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The best cable TV alternatives in 2020: Live TV services that save you money

Best cable TV alternatives
(Image credit: Google/Shutterstock)

The best cable TV alternatives let you finally cut the cord and get rid of your expensive cable TV bill — saving you a lot of money. The best live TV streaming services offer all the goodness of cable and satellite packages, without those hidden fees or impossible-to-cancel contracts. You can still get all the broadcast, entertainment, news and sports channels you want to watch (and add on premiums like HBO and Showtime).

These aren't streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Video. Those are great for library content. If you want to watch your local news to stay abreast of everything, and catch live sports (now that the MLB live streams and NBA live streams are back!) or record the next episode of a guilty pleasure reality series — this list of cable TV alternatives is for you. Read on to find out how you can reintroduce live TV into your home without signing your life away.

The best cable TV alternatives each have their pros and cons. Everyone has specific channels that they want to watch and record. That last part is important, since many of us want to record shows to watch them later. Our ranking highlights any gaps in each of the cable TV alternatives, as well as special features that help them stick out. Learn more tips for saving money with our cut the cord guide.

But some of these services are clearly better than others: offering the most choice and savings so you can curate your experience further. While we prefer three of these picks, the bottom entry on our list is as much of a warning as it is anything else, as quality and price don't match up.

Even better, all of these services only work on monthly contracts, so you're not locked into a long term deal that sours your opinion of the post-cable world. Oh, and each also offers a free trial so you can spend a week or two figuring out if it's right.

Even ISPs themselves are jumping in the fray. The $14.99 live TV service Spectrum Streaming service is one such example, targeted at those on a tight budget.

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.

Our top cable TV alternative, Sling TV, starts off at $30 per month for the Sling Blue plan with 50+ channels. Or for the same price,  you can get Sling Orange with 32 channels. They come with slightly different channels, so read our Sling Orange vs. Blue comparison to get the details. Even better is the combined Sling Orange+Blue package — for $45 per month, you get all the networks that Sling carries. That includes ESPN, AMC, Bravo, Comedy Central as well as local Fox and NBC channels in certain regions.  

On Sling's heels is Hulu With Live TV, which is pricier at $55 per month but offers more channels plus access to regular Hulu and its vast library of movies and shows. Watch local networks and top cable channels, record to the Cloud DVR and watch Hulu's original content like The Handmaid's Tale.

YouTube TV is a strong contender for the best cable TV alternative. Much like Sling and Hulu With Live TV, it has a wide range of channels, including local networks. Where it really stands out is the unlimited DVR, which allows you to record all the movies and shows you want without worrying about deletion.

AT&TV Now may include HBO and give you 500 hours of DVR storage, but the high prices make it a less ideal choice when looking for a cable TV alternative.

The best cable TV alternatives you can buy today

cable tv alternative: Sling TV

(Image credit: Sling TV)

1. Sling TV

Best cable replacement service overall

Starting Price (per month): $30 | Channels (in entry-level package): 30 | DVR: $5 extra | On-Demand: Yes | Device Support: Amazon Fire, Android, Apple TV, Chromecast, Chromecast-enabled TVs, Computers, iOS, Roku | Simultaneous Streams: 1 ($30 per month); 3 ($30 per month); 4 ($40 per month)

Wide variety of channel packages
Available on large number of devices
Potentially inexpensive
Unwieldy interface
Limited customization

Sling TV helped start the cord-cutting trend and it's the best cable replacement alternative right now. Sling TV starts off cheap ($30 per month), and while the cost can balloon quickly, depending on your add-ons, this probably won't happen. That's because Sling TV offers two basic packages of channels (Orange and Blue), then lets viewers pick and choose smaller add-ons, which usually cost $5 per month. Plus, while other services keep raising their prices, Sling jusst added a 1-year price lock guarantee.

From sports to comedy to kids' programming to foreign language channels, Sling TV has a little something for everyone. The service's DVR features are not bad, either. 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. Oh, and we have to give Sling TV credit for having ESPN at an affordable rate, while FuboTV is built for sports fans, costs more and doesn't include ESPN.

Read our full Sling TV review.

Cable TV alternative: Hulu with Live TV

(Image credit: Hulu)

2. Hulu with Live TV

The best original programming

Starting Price (per month): $55 | Channels (in entry-level package): More than 60+ | DVR: Yes | On-Demand: Yes | Device Support: Android, Apple TV, Chromecast, iOS, Xbox One | Simultaneous Streams:

Attractive interface
Good channel selection
Simple DVR features
Lots of menus
Expensive extras

Hulu started life as an on-demand streaming service, but has more recently expanded into offering live TV as well. For $55 per month, you get Hulu's traditional catalog of streaming shows and movies, plus access to more than 50 live channels, from A&E to ESPN to TNT. 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 more DVR space or simultaneous streams, you'll have to pay up to $30 extra per month.

Hulu also gets major brownie points with us for throwing in its library of originals and on demand programming. Plus, the FX on Hulu partnership just added a lot of classic and modern shows. None of these other services boast exclusives on par with the High Fidelity reboot and the critically-beloved The Handmaid's Tale.

Read our full Hulu with Live TV review.

cable tv alternative: youtube tv

(Image credit: Future)

3. YouTube TV

Best DVR feature and access to local networks

Starting Price (per month): $50 | Channels (in entry-level package): 70 | DVR: Yes | On-Demand: Yes | Device Support: Android, Chromecast & Chromecast-enabled TVs, Computers, iOS | Simultaneous Streams: 3

Unlimited DVR
Local channels
Easy to use
Lackluster originals
No Viacom channels

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 is its unlimited storage DVR, as its competitors put a cap on your recordings. It's also got all of the major broadcast networks, so you can get your local news and sports, as well as network sitcoms and dramas. And you can add on premium channels like HBO.

The only flaws in its package are that it's price just went up, now that it has Viacom channels. We're not really raving about YouTube's own original shows, either, and the Karate Kid sequel-show, Cobra Kai is headed to Netflix soon. 

Read our full YouTube TV review.

Cable TV alternative: AT&T TV Now

(Image credit: AT&T TV Now)

4. AT&T TV Now

Not recommended

Starting Price (per month): $65 | Channels (in entry-level package): 54 | DVR: Yes | On-Demand: Yes | Device Support: Amazon Fire TV, Android, Chromecast & Chromecast-enabled TVs, Computers, iOS, Apple TV, | Simultaneous Streams: 3

You get HBO
500 hours of DVR included
Inconsistent video quality
Competitors do everything better
Frustratingly high prices

AT&T TV Now (formerly DirecTV Now) has jumped up and down in price, finally landing at a not-egregious $55 per month. But when that price only includes "more than 45 channels?" Compared to the above options, it's a big heaping bowl of "meh." 

Yes, AT&T TV Now has a high DVR cap, with up to 500 hours of storage, but what good is that when the service is below the quality of what you deserve. 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 AT&T TV Now. 

Read our full AT&T TV Now 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 $50, which can be frustrating when services like Netflix and Disney Plus are around to try and take $6 to $13 per month.

But if you need all of your available local broadcast channels — ABC, CBS, FOX and NBC — your choices move from Sling TV to all of its competitors. YouTube TV is the most affordable to give you all three, but its $50 per month price is only $5 less than Hulu with Live TV. Does $5 extra sound like the correct price for highly regarded exclusive programs, with Hulu Originals? Then pay that little more to get a little more (though you trade away unlimited DVR for a 50-hour cap).

How we test cable TV alternatives

To determine the best streaming services, 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.

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.

  • GoldMan27
    Great suggestions, if you're an American. PS Vue, Sling, Hulu, etc. all are American-only, nothing for us Canucks.

    Another viable alternative that my parents and I have found is to simply get an Android Box and use the Exodus add-on on Kodi. The box, with setup and such, cost us $120, but after that, it's all free (just gotta pay the Internet bill after that). :)
    Reply
  • Jorani
    I don't think that full blown home theaters and just general HiFi people, can say goodbye to cables just yet and tbh, I'd still much rather use XLR cables that rely on wireless hardware and expect it to deliver an equally clear sound and image.
    Reply
  • Jorani
    Than*
    Reply
  • Jorani
    I don't think that full blown home theaters and HiFi people can say goodbye to cables just yet and tbh, I'd personally still use XLR cables, than rely on wireless hard- and software to deliver equally clear image and sound.
    Reply
  • electricianjoel
    As a first day adopter of DTVN it has in fact had it's issues. But, I did lock in the $35/month plus free AppleTV gen 4. DTVN has all of the channels I need. As far as DVR goes, I could care less. Remember not having it? I'm good without it. Especially now that alot of the network apps have access to past episodes. Video quality has had some issues. Personally, I think it's very good. I catch myself thinking, this isn't Dish Network or cable tv but streaming. I had Dish for 12 years, great service, but I am saving $70/month.
    Reply
  • Margie_37
    Do any of these services have the local news live?
    Thanks.
    Chris
    Reply
  • mcbutters
    @Margie I have PS Vue and I get all major live local news. I believe almost all markets have this. Look at PlayStation website to confirm it's available in your zip code.
    Reply
  • Kristine_6
    I've found Sling TV to not offer competitive package. I was an early user and subscriber for a couple of years. However, I felt that I was able to get a basic cable package with what Sling offered. I also had major buffering issues with Sling, especially when a season premiere or big episode of a popular show was being shown. This year, I searched my options for alternative streaming options. I tried Playstation Vue, but, I found them price-y and did not offer Viacom channels. With a majority of channel apps offering episodes of new tv shows within 24 hours, I do not feel it is really necessarily to have a DVR option. Currently, I am with Directv Now and I've been extremely happy with them. I have not had the buffering issues other people have had. I only had buffering when watching NBC. Other than that, I save money on the cheapest package and a movie channel (Live a Little package and HBO) with more channels than what's out there for $40. I was fortunate to sign up when they were offering free, latest Apple TV. Looking forward to when there is an app on Roku so I can watch tv in bed! Btw, in case anyone is wondering, I do use Comcast for internet services on the cheapest option available with no buffering issues.
    Reply
  • GTrahald
    Having bundles, also helps. While with DTV and AT&T, you still get access to DTVN streaming content, but also 15 channels of HBO and HBO GO. After the bundle rebates, the cost is $50/mo, for the lowest tier. Certainly not cable, and your money is going to the same company, but you do get the best of both, full 5 tuner DVR whole home DVR service, plus on the go streaming. What I am trying to say, Satellite service isn't Cable or Streaming. They traditionally were the rebels against Cable TV prices. However after some time they turned into nothing under $110/mo, a lot like cable. But while there's a lot of customer churn, the prices and business modeling has changed. I am liking it, while it lasts.
    Reply
  • Dennis21646
    I saw somewhere online that there is a free streaming service that offered nearly 200 channels for free. Why do You not include that service in Your overview? You are right about Direct T.V. That's what I have now and it is EXPENSIVE and a terrible service. I am hell bent on getting rid of it. I just can't decide whether to go with streaming or a cable service. How dependable are the steaming services?
    Reply