In September of 2016 my wife and I decided to experiment with TV streaming services. Our Comcast cable bill was too high and we wanted to save a little money on our monthly budgets. At the time I had only heard of Sling TV. The balance of live sports, streaming quality, and diverse programming set off a cord cutting endeavor that we did not wrap up until this spring, when we finally found the best streaming service for cord cutters in the Philadelphia area.
The decision to cut the cord on cable television was easier for her than myself. We already used a Roku to access streaming channels. Netflix, Hulu, and HBO take care off most of current television programming needs. While there are times that I would rather not watch the Phillies bullpen, I could not go long without my Philadelphia sports teams. We had to find a live programming option that was less expensive than our Comcast bill to justify the switch.
I experimented with five different streaming services: Sling TV, PlayStation Vue, fuboTV, Hulu Plus, and YouTube TV. Here is a comparison of our experience with each service, ranked in the order in which I experimented with each:
All information in this post is current as of June 2018.
This was my first experiment with streaming live television. I was usually pleased with the results, although there are a few negatives to Sling TV.
Sling TV’s promise of a la carte television is misleading. There are three packages that offer different lineups: Sling Blue, Sling Orange, and Sling Orange + Sling Blue. Since most viewers only watch the same handful of channels, Sling TV was initially appealing to me. You cannot curate a few specific channels and create a package just for your own viewing needs. If you could, Sling TV would be a better deal.
The major difference between Sling Orange and Sling Blue is the type of sports channels offered. Sling Orange offers over 30 channels that include ESPN, ESPN 2, and ESPN 3. Sling Blue counters with more than 45 channels like FS1, FS2, NBCSN, and the NFL Network. Sling Blue does not include any ESPN channels.
Sling TV’s non-sports offerings are amplified by lesser quality channels. There are prime channels like TBS and FX, but niche basic cable channels like HGTV, AXSTV, Fuse, and Viceland comprise the majority of Sling TV’s slate. CBS and ABC are not available. NBC and Fox are only offered in select markets.
I found myself switching between Sling Blue and Sling Orange before settling for the combination package. At $40 per month, Sling Orange + Sling Blue was not a good value. Sling TV is only worth it if you can settle on one of the less expensive packages.
The streaming quality of Sling TV is good. I would have some issues during live broadcasts, but that generally resulted in fuzzy picture that briefly obscured what was happening. I could still get the gist of what was supposed to be on screen.
Sling TV’s layout is also easy to use. Unlike Hulu Plus (see below), I was able to navigate current and future programming without much problem.
Sling TV does not carry NBC Sports Philadelphia or NBCS+. When I first signed up for the service, I was content to use Sling TV to only watch football for a few months. I found myself needing to watch more than just the Eagles once the calendar turned.
fuboTV is the only streaming service that I used for its free trial period. I used all of the other services for a couple of months before switching to another platform. Because we did not use it for very long, I cannot evaluate fuboTV’s streaming quality or layout. With that in mind, I did not experience any difficulties while using the service.
I switched to fuboTV in order to access local sports. The service streams both NBC Sports Philadelphia and NBCS+. Sports are the main calling card for fuboTV, a service that originally featured soccer-heavy programming.
The focus on soccer includes additional streaming options for Spanish and Portuguese-speaking viewers. fuboTV offers monthly fubo Latino ($17.99) and fubo Portuges ($19.99) packages.
If you are looking for streaming services to only watch niche sports, fuboTV does offer excellent value. fuboTV currently has more than 90 channels at $34.99 for the first month. After the initial month the rate bumps up to $44.99.
One major negative of fuboTV is that it does not have ESPN. Given that it is a sports-centric service, missing the Worldwide Leader can be a non-starter for many sports fans. fuboTV also does not stream the MLB Network, which is a detractor for me.
fuboTV does offer FS1, FS2, the NFL Network, NBCN, and NBA TV, but most of its sports channels appeal to smaller, devoted audiences. It has PAC 12 Networks, Univision, NBC Golf, Fox Deportes, four Big Ten Network channels, Eleven Sports, and nine beIN Sports channels.
The service’s non-sports programming is solid. fuboTV has FOX, CBS, and NBC. It also streams channels like FX, AMC, CW, BBC America, USA, and Viceland. A good starter package, but not an overwhelming amount of basic cable channels.
fuboTV also advertises fubo Extra for $49.99 a month. The package does not offer much more than the standard fubo package. The Cooking Channel, GSN, and People TV are among the 104 channels available for streaming.
fuboTV is great if you are a soccer fan looking at cord cutting options. Outside of that I could not find much value in a sports-focused platform that does not offer ESPN. Even though I do not watch ESPN nearly as often as I used to, it still broadcasts enough games to mandate its presence onto my streaming checklist.
Until recently, PlayStation Vue was not widely available as a streaming platform. Depending on your streaming needs, this is a good service that I was typically happy with. There was only one major negative to the service that prompted me to switch.
Access is a solid starter bundle that offers ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox. Two ESPN networks, FS1, and FS2 compliment other basic cable channels like TNT and FX.
Core is a good next-level package that enhances PlayStation Vue’s sports lineup with the MLB Network, NFL Network, NBA TV, and two additional ESPN networks. NBC Sports Philadelphia is featured on PlayStation Vue, although NBCS+ is not available.
Elite is a more complete offering from PlayStation Vue. It adds movie options like Epix Hits. Upper-tier channels such as Hallmark and BBC World News are also available, but at $54.99 a month this package does not hold much value over a typical cable tv package.
Ultra is only an option for viewers who like premium channels. For an extra $20 per month they can have all of the channels offered with the Elite package and add both HBO and Showtime. With that in mind, PlayStation Vue subscribers can save a few bucks by having a lower-tier package and adding HBO ($15.00) or Showtime ($10.99) individually.
The quality of PlayStation Vue’s stream was typically reliable. It held up during a full season of Game Of Thrones, a show that draws a significant viewing audience. The layout of PlaySation Vue featured a user-friendly design.
The main flaw of PlayStation Vue is that it did not carry the most consistent ratings attraction in television: the local football team. For many people that is a deal breaker.
* A reader informed me that PlayStation Vue does carry Eagles games on Fox 29. The NFL blackout is an issue from the beginning of the 2017 season that other Vue have users experienced. There was a blackout in the Philadelphia market, although that appears to have been rectified after I canceled the service. PlayStation Vue does broadcast Eagles games on Fox 29.
As of the 2017 NFL Season, PlayStation Vue’s deal with Fox 29 did not include the rights to broadcast NFL football. This was a major problem for me. Fox 29 was listed as a streaming option, yet Eagles games were blacked out.
Since streaming Philadelphia sports was a priority for me, we canceled PlayStation Vue and switched to Hulu Plus.
The most attractive aspect of Hulu Plus is convenience. All your content needs are in one place. You can watch full seasons of shows on Hulu and all your live programming on the same app. For $40 a month, Hulu Plus offers over 50 channels on an unlimited amount of screens. You also gain access to Hulu’s original shows like The Handmaid’s Tale.
Hulu Plus offers a great overall content package. It emphasizes sports, but also has solid channel variety. The sports package fits every fan’s basic needs. Hulu Plus carries the Big Ten Network, CBS Sports Network, six ESPN channels, FS1, FS2, NBC Golf, NBCSN, and the Olympic Channel.
NBCS Philadelphia and NBCS + are both offered on Hulu Plus.
In addition to their sports programming, Hulu Plus has the big four networks, and solid basic cable channels likes CW, TNT, USA, and FX. It is not a comprehensive package, but Hulu Plus offers enough big ticket channels to make it worth a look.
Despite this convenience of their package, there are a few major drawbacks to Hulu Plus that make the service expendable.
The format of Hulu Plus is not easy to use. More often than not I found myself frustrated with being unable to find what channels upcoming shows are on.
The biggest downside to Hulu Plus is the quality of its stream. It is terrible. Unlike Sling TV, where the stream fades, Hulu Plus’s stream simply stops and buffers. This occurred more than every once in a while. The stream was frequently interrupted during live broadcasts.
It was excruciating to try and watch sports on Hulu Plus. It is impossible to watch basketball when the stream buffers three times during one trip up the floor. The quality was so poor that we almost made the switch back to cable, but I wanted to try one more service before that.
YouTube TV is a great streaming platform. The service offers over 60 channels for $40 per month. You can also access YouTube’s original programming (Cobra Kai is worth the nostalgia binge). One other great feature of YouTube TV is DVR on all live programming with no limits on cloud storage.
The platform’s interface is easy to use. You can surf channels using the traditional TV guide-style layout.
The quality of YouTube TV’s stream is the best of all the streaming services. It is consistent and rarely stalls. Simple restarts have typically solved the rare problems that I have had with YouTube TV’s broadcasts. YouTube is also available on as many as six devices at once.
The variety of channels offered on YouTube TV is amazing. Each of the big four networks, the CW, FX, and movie channels like AMC are offered on the platform. I am also glad that they carry BBC America, which broadcasts full episodes of The Graham Norton Show every week.
The only downside to YouTube TV is that the service does not have NBCS+. This is not often a problem for Philadelphia sports fans. Most local games air on NBCS Philadelphia. On the occasions that the Phillies, Flyers, and/or Sixers have games scheduled at the same time it can be frustrating to miss out on the action of whichever team you follow most.
YouTube TV is a great way to stream live sports. The service carries four ESPN Channels, FS1, FS2, NBCSN, NBC Sports, TBS, TNT, and the CBS Sports Network. YouTube TV also carries focused sports channels like the MLB Network, the SEC Network, the Big Ten Network, NBC Golf, NBA TV, the Tennis Channel, and the Olympic Channel.
The Best Streaming Service
After almost eighteen months of trying to find a great streaming service, my wife and I have settled on YouTube TV. It is the best streaming service for cord cutters in Philadelphia.
It has the most overall value of any of the services and the streaming quality is reliable. I can even watch a game on my laptop while she binges her own shows without experiencing a downgrade in the stream.
Even with that negative I have been pleased with every aspect of YouTube TV. There were times when we thought about switching back to Comcast or Verizon, but I no longer consider another streaming service or cable. YouTube TV has made the year-plus hunt for a good streaming service worth the effort. I am glad to finally be able to cut the cord on cable television.