Things are getting exciting for cord-cutters, especially in the United States. There’s never been more competition, or more options, for users who want to get their live TV over the web. That includes live sports and local TV channels in most markets.
But with all that competition, it can be hard to know which service is the best for you. That’s where we come in. We’ve tested all of the major offerings: YouTube TV, Hulu + Live TV, DirecTV NOW, PlayStation Vue, and Sling, and broken down which ones excel in which areas.
We should note that, of course, everyone’s tastes will differ. These services cover a lot of the same channels, but if one offers a channel you can’t live without and the other doesn’t, obviously you shouldn’t take our recommendation and miss out on the shows you want to watch.
Also, be aware that some services don’t have contracts with every local ABC, CBS, Fox, and/or NBC affiliate, and so may not have access to all of your local broadcast channels. The links above all go to the master channel list for each service: use them as a quick aid to your choices.
Luckily the nature of these services is much more consumer-friendly than conventional cable or satellite TV. All of the services in this guide offer free trials for a week or more, and can be cancelled anytime with no punishing contracts or expensive hardware. It’s easy to switch to a different service if you’re unhappy with your first choice—you can even sign up for all of them at the same time, compare them during the free trial period, and cancel all but the one you settle on. And if you’re looking something specifically for a family with kids, be sure to check out our guide to kid-friendly TV services.
But enough preamble: let’s get to the show. Here are our selections for the best live TV services on the web.
The Best Overall Live TV Service: YouTube TV
At just $40 a month for its single primary package, which includes live local channels and unlimited cloud DVR recording (yes, really unlimited), YouTube TV snags our pick for the best overall card-cutting service. While Sling beats it on price, it’s not nearly so flexible, and its oddball splitting of the low $25 tier will confuse and alienate a lot of users. It helps that YouTube TV also has one of the better user interfaces around, and is available on pretty much every platform you could want it, including Google’s ostensible competitors like Roku, Apple TV, and iPhones.
There are a couple of downsides to YouTube TV. It’s not yet available in every market in the US (and not at all internationally), though it covers the country for something like 90% of prospective users. Google’s original programming is also very lackluster—it tosses in YouTube Red, but that exclusive lineup doesn’t hold a candle to the likes of Hulu. YouTube TV doesn’t include an HBO add-on (though it does have Showtime and Starz), but that content is fairly simple to get on its own.
Even so, for most users who can access it and want a straight-up replacement for cable TV that’s simple and relatively cheap, YouTube TV should be the first place they look.