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

Cam Secore
Updated 05/29/2018

best live tv streaming service

After a year of testing, I determined YouTube TV is the best live TV streaming service because of its excellent stream quality and brilliant phone to casting experience. PlayStation Vue is my pick for people looking for a similar experience to traditional cable.

I’ll explain how I reached my conclusion by comparing four services (Hulu with Live TV vs. Sling vs. PlayStation Vue vs. YouTube TV) while evaluating six categories: stream quality, channels, interface, DVR, compatibility, and bonus features.

youtube tv vs hulu live

YouTube TV

10
  • Stream Quality: It’s impeccable. You can stream on three devices simultaneously.
  • Channels: You get your local sports teams and all local channels in almost any location.
  • Interface: The phone interface is fantastic and opens with content curated for you.
  • DVR: You get unlimited storage; six different people can have their own DVR.
  • Compatibility: There’s no Amazon Fire TV app, but most platforms have an app.
  • Bonus: Membership is simple; it’s $40/month for every channel.

Best for you if...

You want an experience that differs from traditional cable and don’t mind buying a Chromecast for $30. YouTube TV from a streaming device’s app is fine, but using the phone app with Chromecast is better. You get a perfect stream, local sports, and the best TV you’ve ever seen.

playstation vue vs sling

PlayStation Vue

8
  • Stream Quality: The streams are clean aside from a couple of local sports channels.
  • Channels: You get your local sports teams and all local channels in almost any location.
  • Interface: Vue looks like traditional cable with the ugly guide setup.
  • DVR: There’s unlimited DVR storage, but shows are only stored for 28 days.
  • Compatibility: It works with most devices, but the guide is glitchy on Fire TV and old Rokus.
  • Bonus: You’ll need to call customer service when you switch locations.

Best for you if...

You want an experience similar to cable for a lower cost, and you have an Apple TV or newer Roku device. With Vue, you’ll get the old-fashioned guide, excellent channel lineup, five simultaneous streams, high compatibility, and a reliable stream.

hulu live tv vs sling tv

Hulu Live TV

6
  • Stream Quality: The stream is unreliable, but it’s getting better.
  • Channels: AMC and some local sports channels are missing.
  • Interface: The interface is universal, but gets confusing with the nested menus.
  • DVR: You get 50 hours of DVR storage, but you can’t fast forward commercials.
  • Compatibility: It’s on Apple TV, Roku, Fire TV, Chromecast, Xbox, iPhone, and Android.
  • Bonus: You get “Hulu Limited Commercials” for free, as well as two simultaneous streams.

Best for you if...

You’re willing to go without some local sports channels, deal with an occasionally glitchy stream, and use an app that's challenging to navigate. If you’re a regular Hulu member, it’ll only cost an additional $32/month. Hulu With Live TV isn’t ready for primetime yet.

hulu vs sling

Sling

5
  • Stream Quality: The stream works well on all channels.
  • Channels: You won’t get many local channels or local sports channels.
  • Interface: The interface is awful and tough to navigate.
  • DVR: There are no profiles, lots of restrictions, and only 50 hours of DVR storage.
  • Compatibility: No other live streaming service is more compatible than Sling.
  • Bonus: You can change locations as often as you’d like.

Best for you if...

You’re on a budget, can get the channels you need with the entry packages and don’t mind a subpar interface. You won’t find a better deal than $20/month. It might be your best bet if you’re a frequent traveler or if you’re not that into sports.

 

Why listen to me?

  1. I’ve been obsessed with gadgets since I was eight years old.
  2. I bought each device with MY money.
  3. I’ll update this post frequently because my opinions change.
  4. I don’t have insider access. I’m just like you, the everyman.
Learn more here or subscribe to my email list for new posts and gadget giveaways.

My Experience

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.

DirecTV is so bad that I’ve taken it out of this comparison post to keep things simple. It’s a clunky interface and never works correctly.

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

I’m sticking with YouTube TV with my Chromecast.

YouTube TV

10

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.

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.

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.

PlayStation Vue

8

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.

DVR & On-Demand (C):

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.

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.

Hulu Live TV

6

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.

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.

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.

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).

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.

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.

Compatibility (A):

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

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).
 

18 Comments

  • Joyce glynn says:

    Hi, I watch only a few stations on tv. I don’t want a monthly bill. I think there is something that attaches to back of tv, right? Any help please.

    • Cam Secore says:

      You should be able to pick up some local channels for free (CBS, Fox, PBS, etc) in some locations. But you’ll need an antenna.

  • Chris says:

    Hey dude. Was wondering if you have tried directv now? Any feedback??

    • Cam Secore says:

      It’s so bad that I took it out of this comparison. Bad interface and the streams almost never work.

  • GARY R says:

    I like your independent top research and friendly cusumer concern in your writing .

    • Cam Secore says:

      Thank you! I think my independence on this site is my biggest advantage. No media company is telling me how or what to write.

  • Brian says:

    Thanks for the reviews. I’m looking to cut the cord. I’m heavily favoring YouTube TV. I bought a Chromecast and a Roku streaming stick (both not for a 4K TV). While I understand Chromecast should be better for YouTube TV (both google products), the Roku remote may be better overall to help control power and volume on my TV and make for a better experience—especially for my wife who is less tech savvy. Do you agree with this or do you think Chromecast for YouTube TV is much better than a Roku stick? Thanks

    • Cam Secore says:

      There’s nothing wrong with YouTube TV and Roku together. But with the Chromecast it’s a much better experience I have faith that your wife can figure it out. It’s just one button to cast.

  • Misty says:

    Thank you for taking the time to do the research on these TV outlets. I do have a question. Currently, we have direct tv. However, it is crazy expensive and we are looking for ways to save some money. I personally don’t watch much tv, but I do like having the basic local channels and a few additional ones. We do have an apple tv, Netflix, fire stick, and a sony smart tv. I’m trying to figure out what would be the best option for my family. My kids tend to watch more tv on their iphones. Where I prefer watching on the actual tv itself. We did the trial for sling, but I find it’s a little too complicated, and maybe just not very user friendly for me anyway. It could be that I’m just used to the “easy” way of how cable is set up with guide, etc. With all that in mind, what service do you suggest for us? I’m curious to know your opinion since you have tested all these out.

    Thank you..

  • TFaith065 says:

    I have a Shield TV and 2 Fire TV’s 2nd Gen. The reason I never went beyond a trial with YouTube. Not really in the mood to buy 2 more Shield TV’s. They’re just so good though. I git tired of Vue, DTVN on a special deal is pissing me off. You can’t even pause TV. Sling is missing somethings..

    I might just get some more Shield TV’s and go YouTube but no NHL Network that I’m aware of.. Hmm.

  • Robin Violet says:

    Im a totally non-tech senior. WHile Im staying in a different location for awhile, Im renting out my home as a vacation rental so I need TV. I bought a new TV a couple of years ago- and cant even remember what kind it was. Anyway, I get cable internet (only choice in my rural location) but cant afford the TV cable so I discontinued it. I have read your reviews but am still confused. Was going to buy a firestick tomorrow at the Amazon prime day but now not sure. Would you mind talking in very simple terms knowing I dont understand any of this which device should I buy to plug into the TV and which service to get so that it is easy for my helper to set up and so that my guests (and I) can get basic and some basic “cable” TV channels? If it is anything fancy, the guests will have their own laptops and use their own service. BUt having “cable TV” like service is a must for me. What Im saying is that having live TV is important. While I dont remember much about the TV and am not there to examine it, it does have things like netflix etc to click on. Hope this is enough info for you to give me a clear recommendation. Thanks alot.

    • Cam Secore says:

      I still recommend Roku Stick for your case. You’ll need an streaming service to go with it too. Playstation Vue is probably your best bet for $40/month.

  • Anthony says:

    I’m using direct tv now and it’s always some issue. I’m a big sports person. What service do you recommend for sports and with football soon arriving do you think you tube tv will get Redzone?

  • Ruby C. says:

    I currently have a big name cable company I’m planning on cutting ties with and have been comparing streaming choices. thank you for this article, it helps so much! Question, I have a firestick and know I can get on youtube through firefox and google bc I watched something on there. do you know if I would be able to get on youtube live tv through there as well?

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