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The best cable TV alternatives in 2021: Live TV services that save you money

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

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.

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

cable tv alternative: Sling TV

(Image credit: Sling TV)

1. Sling TV

Best cable replacement service overall

Starting Price (per month): $35 | Channels (in entry-level package): 30 | DVR: 50 hours (200 hours for $5 per month) | On-Demand: Yes | Device Support: Amazon Fire, Android, Apple TV, Chromecast, Chromecast-enabled TVs, Computers, iOS, Roku | Simultaneous Streams: 1 ($35 per month); 3 ($35 per month); 4 ($45 per month)

Wide variety of channel packages
Available on large number of devices
Potentially inexpensive
Limited customization
Missing multiple user profiles

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

Cable TV alternative: Hulu with Live TV

(Image credit: Hulu)

2. Hulu with Live TV

The best original programming

Starting Price (per month): $65 | 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, 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

cable tv alternative: youtube tv

(Image credit: Future)

3. YouTube TV

Best DVR feature and access to local networks

Starting Price (per month): $65 | Channels (in entry-level package): 85 | 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 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


(Image credit: FuboTV)

4. FuboTV

The best streaming service for sports

Starting Price (per month): $65 | Channels (in entry-level package): 122 | DVR: Yes | On-Demand: Yes | Device Support: Amazon Fire TV, Android, Chromecast, Computers, iOS, Apple TV, Roku, Samsung Smart TVs, Vizio Smartcast TVs | Simultaneous Streams: 2

Huge number of channels
Niche sports networks
Some 4K content
More expensive than competitors
No game console support

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  

Cable TV alternative: DirecTV Stream Now

(Image credit: AT&T TV Now)

5. DirecTV Stream

Not recommended

Starting Price (per month): $70 | Channels (in entry-level package): 65+ | DVR: Yes (20 hours) | On-Demand: Yes | Device Support: Amazon Fire TV, Android, Chromecast & Chromecast-enabled TVs, Computers, iOS, Apple TV, | Simultaneous Streams: 3

Local channels
500 hours of DVR
Simple, clean interface
Basic tier channel lineup is lacking
Shows are slow to load

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.

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.

  • 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). :)
  • 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.
  • Jorani
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Margie_37
    Do any of these services have the local news live?
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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?