV will also increase by $10 in December, while Sling just announced it will raise its price by $5 across the board.  While PlayStation Vue was among our top picks for premium options, unfortunately, Sony is shuttering its PS Vue streaming service in January 2020.  

LIVE TV STREAMING SERVICES COMPARED


YouTube TV Sling TV Hulu with Live TV AT&T TV Now

Base price $50/month for 70-plus channels $30/month for 30-plus channels $55/month for 60-plus channels $65/month for 45-plus channels

Free trial Yes Yes Yes Yes

ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC channels Yes, in many markets Fox and NBC only in select cities Yes, in many markets Yes, in many markets

Simultaneous streams per account 3 1 or 3 2 ($15 option for unlimited) 2 ($5 option for 3)

Family member/user profiles Yes No Yes No

Cloud DVR Yes (keep for 9 months) Yes Yes Yes (20GB, keep for 30 days)

Fast-forward through or skip commercials with cloud DVR Yes Yes Yes No (Yes with $15 option)
Read: Best TV antennas for cord-cutters, starting at just $10 | Best TVs in 2020

Meanwhile, plenty of heavy hitters have entered the fray, including Apple with its Apple TV Plus subscription video service which launched Nov. 1, and Disney with its Disney Plus streaming service, which debuted on Nov. 12. But both Apple TV Plus and Disney Plus don't have live TV and are instead "add on" services, meaning they're not meant to replace your full live streaming service.  

With all that in mind, here's a guide to brave the new world of live TV streaming over the internet, as well as other cord-cutting options available today, starting with our favorite recommendations for the best TV streaming service.  

Best overall
YouTube TV
Sarah Tew/CNET YouTube TV has more top channels for the base price than any competitor, including all four local channels (ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC; note that CBS is the parent company of CNET) in most areas of the country. It also has the best cloud DVR of the bunch, including unlimited storage and a generous nine months to watch recordings (most are 30 days). YouTube TV's interface is no-nonsense, if a little drab, and yet it offers most of the features a cable service can give you. And unlike Sling and others, it's dead simple: One package, one price, done.

With its best-in-class channel selection and cloud DVR, YouTube TV is our favorite option for cord-cutters who want the perks of cable without the hassle. Like all premium-priced ($50-ish) services, however, its relatively high monthly fee makes it more difficult to save money over a traditional cable subscription.

Top channels not available: A&E, Comedy Central, History, Lifetime, NFL Network, Nickelodeon. Read the YouTube TV review.

$50 at YouTube TV Read more: Best streaming device of 2020: Roku, Apple TV, Fire Stick, Chromecast and more

Best budget service
Sling TV
Sarah Tew/CNET Sling TV costs more than AT&T Watch TV ($15) and Philo ($20) but has better channels, more options and a better interface, so it's worth the extra money in our opinion. And it's still dirt-cheap compared to the other services, let alone cable.

Sling is cheaper than premium services like YouTube TV and Hulu with Live TV because it has very few local stations. Confusingly, it also has two $30-per-month channel packages, Sling Orange and Sling Blue. While some channels are available on both Sling Orange and Sling Blue, the two differ significantly with other channel offerings: Orange is basically the ESPN/Disney package, while Blue is the Fox/NBC package.

Sling's interface isn't much to look at, but it offers all of the options you need without cluttering the screen. The only real letdown is its arcane live pause and DVR exceptions (you can't record Disney-owned channels like ABC, for example). Its options are myriad, so check out Sling TV: Everything you need to know for all the details.

Top channels not available on Sling Blue: ABC, tour bắc kinh thượng hải CBS, Animal Planet, Disney Channel, ESPN, Nickelodeon. Fox and NBC only available in select major cities.

Top channels not available on Sling Orange: ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC, Animal Planet, Bravo, CNBC, Discovery Channel, Bravo, Fox News, Fox Sports 1, FX, MSNBC, USA Network Read the Sling TV review.

$30 at Sling TV Read more: YouTube TV vs. Sling TV: Which live TV streaming service is best for you?

Best ultracheap alternative
AT&T Watch TV
Sarah Tew/CNET Why is Watch TV so cheap? It lacks locals, much like Sling TV, doesn't have any dedicated sports channels and, with the exception of CNN, is missing news channels, too. And many of the shows on the channels it does have can be watched on-demand with a Hulu subscription for less. 

On the other hand, it's solid for the price. Its lineup of include 30 channels, some of which -- like AMC, HGTV, and BBC America -- are no longer available on the more expensive AT&T TV Now. The interface is fun and easy to navigate. It's available on most other major streaming platforms, except for Roku, and some AT&T wireless plan customers get it for free.

Top channels not available: ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC, Bravo, CNBC, Disney Channel, ESPN, Fox News, Fox Sports 1, FX, MLB Network, MSNBC, NFL Network, Travel Channel, USA Network Read the AT&T Watch TV review.

$15 at AT&T Best for Hulu subscribers
Hulu With Live TV
Sarah Tew/CNET With the least cable-like interface of its competitors, Hulu's greatest asset is the integration of live TV with its significant catalog of on-demand content for one price. Unfortunately, the interface frustrations apparent with the standard service are amplified once you add live TV. Another issue is that you'll have to pay another $10 per month to get the ability to skip commercials on Hulu's cloud DVR (the base cloud DVR, which is included, doesn't permit skipping ads). Its channel count is solid, however, and with Hulu's catalog included (Handmaid's Tale, anyone?) it's a top competitor, but its higher price puts it out of the running for now.

Top channels not available: AMC, BBC America, Comedy Central, MLB Network, MTV, NBA TV, NFL Network, NFL Red Zone, Nickelodeon. Read the Hulu with Live TV review.

$55 at Hulu Read: 20 Google Chromecast tips and tricks

Best live TV + HBO combo
AT&T TV Now
Sarah Tew/CNET Formerly known as DirecTV Now, AT&T TV Now has one major extra the other premium services lack: HBO included in the price. Whether you not you care about HBO (or Game of Thrones) it's still not a good deal. First off, as of November, it'll be the most expensive service, starting at a base of $65, plus it's missing more of the top channels than any competitor (although you can pay extra to get most of those channels if you want). Its DVR is also a step behind those of our top choices. The traditional-style interface is good, however, including the flipper-friendly ability to swipe left and right to change channels.

Top channels not available in base package: A&E, AMC, Animal Planet, Discovery Channel, HGTV, History, Lifetime, MLB Network, NFL Network, Travel Channel Read the AT&T TV Now review.

$65 at AT&T How to shop for cord-cutting live TV services

Each of the 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. And some of the most important channels are locals, namely ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC. Not every service offers all of them in every area.

The services can be broken down into two main groups: Budget, with prices starting at $15 but without local channels. And premium, with prices from $45 which include locals as and often other extras like a superior cloud DVR. Yes, most of the services (barring AT&T Watch TV) allow you to record and playback shows, just like a traditional cable or satellite DVR, but they often come with restrictions. 

Then there's the multistream issue. 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 service you're watching has enough simultaneous streams. Some of the least expensive services only allow one stream at a time, and if you try to watch a second, it's blocked.

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 that's where the savings of cutting cable can get swallowed up. 

Here's a live TV streaming shopping list to consider: 


Does the service offer your "must-have" channels? See CNET's comparison of the top 100 channels here.

Does it offer local channels in your area? See CNET's comparison of local channel access here.

How good is the cloud DVR?

Does the interface make it easy to browse for shows?

Are there enough simultaneous streams for you and your family?

Is your internet connection up to snuff? See CNET's guide to improving streaming quality here.
Hulu with Live TV

Sarah Tew/CNET Read more

Which live TV service has the best channel lineup?

Recap: Diary of a cable TV cord cutter
What streaming TV services won't give you
Streaming TV services are great, but there are some things they can't do compared to a traditional cable box. 

First, it's worth looking at the channels that you can't get with any of these services. A big one has been PBS, as the broadcaster reportedly hadn't acquired the streaming rights to all of the shows that it airs. However, YouTube TV announced it would be the first to include PBS "later this year" though it's yet to appear.

Another biggie is sports. Sure, most services carry ESPN and local channels for NFL football, but if you follow a professional baseball or basketball