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Published May 20, 2022 9:00 AM

Live TV streaming services make it easier than ever for hesitant cord-cutters to ditch cable. With these services, which offer live channels in addition to on-demand shows, you can watch live sports, local news, and events from devices you already own. All you need is a reliable home internet (or mobile) connection, a smart TV, and a subscription to the service of your choice. On the other hand, veteran streaming-only viewers who miss flipping channels can get access to a lot of what they’ve missed, without committing to a cable subscription. The best live TV streaming services offer a happy middle ground.

How we picked the best live TV streaming services

To select the best live TV streaming services, we tested many of the most popular streaming platforms that feature some amount of live programming. We researched what live channels and on-demand programming you can find through each option, as well as technical features and pricing. 

I’ve been a cord-cutter for years, giving me valuable insight into what to look for when picking the right live TV streaming service. I ditched my cable subscription for live TV streaming years ago, and have helped friends and family make the switch. Since cutting the cord, I’ve tested various services on my Apple TV, so I have experience using many of the most popular options. For the most part, it’s been an easy transition, and the experience hasn’t felt much different from a traditional cable subscription. I can still watch everything from live sports to local news, and I can also record shows to watch later.

What is live TV streaming?

Live TV streaming is effectively a digital cable platform, purchased from outside of the major cable providers like Comcast and Verizon, which does not require any kind of proprietary hardware. Like other streaming services, you can watch it through any number of devices using an app or through a browser window. As the name suggests, the big draw of the live TV streaming service is access to either broadcast TV channels or other livestream programming, like sports.

The interface of live TV streaming isn’t all that different from on-demand services, so if you’re familiar with something like Netflix, the experience will feel similar. While an increasing number of services offer some live programming–both Apple TV+ and Amazon Prime Video have limited sports, for example—the best live TV streaming interfaces feel a little closer to traditional cable, where you can scroll channels, as well as individual shows.

Why you might want to switch to a live TV streaming service

You can watch TV anywhere

The most significant benefit of using a live TV streaming service, even over traditional cable, is the ability to watch live sports, local news, and events on any device with an internet connection. Not only do you get it on your TV, but you can use your smartphone, tablet, or PC

Some of the services on our list also offer unlimited DVR, which you can access from anywhere you have an internet connection. These features make watching live TV streaming more flexible, and allow you to watch TV from almost anywhere.

No equipment rentals or long-term contracts

Signing up for live TV streaming services is, generally speaking, much easier than setting up cable. You don’t need to set up an appointment, and it typically doesn’t require any additional equipment. That means you don’t have to worry about fees related to “renting” your cable box. Like other streaming services, our selections offer month-to-month billing so you can subscribe for one month and then move on to something else if it doesn’t work for you. 

More affordable options

Depending on your package, streaming may be far less expensive than cable. The starting prices for the live TV streaming services on our list range from $35-$150 per month. According to Cabletv.com’s pricing comparison tool, the average cable TV subscription costs about $80 per month. Though the streaming services rarely provide the same channel selection as conventional cable, many of the services offer dozens of channels, including major networks like ABC, CBS, and Fox. You can also sign up for premium add-on channels that give you access to HBO, Showtime, and more. 

Why you might want to stick with cable

You won’t get every channel

Unfortunately, there is no live TV streaming service that perfectly mirrors a fully loaded cable package. While the situation has improved over the last few years, there is a gap between cable and live TV streaming, especially for people outside of major markets. Hulu Plus Live TV, for example, does not include PBS or other regional sports networks. Sling TV doesn’t have ABC, CBS, or The CW. You also may or may not get local channels, depending on your location and the service you choose. (On the bright side, you can always use a TV antenna to get local channels.) Some services also make you pay for additional channels, so the price of a robust live streaming subscription may creep up as you add premium options like HBO and Showtime.

Your internet will may get more expensive

Don’t be surprised if cutting cable doesn’t save as much money as you’d expect. Cable companies often offer deals when you sign up for broadband, cable TV, and home phone service. If you cancel any of those services, the others become more expensive. Depending on how much you pay for cable, your overall bill should still go down. It just won’t be by the exact cost of your cable subscription.

Bandwidth may be an issue

Live TV streaming requires a relatively strong, stable internet connection. If too many people are using the internet at once in your home, or if you’re playing video games while watching the game, you may find that the quality of the stream might degrade, or it may not work if you don’t have a strong internet connection. 

Most of the services on our list recommend an internet connection of at least 10 Mbps, and we’d recommend a connection of 50 Mbps and above. That way you can stream live TV while others on your network play online gaming, browse the web, and stream music.

The best live TV streaming services: Reviews & Recommendations

Switching to live TV streaming can feel daunting, but ditching your cable box isn’t as hard as you think. Whether you watch a lot of sports or only occasionally tune into specific events, there’s something for everyone.

Best overall: Hulu + Live TV

Why it made the cut: With access to live TV, Hulu Originals, and Disney+, Hulu + Live TV offers the best value on the market.

Specs

  • Price: $69.99
  • Channels: 75+
  • DVR: Unlimited for nine months
  • Concurrent streams: 2; you can upgrade to unlimited for $9.99/month

Pros

  • Robust channel lineup
  • Access to Hulu’s original shows and movies
  • Disney+ and ESPN+

Cons

  • No PBS

Hulu + Live TV has the most robust channel lineup of any streaming service with live channels right now. You can get more than 75 channels of news, sports, and entertainment, including ABC, CBS, and NBC. It also comes with digital DVR functionality, so you can record shows when you aren’t around.

Of course, you also get access to Hulu’s streaming library, including on-demand access to many network shows and original content like The Handmaid’s Tale and Nomadland. The service also bundles in subscriptions to Disney+ and ESPN+, rounding out the best package of live TV and on-demand content.

Best for sports: FuboTV

FuboTV

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Why it made the cut: You won’t find a live TV service with a broader selection of sports channels than FuboTV.

Specs

  • Price: Pro: $69.99; Elite: $79.99
  • Channels: Pro: 118; Elite: 174
  • DVR: 1,000 hours
  • Concurrent streams: 10

Pros

  • Great selection of sports
  • Up to 10 concurrent streams
  • On-demand TV shows

Cons

  • No PBS

If you live and breathe sports, FuboTV is the streaming service for you. In addition to local and nationwide network channels, you also get access to Bein Sports, TUDN Xtra, ESPN, FS1, and the list goes on and on. The FuboTV Pro plan allows subscribers to watch everything from Nascar to NFL RedZone to Premier League. It’s a nice mix, and if you add the Sports Plus add-on, you’ll get access to even more, including NHL Network, MLB Network, Tennis Channels, PAC-12 channels, and NBA TV. FuboTV is a wonderland for sports fans, so the service is a grand slam if that’s all you watch.

Best with local channels: DirecTV Stream

DirecTV

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Why it made the cut: DirecTV is a robust streaming platform that offers the most regional channels of any competing service.

Specs

  • Price: Entertainment: $69.99; Choice: $89.99; Ultimate: $104.99; Premier: $149.99
  • Channels: Entertainment: 65+; Choice: 90+; Ultimate: 130+; Premier: 140+
  • DVR: Unlimited
  • Concurrent streams: Unlimited at home, 3 concurrent away from home

Pros

  • Most regional channels
  • Unlimited DVR
  • Unlimited concurrent streams at home

Cons

  • Higher tiers are expensive

DirecTV Stream offers several streaming packages, ranging from the 65-channel Entertainment plan to the 140-channel Premier plan. Though your channels will vary depending on the plan, the overall lineup offers the most robust offering of regional networks from a streaming service. 

Subscribers get unlimited cloud DVR storage, and the ability to record multiple channels at once. You also get features like Lookback and Rewind, which let you watch previously aired content (up to 72 hours ago) and start over live streams from the beginning of the broadcast, so you don’t miss a minute.

Best budget: Sling TV

Why it made the cut: Sling TV offers a decent selection of national broadcast networks at a great price.

Specs

  • Price: Orange: $35; Blue: $35; Orange & Blue: $50
  • Channels: Orange: 31; Blue: 41; Orange & Blue 50
  • DVR: 50 hours
  • Concurrent streams: Orange: 1; Blue 3; Orange & Blue: 3

Pros

  • Affordable
  • Decent channel lineup
  • Limited tiers make it easier to choose

Cons

  • Weak channel selection

At $35 for its Blue or Orange plans, Sling TV is one of the most affordable live TV streaming options on the market. It’s an excellent service for people who occasionally watch live TV, but don’t need a ton of channels or DVR features. You don’t get a lot: mainstream and local channel selections are limited and sports fans will want to steer clear. That said, if you pay for the Orange + Blue plan and get the full channel lineup, you’ll have plenty of cable staples, including AMC, ESPN, and Cartoon Network, while paying less than you would with the other options on our list.

Best premium: YouTube TV

YouTube

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Why it made the cut: YouTube TV features an excellent channel lineup, unlimited DVR, and 4K streaming.

Specs

  • Price: $64.99
  • Channels: 85+
  • DVR: Unlimited
  • Concurrent streams: 3

Pros

  • Great channel selection
  • Unlimited DVR
  • 4K streaming available

Cons

  • YouTube Premium not included in YouTube TV subscription
  • 4K costs extra

YouTube TV has grown into one of the best live TV streaming options, offering subscribers more than 85 nationwide and local channels. That includes the core broadcast networks; popular news channels like CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC; and sports from ESPN, Golf Channel, and MLB Network. Best of all, YouTube TV includes mainstream channels from the Discovery Network, ViacomCBS, and local PBS channels. Subscribers also get unlimited DVR storage and keep their recordings for up to nine months. You also get along with pause, rewind, and fast-forward functionality for live shows. 

YouTube TV is also one of the few platforms that streams live TV in 4K, which is both a great strength and a sore spot. On the one hand, we love any opportunity to make our shows and movies look better. On the other hand, YouTube TV charges extra for the privilege.

FAQs

Q: How much data do live TV streaming services use?

The amount of data you use streaming live TV at any given time depends on factors like the strength of your internet connection and the quality of the video you’re streaming. A stream in standard definition (720p) requires internet speeds of 3 Mbps. A 4K stream, on the other hand, may require as much as 25 Mbps. Based on our research, you can expect to consume around 10 GB of data per hour when streaming live TV, although that figure will vary from service to service.

Q: What live TV streaming service has the most channels?

FuboTV currently offers the widest selection of channels. There are more than 175 channels in its Elite package.

Q: Are there any free live TV streaming services?

If you occasionally watch TV and don’t want to pay for a subscription, it may make sense for you to buy an indoor TV antenna, which you can install in minutes and grants you free access to local broadcast TV, including your nearest NBC, ABC, CBS, and FOX network affiliates. The channels you’ll get will vary depending on where you live, but it’s the closest thing to free TV that you’re going to find.

Final thoughts on the best live TV streaming services

There’s no perfect live TV streaming service, but some outstanding options make cutting the cord reasonably painless. If you’re unsure about ditching your cable subscription, try signing up for a live TV streaming service for one month. Consider what channels are available, how much the service costs per month, and what kind of DVR functionality it offers. There’s no perfect solution out there, but there are enough options out there that you should be able to get your unique set of four to five favorite channels in one package.

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