This Hulu Live vs YouTube TV and Sling vs DirecTV Stream face-off compares four of the top live TV streaming services, which differ in key ways. While most have raised their rates to the same price, one is still much cheaper. And, thankfully, they're all available on most of the best streaming devices. But which of these cable TV alternatives deserves to be the way you stream TV?
If you're thinking of cutting the cord, the right live TV streaming service will enable you to watch everything you want and not worry about what you left behind with cable. Our personal choice has been Sling TV, but even we note that our decisions could have been different had our needs changed ever so slightly. Most recently, Hulu with Live TV's price went up, though it added two big services in with that raise.
We've got good news, too. YouTube TV and Roku patched things up so the app can come back to the Roku Channel Store. Even better news comes in from the return of the Sling TV free trial, which brought its three-day free trial back.
Of the four, we only recommend the first three: DirecTV Stream is still not quite there yet. And that's surprising considering that it has more popular channels than the competition. Though we include it for a number of reasons — prominent placement and notoriety included — and it's probably your best bet for watching many MLB live streams, as it's got a lock on many regional sports networks. But to break them down simply: Sling is the cheapest, YouTube has a ton of channels, but Hulu boasts original content.
But overall, this buying decision is complicated as we were once limited to just cable, then a couple of services, and now your options for streaming live TV have grown significantly over the last year, as you can see in our Hulu with Live TV review and our YouTube TV review.
And speaking of YouTube TV, not only does it have a prominent place in the Chromecast with Google TV remote, but it's just added some new features. 4K streams, downloadable shows and movies and unlimited simultaneous streams are now available, for $20 more per month.
And while YouTube TV gets more expensive, our Sling TV review explains how that service's continues to make a compelling case with its low pricing. And then there's DirecTV Stream, which isn't exactly beloved, and costs more than any of the others to start.
But when it comes time to decide between the best streaming services, cord-cutters probably can't forget about the money they're spending on non-live services. Apple TV Plus and Disney Plus are on the cheap end, but they add up over a year.
Hulu Live vs. YouTube TV vs. Sling vs. DirecTV Stream
|Hulu with Live TV||YouTube TV||DirecTV Stream||Sling TV|
|Starting Price (per month) ||$70||$65||$69||$35|
|Channels (in entry-level package)||More than 76, including Disney Plus and ESPN Plus||More than 85 plus YouTube Red Originals||More than 65||More than 30|
|Device Support||Amazon Fire TV and Fire TV Stick, Amazon Echo Show, Android, Apple TV, Chromecast, Computers, iOS, LG Smart TVs, Nintendo Switch, Roku, Xbox One, Xbox 360, PS4||Android, Apple TV, Chromecast & Chromecast-enabled TVs, Computers, iOS, Roku, Xbox One, Smart TVs, PS4||Amazon Fire, Android, Apple TV, Chromecast, Chromecast-enabled TVs, Computers, iOS, Roku||Amazon Fire, Android, Apple TV, Chromecast, Chromecast-enabled TVs, Computers, iOS, Oculus Go, Roku, select LG and Samsung Smart TVs|
|Simultaneous Streams||2||3 (Unlimited option available in $84.99 per month package)||3||1 (with Orange), 3 (with Blue)|
4 (in the $40 per month Orange/Blue)
Pricing and availability
The majority of these competitors have risen to at least $55 per month (if not more), while one is still affordable, meaning this is going to be one of the key places where you might make your decision in our Hulu Live vs YouTube TV vs Sling vs DirecTV Stream face-off.
Once $50 per month, YouTube TV jumped to $65 this past summer -- a price hike YouTube revealed in a blog post that reminded us that it's adding 8 ViacomCBS channels (BET, CMT, Comedy Central, MTV, Nickelodeon, Paramount Network, TV Land and VH1). During the chaos of YouTube TV vs Disney fight, YouTube TV gave out a $15 discount to make up for the loss of channels, which lasted less than two days.
Unfortunately, YouTube TV's had a bumpy road this year, including when its app got kicked out of the Roku Channel Store, which then forced Google to put it inside of the YouTube app, which is a minor inconvenience, all things considered. Fortunately, both parties resolved the issue, so YouTube TV is coming back to the Roku Store.
Hulu with Live TV got even pricier with a $5 price bump, to $70 per month. This price hike is coming with one perk: Disney Plus (normally $8 per month) and ESPN Plus (normally $7 per month) are now included. But what if you don't want either? This kind of frustrating situation could make one wonder how to cancel Hulu.
Hulu's got more than 60 channels, placing it in the middle of the pack, but matching YouTube TV in price will make people wonder how much they want to pay for Hulu Originals, when they could simply get more channels. Those price hikes are still not so high, though, that you should reconsider cable TV.
The YouTube TV base plan now includes more than 85 channels -- an increase of at least 15 channels from when it cost $50 per month. YouTube TV may be working on a package to rival Sling's customizable options, as the company notes "we are working to build new flexible models for YouTube TV users."
The most affordable option is Sling TV, which starts at $35 per month (formerly $30) for more than 30 channels. Two of Tom's Guide's streaming coverage team just chose Sling TV as their way to cut the cord: Henry T. Casey and Kelly Woo. Kelly chose Sling because it's the best value, and Henry picked it for channels and functionality.
DirecTV Stream's pricing keeps jumping around. Currently, its entry-level package is $69 for more than 65 channels, which is not a good ratio when compared to YouTube TV. It allows for three concurrent streams. DirecTV Stream also has a 2-year plan contract version that looks to save you $10 per month for the first year, and throws in a free streaming device. Unfortunately, the price goes up in your second year to $93 per month. That plan is exactly what cord-cutters are trying to avoid.
YouTube TV offers six login accounts, but only three concurrent streams so while you can share it with your whole family, you might need to ask who's using it. Its $19.99 per month 4K Plus add-on pack will bump you to unlimited concurrent streams, provided they're all on your home Wi-Fi network. Hulu with Live TV is slightly below that, starting with six profiles and two concurrent streams.
Sling TV's entry level Orange package ($35 per month) offers one stream at a time, while its $35 Sling Blue includes three streams at once and its $50 Orange + Blue service allows four streams at once. Right now, you can get the first three days of Sling TV for free, as its free trial is back. For more details, check out our What Is Sling TV? page.
Verdict: Sling TV is the cheapest, and YouTube TV's increasing price and channel count keep it as the best dollars-to-channels ratio.
YouTube TV started off on a scant few devices but that's changed. It's now available for Apple TV, Roku boxes, sticks and TVs, Google Chromecast, Android devices and TVs running Android TV, iOS devices, Xbox One, Apple TVs via AirPlay and smart TVs from LG and Samsung.
Just one thing about Roku. It's had recent issues with YouTube, which almost saw both YouTube TV and YouTube leave alltogether. Fortunately, Roku and YouTube solved their differences. Just don't confuse YouTube TV with the company's other paid subscription service: our YouTube Premium vs YouTube TV guide can help explain the difference.
Hulu with Live TV is available on Amazon Fire TVs and Fire TV sticks, Android devices, Apple TV, Chromecast, iOS devices, LG Smart TVs, Macs, PCs, Rokus and the Xbox One. Hulu is also the only of these competitors to be available on the portable Nintendo Switch console.
DirecTV Stream and Sling TV are available on Chromecast, 4th Gen Apple TVs, Amazon Fire TV devices, Roku, Android and iOS. Sling is also on select LG Smart TVs and the Oculus Go, compatible Samsung Smart TVs (including 2016 and 2017 models) and the Xbox One.
DirecTV Stream recently had issues with the Roku platform, finally returning for download in mid-May, after having been unavailable since January 1. Roku owners who had downloaded the app could still use it, but anyone who reset their Roku or bought a new one was out of luck.
Verdict: Device availability is pretty even, and Hulu and YouTube have done a lot to catch up.
4K streaming quality
YouTube TV just launched its 4K Plus pack, which costs $19.99 per month on top of the $64.99 YouTube TV package. Those who sign up early will get half-off for their first year, bringing it to $9.99 per month. That said, there's not much 4K content at the moment, so the other 4K Plus pack feature, offline downloads, will be the main feature of note here. And if you're interested in saving for offline, check out our guide for how to download YouTube videos on iPhone, Android, Mac and PC.
Fubo only has 4K for select sporting events, such as men's college basketball and NASCAR.
Verdict: Still too early for this to make a huge difference, due to a lack of content.
One of YouTube TV's biggest features is live streams of the major broadcast networks (ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC and The CW). Hulu with Live TV is the competitor that stacks up the best here, offering all of those except for The CW. Sling used to have a way for some to get all of their locals for free, but Locast just shut down its services, grounding that for now. Just know that Sling's local channels availability can be a little sparse once you leave big metropolitan areas.
Sling TV's $35 per month package includes live streams of Fox and NBC, while DirecTV Stream has local channels from the likes of ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC, with other channels as available. Later in 2021, DirecTV Stream will be offering PBS stations. We do not know what package they will be in.
YouTube TV includes Telemundo for Spanish-speaking audiences. Sling TV no longer offers Univision, though that channel is available on DirecTV Stream, which provides Video On-Demand access to Telemundo with live streams again varying by region.
CBS All Access — available starting at $6 per month — provides live streams of your local CBS station, along with access to a trove of on-demand movies and TV shows. Its current big show is Star Trek: Picard.
It should be noted that you can get local stations by simply buying an HD antenna for your TV, though that won't provide DVR or on-demand options (more on those later) to save shows for later.
Verdict: YouTube TV looks great for cord cutters worried about losing network TV channels, as does Hulu with Live TV (if you don't need The CW).
The most recent changes to this aspect seem temporary. Hulu has lost regional sports networks from Sinclair Broadcast Group, which include regional Fox Sports channels, the YES Network and Marquee. Similarly, YouTube TV just lost its deal for NESN, which makes a new headache for fans of the Boston Red Sox and Bruins.
Hulu with Live TV and YouTube TV offer many of the same live sports channels you can find on its competitors, including ESPN, ESPN2, ESPN 3, ESPN News, ESPN U, SEC ESPN, Fox Sports, FS1, FS2, the Big Ten Network and the NBC Golf.
YouTube TV just added NFL Network on top of its coverage of March Madness, MLB Postseason games, nationally televised NBA games, the NBA All-Star weekend events, NBA Playoff games, the PGA Championship and UEFA soccer. And while you're watching the game, YouTube TV apps on select devices will show you stats about the game you're watching, so you can see the score and more during commercials.
The one sports channel that Hulu with Live TV and YouTube TV offer that nobody else does is CBS Sports.
As for what you're missing, NFL fans will probably want to check out Sling TV's $25 per month Blue package, which has NFL RedZone from the NFL network as well as many Fox Sports channels. The new YouTube TV Sports Plus package is a $10.99 per month add-on that packs NFL RedZone, Fox College Sport, GolTV, FOX Soccer Plus, MAVTV, TVG and Stadium.
Sling TV also offers NBA League Pass as a $29 per month upgrade, allowing basketball fans to watch out-of-market games they'd normally miss. If you just need to follow one team, Sling TV subscribers can pay an extra $18 per month for Team Pass, which includes live regular season games, full game replays and audio broadcasts for one out-of-market team.
DirecTV Stream finally earned itself some applause by adding the following regional sports networks (entries marked with an * have never been on any streaming service):
- AT&T SportsNet Pittsburgh
- AT&T SportsNet Rocky Mountain
- AT&T SportsNet Southwest
- Mid Atlantic Sports Network (MASN)
- New England Sports Network (NESN)
- Root Sports Northwest
DirecTV Stream places the MLB Network in its $110 per month Choice deal. You'll need its $124 monthly package called Xtra, to add NBA TV and the NHL Network.
If you're a sports fan first, above all other media, you'd be smart to consider FuboTV. Its entry-level package costs $54.99 per month, and while its first month is no longer discounted, the service offers a free 1-week trial period to see if it's right for you. Its value proposition is much stronger, with 85 channels included. TNT isn't one of those channels, which stinks for watching NBA live streams.
Verdict: Football aficionados will want Sling, though YouTube TV is becoming a compelling challenger -- and while Fubo seems more than capable now that it has ESPN, it's still lacking a little
The $55 per month you'd spend on Hulu with Live TV gets you a decent selection of cable TV channels, such as Bravo, Cartoon Network, Food Network and the History Channel. And fortunately it's finally getting the Viacom channels such as Comedy Central, BET, MTV and VH1. Looking for more horror to watch? Check out our best scary movies on Hulu roundup to sate that need.
YouTube TV ($65) costs more, but is a more complete cable replacement. Now that it's adding the Viacom channels to the likes of USA, FX, FXX, FXM, TBS, TNT, E!, Bravo, Syfy, National Geographic, Oxygen and the Disney channels, it could become the defacto option for those who can afford to pay a little more. Of those channels, USA, E! and many others almost dropped off of YouTube TV when they had a spat with NBCUniversal, which has since been resolved. YouTube TV lost the Disney-owned ESPN and FX networks temporarily on Dec. 18 when a contract failed to be negotiated. The channels came back on Dec. 19.
Sling TV's $35 per month packages gives you other channels such as Comedy Central, History, Food Network, IFC, the Travel Channel and A&E, as well as upstarts such as Viceland. DirecTV Stream's $69 per month deal includes many of those, as well as MTV, Nickelodeon and VH1.
In terms of cable news, YouTube TV includes CNBC, CNN, Newsy, Fox News and MSNBC. DirecTV Stream's entry-level packages offers all of those channels, save for Newsy, and Sling TV's $35 Orange package gives you CNN, BBC World News, Newsy and Bloomberg, and its $35 Blue package has those, plus Fox News, MSNBC and HLN.
If you'd rather just buy one channel and not a whole package, consider Amazon Channels, an ala carte alternative to subscription services.
Verdict: YouTube TV was offering the most-complete-looking array of programming, but the loss of Disney-owned channels screws that up. You can learn more with our YouTube TV channels guide, which packs all the full details about that service.
DVR and on-demand
YouTube TV includes a cloud-based DVR service with an unlimited amount of storage, a perk none of its competitors can touch. We found that the services "makes it trivially easy to record shows you want," and that the competition "could stand to learn a thing or two from YouTube TV in this regard." YouTube TV also offers On Demand content, though not for all shows. YouTube TV just improved its DVR, allowing you to skip ads in programming recorded on CBS, Smithsonian and Pop TV.
Sling TV finally added its cloud DVR to its standard package, so you no longer need to spend $5 extra for saving shows. This tier is called Cloud DVR Free, and includes 50 hours of storage. Cloud DVR Plus is the next step up, and includes 200 hours of storage for $5 per month. And we've got all the info on how to record shows on Sling TV.
What's sweeter than unlimited DVR space? Full control of your recorded shows! Starting today, you can ️⏸, ⏪, & ⏩ through your @CBS, Smithsonian Channel, & POP TV favorites to your heart's content.December 2, 2019
Hulu with Live TV matches Sling with 50 hours of Cloud DVR for free, but its Its paid DVR tier costs even more — $15 more per month — to bump you up to 200 hours.
DirecTV Stream offers On Demand content available "within hours after a program airs" for "up to 20,000 shows and titles based on your subscription package." DirecTV Stream's Cloud DVR has 20 hours of storage, and there's a 500 hours package for those who spend another $10 per month. Once we see this DVR move out of beta, we'll update this section of our Hulu Live vs YouTube TV vs Sling vs DirecTV Stream face-off.
Verdict: YouTube TV is the best for those who can plan ahead and record, and even offers content for catching up. Sling's DVR is close behind, based on pricing for 200 hours alone.
The Hulu Live vs YouTube TV debate is real because the two are increasingly similar top contenders, with the same starting price, in a moment where everyone is trying to figure out how to watch live TV online. If you're on a tighter budget, you'll lean Hulu, but YouTube TV's increasing number of channels (ViacomCBS was a glaring hole) is improving its legitimacy -- at a higher price.
Those who prioritize original programming should pick Hulu with Live TV, which now includes both Disney Plus and ESPN Plus. Those who want a never-ending DVR should go with YouTube TV. Many, though, see Sling's customization and lower entry fee, plus its 1-year price lock guarantee, as the best way to cut the cord. If you always dreamed of an ala carte TV future, you're better off with carving out your own version of Sling TV. Check out our guide to cable TV cord-cutting for more help.