Cam Secore
Entrepreneur. Blogger. Fan of Steve Jobs & Elon Musk. My about page.
Updated 04/09/2018
 

Best Live TV Streaming Service: Hulu vs. Sling vs. Vue vs. YouTube TV

best live tv streaming service

Every tech comparison I do is prompted by my curiosity, whether I’m looking for the best streaming device, best robot vacuum, etc.

This time, I wanted to get in on the cord-cutting trend and lower my monthly cable bill, so I set out to find the best live TV streaming service.

People are cutting the cord because cable TV has devolved into an overpriced mess. In most cases, you’re roped into a long, restrictive contract and pay for a bunch of garbage you don’t want while getting a subpar viewing experience and terrible customer service.

I was paying $90 for my cable package, which I only used to watch live sports. I prefer to use streaming services like Netflix, Showtime, and HBO to watch movies and shows.

Before I started my search, I decided I’d look for streaming services that met three fundamental requirements:

My requirements were:

  1. Access to the Celtics and Red Sox (Boston regional sports channels).
  2. Apple TV app.
  3. At least two concurrent streams allowed (preferably three).

Ideally, sports fans could pay for MLB.TV, NBA League Pass, or NFL Sunday Ticket to watch their local sports teams without blackouts or pay for any channel individually. Unfortunately, that isn’t possible, and it won’t ever happen.

TV needs to be reimagined, but for now, we’re stuck with the current landscape.

Sling and PlayStation Vue have been around for a couple of years. Since their inception, DirecTV, YouTube, and Hulu have released competing services.

Sling, DirecTV, and PlayStation Vue are taking a familiar cable-style product and making it streamable, while Hulu and YouTube have a different approach.

I’ve been using YouTube TV as my go-to service for eight months, but I tried the other four services for a week each too.

Let’s compare these five services (Hulu vs. Sling vs. Vue vs. YouTube TV vs. DirecTV Now) based on six categories: stream quality, channel selection, interface, DVR, compatibility and bonus features.

directv now #5

DirecTV Now (Grade: F)

Love

  • $20 add-on with AT&T.
  • HBO for only $5.

Hate

  • Picture doesn’t work.
  • Terrible interface.
  • No DVR.
  • Only two concurrent streams.
 
hulu vs sling #4

Sling (Grade: C)

Love

  • Cheap entry level.
  • Compatible with all devices.
  • Easy to travel with.

Hate

  • No regional sports.
  • Messy interface.
  • No profiles.
 
hulu live tv vs sling tv #3

Hulu Live TV (Grade: C+)

Love

  • Different take on TV.
  • Regular Hulu is included.
  • Great show curation.

Hate

  • DVR is brutal with no fast forward.
  • Limited devices.
  • Threaded menus are hard.
 
playstation vue vs sling #2

Playstation Vue (Grade: B)

Love

  • Most polished.
  • Stream five devices at once.
  • Great compatibility.

Hate

  • Poor branding.
  • Ugly guide setup.
  • Local sports channels don’t work well.
 
Cam's Fave youtube tv vs hulu live #1

YouTube TV (Grade: A)

Love

  • Amazing Cloud DVR.
  • Six accounts for $40.
  • Local sports for days.
  • Best stream quality.
  • All the channels most need.

Hate

  • Apple TV & Roku app need fixing.
 

#5 – (Grade: F)

DirecTV NOW

Love

Compatibility (B):

  • DirecTV Now is on Apple TV, Roku, Fire TV, Chromecast, Xbox, iPhone, iPad, and Android devices. This doesn’t mean the apps work well, just that they’re available.

Bonus (B+):

  • DirecTV Now is $20 if you already have AT&T as your cell phone provider. That’s a great deal, but it’s just for the first year. Do you really want to bundle everything in contracts? The whole point of live TV streaming services is to have more control.
  • The HBO add-on is only $5. You won’t get a price that low anywhere else, but it’s a watered-down HBO without access to old content.
  • If you pay for three months upfront, you get a free Apple TV 4K.

Hate

Stream Quality (F):

  • This is where this review should start and stop: their stream doesn’t work. You’ll frequently get an “Error 40” notice and won’t be able to watch anything. If you can’t watch what you’re paying for, channel lineups and features are irrelevant. There were nights when all of my other live streaming services were working perfectly, but DirecTV wouldn’t play. I am not the only one with these issues. But there is hope that DirecTV will improve. They’re newer to the streaming space and are still figuring things out.
  • You’re only allowed two concurrent streams, which is fine, but comparatively low. The problem is there’s no way to pay for more. On DirecTV’s site, they recommend you buy a new account if you want more than two streams. What?
  • The whole channel lineup is 60 frames per second to get a smooth stream for any type of content.

Channels (D):

  • DirecTV already has all of the licensing deals (they’re the biggest cable company in the world), but no package allows me to watch the Red Sox. You can get your local Fox and Comcast regional sports channels, but if your team has its own channel (like the Sox or Yankees), you’re out of luck.
  • The channel lineup is alright otherwise.

Interface (D):

  • The interface is a mess, and it’s awful at curating shows. Also, when using my Apple TV remote, touching anywhere near the trackpad changes the channel. While it’s a unique feature, I’d like the ability to disable it. It’s frustrating and reminds me of old-school TV, where the channel order actually matters.
  • You can pause, but you can’t fast forward after pausing; you can only play.

DVR & On-Demand (F):

  • DVR is coming to DirecTV NOW, but there’s still no definitive timeline.
  • There’s a good on-demand selection, but you can’t skip commercials.

#4 – (Grade: C)

Sling

Love

Stream Quality (A):

  • You can change the stream’s video quality by adjusting the bandwidth allowance. Typically, you’d want your streaming service to determine the Internet strength on its own, then stream with the best possible quality. But sometimes, you might want to lower the quality so you can have multiple concurrent streams.
  • ESPN streams at 60 frames per second to eliminate choppiness, but all other channels are only 30fps.
  • You can pause live TV on most channels.
  • If you sign up for Sling Orange, you can watch three streams at once.

Compatibility (A):

  • No other live streaming service is more compatible than Sling. Name a device and Sling is compatible with it.

Hate

Channels (F):

  • Sling TV might be your best bet if you’re NOT into sports and still want cable. Sling Blue is $25/month, Sling Orange is $20/month, or you can get them together for $40/month. Sling broke up channels into small packages. (Compare the packages here).
  • You might be able to catch your sports teams with Sling, but it’s not likely you’ll see everything. They only have some of the regional Comcast channels (SN Mid-Atlantic, CSN Chicago, CSN California, and CSN Bay Area). With Sling, I couldn’t watch the Celtics, Bruins, or Sox.
  • You can’t get your all of your local channels (CBS, FOX, ABC, NBC) in most cases. For me, the only local channel I get is NBC and FOX On-Demand.

Interface (D):

  • They don’t have a traditional guide with a grid, which is fine, but scrolling through channels and lineups isn’t easy. The interface is awful.

DVR & On-Demand (F):

  • You get 50 hours of storage for an additional $5/month, and you can protect shows from being deleted.
  • You can’t record any Disney channels (including ESPN).
  • Fox channels can’t be recorded, but you can watch them on-demand with commercials.
  • There aren’t many local channels on Sling, so while you can record, I’m not sure there’s anything worth recording.
  • There are no profiles. You’re stuck with a DVR and settings that’s a combination of every household member’s preferences.

Bonus (C):

  • You can log on from any location in the U.S. without issue. That’s excellent if you’re on the road a lot. Another benefit of no location preference is that it’s easier to share your account. (I’m not advocating sharing an account but realize a lot of people do it. Some providers like HBO don’t care, but some do).
  • I tried Sling’s 7-day trial. I didn’t plan on keeping it. On day 9, I realized I’d forgotten to cancel. I was charged $60. Sling has a strict no-refund policy. At the very least, I should be given a prorated refund for the 28 unused days. I had already deleted the app and had no intention of using the service again. The situation is completely my fault; I knew the rules going in and spaced it. Unfortunately, it is the norm in old-school business sectors without much competition (cable and phone).

#3 – (Grade: C+)

Hulu Live TV

Love

Channels (B-):

  • Hulu has most of the regional sports channels, including YES Network for Yankees fans, but they don’t have NESN.
  • There’s no AMC, but other than that, it has all of the basic channels.
  • I get live versions of all of my local channels (CBS, FOX, ABC, NBC) and, in most cases, you should too.

DVR & On-Demand (B):

  • You get 50 hours of DVR storage, but you can’t fast forward commercials with the standard $40/month package. For an extra $15/month you get Enhanced Cloud DVR and can skip all commercials.
  • If you’re looking to skip commercials with Hulu, your best bet is Hulu With Live TV, plus an additional $4 for “Hulu No Commercials.” You’ll have commercials with recorded programs, but on-demand (which is all shows from NBC, ABC, FOX) will be commercial free.

Compatibility (B+):

  • Hulu is on Apple TV, Roku, Fire TV, Chromecast, Xbox, iPhone, iPad, and Android devices, and the app works as intended everywhere.

Bonus (B):

  • You can change your location four times per year. You’ll need that feature if you’re a frequent traveler. With DirecTV and Vue, if you’re in a different city, you can’t even open the app without calling customer support and telling them you’ve moved. For instance, I was trying out live TV services while on vacation in Milwaukee but used my New Hampshire zip code to sign up. I couldn’t use it. I called to change my location, but once I got back to New Hampshire, I lost service again.
  • You only get two simultaneous streams. It’s an additional $15 for unlimited streams.
  • You get “Hulu Limited Commercials” for free (this is the original Hulu that most people know of for $8/month).

Hate

Stream Quality (C):

  • 60 frames per second is critical for watching sports because otherwise, there’s a lag in action. I noticed with sports there was a significant latency issue when the screen moved quickly.
  • Luckily, Hulu started rolling out 60fps on half of their channels, and it looks like more are coming.

Interface (C):

  • Hulu with Live TV is a different take on television. I admire their boldness. They use huge, eye-catching fonts and focus on getting content in front of you through a curation process, rather than just showing channel names. (Keep in mind, it’s not traditional, so it might take some getting used to).
  • You get a universal experience on all the apps. It’s perfectly synced and beautiful.
  • Hulu is nice to look at but not easy to use.
    • You can get so deep into their threaded menu that you can’t find your way back. There’s no easy way to go home.
    • There’s no guide, which is fine, but there’s no easy way to see what’s on now and what’ll be on in the future from the same channel.
    • I don’t mind the interface/menus overall, but I know most will hate it (especially channel surfers) because it’s unconventional.
  • You can pause TV, but once you do, you can’t fast forward.
  • The home screen recommends new shows to watch, and it’s great at doing it.
  • There are push updates you can turn on to alert you when to watch a certain game. Let’s say a guy is in the 8th inning of a no-hitter in a game you wouldn’t usually care about. Hypothetically, Hulu would alert you, and with one tap you could watch the end of that game.

#2 – (Grade: B)

Playstation Vue

Love

Stream Quality (B):

  • PlayStation Vue is the most polished live service around.
  • I had clean streams on every channel except my local sports channels, which was frustrating. It made me wonder if all of the live streaming services struggled to stream the local sports channels. But that hypothesis was disproved when YouTube TV gave me a perfect NESN and CSNNE stream.
  • You can stream with five devices at once with any of the packages.

Channels (A):

  • Vue offers Fox and Comcast regional sports channels (depending on your location), and they have specialty sports networks like NESN and YES.
  • I get live versions of all of my local channels (CBS, FOX, ABC, NBC) and in most cases, you should too.

Interface (B):

  • Vue looks like traditional cable with the ugly guide setup. (You might like it, but I don’t want to be reminded of the terrible cable experience of the past).
  • You can set it up so that your favorite channels show up first on the guide list.
  • You can watch from your web browser without downloading an app.
  • The search feature is great.
  • After a live show’s over, there’s a four-second pause before the new show starts back up. That’s cool, but here’s where it became an issue for me: unlike shows, sports go over their scheduled time all the time. For example, I was watching the Sox, and it went into extra innings. Once the scheduled three hours had eclipsed, Vue thought a different show was on because that’s what the guide said, but the game was still on. It broke up the flow of the game.

Compatibility (B-):

  • It’s compatible with almost all devices, but I’ve found the guide is glitchy on Amazon Fire TV and Roku devices made before 2017.

Hate

DVR & On-Demand (C):

Bonus (D):

  • Sony should’ve called it “Vue” instead of PlayStation Vue. It creates confusion, and it’s poor branding. For a long time, I didn’t know you could watch PlayStation Vue on non-PlayStation devices, and other people don’t realize that either.
  • You can’t use it away from home without calling customer support.
  • It’s $5/month more than YouTube TV if you want your regional sports channels.

#1 – (Grade: A)

YouTube TV

Love

Stream Quality (A):

  • The stream quality is impeccable.
  • YouTube TV uses 60 frames per second for sports channels to avoid choppiness.
  • This is the only service with which you can see and change your picture’s resolution while a show’s playing.
  • You can watch on three separate devices at the same time.

Channels (A):

  • You’ll get your local sports teams in almost any location. The sports setup is excellent. It lists all of your local teams with the full schedule and standings. You can click one button to record every game, no matter the channel.
  • Turner channels were missing for the first year of YouTube TV, but now their channel lineup can stack up with any streaming service.
  • I get live versions of all my local channels (CBS, FOX, ABC, NBC) and in most cases, you should too.

Interface (A):

  • The interface on the phone is amazing and is loaded with on-demand content. It’s set up with three tabs: Library (your DVR), Home (a way of finding stuff to watch through searching and curation), and Live (a beautifully set up guide). Once you find what you want to watch, you can Cast or AirPlay it to a TV. Casting works flawlessly.
  • YouTube TV opens on the Home tab with a “Top Picks For You,” regardless of what device you use. The Home tab learns your patterns and shows you what it thinks you’ll like. Since I watch mostly sports, my “Top Picks For You” always has a few live games. I rarely have to go to the guide to find them. It’s simple and beautiful.
  • Apple TV, Xbox and Roku apps were released in February. The streaming device apps are useful and get better with new software fixes, but they’ve got nothing on the fantastic phone app. I’d prefer to use the phone app and AirPlay to Apple TV or Cast to Chromecast.
  • You can pause live TV, and if you’re behind live (from pausing), you can fast forward.
  • Streaming inside Chrome and Firefox is great.
  • You can get notifications on your phone when your shows are on.

DVR & On-Demand (B):

  • YouTube TV’s Cloud DVR gives you unlimited storage, and your content is stored for nine months.
  • You can skip commercials when there’s no on-demand version available.
  • YouTube’s DVR has a catch: your recordings are overwritten with the on-demand version. While the commercials are shorter with on-demand than live TV, you can’t skip them. In my experience, ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox are the only channels affected. Other channels and sports programming record normally. You typically have a 24-hour window before the on-demand version is posted, so watch your shows quickly if you want it to be ad-free!
  • On-demand and DVR recordings are easy to find, sort and watch. I love the interface on the phone and the streaming device apps. Rather than displaying shows by the date they were aired, it orders them by season and episode number.
  • You get six accounts, and everyone gets their own account for DVR.

Bonus (A):

  • Membership is simple; it’s $40/month for every channel with no complicated tiers.
  • You can log on from a different location without issue, as long as you log on from your home zip code once a month.
  • You get YouTube Red Originals for free.

Hate

Compatibility (C):

  • There’s no Amazon Fire TV app and it won’t be coming anytime soon due to Amazon and Google’s beef.
  • There are apps on Apple TV, Roku, Android TV, Xbox, and newer Samsung & LG smart TVs. The best way to use YouTube TV is to find the content on the phone app and cast that content to your streaming device.

Which one is for you?

Is there a good alternative to cable? Yes, but none of these services are perfect.

For example, Viacom channels (MTV, Nickelodeon and Comedy Central) aren’t available on any of these streaming services. Hulu is still operating under the “beta” title and has a funky app, and YouTube TV isn’t available in all locations and has to fix their Roku and Apple TV apps.

I don’t recommend DirecTV Now unless you’re bundling it with your AT&T account. It’s awful. It maxes out at two concurrent streams and has a terrible interface and a messy stream.

If you can get all of the channels you want with the Sling Blue or the Sling Orange packages, go with Sling, because you won’t find a better deal than $20/month.

Hulu With Live TV isn’t ready for primetime yet. Packaging it with “Hulu No Commercials” for $44/month is great, but the app is hard to navigate, and it’s not ideal for sports.

PlayStation Vue is rock solid and the way to go if you want an experience similar to cable for a reduced cost. You get the old-fashioned guide, excellent channel lineup, five streams at once, great compatibility, and a reliable stream.

YouTube TV is the way to go if you want an experience that differs from traditional cable. You get a perfect stream, local sports teams, great DVR, and TV like you’ve never seen before.

 

27 Comments

  • Rachel says:

    I’m torn between Hulu stream and YouTube tv. Question do they get local channels…NBC CBS FOX? Can you get HBO or showtime for one month to catch up on your favorite series? You said with YouTube if I chromecast from my phone then I can’t use my phone while watching something?

    • Cam Secore says:

      1. Yes, they get local channels.
      2. You can add and delete Showtime to YouTube TV anytime for $11/month. For HBO, you can just buy HBO Now directly.
      3. If you’re casting, you CAN use your phone. I was referring to AirPlay.

  • Keith says:

    So I could use your opinion. I moved from Philly to Boston last year and am almost done my “contract” with Comcast ans want to cut the chord. I want live locals for news but would prefer Philly sports channels if available. Only really need hgtv, Nick, and hbo showtime and everyone would be happy. Which service would you recommend and what streaming device? Lastly xfinity or fios for the internet? I’ve had both but what is better when you just get internet?

    • Cam Secore says:

      I’d go with YouTube TV for $40/month, then buy Showtime ($10) and HBO NOW ($15) as standalone apps.

      $65/month isn’t bad, what’re you paying now?

      Stream device: Apple TV is my favorite, but it’s pricey, so I recommend Roku Streaming Stick Plus to most. (Read more here.)
      Internet provider: Who knows? It’s a toss up and they all kind of suck. Just got with the best value.

  • Blake says:

    Youtube TV isn’t available in my area, should I try vue?

  • Dave says:

    For Youtube TV, I have alot of trouble in that my phone constantly loses connection with the chrome-cast. So suddenly the chromecast is working on its own and i have to reconnect my phone to the chromecast to change channels.. I’m one of those people that likes to constantly change channels every 15 minutes or so jumping around like someone with serious AD&D. Do you encounter that issue at all? Also i can’t figure out how their guide works..i can never get a synopsis of the show w/o first selecting to watch the show.

    I guess i really like the playstation vue channel-guide b/c its on-screen and i don’t have to give my phone to someone to control it. Does the roku or amazon fire have its own channel-guide type of feature built into it?

    • Cam Secore says:

      Like I said, YouTube TV isn’t for everyone. It’s definitely a different experience from traditional cable.

      I’m not sure what you’re asking with Roku and Amazon Fire. Those are streaming devices that provide a platform for apps. You watch content inside the individual apps.

  • Michael Tortorete says:

    hello, I live in California and want NESN (for the SOX) but do I get to watch the games on NESN? or is it only local? i was thinking youtube because Vue is NESN national which says they don’t show the games

  • Tasha says:

    Hi Cam, I live in a rural area so we use Satellite internet (HughesNet) I pay $91/month for the pro plus plan: Download Speeds up to 10 Mbps, Upload Speeds up to 2 Mbps, Service Plan Data 15 GB (I can upgrade to the Max plan: Download Speeds up to 15 Mbps Upload Speeds up to 2 Mbps Service Plan Data 20 GB for $129/month). I also have DirecTv that I pay $139/month for the Xtra plan. We also have a Playstation 3 so we have the option to stream Netflix and Hulu basics. I want to save some money because this is ridiculous! We would have to be able to set up 3 or 4 TV’s (only one of which is a Smart TV), would we have to purchase a streaming device for each TV or at least the non-Smart ones? If we did You Tube TV can all TV’s watch different things. Forgive me if these are silly questions, thanks for the help!

    • Cam Secore says:

      I wouldn’t go the streaming route based on your data caps. I use 1,600 GB of internet data per month with three people streaming regularly. You’re going to get crushed!

      You’d need a streaming device for each TV that isn’t smart. Even if your TV is smart, it’s better to get a device because they’re faster and have all the streaming apps. And yes, you can watch different things on different TVs.

      • Tasha says:

        That’s what I was worried about…I guess I’ll wait and see if down the road we have more internet options. Thanks for the info!

    • Jon Roberts says:

      Good grief. Call DirecTV and threaten to cancel. They should give you at least $45 off a month for a year.

  • Rhoda says:

    U.S satellites carry most signals from global DVB.

  • R Green says:

    Good comparison. I just did a similar one as I am looking to get rid of Directv.
    I also looked at the “depth” of various seasons. I looked at Youtube TV vs Directv vs Hulu and when looking at an ABC series like “Blackish” on Youtube TV you only have access to 5 episodes of Season 4 (latest season and latest episode when I wrote this), yet Hulu has all 3 Seasons and 19 episodes for Season 4 as part of their normal subscription (not the “Live”). Directv has only 2 out of the 3 seasons but all episodes. If looking at “The Mick”, an ABC show, hulu has 2 full seasons and Youtube TV only has one full season. I’d give youtube TV a 10/10 for interface but an 8/10 in their licensing department for their inability to secure deep seasons on VOD. Another issue is whether the Youtube TV app is available on your tv. I have one RokuTV and the Youtube TV app looks great on that but one older Samsung and the Youtube tv app is not available (seems this 4 year old television is flash based on the apps so youtube tv stopped the support as they are understandably all html5.

    • Cam Secore says:

      I don’t disagree with anything you said. YouTube TV could probably figure out those licensing issues if they bumped up the price a little, which most people would gladly pay.

  • Tom says:

    Cam- good review on streaming services. I compared Sling, DirecTV Now, and Playstaion Vue on a Roku. I chose PS because of its DVR feature, its quality streaming, its on-screen menu/guide (which is improving), the ability to watch up to 5 TVs simultaneously, and the ability to create multiple profiles. The one negative is that PS will not work if you plug the Roku into a TV outside the home zip code you set it up with. I have a summer place and visit periodically so this is very frustrating. I don’t want to subscribe to a cable service for 12 months because I’m only there a few days periodically throughout the year. You commented that You Tube TV does not have this problem. Can you please clarify this feature?

    • Cam Secore says:

      You select a home zip code for YouTube TV. YouTube TV supplies channels from that zip code. You can use YouTube TV from any location and you’ll get the channels from your zip code. But if you don’t log in from your zip code (presumably your home internet) every 30 days, you lose access to channels.

  • Steve says:

    Will any of these services work if all i have for internet is T-Mobile hotspot?

    • Cam Secore says:

      It’d be hard, but might be doable here and there. What’s your data cap? Test your internet speeds to see what you’re getting.

      • Steve says:

        Hulu worked great on my hotspot for 3 months. Now hulu tells me i can’t use hulu with a hotspot any longer.. My question is, are they all like hulu, home Wi-Fi only? I live in rural area and all I have is unlimited T-Mobile hotspot.

        • Cam Secore says:

          Well your speeds typically get throttled after a certain threshold. And at that point you wouldn’t be able to stream.

  • Steve says:

    With T-Mobile that threshold is 50g and you get prioritized depending on traffic in your location. Every month that I had hulu i was well over 80g and there was no difference in my streaming. I know I can stream on my hotspot. Again, do you know if these other streaming services will let you use hotspot only? Hulu wants you to verify location with your home network. I don’t have, and can t get a home network where I live.

    • Cam Secore says:

      I don’t know of any restrictions on any of the streaming services. They all offer free trials, try them!

  • Brianne Smith says:

    We r getting rid of comcast. We want vue or YouTube. But all the TVs have roku an one has a playstation 4. We want recording. I’m a sports junkie so I need all the playoffs an most games for NBA, NFL, NHL. Not too much a baseball person. But my teams are kind of local. Sacramento kings, 49ers and San jose sharks. I have to be able to watch my sports live or recorded if I have to work. We live in Sacramento. My fiancee loves trutv channel that’s her one must. Which one would be better for us.

    • Cam Secore says:

      There’s no reason either of my top picks wouldn’t work for you. Like I said in the post, if you want a different experience from traditional cable, go with YouTube TV. If you want the same experience for a more affordable price, go with Vue.

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