The best live TV streaming services to cut cable in 2024


Live TV streaming combines elements of cable with standard, on-demand video. You can watch live news, live sports and linear “always on” channels just like with cable, but you also get a contract-free, cancel-whenever subscription. Live TV streaming has always been more expensive than on-demand options like Netflix or Peacock, but once upon a time it was cheaper than cable. Now that nearly every plan out there has gone up in price, you may be able to find some basic cable plans that cost less. Ultimately, picking the best live TV streaming service depends on what you like to watch. I signed up for and used every major player out there, to come up with recommendations for different kinds of TV watchers — sports fanatics, Disney devotees, bargain seekers and more.

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YouTube TV

Monthly price: $73/mo. and up | Local channels: Yes | Sports coverage: National, local, international | On-demand: Yes | 4K live streams: Yes (with an add-on) | Total channels: 100+ (base plan) | DVR limits: Unlimited, 9 mo. expiration | Profiles per account: 6 | Simultaneous at-home streams: 3 | Picture-in-picture: Yes (mobile and computer) | Multiview: Yes (select programming) | Contract: No | Free trial: Yes (length varies)

Google’s option makes a strong case for delivering the best streaming service for live TV. Compared to our top pick for sports, YouTube TV covers major and minor teams, regional games and national matchups almost as well. It gives you clear navigation, a great search function, unlimited DVR and broad network coverage. It’s not quite as affordable as it once was, as YouTube recently raised the price to $73 per month – and it’s even more financially precarious if you’re not great at resisting temptation.

Upon signup, you’re presented with nearly 50 different add-ons, including 4K resolution, premium channels and themed packages. Even if you fight the urge to roll Max, Shudder and AcornTV into the mix at signup, the enticement remains as it’s dangerously easy to add more to your subscription. … when I searched for a program on a network I didn’t have, I was prompted to add it. And of course, you can also rent or buy movies that aren’t currently showing on any channels, just like you can via YouTube. While it’s convenient to be able to order up anything I might want on a whim, I could easily see this pushing one’s bill far above Google’s listed $73 per month.

Still, it’s nice to have all your entertainment in one place. And if you only want the add-ons, you can actually subscribe to most of the standalone networks without paying for the base plan. Either way, you get a familiar user experience, with navigation you’ll recognize if you’ve spent any time on regular ol’ YouTube. Unsurprisingly, Google’s search function was the best of the bunch, finding the shows and games I searched for quickly and giving me clear choices for how to watch and record.

At signup, you’ll also pick the shows, networks and teams you like, which are added to your library. YouTube TV then automatically records them. You get unlimited cloud DVR space (though recordings expire after nine months) and it’s dead simple to add programming to your library. Like a real cable experience, YouTube TV autoplays your last-watched program upon startup by default, but it was the only service that allowed me to turn that feature off by heading to the settings.

Searching for and recording an upcoming game was easy. Once the game was recorded, I had to hunt a little to find it in my library (turns out single games are listed under the Events heading, not Sports). But after that, playback was simple and included a fascinating extra feature: You can either play a recorded game from the beginning or hit Watch Key Plays. The latter gives you between 12 and 20 highlight snippets, each about 10 seconds long. It focuses on the most impressive shots in an NBA bout and includes every goal in an MLS matchup. The feature was available for NCAA basketball and in-season major American leagues (hockey, soccer and basketball at the time of testing). Foreign and more minor games didn’t have the feature.

Sports fans will also appreciate the new multiview feature that YouTube TV added last year that lets you pick up to four sports, news and weather channels from a select list and view them all at the same time on your screen. If you find yourself constantly flipping back and forth between games, this could save you some hassle.

YouTube TV also gives you the most in-app settings. You can add parental controls to a profile or pull up a stats menu that shows your buffer health and connection speeds. You can lower playback resolution for slow connections and even send feedback to YouTube. It was also the best at integrating VOD and live programming. For example, when I searched for a show that happened to be playing live, a red badge in the corner of the show’s image let me know it was on right then. I know it makes no difference whether I watch an on-demand recording or a live show, but I like the imagined sense of community knowing someone else might be watching this episode of Portlandia too.

Pros

  • Intuitive and smooth interface
  • Accurate search functions
  • Cool multiview feature
  • Good coverage of sports, news and linear programming networks
Cons

  • Very easy to overspend on extras
  • The price keeps going up

$73 at YouTube TV

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Fubo

Monthly price: $80/mo. and up | Local channels: Yes | Sports coverage: National, local, international | On-demand: Yes | 4K live streams: Yes (mid- and high-tier plans) | Total channels: 191 (base plan) | DVR limits: 1,000 hrs, no expiration | Profiles per account: 6 | Simultaneous at-home streams: 10 | Picture-in-picture: Yes (mobile and computer) | Multiview: Yes (select programming) | Contract: No | Free trial: Yes (7 days)

If you want to stream live sports, you should probably opt for Fubo. When you first sign up, it asks which teams you follow across all kinds of associations. Pick teams from in-season leagues and you’ll quickly have DVR content to watch. That’s because Fubo records every game your chosen teams play as long as it’s aired on a supported channel – and its sports coverage is vast.

I tested out the top-tier, $100 Premium package and the guide said there were 118 sports networks to choose from. (The Elite plan, which is $10 less per month, has the same sports channels, it just lacks the Showtime add-on.) In addition to the usual suspects from ESPN, Fox, NBC and CBS, you can watch motorsports, international leagues, adventure sports and even poker. Add-ons give you NBA TV, NHL Network, NFL Red Zone and MLB Network. And if you need access to all one thousand games the NBA plays in a season, you can add the NBA League Pass to your lineup for $15 per month. Fubo even has its own sports channels.

Yes, the coverage is comprehensive, but Fubo also made finding and recording specific games very easy. Searching for an upcoming game was simple, as was sifting through the ample amount of recorded games I ended up with. I particularly liked FanView for live games, which inserts the video into a smaller window and surrounds that window with continually updating stats plus a clickable list of other games currently airing.

Fubo has made an obvious effort to win at sports, but recently it’s tried to deliver on the live TV experience as well. Based on what I’ve seen so far, it’s certainly made strides. The guide was impressive in the number of ways it let you organize live TV, yet everything felt clean and uncluttered. The Home, Sports, Shows and Movies pages were filled with recommendations and many iterations of categories, with almost all suggestions being live TV.

Where Fubo falls short is in VOD access and DVR playback. It wasn’t the best at finding the shows I searched for, and navigating available VOD content wasn’t as breezy as browsing through live programming. The lack of a pop-up preview window as you fast forward or rewind through recordings makes it tough to gauge where you are in a show. As for price, Fubo ties with DirecTV Stream for the most expensive base package at $80. But if you need all the sports – and want some nicely organized live TV during the few moments when there’s not a game on – this is the way to go.

Pros

  • Best coverage of sports networks
  • Automatically records your favorite teams
  • Informative FanView feature
  • Uncluttered live TV interface
Cons

  • DVR and VOD experience is inferior to the live component

$80 at Fubo

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Hulu

Monthly price: $77/mo. and up | Local channels: Yes | Sports coverage: National, local, international | On-demand: Yes | 4K live streams: No | Total channels: 95+ (base plan) | DVR limits: Unlimited (9 mo. expiration) | Profiles per account: 6 | Simultaneous at-home streams: 2 | Picture-in-picture: Yes (mobile and computer) | Multiview: No | Contract: No | Free trial: Yes (3 days)

After YouTube TV went up to $73 per month, Hulu + Live TV shot to $77. But if you already or plan to subscribe to the regular Hulu app and/or Disney+, Hulu’s live component still makes better financial sense. It gives you live TV streaming, plus all the content from Hulu, ESPN+ and Disney+, much of which you can’t get elsewhere. Note that $77 gets you the content with ads — for ad-free Disney+ and Hulu components, it’s $90 monthly.

Hulu + Live TV carries your local affiliates and most of the top cable channels. For sports, you get all available ESPN iterations plus FS1, FS2, TBS, USA, TNT, NBC Golf and the NFL Network. You can also add on premium VOD channels like Max and Showtime, and it’s the only provider that includes Disney+ at no extra cost.

Navigation isn’t as smooth as most of the other options — as I used Hulu + Live TV, it felt like the live component had been shoehorned into the standard Hulu app. But for viewers who are already comfortable with (and paying for) Hulu and Disney+, this might be the best pick for your live TV subscription.

Pros

  • Includes Hulu, Disney+ and ESPN+ progrmming

$77 at Hulu

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DirecTV

Monthly price: $80/mo. and up | Local channels: Yes | Sports coverage: National, local, international | On-demand: Yes | 4K live streams: Yes (three channels) | Total channels: 90+ (base plan) | DVR limits: Unlimited (9-month expiration, maximum of 30 episodes per series) | Profiles per account: 1 | Simultaneous at-home streams: Unlimited | Picture-in-picture: Yes (mobile and computer) | Multiview: No | Contract: No | Free trial: Yes (5 days)

DirecTV Stream gives you the most cable-like experience — unsurprising considering the AT&T-owned company also does straight cable subscriptions. But instead of a contract that’s unreasonably hard to cancel, DirecTV Stream lets you cancel whenever you want. The service also brings back the serendipity of flipping from one channel to the “next” (yes, DirecTV Stream numbers its channels) with your remote just like the good old days.

I counted nearly all of the most popular cable networks and you can add multiple packages and premiums like Showtime, Starz, AMC+ and Discovery+. You can also include Max, just like on YouTube TV and Hulu + Live TV, but DirecTV is the only one I tried that also lets you get Peacock. Of course, you can just add those apps separately to your smart TV, but for anyone who wants to approximate the all-in-one convenience of cable, it’s a nice perk.

When I fired up DirecTV Stream, whichever network I’d watched last automatically started playing. It continued when I switched over to the guide or other menu pages. I’m used to the quieter experience of traditional streaming apps (after turning off autoplay), so I found that crazy making, but it might not bother everyone.

The navigation didn’t feel intuitive, partly because the menu options overlay the currently playing show and because there are so many ways to browse, access and control live, recorded and on-demand content. The search function found the shows and movies I searched for and accurately presented the upcoming games I wanted just from typing in one of the teams.

You can’t add new channels or packages through the app, which might be a relief to anyone worried about succumbing to subscription overload. Everyone else may just find it annoying.

Pros

  • Cable-like experience without a contract
  • Broad channel coverage
Cons

  • Somewhat complicated interface

$80 at DirecTV

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Sling TV

Monthly price: $40/mo. and up | Local channels: Yes (ABC, FOX, NBC in 20 markets) | Sports coverage: National, local | On-demand: Yes | 4K live streams: No | Total channels: 34 or 44 (base plans) | DVR limits: 50 hrs, no expiration | Profiles per account: 4 | Simultaneous at-home streams: 1 (Orange), 3 (Blue) | Picture-in-picture: Yes (mobile and computer) | Multiview: No | Contract: No | Free trial: No

To me, the idea of spending time fine-tuning channel choices sounds exhausting. But if you’re the type who wants to get exactly what you want without paying for too much of what you don’t, Sling TV may be your best bet. It breaks its base plan into two packages, Blue and Orange, with different channels on each. Blue, which costs $45 a month, carries a larger number of networks, while Orange seems to have spent its lineup dollars on ESPN and ESPN 2. But at $40 monthly, Sling Orange is the cheapest way to get those two sports outlets.

After picking a plan, you can choose from a stable of add-on packages, with monthly prices ranging from $6 to $11. These include blocks of sports or lifestyle channels, kid-friendly fare, the Discovery+ bundle and a news package. There are 41 individual premium offerings, including Showtime, Starz, MGM+, Shudder and Acorn, which go for between $2 and $10 per month. Sling has pay-per-view movies, too.

As far as local coverage, Sling Blue grants access to ABC, Fox and NBC local affiliates in about 20 of the larger US markets including Los Angeles, Seattle, Dallas, NYC, Miami and DC. ABC coverage began in March 2023, but unfortunately, that raised the price of Sling Blue in supported markets from $40 to $45. For people not in those areas (or who opt for Orange) Sling is currently running a promotion for a free HD antenna to catch local stations.

Navigation is speedy and the interface is nicely organized, putting an emphasis on what you like to watch, with recommendations that are pretty accurate. The UI also makes the add-ons you’ve chosen easy to find. In my tests, though, the app froze a number of times as I navigated. While most services froze once or twice, it happened enough times with Sling to frustrate me. I had to force quit or back out of the app and start over five or six times during the three weeks of testing. Compared to others, Sling’s DVR allowance is on the stingy side, only giving you 50 hours of recordings, though they won’t expire. You can pay for more DVR storage, but that will increase your overall costs.

I tried not to wander too far off-path during testing, but I feel it’s my duty to inform you that Sling has an Elvis channel, a Bob Ross channel and ALF TV (yes, an entire station devoted to the ‘80s sitcom starring a puppet). There’s also a Dog TV network intended to be played for your dogs when you leave the house, which you can add to Sling or get as a standalone app.

Pros

  • More affordable than most live services
  • Orange plan is the cheapest way to get ESPN
  • Highly customizable packages
Cons

  • Only 50 hours of DVR allowance
  • Local channels only in major metro areas

$40 at Sling TV

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Philo

Monthly price: $28/mo. and up | Local channels: No | Sports coverage: No | On-demand: Yes | 4K live streams: No | Total channels: 70+ (base plan) | DVR limits: Unlimited, 1 yr. expiration | Profiles per account: 10 | Simultaneous at-home streams: 3 | Picture-in-picture: Yes (mobile and computer) | Multiview: No | Contract: No | Free trial: Yes (7 days)

held out at $25 monthly for a few years but recently increased to $28 — though they did add AMC+ to the channel lineup to lessen the blow (and it has some !). Despite the bump, it’s still one of the cheapest ways to get a cordless live TV experience. The biggest caveat is that you won’t find any local stations or sports programming on it. If that’s not an issue, Philo is great, with a clean, streamlined interface and generous DVR limits.

I’m a fan of minimalist design, so I appreciated the way Philo presented its menus and guide. There are just four top navigation headings: Home, Guide, Saved and Search. And instead of the usual guide layout that stretches out or shortens a show’s listing to represent its air time, Philo’s guide features monospaced squares in chronological order with the duration of the program inside the square. Another nice touch is when you navigate to a square, it fills with a live video of the show or movie.

Philo doesn’t limit the amount of programming you can DVR and lets you keep recordings for a full year, which is more than the nine months other providers allow. Like all live TV streamers, Philo won’t let you fast forward VOD programming. If skipping commercials is important to you, I recommend taking advantage of that unlimited DVR policy and hitting “Save” on any show or movie you think you may want to watch, then fast forwarding it on playback (you can do this with all the services we tried).

As far as channels, Philo covers many of the top cable networks, with notable exceptions including Fox News, CNN, ESPN and MSNBC. Anyone looking for great news coverage should look elsewhere anyway, but the lack of a few must-have entertainment outlets like Bravo and Freeform was a little disappointing.

Pros

  • Affordable
  • Minimalist and easy interface
  • Unlimited DVR allowance that lasts for a year
Cons

  • No sports or local access
  • Limited news coverage

$25 at Philo

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Many standard streaming apps have added live components to their lineups. You’re paying for the service, so it’s not technically “free,” but you can get a dose of live TV without spending more than necessary. Peacock includes some regional NBC stations and Paramount+ subscribers can watch on-air CBS programming. The standard Hulu app has a live ABC news channel and Max now includes a live CNN outlet with its service.

Amazon Prime Video contains a live TV tab, as does the Fire TV interface. And, if you use Roku or Samsung as your smart OS of choice, their built-in, proprietary services include hundreds of live channels at no extra cost. Plus there are free apps from Plex and PBS — even NASA has a free streaming service.

But if you want a full suite of live TV networks, and don’t want to sign up for any paid service, there are a number of free ad-supported TV services that have live TV. Here’s the best of what we tried:

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Tubi

Local channels: A few | Sports coverage: Replays and shows about sports | On-demand: Yes | 4K live streams: No | Total channels: 260 | Profiles per account: 1 | Picture-in-picture: No | Multiview: No | Contract: No 

You don’t need to give Tubi any of your information to start watching live content. In many areas, it’ll grant access to your local ABC and Fox station and also includes the news-stream channels that other similar services carry, like NBC News Now, Fox Live Now and ABC News Live. Fox is Tubi’s parent company so you get picks like Fox Sports, Fox Soul and over a dozen regional Fox networks.

The live TV component lives within the Home menu and, from there, the stations are organized by category, making it easy to browse the more than 200 live channels. Navigation is speedy and, along with a good library of on-demand movies, shows and kids’ stuff, Tubi has a few regional news stations plus at least five regional Fox News stations.

Despite being billed as a live TV service, TUBI has a wide range of VOD movies and series. Whenever I flipped on the app, there were at least a few movies I was interested in. If you like the idea of fine-tuned browsing, you’ll probably appreciate Tubi’s Categories tab, which includes such hyper-specific topics as “shonen anime,” “vampire romance,” “black independent cinema” and “heist films.” In fact, I prefer Tubi’s on-demand experience over its live TV competency — the live TV guide only stays open for 10 seconds if you’re not actively clicking around and, like PlutoTV, your current show keeps playing as you browse the guide.

Pros

  • Free with no sign-in required
  • Shows some local Fox and ABC stations
  • Appealing on-demand content
  • Highly detailed categories sections for VOD
Cons

  • Channel guide disappears after 10 seconds
  • Current show continues playing as you browse

Free at Tubi

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Sling

Local channels: A few | Sports coverage: Replays and shows about sports | On-demand: Yes | 4K live streams: No | Total channels: 400+ | Profiles per account: 4 (with sign-up) | Picture-in-picture: Yes | Multiview: No | Contract: No

When I first tried out Freestream, it was tough to find out where the free content was. It uses the same app as the paid Sling service, and I only found the prompt to watch for free when I was about to close the app. It has since become far easier to find the gratis option and, once you do, you get access to over 400 channels of free stuff, including a good deal of national and global news networks, such as BBC News, CBS News 24/7, USA Today, ABC News Live and Bloomberg. Yes, many of these are already available for free at their respective websites, but it’s nice to have a one-stop location to browse them all.

Since the last time I tried Sling’s free service, the navigation has improved greatly. Where once there were just a few organizational options, now you’ll find categories for sports, movies, comedies, true crime, kids, documentaries, science and nature, classic TV and more. When you flip back to the guide, what you’re watching pops into a picture-in-picture window — but if you don’t like that, it’s easy to close it so you can browse in peace.

Pros

  • Good national news network selection
  • Nicely organized interface
  • Your current show becomes a pop-out as you browse and is easily closed
Cons

  • Often asks you to sign up for paid Sling plans

Free at Sling

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Amazon

Local channels: A few | Sports coverage: Replays and shows about sports | On-demand: Yes | 4K live streams: No | Total channels: 400+ | Profiles per account: 1 | Picture-in-picture: No | Multiview: No | Contract: No

It was first called IMDbTV, but Amazon changed the name of its free streaming option to Freevee to better hint at its price. What’s available is pretty similar to the Live TV menu option you’ll find within the Prime Video app — in fact, the interface on that app is actually better organized, with listings by category. Freevee’s live TV menu is just a long, single list of channels. Prime’s version is speedier, too.

However, Freevee is, true to its name, completely free. You don’t even have to sign in, though you’ll be prompted to do so when you first open the app (just select “Watch as a guest” in the lower corner to bypass that). There are currently around 400 channels with news networks like ABC News Live, Fox Live Now and NBC News Now. Sports showcases include the MLB Channel, NBC Sports and Fubo Sports. Tons of reality, true crime and current and classic TV avenues round out the offerings. 

For original content that you can’t watch elsewhere, you not only get Freevee’s own shows like Jury Duty, but you can also watch select episodes of Prime shows like Fallout and Outer Range. Plus there are plenty of live channels arranged around specific classic shows including Saved by the Bell, Sailor Moon, The Addams Family and Murder, She Wrote.

It’s possible Freevee has the most regional news channels of any other FAST service too, but it’s almost impossible to find them without scrolling endlessly through the guide. You can’t search for them and there’s no way to organize the channels by category as you can with the live TV section in the Prime Video app (which almost gives you the impression Amazon would rather you just pay for the membership). But while flipping through the guide, I saw NBC Chicago, Philadelphia and New York affiliates, Fox in Milwaukee, LA and Tampa Bay, and the Bay Area’s ABC station.

Pros

  • Lets you watch a selection of Prime Video content
  • Lots of regional stations
Cons

  • Hardly any organization to the channels

Free at Amazon

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Pluto TV

Local channels: A few | Sports coverage: Replays and shows about sports | On-demand: Yes | 4K live streams: No | Total channels: 250+ | Profiles per account: 1 | Picture-in-picture: No | Multiview: No | Contract: No

Pluto TV is granularly organized, separating out nearly two dozen categories for its live content — including local news, kids, sports, daytime TV along with more specific topics like anime, competition reality, and history/science. The service also has a slew of its own stations such as Pluto Sports, Pluto News, Pluto True Crime and Pluto Star Trek.

Actually, much of Pluto’s service is made up of content owned by its parent company, Paramount, who owns, in addition to Star Trek properties, CBS, Nickelodeon and MTV brands. Thanks to that affiliation, you’ll get access to a bunch of original content here. Regional news options are, however, limited to about a dozen CBS stations, but the live news-stream selection is pretty good and includes NBC News Live, BBC Headlines, Bloomberg Television, Cheddar News and others.

As for sports, you get CBS Sports HQ, a version of Fox Sports and league-specific sports shows from the NFL, MLB, and Golf Channels. Though, as with any free live TV streaming service, you won’t find much in the way of live games.

One thing I have to point out is that whatever you’re watching keeps playing when you browse the guide, and after searching the settings in the app and forums online, I could find no way to turn this off. If, like me, hearing your currently playing show natter on as you look for something else to watch drives you insane, you’ll have to hit mute.

Pros

  • Highly organized guide
  • Lots of Paramount-owned content
Cons

  • Your current show plays under the guide

Free at Pluto TV

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Streaming live TV is a lot like using Netflix. You get access through apps on your phone, tablet, smart TV or streaming device and the signal arrives over the internet. A faster and more stable connection tends to give you a better experience. Most live TV apps require you to sign up and pay via a web browser. After that, you can activate the app on all of your devices.

When I started testing these cord-cutting alternatives, I was struck by the price difference between live TV and a standard video streaming app like Netflix. Where the latter cost between $5 and $20 per month, most live TV services hit the $80 mark and can go higher than $200 with additional perks, channel packages and premium extras. The higher starting price is mostly due to the cost of providing multiple networks — particularly sports and local stations. And, in the past year or so, every service except Sling has raised base plan prices.

Only two of the services I tried don’t include full local channel coverage for subscribers and one of those makes no effort to carry sports at all. That would be Philo and, as you might guess, it’s the cheapest. The next most affordable option, Sling, only carries three local stations — and only in larger markets — but it still manages to include some of the top sports channels.

When you sign up with any provider that handles local TV, you’ll enter your zip code, ensuring you get your area’s broadcast affiliates for ABC, CBS, FOX and NBC. Of course, you can also get those stations for free. Nearly all modern television sets support a radio frequency (RF) connection, also known as the coaxial port, which means if you buy an HD antenna, you’ll receive locally broadcast stations like ABC, CBS, FOX and NBC. And since the signal is digital, reception is much improved over the staticky rabbit-ears era.

One reality that spun my head was the sheer number and iterations of sports networks in existence. Trying to figure out which network will carry the match-up you want to see can be tricky. I found that Google makes it a little easier for sports fans by listing out upcoming games (just swap in NFL, MLB, NHL and so on in the search bar). When you click an event, the “TV & streaming” button will tell you which network is covering it.

That just leaves figuring out if your chosen service carries that regional sports network. Unfortunately, even with add-ons and extra packages, some providers simply don’t have certain channels in their lineups. It would take a lawyer to understand the ins and outs of streaming rights negotiations, and networks leave and return to live TV carriers all the time. That said, most major sporting events in the US are covered by ESPN, Fox Sports, TNT, USA and local affiliates.

I should also point out that traditional streaming services have started adding live sports to their lineups. Peacock carries live Premier League matches, Sunday Night Football games and will air the Olympic Games from Paris this summer. Thursday Night Football is on Amazon Prime and Christmas Day Football is coming to Netflix. Max (formerly HBO Max) now airs select, regular season games from the NHL, MLB, NCAA and NBA with a $10-per-month add-on. You can watch MLS games with an add-on through the Apple TV app, and Apple TV+ includes some MLB games. And if you subscribe to Paramount Plus, you can see many of the matches you’d see on CBS Sports, including live NFL games.

While we don’t have full details yet, there’s also an upcoming sports streaming service called Venu that’s a joint venture between ESPN, Fox and Warner Bros. Discovery. Even taken all together, these options may not cover as much ground as live TV streamers, but they could scratch a small sports itch without too much added cost.

Dozens of linear programming networks were once only available with cable TV, like Bravo, BET, Food Network, HGTV, CNN, Lifetime, SYFY and MTV. If you only subscribe to, say, Netflix or Apple TV+, you won’t have access to those. But as with sports, standard streamers are starting to incorporate this content into their offerings. After the Warner Bros. merger, Max incorporated some content from HGTV, Discovery and TLC. Peacock has Bravo and Hallmark shows, and Paramount+ has material from Nickelodeon, MTV and Comedy Central.

Other channels like AMC+ have stand-alone apps. The Discovery+ app gives you 15 channels add-free for $9 per month (or with ads for $5 monthly). And a service called Frndly TV starts at a mere $7 per month and streams A&E, Lifetime, Game Show Network, Outdoor Channel and about 35 others. Of course, most live TV streaming options will deliver more sizable lists of cable networks, but just note that you may already be paying for some of them — and if all you need is a certain channel, you could get it cheaper by subscribing directly.

Most live TV subscriptions include access to a selection of video-on-demand (VOD) content, like you would get with a traditional streaming service. Much of this content is made up of the movies and TV series that have recently aired on your subscribed networks. This typically doesn’t cover live events and news programming, but I was able to watch specific episodes of ongoing shows like Top Chef or BET’s Diarra from Detroit. Just search the on-demand library for the program, pick an episode and hit play.

Partnerships, like Hulu’s relationship with Disney, and add-ons, such as bundling Max with your YouTube TV subscription or Starz with your Sling plan, will let you watch even larger libraries of on-demand content. But again, if VOD is all you’re after, paying for those networks directly instead of through a live TV plan will be far cheaper.

Every option I tried offers some cloud DVR storage without needing a separate physical device. You’ll either get unlimited storage for recordings that expires after nine months or a year, or you’ll get a set number of hours (between 50 and 1,000) that you can keep indefinitely. Typically, all you need to do is designate what ongoing TV series you want to record and the DVR component will do all the hard work of saving subsequent episodes for you to watch later. You can do the same thing with sports events.

Aside from being able to watch whenever it’s most convenient, you can also fast-forward through commercials in recorded content. In contrast, you can’t skip them on live TV or VOD.

Each plan gives you a certain number of simultaneous streams, aka how many screens can play content at the same time. And while most providers will let you travel with your subscription, there are usually location restrictions that require you to sign in from your home IP address periodically. Stream allowances range from one at a time to unlimited screens (or as many as your ISP’s bandwidth can handle). Some plans require add-ons to get more screens.

Most services also let you set up a few profiles so I was able to give different people in my family the ability to build their own watch histories and libraries, set their favorite channels and get individual recommendations.

Picture-in-picture (PiP) usually refers to shrinking a video window on a mobile device or computer browser so you can watch it while using other apps. Sling, YouTube TV, FuboTV, Philo, DirecTV Stream and Hulu + Live TV all have PiP modes on computers and mobile devices. Another feature, multiview, lets you view multiple live sports games at once on your TV screen. YouTube TV and FuboTV are the only live TV streamers that let you do this. With YouTube TV, you can select up to four views from a few preset selection of streams. FuboTV offers the same feature, but only with an Apple TV set top device.

Right now, just FuboTV, YouTube TV and DirecTV Stream offer 4K live streams — but with caveats. YouTube TV requires a $20-per-month add-on, after which you’ll only be able to watch certain live content in 4K. DirecTV Stream has three channels that show live 4K content — one with shows and original series, and two with occasional sporting events. You don’t have to pay extra for these but you do need to have either DirecTV’s Gemini receiver or a Roku device. FuboTV shows certain live events in 4K but access is limited to the Elite and Premier packages, not the base-level Pro plan. Of course, watching any 4K content requires equipment that can handle it: a 4K smart TV or 4K streaming device paired with a cable and screen that can handle 4K resolution.

Comparing price-to-offering ratios is a task for a spreadsheet. I… made three. The base plans range from $28 to $80 per month. From there, you can add packages, which are usually groups of live TV channels bundled by themes like news, sports, entertainment or international content. Premium VOD extras like Max, AMC+ and Starz are also available. Add-ons cost an extra $5 to $20 each per month and simply show up in the guide where you find the rest of your live TV. This is where streaming can quickly get expensive, pushing an $80 subscription to $200 monthly, depending on what you choose.

I also downloaded and tried out a few apps that offer free ad-supported TV (FAST) including Freevee, Tubi, PlutoTV and Sling Freestream. These let you drop in and watch a more limited selection of live networks at zero cost. Most don’t even require an email address, let alone a credit card. And if you have a Roku device, an Amazon Fire TV or Stick, a Samsung TV, a Chromecast device or a Google TV, you already have access to hundreds of live channels via the Roku Channel, the live tab in Fire TV, through the Samsung TV Plus app or through Google TV.

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When I begin testing for a guide, I research the most popular and well-reviewed players in the category and narrow down which are worth trying. For the paid plans, just six services dominate so I tried them all. There are considerably more free live TV contenders so I tested the four most popular. After getting accounts set up using my laptop, I downloaded the apps on a Samsung smart TV running the latest version of Tizen OS. I counted the local stations and regional sports coverage, and noted how many of last year’s top cable networks were available. I then weighed the prices, base packages and available add-ons.

I then looked at how the programming was organized in each app’s UI and judged how easy everything was to navigate, from the top navigation to the settings. To test the search function, I searched for the same few TV shows on BET, Food Network, HGTV and Comedy Central, since all six providers carry those channels. I noted how helpful the searches were and how quickly they got me to season 6, episode 13 of Home Town.

I used DVR to record entire series and single movies and watched VOD shows, making sure to test the pause and scan functions. On each service with sports, I searched for the same four upcoming NHL, NBA, MLS and NCAA basketball matches and used the record option to save the games and play them back a day or two later. Finally, I noted any extra perks or irritating quirks.

All live TV streaming services we’ve tested:

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Streaming simply refers to video content that is delivered to your screen over the internet. Live streaming can be split into two categories: linear programming and simultaneous transmission. That first one is similar to what you get with cable or broadcast TV, with channels that play a constant flow of movies and shows (sort of what TV looked like before Netflix). Simultaneous streaming lets you watch live events (like a basketball game) or a program (like the evening news) as they happen.

Standard streaming, the most popular example being Netflix, lets you pick what you want to watch from a menu of choices. It’s also referred to as “video on demand.” Live streaming refers to sports and news events that you can stream as they happen in real time. It also refers to channels that show a continuous, linear flow of programming.

FuboTV does the best job of letting you organize live channels to help you find just what you want to watch. The interface is uncluttered and when you search for something, the UI clearly tells you whether something is live now or on-demand. YouTube TV also does a good job making that info clear. Both have just over 100 live channels on offer.

Free TV streaming services like PlutoTV, Plex, Tubi and FreeVee show plenty of ad-supported TV shows and movies without charging you anything. Of course, they won’t have the same channels or content that more premium subscriptions have. Ultimately it depends on what you want to watch and finding the service that can supply that to you in the most streamlined form so you’re not paying for stuff you don’t need.

A basic cable package used to be more expensive than the base-level live TV streaming service. But now that nearly all major providers have raised their prices to over $75 per month, that’s no longer the case. And with add-ons and other premiums, you can easily pay over $200 a month for either cable or a live TV streaming service.

No service that we tested had every available channel. Hulu + Live TV and DirecTV Stream carry the highest number of the top rated channels, according to Neilsen. Hulu’s service will also get you Disney+ fare, which you can’t get elsewhere. FuboTV has the most sports channels and YouTube TV gives you the widest selection of add-ons.

YouTube TV has the most paying customers. According to this year’s letter from the company’s CEO, the service has over eight million subscribers. Disney’s 2023 fourth quarter earnings put the Hulu + Live TV viewer count at 4.6 million. Sling reported two million patrons and FuboTV claimed 1.1 million, both in respective year-end reports.

You may have heard certain sites that provide free content can be dangerous, leading to stolen info and/or exposing you to malware. That’s likely in reference to certain peer-to-peer (P2P) networks and file-sharing sites that let people download free movies and series — which can come bundled with malicious code.

But if you’re talking about the free ad-supported streaming television (FAST) services listed here, from providers like PlutoTV, Tubi and Freevee, they are just as safe as any other streaming service. Since you sometimes don’t even have to provide your email address or credit card info, they can even be more anonymous than apps that require login credentials.

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June 12, 2024: Updated with more information about 4K live streaming, picture-in-picture and multiview modes, as well as video on-demand options. We expanded our recommendations around free live TV streaming services and added a FAQ query about the safety of free streaming services and clarified the difference between standard and live streaming. More traditional streaming services have added live and sports components, so we revised that section accordingly.

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