Unlike with music streaming, video streaming is going strong, perhaps even stronger. While cord-cutting alternatives like Netflix, YouTube, and the like continue to rise, the desire and need for live TV programs have never gone away. In fact, it’s exactly because of the rise of video streaming that the demand for live TV streaming services has also increased.
Just like traditional cable or satellite TV services, there are quite a few to choose from, and sometimes more choices within each service. We take a look at five of the biggest live TV services, AT&T DirecTV Now, Hulu Live TV, Dish Sling TV, Sony PlayStation Vue, and Google YouTube TV to see how they fare against each other.
This is probably the most important consideration in picking out a live TV streaming service, perhaps more than the price. It’s pointless to pay cheap for a service when you’re only getting half the number of channels available. In this category, it seems that AT&T’s DirecTV Now is the winner. With just its basic $35 “Live a Little” plan, you get access to almost all the popular local and cable channels available, plus a few sports ones.
Most of the other services only offer up to 19 cable channels at most. Sling doesn’t even have local channels, depending on which tier you subscribe. The one caveat to this is that some local channels are still subject to local availability and restrictions, pretty much like traditional cable TV.
Winner: DirecTV Now
Since sports is a big thing in the US, it deserves special attention as well. It’s almost as if the PS Vue was made exactly for this category. What it lacks in local and cable channels it makes up for in sports. It has all the national sports channels, some college sports channels and, if you’re willing to pay extra, MBL, NBA, and NFL Pro channels as well. Unfortunately, PS Vue also happens to have one of the highest starting prices among the five.
Winner: PlayStation Vue
Not all streaming services are created equal and some offer more perks than others. Not being driven by other streaming business considerations perhaps gave Sony the wiggle room to implement as much of the features people want. In particular, PS Vue allows for up to five devices simultaneously streaming, where most of the others limit them to 2 or 3 simultaneous streams. Curiously, only Hulu Live TV and Dish Sling TV have parental controls.
Winner: PlayStation Vue
Streaming almost implies mobility but live TV streaming, more often than not, still confines you to one room. But even if that were not the case, there will come a time when you won’t be able to make it to your favorite show. When that happens, you’d want DVR capabilities. Almost all of the services offer free DVR, except for Sling. DirecTV Now’s Cloud DVR feature, however, is still in beta. YouTube TV, with the might of Google’s cloud behind it, leads the pack with unlimited storage for up to 8 months.
Winner: YouTube TV
Sling TV should come out on top with the cheapest deal, but its $20 Orange plan has a lot of things missing, including all local channels. The $25 Blue tier, on the other hand, has some channels missing that are only in Orange. In other words, if you want all that Sling has to offer, you’d have to go for both Orange and Blue, for a total of $45 per month. In that context, DirecTV Now’s $35 starting plan is a steal. And just as a reminder, YouTube TV’s $35 fee goes up to $40 tomorrow.
Winner: DirecTV Now
Wrap-up: To cut or not to cut
It’s pretty much a tie between DirecTV Now and PlayStation Vue. If you value sports more than the other channels, you’ll have to pay more for a PS Vue subscription. At least you get to stream simultaneously to five devices and have an already working DVR feature.
Live TV streaming is still in its infancy compared to on-demand video at large. There are still only a few key players, with some smaller ones trying to carve out their own spots in the young market. But live TV streaming might pretty much be the way to go in the future.
You aren’t tied to yearly subscription periods and have more choice over when and what you want to watch. On the other hand, your TV viewing is beholden to your Internet connection, which should be good and stable. Which is why most of these TV streaming services are also the ones selling you Internet connectivity as well.