Want to cancel cable but still watch your favorite shows? Cutting the cord is easy with one of the best cable TV alternatives, and you can still keep important channels such as ESPN, TNT and USA. These live TV services show that life post-cable box offers faster performance, sleeker interfaces — and best of all — monthly payment structures. And no annual contracts means you can switch between them however you want.
The best cable TV replacement services offer most of the broadcast, entertainment, news and sports channels you want to watch, though the more-affordable options offer fewer channels. Of course, you can still add on premiums like HBO and Showtime. In fact, the top pick on this list is also the service that both TG’s Henry T. Casey and Kelly Woo chose to finally cut the cord. Even our Global Editor-in-Chief Mark Spoonauer recently canceled his cable and here’s what he replaced it with.
But while our staffers did not pick the live TV streaming service that has the most popular channels, a third choice is gaining popularity around the office.
This list of cable TV alternatives is for you if you want to watch local news to stay abreast of everything, catch sports games or record episodes of your favorite guilty pleasure reality series. That said, everything gets complicated for sports fans who want to follow their local teams on regional sports networks that are locked down to specific streaming services.
And even while many are going up in price, they’re still cheaper than cable.
Back to school and cable TV alternatives
Summer will be over before you know it, which means back to school sales will be rolling out in the weeks ahead. Whether you’re moving into a dorm room for the first time or sharing a place with roommates, you may want to get live TV with the best cable TV alternatives.
Be sure to follow our back to school guide for all of your shopping needs this season
What are the best cable TV alternatives?
The best cable TV alternatives offer a lot of channels (and especially the networks you want), ease of use, availability on major streaming devices and, of course, value for the cost. We tested all of the below services to see which is the best, by relying on them as our own source of TV for multiple weeks, watching live shows and movies and comparing their channel offerings.
Our top cable TV alternative, Sling TV (also on our best streaming services list) starts off at $35 per month for either the Sling Blue or Sling Orange packages. The combined Sling Orange+Blue package is $50 per month, and it gets you all the networks that Sling carries.
Standing high above Sling TV are Hulu With Live TV ($70 per month), Fubo TV ($70) and and YouTube TV ($65 per month), which offer more channels and more hours of DVR.
DirecTV Stream is the latest name of the service formerly known as AT&T TV. Sometimes slow performance and a clunky interface make the $70 price tag a bit steep — but fans of specific teams may find themselves locked into DirecTV Stream, as it has a stranglehold on many regional sports networks. For a full breakdown of those services, check out our Hulu Live vs. YouTube TV vs. Sling vs. DirecTV Stream face-off.
The best cable TV alternatives you can buy today
Sling TV is getting a huge interface change (coming first to Fire TV) that really brings it up to snuff with the competitors — and helps keep it the best cable replacement alternative right now and the one both TG staffers Henry T. Casey and Kelly Woo chose to replace cable. Recent buffering issues have gone away, thankfully.
Sling TV starts off cheap ($35 per month) — and its first month is half-off right now. The service offers two basic packages of channels (Orange and Blue), then lets viewers pick and choose smaller extras, which usually cost $5 per month. Orange has ESPN and Blue has Fox and NBC, and you can see more differences in our Sling Orange vs Blue guide.
From sports to comedy to kids’ programming to foreign language channels, Sling TV has a little something for everyone. We just wish its cloud DVR would go unlimited like YouTube and Hulu. For more details, including lineups and pricing and more, check out our What Is Sling TV? page. Even Sling’s Orange+Blue package is still more affordable than most of its competitors’ base packages.
Read our full Sling TV review
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Hulu started life as an on-demand streaming service, then expanded into offering live TV as well. For $70 per month, you get Hulu’s traditional catalog of shows and movies, plus access to more than 60 live channels, from A&E to ESPN to TNT. It also includes Disney Plus and ESPN Plus, which arrived with a $5 price bump. With the recent price increase to ESPN Plus, this bundle saves customers more money now than ever. However, this change might not be a welcome change if you don’t want or need those services. Unfortunately our hands-on testing of Hulu with Live TV showed that it can have a buffering problem, which is a no-no these days.
Hulu with Live TV is particularly good at recommending new content, and its interface is one of the most colorful and navigable in the cable-replacement sphere. You’ll have to deal with a ton of advertisements, though, and if you want fewer of them, you’ll have to pay $10 more. And Hulu’s added an unlimited cloud DVR to match YouTube’s.
Hulu does major brownie points for throwing in its library of originals and on demand programming. Plus, the FX on Hulu partnership has added a ton of classic and modern shows, like The Shield and Atlanta. Not all of these other services boast exclusives on par with the award-winning Handmaid’s Tale, Normal People and Little Fires Everywhere.
Read our full Hulu with Live TV review
Simple, easy to use and rocking a very strong selection of channels, YouTube TV remains a top cable TV alternative. Its biggest stand-out feature was unlimited storage DVR, but Hulu’s caught up to that. And just like Hulu, it has all of the major broadcast networks, so you can get your local news and sports, as well as network sitcoms and dramas.
One of our favorite aspects of YouTube TV is that it’s got the shortest lag behind cable TV. Sling and other services may be a little further (less than a minute, but it still counts for sports and live events) behind the live feeds.
YouTube TV’s $65 per month price used to be high (now it’s the standard for most services not named Sling). The lack of forced bundling may be a pro or con based on your vantage point, but anyone who doesn’t need Disney Plus and ESPN Plus probably appreciates it.
Read our full YouTube TV review
All of these live TV streaming services offer some sports content, but FuboTV is one of the best cable TV alternatives because it has practically every single sport you could ask for. NFL fans can see every game on Fubo, with its strong list of local broadcast channels (including ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC), as well as the recently-added ESPN (as well as ESPN2 and 3), and the NFL Network. On top of that, you get international sports with 8 beIN Sports channels, the Big Ten Network, the Golf Channel and the TUDN (formerly known as UniVision Deportes Network) channels. It’s a sports lover’s buffet.
The only big downside to Fubo is its $70 starting price for its entry-level Pro plan, which is twice as much as Sling Orange. But when you get more than 100 channels — many more than on any other option here — you’re going to be paying more. The one channel we wish FuboTV had is TNT, for NBA games (and All Elite Wrestling). Fubo could also rise up our rankings by adding gaming console support.
Read our full FuboTV review
DirecTV Stream (previously AT&T TV, AT&T TV Now before that and originally DirecTV Now) is a service that keeps changing its name, but it never actually fixes its big problems. Not only is it pricier than most at $70 per month for its base Entertainment package, but that deal only includes “more than 65 channels.” And it’s so-called unlimited DVR deletes recordings after 90 days (YouTube TV and Hulu with Live TV go nine months!). Compared to the above options, it’s a big heaping bowl of “meh.” And its other plans try and lure you into an annual contract — the last thing you want to get. To match services like fubo, DirecTV Stream is adding live scores to help you follow other games.
That said, we feel for the folks who want to follow their favorite local sports teams, as DirecTV Stream has become the only place that many cord-cutters can find their games. Check out our guide on where to live stream NFL, NBA, MLB and more for more details.
We hope to see better quality when we pick it back up soon for a re-test, but we’re not optimistic. This all stacks up to a service that is not close to being one of the best choices. For more about how these services differ, check out our Hulu Live vs. YouTube TV comparison, which also includes DirecTV Stream.
Read our full DirecTV Stream review
How to choose the best cable TV alternative for you
You can filter through the best cable TV alternatives in a couple of ways. The easiest, of course, is by price. If you want to spend less than $40 per month, you’ve got an easy buying decision. Sling TV — either its Orange or Blue packages — is the only option, and it costs a relatively low $30 per month. It may not offer as many channels, but everything else starts at least at $50, which can be frustrating when you also want streaming services like Netflix and Disney Plus that cost $6 to $13 per month.
But if you need all of your available local broadcast channels — ABC, CBS, FOX and NBC — your choices move away from Sling TV to all of its competitors. Hulu With Live is the most affordable to give you all four locals and costs $10 less than YouTube TV. Plus, you get those buzzworthy originals like Normal People, Shrill, Ramy and Little Fires Everywhere.
How we test cable TV alternatives
To determine the best streaming services for you to cut the cord with, we evaluate them by using the services across a wide range of devices, from streaming boxes and smart TVs to mobile apps. This is a great way to see which services stream smoothly and which should be ignored. We’re testing services with true live TV, not just the linear “live” TV on apps such as Pluto TV.
As we use these streaming services, we also rate what their interfaces look like. The best streaming services offer clean menus and make it easy to discover new things to watch. Next, we compare the channel lineups, which can vary widely as you go from one service to the other. Some streaming services also offer multiple packages, so we take that into account before arriving at our rating.
Last but not least, we consider price and value. The best streaming services can either augment cable or help you cut the cord completely. So we weigh the features that you’re getting for the money versus the competition.