With the advent of streaming video services like Netflix and Sling has come the rise of cord cutters – consumers ditching their cable and satellite service in favor of streaming apps and services. Fed up with massive bills filled with esoteric fees and bloated bundles (who wants to pay for a home phone line in 2019?), cable subscribers are cutting the cord at record rates. A recent report by auditor PricewaterhouseCoopers illustrates just how dire the TV landscape looks for cable companies: the percentage of US consumers with a pay-TV (e.g. cable or satellite) subscription plummeted 10% in the short span of two years, 2016 to 2018, and the decline is only projected to continue.
While things aren’t looking good for cable companies — to say the least — consumers have an ever-expanding landscape of streaming options vying for their viewing time. The problem is that navigating the post-cable environment can be a little complex, with hundreds of streaming apps scattered across just as many devices.
To make things easier, we put together the best cord cutting guide to highlight some of the best options in streaming tech and services. You’ll find an overview of the best streaming and Over-the-Air (OTA) devices, Live TV services, and other popular streaming services. Expect future updates to this guide as new devices and services join the fray and vie for your entertainment dollars. In the meantime, welcome to the cord cutter revolution!
Prices and availability of products discussed were accurate at time of publication, but are subject to change.
Streaming Devices: Cord Cutter Essentials
If you’re buying a new television, chances are it’ll be a smart TV. These internet-connected TVs offer an array of entertainment apps. Most smart TVs come with pre-installed streaming apps like Netflix, and many include app stores for downloading other options. The app selection differs across smart TV operating systems, and there are many different operating systems across manufacturers, even sometimes within a single manufacturer’s product line. The most common OS’ you’ll find are Roku, Android TV, webOS, and Tizen. The app selection varies across these systems, though in most cases you’ll at least find Netflix, Hulu, and Prime Video. For more specific lists of supported apps, reference the TV or OS manufacturer’s website.
Amazon Fire TV
Amazon’s Fire TV line has expanded to a full line of streaming devices, from the basic streaming Fire TV Stick to the Fire TV Cube, a 4K player with hands-free operation via their Alexa voice assistant. If you’re looking to get the most out of your 4K HDR TV, you may want to spring for the Fire TV Stick 4K, as at the time of writing it is the only Fire TV device to support the Dolby Vision HDR standard. If you don’t care about Dolby Vision, and you want hands-free control that essentially serves as an Echo, then the Fire TV Cube is probably your best bet. The Cube packs in all the benefits of an Amazon Echo, like smart home control and other Alexa skills, as well as built-in IR blasters so you can turn your TV on and off with your voice.
Roku is unique among the major streaming player manufacturers in that their OS and streaming devices are their core business focus. And their specialty is clear when you use their intuitive devices and interface: channels (Roku’s term to denote apps) are laid out in easy-to-navigate grids and sub-menus, with a distinct lack of the visual clutter found on some other streaming player OSs. Roku makes their own devices, including the superb 4K HDR-capable Roku Streaming Stick + and Roku Ultra, but you can also find their OS on a wide range of smart TVs like the excellent TCL 6 Series . Complementing Roku’s OS is their own streaming offering, The Roku Channel, featuring a revolving selection of free ad-supported movies and TV shows, along with support for premium add-ons like HBO, Showtime, and Starz.
A great option for Apple diehards already invested in the Apple ecosystem, the latest Apple TV models — Apple TV 4K and Apple TV (4th Generation) — feature an App Store and a Siri-equipped remote with both voice controls and a built-in gyro and accelerometer for motion sensing. If you’re looking for the best possible picture and performance, then opt for the Apple TV 4K for its 4K resolution and HDR support. If you’re only interested in 1080p content, then the 4th Generation Apple TV offers the same remote, UI, and app selection as the higher-end 4K model. AirPlay is a killer feature if you own other Apple devices, allowing you to mirror most content from your macOS and iOS devices to your TV.
Unique among other popular streaming devices, the Chromecast doesn’t actually contain any apps itself, but rather serves as a gateway for streaming content from your computer or mobile device to your TV. You can even stream select apps directly from a Google Home just by issuing a voice command. Google currently offers two models of Chromecast: Chromecast Ultra and Chromecast (3rd Generation). The primary difference between the two models is 4K HDR support, faster streaming, and startup on the Ultra versus a maximum resolution of 1080p on the 3rd Generation Chromecast. Google also plans on expanding into game streaming with the upcoming Stadia streaming platform, which will require a Chromecast Ultra for playing on the TV, so interested gamers may find the Ultra a more enticing long-term option.
Google’s other TV platform, Android TV is more akin to competitors like Fire TV and Roku than the Chromecast. Android TV is not a device itself, but rather an operating system run by many different streaming devices, from players like the Nvidia Shield TV, to select premium Sony smart TVs like the Sony X900F. The Nvidia Shield is an excellent streaming option for gamers, running off the same Nvidia Tegra X1 chip architecture as the Nintendo Switch and backed by a library of Shield-exclusive titles, ports of popular games like Portal and Borderlands 2, and support for Nvidia’s GeForce Now game streaming service. Non-gamers will find a lot to love about the Shield TV too, with its support for 4K HDR content and its built-in Google Assistant.
If you’re into console gaming, the home of your favorite games is likely also an excellent streaming player in its own right. The Xbox One S and Xbox One X are capable of streaming in 4K HDR from supported services, and can even play 4K Blu-ray discs. If you own the original discontinued model of the Xbox One, you’re limited to 1080p content and no HDR. On the PS4 side, things are a bit tricky: while the more powerful PS4 Pro can play 4K HDR video, the standard PS4 and “slim” models are only capable of 1080p resolution. The other major console, Nintendo Switch, currently doesn’t offer much in the way of streaming services, with Hulu and YouTube being the only two major offerings at the time of writing, and therefore doesn’t receive a recommendation for a good media player.
Home theater enthusiasts still love disc-based media for its superior video and audio bitrate and, in the case of many new 4K Blu-ray titles, stunning HDR. Most modern Blu-ray players like the Sony BDP-S6700 and 4K Blu-ray players like the Samsung UBD-M7500 are internet-connected smart devices offering a competitive lineup of streaming apps. In many cases, they may give you all the apps you need. Consult the manufacturer website for a full list of available apps.
Home Theater PC
You didn’t think an article from Newegg was going to neglect PCs, did you? Using a PC as your primary streaming device eschews some of the convenience of a dedicated media player, but what you get in return is an unmatched media experience. A PC gives you the versatility to access just about every streaming service available, to store and watch your own media library, and just about anything else you love about your computer. If you want a dedicated PC for media, then check out the Intel Compute Stick for streaming, or the ASUS VivoMini for a powerful PC in a small chassis Also, consider a keyboard like the Logitech K400 Plus for easy navigation from your couch.
OTA (Over-the-Air) Antennas and DVRs
If you ditch your cable subscription, but still want to watch local channels, then it’s time to grab an antenna. Don’t worry, they’ve come a long way from the old pair of rabbit ears you’d need to adjust perform a veritable seance in front of just tune into the latest episode of Seinfeld. Many consumer antennas these days – like the Mohu Leaf 30 Indoor Antenna – are small and discreet boxes, designed to be easily mounted or placed on a shelf without drawing attention to themselves. Better yet, the cord cutting revolution sparked the rise of OTA DVRs, which offer the same convenience and utility of the best cable DVRs, but for recording broadcast TV through an antenna. Two of the most popular OTA DVRs are the Tablo:4-Tuner OTA DVR and the HDHomeRun Connect Duo 2-Tuner OTA DVR, though plenty of other options are available in a variety of storage and tuner configurations.
Major Streaming Services
Netflix is the preeminent name in streaming, creating a massive library of original content combined with their already robust selection of licensed shows and movies. I could name a few pieces of Netflix Original content that have become cultural phenomena, like Stranger Things or Bird Box, but with over 139 million subscribers worldwide, chances are you’re already a subscriber, or share an account with one. Keep in mind that new subscription pricing takes effect May 2019, which will see the Basic (one SD stream) plan rise to $8.99 per month, Standard (two HD streams) to $12.99 per month, and Premium (four Ultra HD streams) to $15.99 per month.
Beginning as a website created by major TV networks to stream the latest episodes of their shows, Hulu has changed a lot over the years, growing their own acclaimed library of original shows like The Handmaid’s Tale and Castle Rock, while still carrying hit TV shows from ABC, NBC, Fox, and more. Hulu offers two subscription levels (not counting Hulu with Live TV, which is described in the “Live TV Services” section): a $5.99 per month ad-supported option, and a commercial-free tier for $11.99 per month.
Prime Video is, as the name implies, Amazon’s streaming service for Prime members, featuring a lineup of original programming like The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and The Man in the High Castle, as well as Amazon Studios films like The Big Sick and Manchester by the Sea. You’ll also find an assortment of other movies and TV shows, and, one of my favorite features, a solid lineup of HBO shows available for no additional charge, like The Sopranos and Curb Your Enthusiasm. If you want more than the library available for free to Amazon Prime members, you can also purchase and rent movies and shows a la carte and watch them through the same app, so your video content stays in the same place.
Not to be confused with HBO Go, the streaming app for cable users, HBO Now is catered for the cord cutter, offering HBO’s acclaimed lineup of shows and movies through a standalone subscription for $14.99 per month, no separate cable subscription required. Not only will you get the latest episodes of hit shows like Game of Thrones and Westworld, but you’ll also find many (though not all) of HBO’s legacy shows, like The Sopranos and The Wire, and a movie selection featuring the latest blockbusters and some older films.
It may not be the first place you think of as a cord cutter destination, but YouTube has added on enough services to make it worth your attention. YouTube has three paid services: YouTube Premium, YouTube Music, and YouTube TV (detailed in the :Live TV Services” section). YouTube Premium offers ad-free Youtube videos, YouTube Originals shows and movies, offline and background viewing on mobile, and an included YouTube Music subscription, all for the cost of $11.99 per month.
Disney+ (November 12, 2019)
Disney’s long-hyped streaming service is finally set to debut later this year, in what will surely be one of the biggest entertainment events of 2019. The House of Mouse is coming out swinging with 500 films and 7000 TV episodes from Disney’s content library at launch, at a competitive price of $6.99 per month. Supplementing Disney’s extensive catalog are original shows and films across their formidable brands and divisions: live action remakes of The Sword in the Stone and Lady and the Tramp; from Marvel, multiple live action series featuring Marvel Cinematic Universe characters (and their original actors) Scarlet Witch and Vision, Loki, Hawkeye, and Falcon and Winter Soldier; and from Lucasfilm, two live action Star Wars series, The Mandalorian and an untitled prequel series to Rogue One, along with a continuation of the hit animated series Star Wars: The Clone Wars. Value-minded cord cutters will also be happy to hear that Disney stated it will likely bundle Disney+, ESPN+, and Hulu (which Disney controls a majority stake in following its acquisition of 21st Century Fox) for a single discounted price.
Apple TV+ (Fall 2019)
While we still don’t know the pricing or exact release date of Apple’s streaming offering, Apple TV+, the Cupertino company finally offered a look at some of their content offerings at an event in March. On the docket are series like The Morning Show, a drama depicting the fictionalized intrapersonal politics and strife of a starring Jennifer Aniston, Reese Witherspoon, and Steve Carell; Amazing Stories” a sci-fi anthology series by Steven Spielberg; and Little America by Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon. Add in the megawatt star power of Oprah, and the two shows she’s bringing to Apple TV+, and you have a service that could hold its own against the streaming stalwarts like Netflix.
Live TV Services
If you’ve become a cord cutter, but still want to watch the same live TV channels you enjoy on cable, then you’ll want to seek out one of these Live TV streaming services. With most of these offerings, you’ll get the same kind of features you enjoy about cable (your favorite channels, DVR, etc.), without the features you hate (contracts and exorbitant pricing). While many of these services have cropped up in the past few years, five have risen to the top as the most popular and oft-discussed options: DirecTV Now, Hulu with Live TV, PlayStation Vue, Sling TV, and YouTube TV. Take a look at the chart above for a comparison of how these options stack up, and read on for a more detailed description of each.
At the time of writing, AT&T-owned DirecTV Now just shook up its subscription pricing and channel selection, raising prices to a starting level of $50 per month for 40+ channels. To alleviate this sting, all DirecTV Now subscriptions will include HBO for no additional charge – though HBO was previously only a $5 add-on, so it doesn’t offset the price increase. To make matters worse, the price increase came with a reduction in channels, including the loss of AMC, A&E, and Discovery networks, across all subscription levels. DirecTV managed to right the ship a bit by adding back Viacom networks like Comedy Central and MTV, which were originally cut to coincide with the price increase. With Viacom’s portfolio back in the mix for subscribers, DirecTV Now’s future doesn’t look as dire as it briefly did, but the price increase and channel reduction may shake consumer confidence. In any case, DirecTV Now’s two packages – the $50 per month Plus plan with 40+ channels, and the $70 per month plan with 50+ channels – aren’t such a bad option for cord cutters in light of YouTube TV’s recent price increase to $50 per month not long after DirecTV’s subscription shakeup.
One of nicest features of Hulu with Live TV is, as the name implies, the inclusion of the full ad-free Hulu subscription. That means you’ll get Hulu’s full content library in addition to over 60 traditional cable networks for $44.99 per month.. Although Hulu with Live TV only offers 2 simultaneous streams by default, an extra $14.99 per month grants users unlimited in-home streams and 3 mobile streams, putting it above even PlayStation Vue’s impressive five simultaneous streams (though Hulu only supports up to six user profiles/accounts versus Vue’s ten). Hulu’s DVR is a little light on storage by default, with 50 hours of recording time, but for an extra $14.99 per month subscribers can bump that time up to 200 hours and enable commercial fast forward/skipping. Like Vue (described in detail below), Hulu with Live TV is especially worth a look if you’re a cord cutter with a large family – just factor in the extra cost for unlimited streams.
Contrary to what its name implies, PlayStation Vue is available on far more devices than just Sony’s popular game consoles. In addition to PS4 (and PS3 if you’re still using one of those in 2019), you can find Vue on most streaming devices and smart TVs. PlayStation Vue offers four subscription levels: Access for $44.99 per month with 40+ channels, Core for $49.99 per month with 60+ channels, Elite for $59.99 per month with 85+ channels, and Ultra for $79.99 per month with all the channels of the lower tiers plus HBO and Showtime. Vue’s cloud DVR, to quote Sony, stores “unlimited episodes for 28 days on up to 500 programs.” Although Sony has never put an exact number on how much space users are allotted on their DVRs, even 500 half-hour episodes of TV would equate to over ten days worth of recordings, so most users are unlikely to ever need to even come close to the storage limit before the 28-day expiration date. PlayStation Vue offers the most simultaneous streams of the live TV services, with five in-home streams and three out-of-home streams on mobile devices. Combine its generous amount of streams with its support for up to ten users, and Vue is one of the more enticing options for large cord cutter families. The other standout feature of Sony’s service is the ability to pause, rewind, and fast forward on any network; all of Vue’s competitors have restrictions in place on which channels support those features. It’s worth keeping in mind, however, that Fox, FX, and FXX do not support fast-forwarding on shows recorded to the cloud DVR. In any case, PlayStation Vue is a feature-rich, intuitive service with plenty to offer any cord cutter, gamer or not.
Sling was one of the early pioneers in live TV streaming, and one of the first viable reasons to become a cord cutter if you still wanted access to major cable networks. It has expanded from a once-skeletal service into a service with a competitive feature set and channel selection. Sling offers three packages: Sling Orange, Sling Blue, and a combination package called (what else?) Sling Orange & Blue. Sling Orange and Sling Blue each offer their own unique channel offerings for $25 per month, although there is some crossover between the two lineups, like CNN, AMC, and A&E. The Sling Orange & Blue package, priced at $40 per month, offers a combined list of channels. The other notable difference between packages, and the place where things get confusing, is the number of simultaneous streams permitted for each package. With Sling Orange, users can only stream on one device at a time, while Sling Blue accommodates three simultaneous streams. While simple enough when breaking the two plans apart, things get complex for Sling Orange & Blue subscribers. Under the combined subscription, any channels exclusive to Orange are still limited to one simultaneous stream, while any channel available on Blue are still capped at three. However, at the time of writing, Sling Orange & Blue comes in at a lower price than the other four major live TV services, so users may find themselves willing to put up with the stream restrictions in exchange for the savings.
YouTube TV is one of the simpler Live TV streaming services to parse. It offers cord cutters a single package of over 70 channels for $49.99 per month, as opposed to the multitude of tiers that most other services offer – though it does still offer a few add-on channels for an additional monthly charge. YouTube TV supports six user accounts and three simultaneous streams. One of the best features of YouTube’s live TV offering is the unlimited cloud DVR for all users; the only catch is that recordings expire after nine months, though most viewers will likely find that more than enough time to catch up on their favorite shows. It’s also worth noting that YouTube TV does not include a YouTube Premium membership, but users still get access to YouTube Originals.
Other Live TV Services
Although fuboTV offers some of the same channels found on the other big live TV services, Fubo’s main emphasis is on sports programming. You’ll find go-to’s like the Fox Sports family of networks (including regional channels), NFL Network, and NBA TV. Notably absent, however, is ESPN, which may be a deal breaker for many cord cutter sports fans. Fubo closes this content gap with a wide selection of regional sports channels, from the aforementioned Fox Sports Network to many regional variations of college sports networks like PAC12 and Big Ten Networks. Soccer fans should find a lot to love too, with the beIN Sports channels offering plenty of European pro matches and NBC Sports providing the footy action of the English Premier League. Fubo fills out its channel list with such popular networks as AMC, TBS, CNN, and E, so non-sports enthusiasts may find something to love too. At the very least, it may make it easier to convince a sports-hating partner or roommate to spring for a subscription. Also, like its competition, Fubo provides a cloud DVR service with 30 hours of recording time, with the added bonus of no expiration date for recordings.
Philo is the lowest-priced live TV service, with plans starting at $16 per month. The trade-off is a lower selection of channels than the other services highlighted here, especially in the sports and news categories. What makes Philo stand out against larger competitors YouTube TV, Hulu, and PlayStation Vue is the presence of Viacom-owned networks. That means Philo gives you cable mainstays like MTV, Comedy Central, BET, and Nickelodeon, which you won’t find on the three aforementioned services. You’ll also get A&E and AMC Networks, which are absent on some of the other Live TV providers. With other live TV providers slowly inching up in price, Philo’s low-cost subscription could quickly turn it into a favorite for the cost-conscious cord cutter.
While a live TV streaming service may be the best options for many sports nuts, there are plenty of standalone options catered to cord cutter fans with more specific tastes. Keep in mind that some of these pro sports streaming options are also available as add-ons to certain live TV services, so be sure to check what your provider offers before signing up.
The biggest name in sports broadcasting, ESPN has built a streaming juggernaut to tackle all possible corners of sports programming. The center of this sports streaming experience is the ESPN app, which integrates all the sports network streaming offerings in one convenient hub. The latest and biggest initiative in the Disney-owned network’s plans for sports streaming dominance is ESPN+, a $4.99/month service that offers a selection of live sports and on-demand ESPN Originals like the acclaimed 30 for 30 film series and new shows made exclusively for ESPN+. If you’re a cord cutter looking to stream the traditional cable ESPN channels, though, ESPN+ is not the solution; streaming ESPN and its spin-off networks still requires a live TV service subscription. In other words, there still isn’t an à la carte option for watching ESPN, but cord cutters with a subscription to DirecTV Now, Hulu with Live TV, PlayStation Vue, Sling, or YouTube TV can use their credentials to stream the network live on the ESPN app.
Cord cutter football fans have quite a few options for getting their pro pigskin fix. If you want the ability to stream any game live, you’ll have to go with NFL Sunday Ticket, which is now available to non-DirecTV subscribers starting at $73.99 per month. If you don’t mind missing live games, NFL Game Pass lets you watch any replays of any game for $99 per year. If you want to keep up with your fantasy league, popular fantasy companion network NFL RedZone is offered as a bonus add-on for some live TV streaming services like PlayStation Vue, Sling TV, and fubo.
NBA League Pass is service for streaming any live NBA games. Cord cutter hoops fans can choose between the standard NBA League Pass for $99.99 per year, or NBA League Pass Premium for $124.99 per year. With both services, you can stream live non-local and non-nationally telecast games, watch game replays (even for blacked-out games), watch classic games, and even view some live games produced for VR on compatible VR headsets. The two benefits of stepping up to the Premium tier are commercial free games and availability of in-arena streams.
MLB has their own streaming option for out-of-market games- MLB.TV. Viewers can choose between a single team subscription for $91.99/year, or a subscription for all teams for either $24.99 per month or $118.99 per year. MLB.TV gives users access to every out-of-market game for either their chosen team or all teams depending on their subscription level, as well as live streaming for nearly 300 Spring Training games.
Other Streaming Services
Services like Netflix and Hulu may dominate the streaming conversation, but there are hundreds more services out there vying for screen time. Here is a choice selection of up-and-comers and under-the-radar streaming destinations for cord cutters of all stripes.
Recently acquired by media conglomerate Viacom, Pluto TV is a totally free service that offers its own eclectic selection of live TV channels. Although branded similarly to live TV services like YouTube TV and Sling, Pluto doesn’t offer the traditional channels you’d find on cable, instead carrying such options as its own sports and movie channels, news channels from major organizations like NBC, and even an entire channel dedicated to Mystery Science Theater 3000. Just like regular TV, there are commercial breaks too, with no option for fast-forwarding (or any DVR features for that matter), but ad breaks are typically less than a minute, far less than an average broadcast TV break. Despite the lack of a DVR, Pluto offers a decent selection of on-demand movies and shows. It’s an interesting wild west of programming that recalls the early days of cable television, and one that’s slated to grow a deeper content library of content in the hands of Viacom. It may not replace your cable subscription, but any cord cutter would be doing themselves a disservice by not checking out this quirky service.
CBS All Access has come a long way from the service people just signed up for to watch Star Trek: Discovery, expanding their original content with shows like The Good Fight, Jordan Peele’s reimagining of The Twilight Zone, and more upcoming Star Trek series, including one centered around the ongoing adventures of Patrick Stewart’s beloved character Jean Luc-Picard. Two subscription tiers are available: a Limited Commercials option for $5.99 per month, and a Commercial Free tier for $9.99 per month. The $9.99 plan also lets users download shows to watch offline, which is not supported on the $5.99 per month option. CBS All-Access also lets you watch live TV from your local CBS station, an archive of over 10,000 episodes of some of CBS’ biggest hit shows, and live news 24/7 with CBSN, the CBS News channel.
Film buffs mourned the loss of Filmstruck, a streaming service with a bit of an art house bent that carried a large chunk of The Criterion Collection. Fortunately, the aforementioned collection has found a new home in the home of The Criterion Channel. For those unfamiliar, The Criterion Collection is a curated selection of films encompassing some of the finest pieces of cinema, from obscure art house flicks to Hollywood blockbusters. Each film is lovingly restored and complemented with top-notch supplementary materials. The Criterion Channel – recently launched at the time of writing at a price of $10.99 per month or $99.99 per year – offers a sizeable chunk of the collection’s 1000-plus films, complete with the high-caliber special features Criterion is known for, like commentaries and documentaries.