Cutting The Cord: The Best Cable TV Alternatives To Save Money | 2023 Update
In 2023, there's really no need for cable TV. It's so 2009! Instead, choose a cable TV alternative that saves you money and still gives you the show or channel lineup you want.
In the last decade, the evolution of live streaming has given rise to a nearly endless list of gadgets, services, and apps. Of all of them, Sling TV is our number one choice for the best cable TV alternative, closely followed by Hulu.
With so many cable alternatives available, many of us end up utilizing several apps. I'm guilty of this, too. I have three separate streaming services, plus YouTube Premium. And I find I don't even watch TV that much. So, I think it's time for me to cut back and stop wasting money on streaming services I don't watch that often.
However, for this post, all those subscriptions came in pretty handy! We've tried out a huge number of streaming services, and streamed hours of TV and movies, all in the same of research, to help you find the best alternative to cable TV that will also help you save money while discovering new favorites and rewatching your GOAT shows.
Why Ditch Cable?
According to Mental Floss, the average consumer spends over $100/mo or $1200 a year on pay-TV service. Cable TV companies and satellite TV providers have had a relatively unchecked monopoly for years. 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!
TL;DR: Our Top Picks
Sling TV: Most similar to traditional TV
Hulu: Extensive catalog with low-cost basic packages available
Disney+: Affordable monthly price. Huge selection of shows and movies
Best Cable TV Alternatives To Save Money
Whether you're a budget-conscious college student or a young professional just starting out, traditional satellite TV services might not align with your financial priorities or lifestyle. You might be wondering, “What if I don't own a television but just have a computer or smartphone? Shouldn't there be affordable ways for me to access quality broadcasts?”
Yes! And there is. Below are our top recommendations for streaming apps that are perfect for viewing on your laptop, desktop, or mobile device. And, of course, you can access them with a smart TV, too. Or by casting from your mobile device to your TV, if it has that capability.
Sling TV is among our top cable TV alternatives because it offers a solid blend of affordability, flexibility, and a decent channel lineup. Sling TV offers a customizable approach that truly puts the viewer in control. With its à la carte channel packages and budget-friendly options, it bridges the gap between traditional cable and the modern streaming experience. Whether you're a sports enthusiast, a news junkie, or a sitcom lover, Sling TV's diverse offerings cater to every taste.
- Affordability: Starting at $40 per month for 47 channels, it's cheaper than many rivals.
- Flexibility: Offers customization options to suit your viewing preferences.
- Top Networks: Includes sought-after channels like ESPN.
- Interface: While functional, it could use some improvements. A new app is on the horizon, though.
- Limited Local Channels: Depending on your region, you might miss out on some local broadcasts.
Pricing and Availability
Sling TV's plans start at $40 per month, with the top-tier plan costing $55 for 53 channels, including ESPN. There's also a recent addition of ABC in select regions, but this comes with a $5 price hike. If you're keen on trying before buying, Sling TV offers a free seven-day trial, but there's a catch: you need to sign up through a Sling-compatible device.
Interface and Usability
While Sling TV's interface might not be as polished as some competitors, it's available on almost every major platform. The channel guide isn't alphabetized, which can make finding your favorite channels a tad challenging. However, the search function is decent, and the playback window offers standard controls.
With the Sling Orange plan, you can stream on one screen at a time. However, if you opt for the Sling Blue plan, you get the advantage of streaming on up to three screens simultaneously. If you decide to combine both plans, you can enjoy four concurrent streams, ensuring everyone in the household gets their TV fix.
Content and Channels
Sling TV's channel lineup is respectable. The Sling Orange and Blue plans have some unique channels, but there's a significant overlap. For instance, Orange includes Disney-owned networks like ESPN and Disney Channel, while Blue offers channels like USA, Bravo, and Fox News. If you're craving local channels, Sling provides access to ABC, NBC, and Fox in certain regions. Plus, there are numerous add-on packages to customize your viewing experience further.
One area where Sling TV could improve is its DVR storage. You get 50 hours for free, but if you're a serial recorder, you might find this limiting. An upgrade to 200 hours is available, though, and it only costs an extra $5 per month.
Most content on Sling TV is in 720p resolution, which is standard for many live-streaming services. The streaming quality stabilizes quickly, ensuring you get a smooth viewing experience. I didn't have any issues with buffering or lag over broadband or when I streamed via 4G and 5G.
Sling TV is a nice option if you're looking to ditch traditional cable. Its low cost, combined with the ability to customize channel lineups, makes it a top contender. The primary drawback is the limited DVR storage, but if you're someone who watches content live or on-demand, this might not be a deal-breaker for you. If you're on the fence, give their seven-day trial a shot and see if it aligns with your viewing habits.
When I first tried Hulu, I was genuinely impressed. Yes, you can binge-watch loads of old series, but you can also catch up on last night's episodes from many of the major networks. That's a big deal if you're trying to keep up with current shows. Plus, Hulu's original content is top-notch.
Shows like The Handmaid's Tale and Castle Rock are worth the subscription alone. If you're thinking of cutting the cable cord but worry about falling behind on your favorite shows, Hulu should be on your radar.
- Attractive interface
- Good channel selection
- Exclusive programming
- Unlimited DVR cap
- Overwhelming menus
- Advertisements are pervasive
Interface and User Experience
Hulu with Live TV offers a seamless integration of its live TV service with its existing subscription streaming platform. The interface, which underwent a redesign, now boasts a vibrant look that's easy on the eyes. And, whether you're using the Android app or the Xbox One, the experience remains uniform.
It's also great for finding new shows, as it gives you content recommendations based on your watch history. However, a slight hiccup is the depth of menus, which can sometimes make navigation back to the main screen a tad cumbersome.
Availability and Pricing
Hulu with Live TV is available on loads of devices, including Apple TV, Chromecast, iOS, Android, Xbox One, Amazon Fire TV, Roku, Samsung Smart TVs, PlayStation 4 & 5, and the Nintendo Switch. The pricing varies a huge amount, with a basic ad-supported subscription to Hulu starting at $7.99 per month and top-tier pricing for ad-free bundles costing as much as $90 per month.
Content and Channels
Hulu offers more than 74 channels, encompassing a mix of news, entertainment, sports, and kids' content. Notable channels include A&E, Bravo, CNN, Disney Channel, ESPN, FX, Food Network, Fox News, and many more. Additionally, Hulu's live TV lineup has been bolstered with the addition of Viacom channels like Comedy Central, MTV, and Nickelodeon. While the service lacks some premium channels like HBO, Cinemax, or Starz, it compensates by offering a rich library of streaming shows, movies, and original content.
Hulu has upped its game in the video quality department. It now offers 4K video for its original series and selected movies. Most TV stations broadcast at 720p, while on-demand movies can go up to 1080p. I didn't have any problems with lag or buffering when I tested the service. In fact, I managed to stream in HD consistently with a stable Wi-Fi connection.
While Hulu with Live TV offers a comprehensive package, it's not without its flaws. The presence of ads, even after paying for the service, is a bit…irksome. Additionally, the interface, though visually appealing, could benefit from some streamlining for a smoother navigation experience. The add-on services, though optional, can quickly add up, potentially making the service as expensive as traditional cable packages. However, the inclusion of unlimited DVR and a vast content library makes Hulu with Live TV a formidable contender in the streaming arena.
3. Disney+: Affordable Entertainment for the Whole Family
Disney+ tops our list of the best cable TV alternatives because it's super affordable, there are a couple of really great bundle options, and it's got a huge selection of shows and movies.
When I first logged into Disney+, it felt like opening a treasure chest of memories. From the iconic Disney classics I grew up with to the latest episodes of The Mandalorian, it's a blend of nostalgia and fresh content.
And it's not just for kids; the Marvel and Star Wars lineups alone can keep adults hooked for hours. Plus, with National Geographic and huge hits like The Walking Dead and American Horror Story, there's plenty to keep the grownups entertained.
If you're looking for a streaming service that offers both a trip down memory lane and a taste of the new-age cinematic universe, Disney+ is a solid pick. In spite of the name, it's more than just your typical Disney cartoons and fairy tales. It made our list of top streaming alternatives because of its big, diverse catalog and affordable pricing.
- Access to every Marvel Cinematic Universe movie and show.
- Comprehensive Star Wars content.
- A vast library of Disney classics.
- Titles from Marvel Studios, Pixar, Lucasfilm, National Geographic, and 20th Century Fox.
- Less variety compared to other streaming giants like Netflix or HBO Max.
- Not every Disney or Fox classic is available.
Disney+ is not just about Mickey Mouse and princesses. Here's what you can expect:
Disney Classics: From The Little Mermaid to The Lion King, most of your beloved animated films are here.
Marvel Studios: Almost every Marvel movie, including the likes of Avengers and Iron Man, is available. Plus, new additions like WandaVision and Loki are expanding the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Star Wars Universe: All nine Skywalker Saga films, standalone movies like Solo and Rogue One, and series such as The Mandalorian and The Book of Boba Fett await Star Wars aficionados.
National Geographic: Dive into documentaries and shows like The World According to Jeff Goldblum and Gordon Ramsay: Uncharted.
Pixar: Whether it's Toy Story, The Incredibles, or newer titles like Onward and Luca, Pixar's magic is in full display.
20th Century Fox: Enjoy movies from Home Alone to The Sound of Music. And for series lovers, every episode of The Simpsons is up for binge-watching.
Pricing and Bundles
Disney+ comes at a monthly cost of $8, or you can opt for an annual subscription at $80, saving you $16 a year. While there's no free trial, you can always test the waters for a month.
For those who love Hulu and ESPN+, there's the Disney Bundle. For $14/month, you get all three services. Variations of this bundle, with ad-free Hulu or Hulu + Live TV, are available at different price points.
Disney+ is accessible on almost every device out there except the Nintendo Switch. Whether it's your Smart TV, Android, iOS device, or even a web browser, Disney+ has got you covered. Devices include Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, Google Chromecast, Roku, Xbox, and many more.
Disney+'s User Interface
While the Disney+ user interface is visually appealing, it can be a bit heavy and sometimes struggles to load. However, once it's up and running, the browsing experience is top-notch. The platform offers curated suggestions based on upcoming premieres, making it easier for users to catch up on relevant content. Though Disney+ claims to offer Ultra 4K HD, the quality varies based on the subscription tier and the content you're streaming.
I like Disney+. It's a great choice for a streaming service if you want to cancel your cable subscription. For cord-cutters like me who still really like a nice variety of programming without a hefty price tag, I strongly recommend Disney+, particularly if you get the bundle with Hulu. It's so affordable, and I can get my cutesy Disney fix right before I watch my favorite gore-filled AMH episodes, get a little education from Nat Geo, or binge-watch Buffy, one of the guilty pleasures of my teenage years!
4. DirecTV Stream
AT&T TV Now rebranded to DirecTV Stream, and there is a lot to like about the rebranded streaming service. DirecTV Stream now boasts 45+ channels.
DirecTV Stream has four packages: Entertainment for $64.99/month, Choice for $84.99/month, Ultimate for $109.99/month, and Premier for $154.99/month. It offers some channels not currently available on Hulu + Live TV. It's a bit more costly than most of the other offerings on this list, but it's probably the closest to the cable TV you're used to.
Good old Netflix. 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. I still like Netflix. What's not to like? It's simple to use, has a proven track record, and offers a good mix of shows.
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 $6.99/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.
Philo is a newer TV streaming service that offers over 70 channels for just $25 per 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, or smartphone for a low price with Philo.
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 your 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.
8. 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 up to a full year of Apple TV+ for free!
9. 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.
Anyone who likes popular cable channels is 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 $6 per month and provides full access to 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.
10. HBO Now/HBO Max
Like Disney+, HBO Now/HBO Max is still a work in progress. Launched in May 2020, HBO features 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 South Park.
The online streaming service also promises to feature blockbuster hits before its competitors. This streaming service may be worth looking into, with initial rates set at $19.99/month.
Sports fans unite!
Fubo TV offers viewers access to live sports through Fox Sports, 100+ channels, news, and Cloud DVR. It’s a cord-cutter's 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 $74.99, we’re on the edge of our seats about this particular option. Is it as good as it promises to be?
Do you know what we miss? Blockbuster.
I mean, not the late fees or the blaring yellow and blue logo. But, the calming effect that 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 its finest. Vudu offers first-time users the opportunity to rent a movie for $0.99, 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.
13. Local Stations
The only trouble I have found since cutting cable is the inability to watch occasional local news and some nationally broadcasted events. 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 have 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!
14. 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, rent movies, and borrow 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 cardholders 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.
Kanopy works similar to Hoopla. However, it tends to offer more independent and less mainstream movies.
Right off the bat, one of our favorite things about 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 competing with that price point is hard. Check out the “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?
18. 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 as you process 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. Remember, 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.
A newer option on the market is Amazon's 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 $139. Also, you can order the device free of shipping costs on Amazon Prime and find yourself snuggled in watching 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 $30, you can purchase the regular Chromecast and begin streaming shows with little-to-no setup. However, if you’re looking for 4K resolution, you may want to shell out a bit more cash for the Chromecast Ultra. This device will run you about $45.
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 4K model.
Roku is a great device, especially if you’re an avid music junkie. Streaming music from a Roku is user-friendly and 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 a.m. 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.