Cable TV is so 2009!
In the last decade, the evolution of live streaming options has given rise to a nearly endless list of gadgets, services, and apps.
With so many cable alternatives available many of us end up utilizing several apps. However, ultimately, this isn’t always the best or most cost-efficient way of enjoying TV. So we researched all the options and streamed hours of TV “In the name of research” to help you make the best choice possible.
Why Ditch Cable?
According to Mental Floss, the average consumer spends over $100/mo or $1200 a year on pay-TV service. For years, Cable TV companies and satellite tv providers have had a relatively unchecked monopoly. However, readily available high-speed internet, smartphones, and smart TVs are providing the opportunity for nearly 5 million Americans a year to save money by becoming cord-cutters.
Instead of investing in all the choices, we’ve made a simple list of the top streaming apps and gadgets you can’t live without. We’ve even included the special channels you know and love and where you can access them.
So call up your cable company and cancel your service. You’re ready to move into the future of streaming!
Best Cable TV Alternatives to Save Money
Maybe you’re a poor college student or new professional. Bottom line- you either don’t have the money or the desire to stick to the traditional satellite TV service. You’re reading this article thinking to yourself, “This is great for people who have televisions and expendable funds, but what about those of us who just have a computer? Aren’t we still entitled to a means to view the local broadcast networks without signing over our firstborn?”
Don’t worry, friends. We didn’t forget about you. Here are our picks for the best streaming apps that you can watch from the convenience of your laptop, desktop, or smartphone.
1. Sling TV
Sling is a streaming app that has progressively increased in popularity over the past 3-5 years. We’re pretty excited to give you the Sling TV review because we think you’re going to like this option as much as we do. One of the best parts about it is that the package options are offered to accommodate any budget. The base orange package is $25/month and provides you with one streaming method and the ability to view recently aired episodes of your most popular broadcast TV shows. This means you cannot share your username and password with your friends, and everyone can tap in and watch their shows simultaneously.
One device, one show. Period. Sling offers users 33 channels with the Sling Orange package, including ESPN and Disney, both highly desirable for many audiences. We’ve heard a lot of good things about Sling and their packages.
However, it’s easy to start with a base level package and gradually upgrade to the more expensive options. Ensure that you’re not ultimately paying just as much for this app as you were for your cable.
2. AT&T TV Now
Direct TV Now rebranded to AT&T TV Now, and there is a lot to like about AT&T's rebranded streaming service. AT&T TV Now boasts 45+ channels.
AT&T TV Now has two packages, Plus for $50/month and Max for $70/month, and several extras for those looking for more channels. AT&T now offers some channels not currently available on Hulu + Live TV. Every streaming service on the list is a bit of compromise, as none of them is a clear winner on channels and/or price.
One nice feature is that AT&T TV Now includes HBO, which is good news for those looking forward to House of the Dragon. Hulu + Live TV subscribers will need to pay extra to steams the Game of Thrones prequel.
When it comes to cost, Hulu is king. With a plan that starts at $5.99/month, we’re not sure where else you’ll be able to stream for such cost efficiency. Another admirable attribute about the app is that they’re running an exclusive right now that allows new subscribers to tap into a free trial. If you select the $5.99 plan, you’ll receive a free month of viewing.
The best part of this is that if you find that Hulu is not for you at the end of the month, you can cancel with no penalties. This is one feature we like about this app – no contracts.
It’s important to realize that you can quickly sign up for something that requires you to commit for a specific duration of time with many of these apps. Be mindful of this fact whenever you’re signing up for this (or any) service. With plenty of non-contract options in existence, you should never feel cornered into using a specific app longer than you want to.
4. Hulu + Live TV
Hulu has added a live TV plan starting at $44.95/mo. With Hulu + Live TV, you get access to the entire Hulu library and stream live sports, news and watch your favorite TV shows. Hulu + Live TV provides over 60 channels, such as Cartoon Network, CNN, and ESPN.
One of the coolest features is that Hulu + Live TV subscribers can use their Hulu credentials to access content on many network apps and websites. So if you’re worried that cutting cable means giving up your SyFy, Disney, or HGTV app, Hulu has got you covered.
Note: Read our full Hulu + Live TV review here.
Good old Netflix. This is the streaming app world’s tried and true. And for a good reason! Netflix was one of the original options when the revolution of television streaming came around. Offering both original shows and movies and some of the greatest classics, this app has done its time and perfected the art of streaming quality entertainment.
One of the best parts of this particular app is that the shows and movies featured are names you’ll know and love. So, you’ll never pull up the kid’s Netflix option to a slew of titles you’ve never heard of. You always have a quality supply of shows and movies that are familiar.
This is not to say that there aren’t ample amounts of content available that border on bizarre and obscure. However, sometimes those end up being gems, too. And, if you find the entertainment you’ve selected isn’t satiating your viewing desires, you’re a few clicks from another option.
Netflix plans start at $8.99/month and also are contract-free. They also offer a free trial of 30 days that enables you to test drive the app and discover if it’s a good fit for you.
Disney+ is a new service launching this November. Disney+ promises to deliver your favorite entertainment to smart TVs, phones, laptops, tablets, and gaming consoles. The app offers both streaming and unlimited downloads of your favorite movies for just $6.99/mo or $69.99 a year.
Never-before-seen original feature films, series, short-form content, and documentaries, only for Disney+ subscribers. – Dinsney+
At Wealth of Geeks, we are Huuuuge Star Wars fans; IMO, the best reason to get Disney+ is to watch The Mandolorian. However, if you need more convincing, Disney will be offering content from National Geographic, Pixar, Marvel, and even 30 seasons of Simpsons episodes.
One of the biggest challenges in cutting cable is giving up premium children and family entertainment; Disney+ offers a content-rich and money saying alternative. Check out our full Disney+ review here.
Binge your favorite shows at a guilt-free price.
Philo is a newer tv streaming service that offers over 58 channels for just 20 dollars a month. They also boast that they offer 30 live channels, allowing you to view television shows in real-time through this streaming media player. The price alone makes Philo one of the best cable TV alternatives; however, what seals the deal is unlike PlayStation Vue, Philo has Viacom channels like Comedy Central, Nickelodeon, BET, and TV Land.
You can binge South Park guilt-free on your game console, smart tv, smartphone for a low price with Philo.
8. PS Vue App
Update: PlayStation has announced they are shutting down PS Vue. We Recommend Hulu + Live TV as a replacement.
Get the PS Vue app on your favorite devices like Amazon Fire TV, Roku® players, Apple TV®, your mobile device, web, and more. No PlayStation® video game console is ever required.
The Sony Playstation Vue app allows you to watch live and on-demand TV on your favorite devices. The PS Vue app offers several packages and is an excellent option for less budget-conscious viewers looking for a way to stream sports. Their sports pack is a 10 dollar upgrade that offers NFL REDZONE and a host of sports channels.
The only real downside is that PlayStation Vue does not offer Viacom channels like MTV and Comedy Central. The former we can live without, but paying $49.99/mo (lowest cost package) for a TV without South Park and The Daily Show is a hard pill to swallow.
If you are looking for the most “cable TV-like' service for sports fans, the PS Vue is a better choice than Hulu + Live TV.
For more information on PSN Vue, check out our full review here.
While YouTube now offers an option to purchase a YouTube TV package, the original, old-fashioned YouTube is still a quality choice. Whether you’re seeking re-runs or want to view favorite funny moments, YouTube is the place.
You also have the opportunity to dig deep into the catalogs and find hours of creative and educational entertainment. While it may not wholly satiate your desire for live television, if you’re on a budget, this may help ease the cable cord's cutting.
Note: Several readers have indicated that it can be hard to cancel YouTube TV during the free trial, be sure to cancel early if you decide to test out their service.
10. Apple TV+
Apple TV+ is the streaming network of the Apple device family. Through Apple TV+ clients can watch via their iPhone, iPad, AppleTV, Mac Desktop or Laptop computer, AirPlay, PC, Samsung SmartTV, Roku, or FireTV.
With plenty of ways to watch, original series, and a free 7-day trial, Apple TV+ is one of the best cable alternatives available.
Note: Currently, if you buy a new qualifying Apple device, you can get a full year of Apple TV+ for free!!!
11. CBS All Access
We have just a few questions for you. Do you enjoy a live tv streaming service? Do you want access to live channels, every day, all day? Are you looking for a place where you can drown your sorrows in over 10,000 episodes of your favorite CBS shows? We thought so. CBS All Access is the right choice for you and your family if you answered yes to any of those questions.
For anyone who likes popular cable channels, you're inevitably familiar with the CBS station. Some of the best live TV from our generation and generations before have come from this staple network. Offering a paid subscription option, the entry-level package is $5.99 per month and provides full access for CBS All Access.
Nothing is more comforting than watching your local tv channels, and CBS All Access offers you that exact experience without the cable price tag.
12. HBO Now/HBO Max
Like Disney+, HBO Now/HBO Max is a work in progress. With a set launch date of May 2020, HBO promises to feature every episode of the network’s 45+ year history of content. Think of your fan-favorite original series, including everything from Game of Thrones to Sex and the City.
The online streaming service also promises to feature blockbuster hits before their competitors. If they can deliver on that one, we may be in love. This may be a streaming service worth looking into, with initial rates set at $14.99/month.
13. fubo TV
Sports fans unite!
Fubo TV offers viewers access to live sports through Fox Sports, 100+ channels, news, and Cloud DVR. It’s a cord-cutters dream come true, especially one with an affinity for a live streaming service that offers broadcast networks and live sports.
It also allows users to stream via three devices simultaneously. With the paid subscription options starting at $59.99, we’re on the edge of our seat about this particular option. Is it as good as it promises?
Do you know what we miss? Blockbuster.
I mean, not the late fees or the blaring yellow and blue logo. But, the calming effect took over our senses as we perused the aisles for our Saturday movie night choice.
Vudu reminds us of that. Except, there aren’t any late fees, offensive logos, or a requirement to wear pants to pick out your movie with Vudu. Modern convenience at it’s finest. Vudu offers first-time users the opportunity to rent a movie for $0.49, and it requires no commitment long term. You can come and go as you please and use it when the mood strikes. With over 100,000 titles, you can rent any number of movies, helping you make Saturday night movie night a thing again.
Free Cable TV Alternatives
We had a feeling you may be curious about options that cut the cable cord and provide you with free entertainment. We aim to please! Here are a few cable alternatives that will cost you nothing more than the expense of your energy.
15. Local Stations
The only trouble I have found since cutting cable is the inability to watch occasional local news and some nationally broadcasted events, like the recent Super Bowl. I also feel bad when I have visiting family, who prefer to watch some of the major networks when they're staying over.
To solve that small problem, I bought an HD Antenna that gets all the local channels for free! It only cost me $87 as a one-time cost and was worth it if we need to tune into anything meaningful.
I had tried this solution in the past without much luck, but recent technology has improved dramatically in this area. I bought the new Mohu Leaf Glide HDTV Antenna, which was super easy to install and discreet.
If you go this route, make sure to check how far away the digital stations are from your home since that will determine which antenna works best. I used this site to check and went with an amplified antenna to make sure I received the signals.
It works great, and I receive all the local channels in HD quality!
16. Free Movie Streaming
If you missed it, it’s worth pointing you in the direction of our article that outlined free movie streaming. We put in the time to find you the best options to see movies online that allow you to watch for free. All you’ll need is an excellent internet connection and device to view on, and you’re set to go.
Check Your Library
Your local library is an underutilized resource to save money, renting movies, and borrowing books. The only drawback is you need to drive or catch a ride to your local library. However, two new apps are making it possible to stream free entertainment directly in your home or on the go, and the price of admission is a simple library card.
Both services work with hundreds of libraries around to allow card holds to watch movies, TV shows, and documentaries, all for FREE.
Hoopla launched in 2013, and in 2017 they launched an app for smart TVs, Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, and Android TV. Once you sign up for an account, you begin borrowing eBooks, digital movies, music, and more.
Hoopla is a groundbreaking digital media service offered by your local public library that allows you to borrow movies, music, audiobooks, ebooks, comics, and TV shows to enjoy on your computer, tablet, or phone – and even your TV! With no waiting, you can stream titles immediately or download to phones or tablets for offline enjoyment later. – Hoopla
Kanopy works similar to Hoopla; however, it tends to offer more independent and less mainstream movies.
Stream thousands of films for free, thanks to the generous support of your public library or university – kanopy
19. Sony Crackle
Right off the bat, one of our favorite things about Sony Crackle is that they make an organizer’s dreams come true. With this streaming service, you can pick your programming according to category (think “Thriller” or “Comedy”), similar to the way you can do this with Netflix (a feature we love).
It’s also free, so it’s hard to compete with that price point. Check out their “Request” section of their website. If you’re reviewing the content available and you don’t find something you’d like, you can submit a suggestion to the company, and they’ll consider your preference. How awesome is that?
20. Pluto TV
Pluto TV is another one of the free live streaming services. Offering users the choice of over 100 channels featuring television shows and movies. The only hiccup with the network is the 30-second ads that tend to pop up randomly, even when there isn’t a natural break in the show or movie you’re viewing.
The platform's content tends to align with movies and TV that are available on the internet already. However, if you’re not opposed to the price (uh, free?!?), then it is a great cable alternative that will save you money.
We’re about to share some shocking information with you. Once upon a time, not too long ago, television didn’t exist! We can hear your collective gasp at the processing of this information. While it may seem unbelievable, there was a time when people had to find alternative methods to entertain themselves. One of the best ways of entertainment was reading.
Opening a book allows individuals to create imagery with their minds and explore concepts and ideas without the guidance of lighting, acting, or reality camera zooms. Even if you aren’t interested in cutting the cable cord or saving money, reading is an excellent hobby to pick-up. Often, television shows and movies find their origin in books. If you’re reading, you’re getting a glimpse into the world that inspires tv. It’s like having the ultimate spoiler, right in the palm of your hand.
Cable Cutting Devices
These are actual hardware pieces that you hook up to your viewing device (television, projector, computer, etc.) to access a multitude of streaming apps or any of the free channels available within the particular device. Keep in mind, your initial investment in most of these is for the physical device only.
This does not give you open access to any show, app, or channel your heart desires. When you’re looking at each of your streaming device choices, it’s a good idea to create a general overview of the most important channels to you and your family. You can then consider which device may be the best fit, based on the access it provides.
Apple TV is one of the more favored streaming devices. This option allows you access to premium channels and to utilize various streaming apps within the device. You also have the choice to rent or buy thousands of movies. A great perk of Apple TV is that it will customize your viewing suggestions based on your past decisions. Therefore, you can review content that aligns with your interests continually.
Apple TV is a bit more expensive as an initial investment, and you will still have to invest in the various viewing apps you want to use with your device. This may include Netflix, Hulu, or other streaming apps that you prefer. The initial investment for the device itself is around $150.00 and includes free access to over 70 channels, including ABC News, PBS Kids, The Smithsonian Channel, and The Weather Channel.
Amazon Fire TV Cube
A newer option on the market is the Amazon Fire TV Cube, advancing on the Fire TV stick's concepts. This product combines the functionality of “Alexa” with a streaming device. While this added feature allows you to give commands (think “Alexa, turn on the TV”), the cube’s overall functionality works similarly to that of the Apple TV. The initial investment is around $120, making it more cost-effective than Apple TV. Also, you can order the device free of shipping costs on Amazon Prime and find yourself snuggled-in watching Amazon’s prime video within 48 hours of clicking the “buy” button.
You also will have access to channels such as HBO, Starz, ESPN, and HGTV. These channels will offer you the ability to launch them from your device. However, keep in mind some of them will only give you a preview of the series and movies they offer and require you to pay an additional subscription fee to view their full selection.
Unlike Apple TV or Amazon Fire TV Cube, the Google Chromecast is a much smaller device. The Chromecast is a simple USB cable and allows you access to many of the same streaming apps that you find with the other methods we’ve mentioned. This includes, but is not limited to, Netflix, YouTube, Hulu, and the Google Play Store.
Available for the reasonable cost of $35, you can purchase the regular Chromecast and begin streaming shows with little-to-no set-up. However, if you’re looking for heightened resolution and increased content, you may want to shell out a bit more cash for the Chromecast Ultra. This device will run you about $70 and will require an external power device.
One enticing feature of the regular Chromecast is the ease with which you can travel with it. Its convenient USB size allows you to slip it into your pocket and use it to watch anywhere you have access to WiFi and a television or a computer. Your hotel room, the airport, or even your office (although we don’t recommend this if your goal is to stay gainfully employed). The Chromecast may be the perfect option for anyone on the go who still wants access to their favorite shows and movies.
We hate to say this, but the Roku is also a close tie for the best travel companion. I know! You thought that we gave you a definitive answer to your best streaming device to travel with! However, the Roku and the Chromecast are a toss-up in terms of size and ease of transport.
One thing to consider with the Roku (because, truthfully, it works pretty much like the Chromecast, and we’re going to spare you the torture of us repeating ourselves) is the cost. A Roku will run you more along the lines of $40 for your initial investment, but that is for the newest generation model. With the additional $5 investment, we determined that if we were going to call something the “best travel buddy,” we’d have to go with Chromecast.
However, none of that is to persuade you from one product to the other. Roku is a great device, especially if you’re an avid music junkie. Streaming music from a Roku is user-friendly, convenient, and allows you to tap into apps that offer free membership like Pandora. For this feature alone, we think Roku may have the edge over the other devices if easy music streaming is a priority in your household.
The Bottom Line
Some people are traditionalists in that they want the security blanket of live television. However, more people are happy to jump the cable ship for a more cost-effective option. The efficiency, cost, and convenience of online apps and streaming devices allow you to expand your viewing horizons beyond the limits of your family room. ,
With the convenience of smartphones, you can watch anytime and anywhere, as long as you have a secure Wi-Fi connection. The benefits of streaming devices and purchased apps far outweigh the burdensome obligations of your monthly cable bill. So cut the cord, and take a jump into the deep end of the cable-free movement!
Each allows us to watch whatever we want, whenever we want. We no longer have to set up our TiVo or wait through commercials. We can stream our favorite shows ad-free at 2 am when we get off work — no more plugging our ears to avoid the spoilers. We’re caught up with the rest of the world, and all it took was the click of a few buttons.
With the abundant options available, it’s difficult to navigate which alternative to cable tv is the best. Many of us utilize several of the available choices to allow us access to everything we want. However, this isn’t always the best or most cost-efficient way of handling your streaming choices.
Michael launched Wealth of Geeks to make personal finance fun. He has worked in personal finance for over 20 years, helping families reduce taxes, increase their income, and save for retirement. Michael is passionate about personal finance, side hustles, and all things geeky.