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I’m finally cutting the cord — and this is my choice to replace cable

Cutting the cord with streaming TV
(Image credit: Shutterstock; Tom's Guide)

Deciding to cut the cord is easy. Figuring out how to replace cable is the hard part.

Last week, I detailed why I’m finally cutting the cord (an astronomical cable bill) and the things I needed from a cable replacement. Now, I have to make a choice among the various live TV options. 

There are quite a few, as seen on our list of cable TV alternatives. I’ve read through it numerous times and tested most of them personally. None of them are perfect; they all have their pros and cons. I settled on choosing between three of those services: Sling, Fubo and YouTube TV.

Before I get into the nitty gritty of those choices, I should explain why Hulu With Live TV isn’t in the running. I actually really like the service, and it would be awesome to simply add it into my existing Hulu account. However, I get Hulu through a grandfathered Spotify Premium bundle. I can’t upgrade to Hulu With Live TV unless I cancel the bundle, which I don’t want to do. 

Sling vs Fubo vs YouTube TV

Okay, back to the final three contestants. In part one of my cord cutting saga, I made a list of “must have” and “nice to have channels.” I also noted I’d like to have everything integrated in one place. At first, I thought that would strike Sling, because it doesn’t offer all the broadcast networks. 

However, I realized they offer several AirTV devices that pull in local channels. I can get an AirTV Anywhere with HD antenna for $99 (one-time fee) if I prepay for three months of Sling. That’s a significant cost, but since I’m cutting the cord for good, I realized I had to look at it as an investment over the long term. 

Fubo and YouTube TV are similar in that they don’t require a separate device to get local channels. They both cost $65 per month, with Fubo’s Starter Plan offering 121 channels while YouTube TV’s lineup is 85 channels. Sling’s $50 per month Orange + Blue plan comes with 50. 

Here’s the breakdown of cost for a year, any missing channels and the DVR features. For comparison, a year of cable would cost me around $2,220.

One yearMissing channelsDVR
Sling$699 (including $99 AirTV)MTV, VH150 hours cloud + AirTV storage
Fubo$780The CW, TBS, TNT250 hours cloud
YouTube TV$780LifetimeUnlimited cloud

Why I’m choosing Sling

As you can see, even with the one-time fee to get an AirTV Anywhere, Sling beats Fubo and YouTube TV on cost for a year’s worth of live TV. The savings are even better over a longer period — over two years, Sling will cost $1,300, while the other two come in at $1,560 (this is, of course, barring any price hikes). 

All three services are missing channels, but Sling edges ahead there, too, since MTV and VH1 are in my “nice to have” category. Meanwhile, Fubo and YouTube TV are both missing “must have” channels. That could change in the future, since live TV services are constantly feuding/making up with the entertainment conglomerates that own channels. 

For now, Sling’s Orange + Blue plan has almost everything I want. And actually, I could pay $6/month for the Comedy Extra add-on to get MTV or the same for Lifestyle Extra to get VH1. So, if I want to watch The Hills: New Beginnings, I can just get Comedy Extra while the season is airing and then unsubscribe when it’s over.

Sling TV

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Why did I decide to get an AirTV Anywhere over an AirTV 2 or an AirTV Mini? I nixed the Mini because it streams local channels through Locast, which doesn’t allow recording. That’s an absolute must-have feature. The AirTV 2 is a good option — it can come with an HD antenna or you can use your own. But it requires separate USB storage to record local channels, whereas the AirTV Anywhere comes with a built-in 1TB DVR hard drive. 

The only downside to Sling is that I find the navigation and interface clunky at times. And having never used an AirTV, I’m curious to see how well it functions — and if this Sling combo turns out to be a true cable replacement. At the least, I would save $1,520 over the next year if this works out. And having recently binged Stanley Tucci Searching for Italy, I could use the funds to go on the pasta and pizza tour of my dreams. 

In two weeks, the final part of this cord-cutting saga: How Sling is working out as a cable replacement

Kelly Woo

Kelly covers streaming media for Tom’s Guide, so basically, she watches TV for a living. Previously, she was a freelance entertainment writer for Yahoo, Vulture, TV Guide and other outlets. When she’s not watching TV and movies for work, she’s watching them for fun, seeing live music, writing songs, knitting and gardening.

  • ShroudyStranger
    I may be off-topic with this response, however I simply do not understand the compelling reason to be so loyal to live television. To me, live television should be taken as a minimum resource where it really matters such as sports and news. The rest is much better on-demand. My $0.02.
  • Rubenct
    There is prefence and 100 ways to skin a cat:
    Cut the cord 2 yrs ago from DirectV
    Prefer live sports and local news
    Used the cable connections for an in attic antenna $40 one time hit for 40+ over the air channels all HDTV-For overall sports, FuboTv with ESPN+ is a must!
    -youTube TV a close 2nd, only if price increase stop!

    My 2cents
  • GregoP
    To really get an idea of what cutting the cord is all about, you can't just go from cable to an over the top cable service. When sports stopped in 2020 we got rid of spectrum. We already had Netflix, Disney and Prime. We found deals on Peacock and Paramount and tried them for short terms. They were ok, but have obnoxious interfaces. We had a trial of youtube tv in January but really just got it for sports. We didn't continue, it's too expensive and too much like cable. We no longer sit down and watch shows. We had a TiVo and recorded most things we wanted.

    This month we got sling for the Euro championships, Orange for ESPN. I really dislike sling, especially the single stream for Orange. Their Roku app sucks and continually crashes.

    We ended up with long term deals for Peacock and Paramount. Peacock is much better for sports. I got a mac in December so we have Apple TV too.

    The good thing about the OTT services is that you can start and stop them when ever you want. We don't watch much over the summer anyway unless there's a big soccer tournament or event like TDF.

    Youtube highlights are a great way to catch up on the sports you no longer have. And your local sports bar is open now!

    I forgot to add that I have a Plex server with OTA tuners for local content. That works pretty well. Also the free stuff you can get from Pluto and other free cable like systems can be enough for some people.
  • kep55
    You mention using AirTV to get broadcast channels. We have an outdoor YAGI on a thirty foot tower. Even though we live 50 miles from two major cities and 85 from a third, we get all the OTA channels from the two nearby cities and a couple from the farther away one. You do NOT need a special HD antenna for OTA channels as the radio waves don't care. I'm sure we'd pick up more channels if we put a new antenna up that isn't missing half its directors.
  • TBD Cobra
    OK...But what is your total cost when you include what you pay for internet access?
  • mjrtom
    Tom's used to be a tech site, but i guess its mainstream-ish.
    I would rate this review as a 2 out of 5.
    I would never do any of these.
    Cordcutter for over 10y. Never looking back.
  • dharr18
    Good luck with this.

    Personal experience I did not like the AirTV. The interface was not very intuitive. The remote regularly disconnected and I could not get it to reconnect without a hard reset. Sling was not bad, but I live in a house with 5 bedrooms and tvs in use in most. Sling was too limited in the number of concurrent connections even when using over the air.

    The worst problem of the over the air was when storms were in the area, reception was poor or non-existent. When severe weather is a possibility you will really appreciate the streaming capabilities of local channels. Having streaming capabilities over laptop, PC, phone, etc when power is out is another advantage to have local streaming stations.

    While sling is available on other streaming devices, you do not have the local channels unless your tv is connected to a antennae.

    Also we are more into sports, so that was another deciding factor.
  • pcumming
    Not sure how you come up with cost saving. Perhaps I am dense. Will not be the first time.

    You stated " — and if this Sling combo turns out to be a true cable replacement. At the least, I would save $1,520 over the next year if this works out. "

    How can this be? How can you save $1520 over the next year? This might be the case if one of the services cost $1520 for a year and you paid nothing or you paid $1520 and the services from someone else cost $3040.

    Thanks for an update.