If you’re a cord cutter but you still want affordable access to your favorite TV channels then you’re going to be interested the best streaming TV service which will be one of three currently available: Sling TV, DirecTV Now or PlayStation Vue (PS Vue for short). The truth is there’s never been a better time to subscribe to a streaming TV service because there’s now (and only just very recently) a decent amount of real options to choose from.
But choosing the best streaming TV service means choosing the best fit for you, personally. That could mean the cheapest streaming tv service, the one with the most channels, the one that is most customizable in terms of which channels you pay for, the one with the best features or interface… the list goes on. Luckily for you I’ve subscribed to all three service in the name of testing so you don’t have to (although it’s great that all of these services offer a 7 day free trial just in case you reach the end of this article and need to do some testing yourself). You now get to benefit from my experience and wisdom (let’s hope).
The first thing you need to know is that none of the contenders for the best streaming TV service offer a la carte channel selection. That means you won’t be able to pick and pay for individual channels like I know you want to (so do I). Instead you’ll be stuck with choosing between channel packages and various types of “extras” and “add-ons” which at least gives you some degree of personalization.
Okay, so, channels. Sling TV offers the cheapest bundle: you can get 30 channels for $20/mo. Playstation Vue offers 45 channels for $30/mo and DirecTV Now offers 60 channels for $35/mo.
Obviously each of these streaming TV services offers more expensive bundles and premium add-ons. Of them, SlingTV seems to be the most flexible in that you can order extra bundles of channels for just $5 each (in many cases). But, and this is a big but (and I cannot lie), HBO is currently the cheapest on DirecTV Now at just $5/mo extra as opposed to $15/mo extra on both SlingTV and PS Vue.
When it comes to watching live local channels — like ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox — well they’re only available in select cities. That isn’t to say you can’t watch content from those providers; they all offer some sort of on-demand lineup depending on which service you go with.
Once you figure out who offers your favorite channels for the best price you’ll next want to pay close attention to who offers the best simultaneous streaming options. In other words: which service lets you stream on multiple devices (or in multiple places) the most? Here PlayStation Vue shines by allowing subscribers to stream in 5 places (or on five devices) at once. SlingTV on the other hand gives you three simultaneous streams and DirecTV Now just two.
And now for a major differentiator: DVR. At the moment only PlayStation Vue offers it which means you can pause, rewind and fast-forward anything — including commercials. I can’t imagine watching TV without a DVR option these days so I guess it’s good that SlingTV and DirecTV Now are working on DVR options for the future (SlingTV already has DVR in beta as of December). As for now, though, DirecTV Now only lets you pause content (and even then it’s only for a minute or two) while Sling TV only lets you pause, fast-forward or rewind on select channels.
Another important component of the best streaming TV service would be good on-demand content. Unfortunately this is kind of a grey area in terms of doing a comparison. There’s some on-demand on each service but you won’t know what until you look for it. That said DirecTV Now has the best (biggest) selection of on-demand movies I’ve seen between the three services and many of them are surprisingly decent.
When it comes to interfaces and usability there’s something to like and dislike about each service. I like the way SlingTV lets me see channel logos and scroll between channels. I like how simple the DirecTV Now interface is. I like how PS Vue presents my favorite shows. I’d recommend checking out the video I made for more insight on how each interface looks and works without having to sign up for each service yourself!
Some other noteworthy points:
- Netflix style viewing profiles are only available on PlayStation Vue.
- Parental controls are only available on Sling TV.
- 5.1 surround sound is only available on DirecTV Now (and only for select on demand content).
- I don’t appreciate that there’s currently no CBS content on DirecTV Now — I need my Kevin James.
- DirecTV Now just launched so they’ve got some seriously insane deals happening. You can get a free Apple TV if you prepay 3 months and you can get the Go Big plan for almost half off: $35 instead of $60 per month. I’m sure these deals won’t be around for long, so…
How about some recommendations?
- If you’re looking for the cheapest or most customizable option go with Sling TV.
- If you have a big family and/or need DVR functionality go with PlayStation Vue.
- If you want the most live channels for the best price or want the most on demand movies go with DirecTV Now.
None of these services are “perfect” quite yet. But now that we’ve got some serious competition in the streaming TV space, I’m sure things are only going to improve for us consumers.
So what do you think? Which of these bad boys is the best streaming TV service in your opinion?