Live TV Streaming without Cable by Youtube TV, Sling TV, DirecTV Now and more

Despite its many nifty features, YouTube TV does have a few potentially irritating limitations that you should know about before you sign up. Continue reading to learn about the best alternatives for YouTube TV: DirecTV, Sling TV and Hulu With Live TV.

Here’s Why You May Not Like YouTube TV

YouTube TV is designed with casual TV watchers in mind. But if you’re a hardcore couch potato, you may want to go with a different cable replacement service. Here’s why.

Limited channels, limited customization

With YouTube TV, you get about 40 channels and — with the exception of a few limited add-ons — that’s it. (You’ll get more or less local channels, depending on whether or not your local TV affiliates have made deals with YouTube.) You can’t add HBO or Cinemax, or upgrade to different plans.

No CNN, no Food Network, no TNT

If you relate more to the Fox News or MSNBC versions of how the world works, you may not mind that CNN isn’t available on YouTube TV. But if you’re a CNN fan, you may want to go with a different cable replacement service after you cut the cord. Additionally, if you like basketball or if you’re a foodie, you may be disappointed by the fact that YouTube TV does not offer TNT or the Food Network.

That unlimited DVR feature is not as sweet a deal as it seems

Here’s the problem with YouTube’s “unlimited” DVR: YouTube won’t let you record a show if an on-demand version of the episode you want to watch is available. It seems that YouTube wants as many people as possible to sit through repetitive “special messages” from its sponsors, which are embedded into all of its on-demand videos. You can’t even pay to turn off the embedded ads because YouTube only offers one universal TV plan.

Bottom line: if you hate commercials as much as you hate your cable provider, you might not love YouTube TV.

YouTube TV’s program guide is very easy to use and its live thumbnails are easy on the eyes. However, if you’re used to all the options you get with a classic cable TV program guide, you may find YouTube’s TV guide to be a bit too basic. The guide only gives you a short-term view of what’s on next.

No Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV or Roku support

If you own an Apple TV, an Amazon Fire TV device or a Roku, YouTube TV likely isn’t for you. YouTube has yet to come out with apps for any of those devices. Apps for Roku and Apple TV are on the way, but YouTube TV will probably never come to Amazon. Amazon and YouTube haven’t been getting along very well lately.

Only 3 simultaneous streams

YouTube TV limits you to 3 simultaneous streams, which is probably enough access for most casual TV watchers. However, YouTube’s 3 stream limitation could be a potential downside if everyone in your clan is a TV head.

YouTube Red originals are intentionally lame

Streaming services typically put out edgy, groundbreaking originals to attract buzz and critical acclaim — but not YouTube.

YouTube Red regularly churns out corny shows and one-offs featuring over-the-hill celebs like Ellen DeGeneres, Kevin Hart and Ryan Seacrest. Other awful YouTube Red “comedies” feature Paul Logan and other YouTube knuckleheads with large fan bases.

After a rough, controversy-filled year for YouTube in 2017, the world’s largest video sharing platform may be deeply in need of content that won’t make waves or offend anyone.

“YouTube doesn’t really need these shows to take off. These ad-supported shows are designed to make worried advertisers feel good.” – Business Insider

The YouTube TV app doesn’t have much YouTube content

It’s easy to switch between YouTube and YouTube TV on a computer, but YouTube TV and YouTube exist in two entirely different worlds on mobile devices. As a result, you won’t find many YouTube clips in your search results when using the YouTube TV app.

What Alternatives Are There for YouTube TV?

Here are 3 streaming services you may want to try out if YouTube TV isn’t your style.

Sling TV

Better program guide

Sling TV’s program guide is more customizable compared to YouTube TV’s. If you don’t like the thumbnail layout, you can switch to a text-based menu instead.

Cheaper

Sling TV’s plans start at $20, making it one of the least expensive streaming services of its kind.

More customizable

Unlike YouTube TV, Sling TV is customizable — perhaps to a fault. Sling TV offers a labyrinth of tweakable subscription bundles.

First, you pick a base subscription — either Sling Orange (approximately 30 channels for $20) or Sling Blue (approximately 40 channels for 25$). You can also get both Orange and Blue together and get around 50 channels for $40.

After you decide which base package you want, you can upgrade and get more channels by buying themed add-on bundles. Sling’s bundles feature sports, news, comedy and other interests.

Note: The amount of channels you get depends on whether or not Sling has closed deals with your local TV affiliates.

Works with Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV and Roku

Sling has Sling TV apps for nearly every device under the sun except PlayStation.

Caveats

Our main gripe about Sling TV is that it advertises itself in a misleading way. Because Sling TV limits you to various subscription bundles, it is not really the “a la carte” streaming service it claims to be. You can’t actually pick and choose individual channels.

Additionally, Sling TV has yet to make a deal with CBS. Moreover, Sling TV’s local TV coverage is very poor compared to YouTube and Hulu With TV. If you rely on your TV antenna for local broadcasts, though, that shouldn’t be too much of a problem.

Currently, Sling TV is offering a free 7-day trial.

DirecTV Now

Way more channels

With YouTube TV, you can get 40+ channels for $35. But with DirecTV Now’s basic “Live a Little” plan, you’ll pay the same amount and get 60+ channels.

Alternatively, you can upgrade to “Just Right” ($50) and get 80+ channels, or “Go Big” ($60) and get 100+ channels. The DirecTV plan with the most channels is “Gotta Have It” ($70) which is a little pricey but lets you get 120+ channels. You can even tack on HBO ($5), Cinemax ($5) and/or a handful of Showtime/Starz channels ($8) if you want.

Excellent stream quality

If HD streams are your priority, DirecTV Now may be the cable replacement service for you. Last summer, DirecTV started adding high def 1080p channels to the menu. 4K is coming soon, as well.

Pay only $10 per month if you have AT&T

If you are an AT&T Unlimited Choice subscriber, you can sign up for DirecTV Now for just $10/month.

Works with Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV and Roku

DirecTV Now works with select Rokus, all Amazon Fire TV devices and 4th gen Apple TVs.

Caveats

Because DirecTV Now limits you to 2 simultaneous streams, it isn’t the best choice for large families. Additionally, DirecTV Now is still beta testing its DVR feature. DirecTV promised that it would roll out the official DVR at the beginning of 2018, so upgrades should be on their way soon.

Like Sling TV, DirecTV also lets you try out their service risk free before you commit.

Hulu With Live TV

Ad-free on-demand content

Unlike YouTube TV, Hulu With Live TV doesn’t force you to look at ads when you watch on-demand content. When you get Hulu With Live TV, you can upgrade to No Commercials for $4 extra.

The best looking interface

Out of all the streaming services we’ve seen so far, Hulu With Live TV might have the best-looking interface overall. When surfing around on Hulu With Live TV, live TV channels blend in perfectly with on-demand content.

Unlimited Screens

Because Hulu With Live TV lets you stream to an unlimited number of screens, it could be the best cable replacement service for large families. You have to pay an extra $15 to unlock this feature, though — and it still limits you to 3 simultaneous streams when connecting outside the home.

Works with Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV and Roku

Hulu With Live TV has apps for 4th gen Apple TVs, new Roku devices, and all Amazon Fire TVs and Fire TV Sticks.

Caveats

YouTube TV is more stable compared to Hulu With Live TV. Because Hulu With Live TV is still in beta, it sometimes goes down during live events.

Additionally, Hulu With Live TV is pricier than YouTube — especially if you add Unlimited Screen, Enhanced DVR ($20) and other upgrades.

PlayStation Vue

5 simultaneous streams

With PlayStation Vue, you can stream to 5 different devices at the same time. This makes PlayStation Vue an excellent choice for large families.

Lots of juicy upgrades and bundles

The basic PlayStation Vue plan is similar to YouTube TV. For $40, you get around 40 channels.

However, upgrades significantly sweeten up the deal. The $45 “Core” plan gives you 65+ channels. With the $55 “Elite” package, you get 90+ channels. For HBO and Showtime, you can level up to the $75 “Elite” subscription.

If you’re a sports fan, you might want to consider PlayStation Vue’s $10 Sports Pack bundle. With Sports Pack, you get all 3 Fox College Sports channels, Bases Loaded, ESPN Classic, ESPN Goal Line, Eleven Sports, LHN, Strike Zone, NBC Sports, NESN National and Outside.TV.

Caveats

Though PlayStation Vue offers a much deeper channel menu compared to YouTube TV, YouTube TV is significantly cheaper. Additionally, you need a high-speed internet connection to get the most out of PlayStation Vue — you’ll likely struggle if you don’t have at least 10Mbps. Another bad thing about PlayStation Vue: its on-demand content has embedded ads that you can’t pay to turn off.

Which Service Is the Overall Best Alternative to YouTube TV?

Still can’t decide which streaming service to choose? Here’s some advice that’ll help you decide which YouTube TV alternative to get.

If you think YouTube TV is too expensive…

Sling TV offers one of the cheapest ways to get TV via the web. For just $20 a month, you can get the Orange plan and enjoy a fairly decent selection of cable TV channels.

If you want more than 40 channels…

DirecTV is the way to go if channel quantity is your priority. The $70 “Gotta Have It” plan gives you access to over 120 channels.

If you don’t like YouTube TV’s interface…

Hulu With Live TV’s interface is the slickest looking cable replacement service we’ve seen thus far. We especially like the way Hulu seamlessly blends its on-demand content into its live TV menu. YouTube TV’s interface is also quite handsome, but its stripped-down program guide may be too basic for some.

If you hate watching ads…

If you dislike commercials as much as you hate expensive cable plans, skip YouTube TV and try out Hulu With Live TV instead. Hulu With Live TV has a good DVR, which allows you to zoom through broadcast network ads. Additionally, it’s one of the only streaming services that gives you an upgrade that lets you cut out embedded on-demand ads.

How to Watch Live TV Channels Online, without CABLE

Streaming services are finally starting to replace cable as the go-to destination for hot shows, but broadcast TV has had one major advantage over its online counterpart: live television. Not anymore.

If you want to watch live TV online, you have more than a dozen options, depending on what you want to watch. Read on to find live TV on your computer, mobile device or set-top box.

If you thrive on live TV but don’t want to pay exorbitant cable costs, a cable-replacement service might be the way to go. These streaming programs are just like cable or satellite subscriptions, complete with live broadcasts and a variety of familiar channels, except they come over the Internet rather than through analog cables or satellite signals.

DirecTV Now, Sling TV and PlayStation Vue are currently the most recognizable of these services, and the three are fairly similar in practice. They’re not alone, though, as YouTube TV and Hulu with Live TV (currently in beta) joined the fray more recently. These services include channels such as E!, FX, TBS and TNT, ESPN, AMC, Cartoon Network, HBO and Univision, although the exact lineup varies depending on the provider in question.

How to watch Live TV Stream Online with Cable?

All five services have dozens more channels available, and you can watch them all in real time, just as you would on a standard cable subscription.

Because these services provide regular broadcast networks like CBS and Fox, they are arguably the most complete live TV replacement you can get online. They don’t come cheap, though.

A basic Sling TV package costs $20 per month and gives you about two dozen channels. You can add more, but prices and the number of channels vary, from 24 Spanish channels for $5 per month, up to HBO alone for $15 per month. Sling also offers its basic packages in Blue and Orange configurations, and charge $40 per month if you want both.

Depending on the market you live in, PlayStation Vue subscriptions can begin around $30 per month for more than 45 channels, whereas its more-available, nation-wide plan includes 49 channels for $40. Prices run up to $75 per month if you want more than 100 channels, although both selection and pricing vary by region.

DirecTV Now starts out at $35 per month for more than 60 channels, and can cost as much as $70 per month for more than 120 channels. YouTube TV costs $35 per month and gives you 48 channels.  Hulu With Live TV includes 44 channels with Hulu’s original programming for $40 per month.

Sling TV and PlayStation Vue are available on Roku, Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, Chromecast, iOS and Android. Otherwise, Sling TV is available Xbox One and computers, while PlayStation Vue is available on Sony game consoles, smart TVs and Blu-ray players. DirecTV NOW is available on Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, Android, Chromecast and iOS.

YouTube TV is available on Android, iOS and Chromecast, and those with iOS devices can stream to an Apple TV via Airplay. Hulu with Live TV is more widely available, working on Android, iOS, Xbox One, Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV and Fire TV Stick and Chromecast.

If you haven’t cut the cord yet, you can watch live TV online very easily. DVR boxes from companies like Slingbox, TiVo, Dish, Verizon and lots of other providers can usually stream content from your primary TV to a computer or mobile device. The ways of doing so vary, depending on whether your box is from your service provider or a third party. But if you have a cable or satellite subscription, you have lots of options.

The five largest cable providers in the United States are Comcast, Time Warner, Cox, Optimum and WOW!. The first four have apps for computers, mobile devices and/or TVs, which let users access their full accounts even when they’re away from their TVs. This, however, is not the easiest way to access cable content.

It’s even easier to use apps for channels directly. Tons of paid channels, from Nickelodeon to FX to Syfy to National Geographic, have apps on mobile and streaming devices that only work (or only work at full capacity) if your cable provider gives you access. This could allow you to watch your favorite shows on the go, or simply buy a streaming box for a secondary TV rather than rent a second cable box at an exorbitant fee.

HD Antenna Rebroadcasting

If you want live TV but don’t want a cable or satellite subscription, an HD antenna is the easiest way to get it. An HD antenna, like its old rabbit-eared counterpart, picks up local TV signals from the airwaves and shows them on your TV, no subscription fee required.

Depending on where you live, this could net you anywhere from a dozen to a hundred channels. HD antennas usually cost between $20 and $50. Tom’s Guide liked the Mohu ReLeaf ($40) for urban dwellers and the Mohu Curve 50 ($80) for those who live farther from a broadcast source.

There’s a niche market for rebroadcasting content from HD antennas, and it’s a larger niche than you might think. There are devices that take an HD antenna signal from your house and broadcast it to a computer, mobile device or TV anywhere else in the world (or at least the country).

There’s no subscription fee — at least in theory. You simply set up an HD antenna in your home, plug it into a streaming box and let that box broadcast the signal anywhere you want, in real time. (Some devices can plug directly into your TV; others require you to use an app on a streaming device.)

The most popular HD antenna rebroadcasters are the Channel Master DVR+ ($250), the Tablo ($220) and the Simple.TV ($200). (All models listed are the basic designs.) Each one functions a bit differently, but the bottom line is that you can watch whatever live broadcast TV you receive in your home, on whatever device you choose. Even Plex has gotten in on the action, offering recording functionality to anyone with an HD antenna and an HDHomeRun box.

This can get a little expensive, however, if you decide you want DVR capabilities as well. Some boxes have subscription services that lets you record programs, and they range in price from $5 per month up to $150 for a lifetime subscription. Still, it’s an awful lot cheaper than subscribing to cable or satellite TV.

When streaming video first started to take off, analysts and fans alike predicted that someday, viewers would be able to simply purchase channels à la carte over the Internet. This hasn’t happened across the board yet, but companies are slowly working toward it, with both broadcast networks and premium channels offering stand-alone subscriptions.

CBS All Access ($6 per month) is one of the only major networks to go completely streaming, with access to both live TV and recorded programs. The service has proved divisive, since it’s the only way for American viewers to watch the excellent Star Trek: Discovery series. Other networks will likely follow suit in the near future.

Premium channels have actually been quicker to adopt this strategy than their network counterparts. HBO Now ($15 per month), Showtime ($11 per month) and Starz ($9 per month) offer both live and recorded versions of the TV channels.

Easy ways to watch Live TV Stream

Four major live channels may not sound like much (plus some smaller ones, like Skitter TV on Roku, but the selection is pretty anemic). Still, it’s a promising start for what could become a major way to watch live TV online.

Cable-replacement services provide stations like CNN and Fox News, while HD antenna rebroadcasting boxes and stand-alone network subscriptions can play broadcast news, as described above.

There are a few other options, if you insist on getting news for free (or at least much, much cheaper). Services like Sky News, Post TV and Bloomberg TV are available on set-top boxes like Roku and Amazon Fire TV, and these stations play live news from anywhere between a few hours and a full 24 hours each day. Most set-top-box app stores have a News section, where you can learn more about your choices.

For those who want something on a smaller level, lots of local news programs on broadcast networks (like Fox 5 News at 11 in New York City, for example) play for free online. Simply visit your local affiliate’s website, find the news section and see if it offers a live stream. It probably does, although many of them function only on computers, rather than mobile devices or set-top boxes.

Sports can be tricky to stream, in either live or recorded form, and availability varies by platform. Almost every major sports organization in the United States has its own streaming service, from MLB.tv ($110 per season) to NFL Game Pass ($50 per season for prerecorded games).

Signing up for a streaming sports service is as simple as visiting your preferred sport league’s website and clicking on the Streaming or Watch Online section. Prices tend to vary, depending on how many games you want to watch and how many teams you want to follow, but you can expect to spend about $100 per year. You can even watch some big games, such as the Super Bowl, for free.

There is, however, one big caveat: Due to licensing agreements, the streaming services cannot show games covered by your local stations. You’ll need to stick with an HD antenna (and possibly one of the rebroadcasting devices) for that.

Bottom Line

Currently, the best way to watch live TV online is — ironically — to have an existing cable or satellite subscription. Slowly but surely, though, cord cutters are gaining access to real-time channels in addition to pre-recorded content. Live TV could be the next big frontier for streaming video, but until then, watching shows as they happen requires a little dedication and creativity.