For those fed up with their cable or satellite TV company, there has never been a better time to cut the cord.
Streaming video services are giving traditional pay TV stiff competition by delivering live sports and other programming online, often for a drop in price, while premium channels like HBO and Showtime are available as separate streaming services or add-on bundles. In addition, there’s no hidden charges with streaming TV, and if you ever decide to cancel, it’s easy and painless — a refreshing change from the woes of dealing with cable and satellite call centers.
PlayStation Vue, Sling TV, DirecTV Now and the recently announced YouTube TV are emerging as major competition to traditional pay TV. Offering both live and on-demand programming and — in some cases — cloud-based DVRs, the services are more than capable cable alternatives. But which is best? In order to help you sift through the chaos, we’ve put together this handy guide detailing each service’s features and content offerings so you can size up each directly against its rivals.
(Note: YouTube TV has yet to debut, but given how much information we’ve gotten we’ve included it here so you can price shop all in one place ahead of its impending launch.)
|PlayStation Vue||Sling TV||DirecTV Now||YouTube TV|
|Pricing||Access/Access Slim: $35/$30 per month for 45+ channels* |
Core/Core Slim: $45/$35 per month for 60+ channels*
Elite/Elite Slim: $55/$45 per month for 90+ channels*
Ultra/Ultra Slim: $75/$65 per month for 90 channels, plus HBO and Showtime
|Sling Orange: $20 per month 20+ channels; |
Sling Blue: $25 per month 40+ channels;
Orange + Blue: $40 per month 45+ channels;
additional channel add-on packs from $5-$15
|Live a Little: $35 for 60+ channels; |
Just Right: $50 for $80+ channels;
Go Big: $60 for $100+ channels;
Gotta Have It: $70 for 120+ channels;
add-on packs available for $5
|$35/month for 44 channels (Not yet available)|
|Major Networks||ABC, NBC, FOX (Major networks live in select cities*; on-demand all other locations)||ABC, FOX, NBC (Major networks live in select cities**; on-demand all other locations)||ABC, FOX, NBC (available in select cities***)||ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC|
|Subscription Type||Monthly, no contract, cancel anytime||Monthly, no contract, cancel anytime||Monthly, no contract, cancel anytime||Monthly, no contract, cancel anytime|
|DVR||Cloud DVR (keep titles up to 28 days)||Yes, in beta (currently available for Amazon customers)||No||Cloud DVR (keep titles up to nine months)|
|Video On Demand||Yes(on select channels, shows,including local channels where available*)||Yes (on select channels, shows)||Yes (on select channels, shows)||Yes|
|Pause, Rewind, Fast Forward||All channels||Only select channels||VOD only||All Channels|
|Replay/Catch-up||Select channels and shows||Select channels and shows||Yes (72 hours after recording)||Select channels and shows|
|Number of streams per account||5||1 or 3, depending on subscription||2||3|
|Audio||2-channel stereo, 5.1 for some on-demand content on supported devices||2-channel stereo||2-channel stereo, 5.1 for some on-demand content on supported devices||2-channel stereo|
*PlayStation Vue’s “Slim” packages are available in markets that do not carry live local network programming. Check the availability of local programming here.
**SlingTV local programming availability can be checked here.
***Live NBC is only available on web browsers with DirecTV Now. All other local channels restricted by viewer location. Check availability here.
Channel offerings differ quite a bit between the services and the multiple packages they offer. Follow us below for a detailed breakdown.
We’ll be honest: PlayStation Vue’s pricing and packages are confusing, but for good reason. Local channel affiliate contracts are extremely complicated, which is why trying to offer them in an online package is hard to do. What channels you get — and even what plans are offered — will depend on your location. PlayStation Vue’s packages come in two varieties, either with local channels or without. The packages that do not include local programming are denoted by “slim” in their names. So, for example, the basic package, Access, costs $40 per month in markets where local channels are included. In all other markets however, Access Slim is $35 per month, and doesn’t include live local programming (prime time content is still available on demand, however). This is the same across all Vue packages.
With that explanation out of the way, let’s dig into the plans themselves. Access/Access Slim grants you access to 45 live channels, including ESPN, CNN, AMC and more, for $40/$35 per month respectively. Those with the Access plan will have access to live ABC, NBC, and FOX, while Access Slim customers will have on-demand access to programming from those networks.
Beyond Access/Access Slim Slim, Vue has three more subscription tiers. Core/Core Slim, which offers 60 channels at $45/$35 per month, adding channels like CSN, ESPNEWS, and ESPN U, as well as Turner Classic Movies to the previous tier’s list. Up next is Elite/Elite Slim, which provides 90 channels at $55/$45 per month, adding EPIX Hits, Machinima, and many others.
The top tier package for PlayStation Vue is Ultra/Ultra Slim, which includes the full suite of 90-plus channels, plus HBO and Showtime bundled in for a grand total of $75/$65.
There aren’t many options when it comes to a la carte choices, however. Standalone subscriptions are available for the aforementioned Showtime and HBO, as well as Machinima, Fox Soccer Plus, and EPIX Hits at varying prices. Bear in mind that most or all of these add-ons appear in the Elite and Ultra package tiers.
Recently, Vue removed Viacom-owned channels from its service — MTV, MTV2, VH1, Spike, and Comedy Central all got the ax. Conversely, several previously unavailable channels were added, including ESPN, BBC America, VICE, NBC Sports, and more. You can view PlayStation Vue’s full channel lineup on the service’s homepage.
Sling TV offers two different channel packages, Sling Orange ($20/month) and Sling Blue ($25/month), but they aren’t as straightforward as Vue’s options. Instead of simply adding more channels to a base selection like Vue does, Sling’s two packages vary quite a bit from one another. With Sling Orange you’ll get 20 channels, including several ESPN properties. Sling Blue ditches the Disney-owned channels — including Disney Channel, Freeform, and most importantly, ESPN’s channels — but bumps the total number of channels to over 40 for just a $5 increase, adding in Fox sports channels.
Those who wish to have the broader channel offerings of both packages can get both Sling Orange and Sling Blue for $40 per month.
From there, Sling offers a number of add-on channel packages at varying prices, including broadcast networks like ABC, favorites like MTV and Spike, or premium cable options like HBO. Depending on your base package, though, some channels may not be available. For a detailed breakdown of Sling TV’s numerous offerings, add-ons, and limitations (especially important when it comes to sports packages), check out our Sling TV guide which covers everything you need to know about the service. A major new inclusion with Sling TV is regional sports channels. If you’ve been hesitant to ditch cable because you don’t want to miss your team playing on a local sports channel, you can now cut the cord without feeling you’ll be missing out.
DirecTV Now’s packages are more straightforward. There are four packages, each building upon the previous one. The cheapest is Live a Little, which provides 60 plus channels for just $35. This tier offers most of the obvious choices, including broadcast networks ABC, FOX, and NBC (as with Vue and Sling, CBS is not included in the service) and plenty of favorites like Cartoon Network, ESPN, and FX. The package also has Viacom channels — MTV, Comedy Central, Spike, etc. — which are no longer available on PlayStation Vue.
Next is the Just Right plan, which bumps up the channel count to over 80 for $50 per month, followed by Go Big, which boasts 100 channels for $60 per month. The real bummer there is that — before January 1, 2017 — the service was offering the package for a scant $35 for as long as you subscribed. Alas, that deal is now past. The final package tier is called Gotta Have It, and tops the channel count to over 120 for $70 per month.
DirecTV Now also offers HBO and Showtime for just $5, which is a fraction of the price charged by Sling or Vue, and well below the standalone cost. In addition, there are many promotional offers. At the time of publication, the service was not only offering free HBO for a year, but also a free Apple TV if you prepay for three months up front. (Note: these promotional offers expire quickly, so be sure to check DirecTV Now’s site directly to see what’s still available.)
We do feel it’s necessary to point out that, at a certain point, the high prices and glut of unnecessary channels you’ll get with either DirecTV Now or PlayStation Vue are exactly the reasons most people quit cable in the first place. Add on a streaming service or two, and you’re right back to the high prices of cable. However, it’s hard to argue with DirecTV Now’s generous promotions as the service aggressively seeks new subscribers, and the best part is you can always cancel quickly and easily.
The newest creation of the bunch, YouTube TV’s sole package costs $35 per month for 44 channels. That makes it a bit more expensive than the basic offerings from Sling TV and PS Vue, and equal to DirecTV’s entry package. However, the only service it beats in number of channels is Sling TV. That might raise questions about its value, but a closer look reveals that the nascent service has a few notable perks. It’s the only service on our list to offer all four major networks (offers ABC, NBC, Fox, and CBS) — no additional packages or subscriptions necessary. It’s also the only one of the four to include CBS with no catch. Local affiliate programming will also be available to customers in select cities, with markets still TBA. (We’ll update this article when an announcement is made.)
YouTube TV also has the widest number of sports channels for the money, including ESPN, ESPN2, ESPN3, ESPNU, ESPN News, SEC Network, CBS Sports Network, CSN, NBC Sports Network, Fox Sports, BTN, FS1, and FS2. You’d have to subscribe to one of the higher-tier packages with PS Vue or Sling TV to get all that elsewhere.
That said, there will be some niche gaps like MTV2 and Nick Jr. In addition, the only two add-on channels currently announced are Showtime and Fox Soccer Plus. Sure, you can get HBO as a separate streaming service at $15 per month, but if you’re looking to combine all your internet TV into one package, YouTube TV isn’t the route we’d recommend.
Overall, YouTube TV looks to be an impressive package for the money, especially for sports fans and those who want all the major networks. We like the idea of a single price point that delivers a respectable number of desirable channels (though we’re curious to see if Google opts for more packages once they’ve made more deals). We also like the simplicity of a single package, making it much easier to see what you’re getting.
For its glut of channels at a low price and multiple promotional deals, DirecTV Now takes the trophy here.
Winner: DirecTV Now
There are are some major differences between the devices supported by each of the three services, broken down in the chart below.
|Device||PlayStation Vue||Sling TV||DirecTV Now||YouTube TV|
|Amazon Fire TV||X||X||X|
|Amazon Fire TV Stick||X||X||X|
|Android TV Devices||X||X||X|
|Apple TV (4th Gen)||X||X||X|
|Chromecast, Chromecast Ultra||X||X||X (Android-only at launch, iOS in 2017)||X|
|Channel Master DVR+||X|
|Select LG Smart TVs||X|
|Roku Players||X||X||(coming 2017)|
|Roku TV Models||X||X||(coming 2017)|
|Select Samsung Smart TVs||X|
|Windows (7, 8, 8.1, 10)||X||X||X|
|Xiaomi Mi Box||X|
A quick glance at the above chart makes it clear that longer-running Sling TV supports more devices, but it’s not a landslide victory. The yet-to-launch YouTube TV is the slightest of the four, with only iOS, Android devices, and Chromecast supported at launch, and no announcement has been made as to whether that list will increase anytime soon. It’s also worth pointing out that DirecTV Now’s supported device list is set to increase steadily in 2017, but currently lags behind PS Vue and Sling TV. We’ll add the caveat that owners of a PlayStation 3 or PS4 console may want to consider Vue more seriously, as there are certain stand alone channels only available to PlayStation Plus subscribers. Still, even with those prospective additions, Sling TV is the most widely supported service at present.
SlingTV, DirecTV Now, and YouTube TV give users access to the same content across all platforms. In contrast, using PlayStation Vue on a TV or set-top device is a very different experience than using it on a mobile device, as some channels will be inaccessible on the go due to licensing restrictions. Further, you will not be able to access any of your recorded content on a mobile device.
While Sling TV supports a wider swath of devices and doesn’t have any mobile restrictions, it does have tighter restrictions on the number of streams an account can run at a given time. The standard Orange subscription allows only one simultaneous stream per account, while the pricier Sling Blue and combined packages will allow up to three users to stream at once. PlayStation Vue will allow up to five simultaneous streams on separate devices per account, while DirecTV allows for two. YouTube TV will allow for up to three. As for profiles, Vue allows users to make five different profiles per account, but Sling TV and DirecTV Now only support one profile per account. YouTube TV will allow for six at launch.
Though PlayStation Vue offers more available simultaneous streams and YouTube TV supports more profiles on one account, Sling TV is still supported on a wider range of devices than either of its competitors, and is devoid of any device-specific restrictions. That’s enough to land Sling TV the win for this category.
Winner: Sling TV
PlayStation Vue has the most extras, and its user experience is a bit more flexible in some ways.
Like Netflix and Hulu, PlayStation Vue curates your programming guide, offering suggestions based upon your watching preferences and habits. Best of all, Vue has several features that mirror cable boxes, including the ability to fast forward/rewind on all channels, and a cloud DVR — though it’s limited to 28 days. (Note that these features may be limited or absent if using the mobile version of the service.)
In contrast, Sling TV uses a simple guide without any curation or recommendations and only allows you to pause/fast forward/rewind on a select number of shows and channels. Recent updates have enabled DVR service for Amazon Prime subscribers, with full support for all users currently in beta. YouTube TV presents the most flexible DVR support, allowing users to store programming up to nine months after recording, but has standard pause/rewind and catch up features. DirecTV Now lacks DVR and has a severely limited amount of content which can be paused, fast forwarded, or rewound. One feature Sling TV offers over Vue or DirecTV Now is a bandwidth limiter, which will keep your data usage from spiking. Still, Vue’s robust feature set puts it on top.
Winner: PlayStation Vue
All services offer passable video quality, though it often falls just short of what you get from cable, satellite, and streaming services like Netflix and Amazon. You won’t get HD quality video at times, and content is heavily compressed to reduce bandwidth consumption. Since none of these services have particularly stand-out picture performance, we’re calling this one a draw.
Sorry to say it, but for now it’s a tie — each service has its pros and cons, and none of them has really stepped ahead of the pack in dramatic fashion. That said, consider a few important distinctions before making your choice:
PlayStation Vue offers a great user experience, and extra features like a DVR. As mentioned above, there are also extra incentives for PlayStation console owners. However, the service does have restrictions when it comes to mobile viewing.
DirecTV Now has some impressive promotional deals and a long list of included channels that make it an enticing offer for new subscribers (for now), or those looking for a package more inline with traditional cable or satellite subscriptions.
Sling TV is the most versatile, the most affordable, and offers the kind of lean channel packages that many cable cutters long for — on more devices, to boot. But it won’t give you the robust channel offerings of its bulkier competitors, and the break out of the Orange and Blue tiers make its channel selection highly confusing.
Finally, new hopeful YouTube TV will be the most straight forward of the four: one package, one price, and just a couple of add-ons. It’s the only one that will carry all four major networks, it boasts the largest collection of sports channels upfront, and its DVR limits are generously flexible. However, the short list of supported devices and smaller number of overall channels makes it less versatile than others when it comes to programming. And since it’s not yet available, you’ll have to put it on ice until Google pulls back the tarp anyway.
Now that you’ve got the tools you need to make an informed decision, all that’s left to do is make a choice and start streaming!
Updated 3-20-2017 by Brendan Hesse: Added information about Google’s coming YouTube TV service.