Cutting the cord is made possible by the best cable TV alternatives. These live TV services offer faster performance, sleeker interfaces — and best of all — monthly payment structures. That's right, no contracts! And as students prepare go back to school, finding a fantastic way to watch cable TV online is the perfect way to stay up to date with your favorite shows, and make it so you don't need to argue over who can use the dorm's TVs.
The best cable TV replacement services offer most of the broadcast, entertainment, news and sports channels you want to watch and allow you to add on premiums like HBO and Showtime. In fact, the top pick allowed TG's Kelly Woo to finally cut the cord.
This list of cable TV alternatives is for you if you want to watch local news to stay abreast of everything, catch sports games (like NFL live streams) or record episodes of your favorite guilty pleasure reality series. And even while many are going up in price, they're still cheaper than cable.
- Which live TV streaming service has the most popular channels?
- Best streaming services
- Hulu Live vs. YouTube TV vs. Sling vs. DirecTV Stream: Face-off!
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 $35 per month for either the Sling Blue or Sling Orange packages. The combined Sling Orange+Blue package is $50 per month, but it gets you all the networks that Sling carries.
On Sling's heels are Hulu With Live TV and YouTube TV, which are both $65 per month but offer more channels and more hours of DVR. Fubo TV, also $65/month, is a great option with over 120 channels, including many niche sports channel.
AT&T TV recently changed its name to DirecTV Stream, the latest rebranding the service has seen over the years, such as lowering its price and taking away HBO Max away. But its slow performance and $70 price are rough when better options surround you.
The best cable TV alternatives you can buy today
Sling TV is getting a huge interface change (coming first to Fire TV) that really brings it up to snuff with the competitors — and helps keep it the best cable replacement alternative right now and the one TG writer Kelly Woo chose to replace cable. Sling also won two of the 2021 Tom's Guide Awards: for Best Live TV Streaming Service and Best Sports Streaming Service.
Sling TV starts off cheap ($35 per month), though the cost can balloon if you choose add-ons. The service offers two basic packages of channels (Orange and Blue), then lets viewers pick and choose smaller extras, which usually cost $5 per month. One of our editors is currently testing all the cable replacement services, and has found Sling to be a top competitor, and notes that the new Sling app on Fire, Roku and other platforms is a well-designed upgrade gaining new features by the month. Sling's new app is still expanding to more platforms, so don't worry if it's not on your device yet.
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. Sling's also updating its app, with a new and improved interface that's rolling out in waves.
Read our full Sling TV review
Hulu started life as an on-demand streaming service, then expanded into offering live TV as well. For $65 per month, you get Hulu's traditional catalog of shows and movies, plus access to more than 60 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 fewer of them, you'll have to pay $10 more. And if you need more DVR space or simultaneous streams, you'll have to pay up to $30 extra per month.
Hulu does major brownie points for throwing in its library of originals and on demand programming. Plus, the FX on Hulu partnership has added a ton of classic and modern shows, like The Shield and Atlanta. Not all of these other services boast exclusives on par with the award-winning Handmaid's Tale, Normal People and Little Fires Everywhere.
Read our full Hulu with Live TV review
- Not finding enough to watch? Here's how to cancel Hulu
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 unlimited storage DVR, as most 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.
One of our favorite aspects of YouTube TV is that it's got the shortest lag behind cable TV. Sling and other services may be a little further (less than a minute, but it still counts for sports and live events) behind the live feeds.
YouTube TV's $65 per month price used to be high (now it's the standard for most services not named Sling). In exchange, YouTube TV got Viacom channels (which it needed). YouTube TV's supported device stack just got a lot shorter, after a fight between Roku and Google removed the service from Roku devices. Still, the service received a Highly Recommended award in the 2021 Tom's Guide Awards for Best Live TV Streaming Service.
Read our full YouTube TV review
All of these live TV streaming services offer some sports content, but FuboTV is one of the best cable TV alternatives because it has practically every single sport you could ask for. NFL fans can see every game on Fubo, with its strong list of local broadcast channels (including ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC), as well as the recently-added ESPN (as well as ESPN2 and 3), and the NFL Network. On top of that, you get international sports with 8 beIN Sports channels, the Big Ten Network, the Golf Channel and the TUDN (formerly known as UniVision Deportes Network) channels. It's a sports lover's buffet.
The only big downside to Fubo is its $65 starting price for its standard Starter Plan, which is almost twice as much as Sling Orange. But when you get more than 100 channels — many more than on any other option here — you're going to be paying more. The one channel we wish FuboTV had is TNT, for NBA games (and All Elite Wrestling). Fubo could also rise up our rankings by adding gaming console support. Fubo won a Highly Recommended award in the 2021 Tom's Guide Awards for Best Sports Streaming Service.
Read our full FuboTV review
DirecTV Stream (previously AT&T TV, AT&T TV Now before that and originally DirecTV Now) has jumped up and down in price, finally landing at $70 per month for its base Entertainment package. But when that price only includes "more than 65 channels? and 20 hours of Cloud DVR? Compared to the above options, it's a big heaping bowl of "meh." And its other plans try and lure you into an annual contract — the last thing you want to get.
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 DirecTV Stream.
Read our full AT&T TV 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 least at $50, which can be frustrating when you also want streaming services like Netflix and Disney Plus that cost $6 to $13 per month.
But if you need all of your available local broadcast channels — ABC, CBS, FOX and NBC — your choices move away from Sling TV to all of its competitors. Hulu With Live is the most affordable to give you all four locals and costs $10 less than YouTube TV. Plus, you get those buzzworthy originals like Normal People, Shrill, Ramy and Little Fires Everywhere.
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.