The best live TV streaming services in 2023

Intro: It’s a lot like using Netflix to stream live TV. You can use apps on your phone, computer, smart TV, or streaming device to connect, and the signal comes to you over the internet. Most of the time, you’ll have a better time if your link is faster and more stable. Most apps that let you watch live TV require you to sign up and pay through a web browser. The app can then be turned on on your computer.


When I first started doing my research, I was surprised by how much more expensive live TV was than a regular viewing app like Netflix or Peacock. Whereas the latter cost between $5 and $20 per month, many live TV services cost around $70 and can cost more than $100 with extra perks, channel packages, and special extras. I also heard that the main reason base plans are more expensive is because it costs more to offer more networks, especially sports and local shows.

Local stations

Only two of the services we looked at didn’t have full coverage of local channels, and one of those didn’t even try to carry sports. That would be Philo, and as you might expect, it’s the cheapest. The next cheapest choice is Sling. It only has three local channels and is only available in bigger markets, but it does have some of the best sports channels.

When you sign up with a local TV service, you’ll be asked for your zip code. This makes sure you get the ABC, CBS, FOX, and NBC stations for your area. You can also get these stations for free, of course. Almost all new TVs have a radio frequency (RF) connection, also called a coaxial port. This means that if you buy an HD antenna, you’ll be able to get ABC, CBS, FOX, and NBC stations that are aired nearby. And since the broadcast is digital, reception is much better than in the days of rabbit ears, when there was a lot of static.


One thing that blew my mind was how many different kinds of sports networks there are. It can be hard to figure out which network will show the game you want to watch. Google makes it a little easier by showing future games. If you click on one, the “TV & streaming” button will tell you which network is covering the event.

Then you just need to find out if your service of choice has that network. Even with add-ons and extra packages, some companies don’t have some stations, which is a shame. A lawyer would be needed to understand how streaming rights are negotiated, and networks leave and return to live TV providers all the time. Still, ESPN, Fox Sports, TNT, USA, and local stations cover most of the big sports events in the US.

Cable networks in the past

There was a time when you could only watch Bravo, BET, Food Network, HGTV, CNN, Lifetime, SYFY, and MTV on cable. If you only pay for HBO Max and Netflix, for example, you won’t be able to watch either of those. All of the choices we tried have large lists of cable networks, but only DirecTV has all of the top 36 channels that Nielsen says people will watch the most in 2023.

Media companies keep merging, changing their names, or getting back into the streaming market, so you can find many cable networks on standard streaming services like Peacock. There are separate apps for some stations, like AMC+. There are cheaper ways to watch live TV if all you want to see are shows that are only on cable. The fact that the Discovery+ app costs $7 per month and gives you 20 programmes without ads made me very happy. Paramount+ has shows from many different networks, like MTV and Comedy Central. Peacock, on the other hand, has shows from Bravo and Hallmark.

There’s even a service called “Friendly TV” that streams A&E, Lifetime, Game Show Network, Vice, and about 35 other channels for just $7 per month. We didn’t test it for this guide because it doesn’t give you local access, news, or sports, and most people would be better off with the wider coverage of a cheap choice like Philo.

I should also add free ad-supported TV (FAST) streamers like Plex, Tubi, PlutoTV, and Sling Freestream, which let you drop in and watch a good range of live networks for free. Some don’t even require a credit card. And if you have a Roku player or a Samsung TV, you can use the Roku Channel or the Samsung TV Plus app to watch hundreds of live stations.

Digital video records (DVR)

All of the options we’ve listed come with DVR storage, and all of the material is stored in the cloud, so you don’t need a separate box like you do with standard cable. You’ll either get an endless number of recordings that will disappear after nine months or a year, or you’ll get a set number of hours (between 50 and 1,000) that you can keep forever. Most of the time, all you have to do is tell the DVR what you want to record, and it will save the next shows for you so you can watch them later.

You can watch recorded material whenever it’s most convenient for you, and you can also skip over ads. On live TV or video-on-demand (VOD), on the other hand, you can’t skip them.

Most live TV subscriptions give you access to a variety of VOD material, such as films and shows that are currently showing on the networks you pay for. Usually, this doesn’t include live events, neighbourhood shows, or news programmes. But you can watch individual episodes of shows like Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives or Sistas on BET. Just look for the show, choose an episode, and press play.

Levels, deals, and extras

A worksheet is the best way to compare price-to-offering rates. I… got three. Base plans cost between $25 and $75 per month. From there, you can add on packages, which are usually groups of live TV channels grouped by themes like news, sports, comedy, or foreign. Those cost an extra $5 to $20 per month, and you can find them in the same guide as the rest of your basic live TV.

Then there are VOD add-ons that cost more, like HBO Max, AMC+, Starz, or Showtime. You might already have these in separate apps. If you don’t, or if you’d rather have one bill and one way to watch, you can add them to many live TV packages.

What we tried

When I start testing for a guide, I do study on the most popular and well-reviewed players in the area to figure out which ones are worth trying. Only six services really stand out in this space, so I tried them all. After setting them up on my laptop, I downloaded them to a Samsung smart TV with the latest version of Tizen OS. I counted the local stations and area sports coverage and took note of how many of last year’s top cable networks were available. Then I compared the prices, base deals, and extras that were offered.

Then, I looked at how the code was set up in each app’s user interface (UI) and rated how easy it was to get around, from the top navigation to the settings. I looked for the same few shows on BET, Food Network, HGTV, and Comedy Central to test the search feature, since all six providers run those channels. I took note of how helpful the searches were and how quickly they led me to Home Town season 6, episode 13.

I used the DVR to record whole series and single movies, and I watched VOD shows, making sure to test the pause and scan features. On each sports site, I looked for the same four future NHL, NBA, MLS, and NCAA basketball games and used the record feature to save them so I could watch them a day or two later. Last, I wrote down any extra perks or annoying habits.

Here are all of the things we tried:

• Philo

• Sling

• TV on YouTube

• Hulu + Live TV

• Stream DirecTV

• FuboTV

YouTube TV is the most all-around.

Google’s service for watching live TV has a lot going for it. Compared to our top pick for sports, YouTube TV includes big and minor teams, regional games, and national games almost as well. It’s easy to use, has a great search function, lets you record as much as you want, and has a wide network coverage. YouTube recently raised the price to $73 per month, so it’s not as cheap as it used to be. If you’re not good at fighting temptation, it’s even more risky for your finances.

You can choose from nearly 50 different add-ons when you sign up. These include 4K quality, special channels, and themed packages. Even if you don’t give in to the temptation to add HBO Max, Shudder, and AcornTV when you sign up, it’s dangerously easy to add more to your account. If you look for a programme on a network you don’t have, you’ll be asked to add it. You can also rent or buy films that aren’t on any stations right now, just like you can on YouTube. Even though it’s nice to be able to buy anything on a whim, I’m sure this puts many users’ prices well above the $73 per month that Google says they should be.

Still, it’s nice to have everything you want to do in one place. And if you only want the extras, you can sign up for most of the solo networks without paying for the base plan. Either way, the user experience is the same, and if you’ve used regular YouTube, you’ll know how to get around. Google’s search function was, unsurprisingly, the best of the bunch. It quickly found the shows and games I was looking for and gave me clear options for how to watch and record them.

You can also choose the shows, networks, and teams you like when you sign up. These will be added to your library. The videos are then immediately saved by YouTube TV. You get unlimited cloud DVR room, but records only last for nine months. Adding shows to your library is a breeze. By default, YouTube TV starts by playing the last show you watched, just like real cable. However, it was the only service that let me turn this off by going to the settings.

It was easy to look for and record a game that was coming up. Once the game was saved, I had to look around a bit in my library to find it. It turns out that single games are listed under the Events heading, not the Sports heading. But after that, replay was easy and had an interesting extra feature: you could either play a recorded game from the beginning or click Watch Key Plays. The second option gives you between 12 and 20 10-second-long highlight clips. It focuses on the best shots made in an NBA game and shows every goal scored in an MLS game. At the time of testing, the tool could be used for NCAA basketball and for hockey, soccer and basketball in the big American teams. Games from other countries and smaller games didn’t have the option.

YouTube TV also lets you change the most things inside the app. You can add family settings to a profile or bring up a statistics menu that shows how healthy your buffer is and how fast your link is. You can change the viewing resolution if your connection is slow, and you can even send YouTube comments. It also did the best job of combining VOD with live programmes. For example, if you look for a show that’s on right now, a red badge in the corner of the picture will tell you that it’s live. This information wasn’t as clear on other sites.

Now that YouTube TV costs $73 per month, it is no longer cheaper than Hulu + Live TV, which costs $70 per month. And if you already pay for the regular Hulu app, this is by far the best option. If you choose the Hulu choice, you can stream live TV and get all of Hulu’s material, some of which you can’t get anywhere else. 

Hulu + Live TV has your local stations and 32 of the top 36 cable channels, the same number as YouTube TV. For sports, you get all versions of ESPN plus FS1, FS2, TBS, USA, TNT, NBC Golf, and the NFL Network. You can also add paid VOD channels like HBO Max and Showtime, and it’s the only provider that gives you Disney+ for free.

The Hulu + Live TV app isn’t as easy to use as most of the others. It felt like the live feature had been crammed into the regular Hulu app. But if you already use Hulu and pay for it, it might be worth it to upgrade to the live TV deal.

TV on YouTube

• Base plan: $73/mo

• Channels in your area:

• Best cable channels: 32 of 36

• DVR limits: no limits, end in 9 months

• Each user has 6 profiles.

• 3 simultaneous streams at home (unlimited if you pay extra)

• Picture in picture mode: Yes

Hulu + Live TV

• Base plan: $70/mo

• Channels in your area:

• Best cable channels: 32 of 36

• DVR limits: no limits, end in 9 months

• Each user has 6 profiles.

• Two simultaneous streams at home (unlimited if you pay extra)

• Picture in picture mode: No

DirecTV Stream is the best without a contract.

Cancelling cable is no laughing matter, because those contracts are binding. But if you like the randomness of going from one station to the next and having access to as many networks as possible, DirecTV Stream will give you a very similar experience to cable without making you sign a contract. Like cable, it lets you jump to the “next” sequential channel (yes, DirecTV Stream names its channels) with a single button press. This turns the left and right d-pad buttons on a smart TV remote into the rocker on a normal clicker.

It has all of the top 36 cable networks (though Game Show Network and Animal Planet are only available on the second tier and up), and you can add more channels like Showtime, Starz, AMC+, and Discovery+. You can also add HBO Max, just like with YouTube TV and Hulu + Live TV, but we only found that you can add Peacock with DirecTV. You can always add these apps to your smart TV on your own, but it’s a nice bonus for anyone who likes having everything in one place, like cable.

When you turn on DirecTV Stream, the last channel you watched starts playing right away. When you go to the book or other menu pages, it keeps going. If you’re used to the quieter experience of standard streaming apps (after you turn off autoplay), you might find that a little annoying.

It wasn’t easy to find my way around, partly because the menu options were on top of the show I was watching and partly because there were so many ways to explore, access, and control live, taped, and on-demand entertainment. The least connected service I tried was the search feature. Instead of making suggestions as you type, it makes you type your full search term on a different keyboard screen. Even with that limitation, it found the shows and movies I was looking for, and when I typed in the name of a team, it showed me the games I was looking for.

You can’t add new stations or deals through the app, which may be good news for people who are worried about getting too many subscriptions. It might just bother everyone else.

• Base plan: $75/mo

• Channels in your area:

• Best cable channels: 36 of 36

• You can record as much as you want on a DVR, but you can only keep it for 9 months (or 30 shows per series).

• Each account has one profile.

• Unlimited simultaneous streams at home

• Picture in picture mode: No

FuboTV is the best for live sports.

When you sign up for FuboTV for the first time, it asks you what sports teams you watch. Choose teams from leagues that are currently playing, and you’ll have DVR content to watch quickly. Fubo records every game your teams play as long as it airs on a compatible station. It also has a wide range of sports to choose from.

I tried a paid membership, and the guide said that I could choose from 118 sports networks. You can watch ESPN, Fox, NBC, and CBS as normal, but you can also watch motorsports, foreign leagues, adventure sports, and even poker. You can get NBA TV, NHL Network, NFL Red Zone, and MLB Network by buying add-ons. And if you want to watch all 1,000 games the NBA plays in a season, you can add the $15-per-month NBA League Pass to your plan. Even sports can be watched on FuboTV.

Yes, there is a lot of coverage, but FuboTV also made it easy to find and record particular games. It was easy to look for a game that was coming up and to sort through the many games I had already taped. FanView is great for watching live games because it puts the video in a smaller window and puts numbers and a list of other games that you can click on around that window.

FuboTV has worked hard to be the best at sports, but lately it has also tried to be the best at live TV. From what I’ve seen so far, it’s definitely come a long way. The number of ways the guide let you organise live TV was amazing, but everything still felt clean and simple. On the Home, Sports, Shows, and Movies pages, there were many ideas and groups, and almost all of the options were for live TV.

FuboTV falls short when it comes to getting to VOD and playing back DVR. It wasn’t easy to find the shows I was looking for, and it wasn’t as easy to find VOD material as it was to find live programmes. When you fast forward or rewind through records, there isn’t a preview window that pops up. This makes it hard to tell where you are in a show. FuboTV and DirecTV Stream both have $75 starting packages, which is the most expensive. But this is the way to go if you want all the sports and want to watch well-organized live TV when there aren’t any games on.

• Base plan: $75/mo

• Channels in your area:

• Best cable channels: 29 of 36

• DVR limits: 1000 hours, no end

• Each user has 6 profiles.

• 10 home streams at the same time:

• Picture in picture: Yes (only on Apple TV)

Sling TV can be changed the most.

Taking time to fine-tune channel choices sounds like a lot of work to me. But if you want to get exactly what you want without paying for too much of what you don’t, Sling TV may be your best bet. It divides its basic plan into two packages called Blue and Orange. Each package has a different set of channels. Blue, which costs $45 a month, has more channels than Orange, which seems to have put most of its money into ESPN and ESPN 2. But Sling Orange is the best way to get those two sports channels, at $40 per month.

After you choose a plan, you can choose from a number of add-on deals that cost between $6 and $11 a month. Some of these are groups of sports or leisure channels, shows for kids, the Discovery+ deal, and a news package. There are 46 different paid services, like Showtime, Starz, MGM+, Shudder, and Acorn, that cost between $2 and $10 per month. Sling also has films that you pay to watch.

As for local coverage, Sling Blue gives you access to ABC, Fox, and NBC local stations in about 20 of the largest US areas, such as Los Angeles, Seattle, Dallas, NYC, Miami, and Washington, DC. When ABC programming started in March 2023, the price of Sling Blue in supported countries went up from $40 to $45. People who don’t live in those places (or who choose Orange) can get a free HD antenna from Sling to get local shows.

The design is easy to use and easy to navigate. It focuses on what you like to watch and makes suggestions that are pretty accurate. The user interface also makes it easy to find the add-ons you’ve picked. During my tests, however, the app froze up more than once as I moved around. Most services freeze once or twice, but Sling did it enough times to get on my nerves. During the three weeks of testing, I had to force quit or back out of the app and start over five or six times. Compared to other services, Sling’s DVR is expensive. You can only record 50 hours of shows, but they won’t go away. You can pay for more room on your DVR, but that will make your total costs go up.

I tried not to get too far off track while trying, but I feel it’s my job to tell you that Sling has an Elvis channel, a Bob Ross channel, and ALF TV, which is a whole station dedicated to the 1980s sitcom with a puppet. You can also add a Dog TV network to Sling or get it as a separate app. This network is meant to be played for your dogs when you leave the house.

• Base plan: Starting at $40/mo

• ABC, FOX, and NBC local outlets in some areas

• The best cable stations are 22 or 29

• DVR limits: 50 hours, no expiry

• Each account has four profiles.

• Home streams: 1 or 3 at the same time

• Picture in picture mode: Yes

Best budget: Philo

Philo is one of the least expensive ways to watch live TV without a cord. It costs $25 per month. The biggest catch is that it doesn’t have any local channels or sports shows. If that isn’t a problem, Philo is great. It has a clean, simple design and a lot of space for DVR.

I like simple designs, so I liked how the options and guide for Philo were set up. Home, Guide, Saved, and Search are the only sections at the top. And instead of the normal guide style, which stretches or shortens a show’s name to show when it airs, Philo’s guide has squares with the length of the programme written inside them in order of when it airs. When you move to a square, it fills up with a live video of the show or movie, which is a nice touch.

Philo doesn’t put a limit on how many shows you can record, and you can keep them for a full year, which is longer than the nine months that other companies let you keep them. Philo, like all other services that stream live TV, won’t let you skip ahead in VOD shows. If skipping ads is important to you, I suggest taking advantage of the endless DVR and hitting “Save” on any show or movie you think you might want to watch, then fast forwarding it when you play it back. You can do this with all of the services we tried.

As far as stations go, Philo only has 23 of the top 36 television networks. Fox News, CNN, ESPN, and MSNBC are notable exceptions. Anyone looking for great news coverage should look elsewhere, but it was a little upsetting that Bravo and Freeform weren’t on the list.

• Base plan: $25/mo.

• Local stations:

• Best cable channels: 23 of 36

• DVR limits: no limits, end after one year

• Each account has 10 profiles.

• Simultaneous streams: 3

• Picture-in-picture mode: Yes (only in the browser)

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