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DirectTV vs. Sling vs. PlayStation: Which Live Streaming Service Is Best for You?

We compare DirecTV Now, PlayStation Vue, and Sling TV, three cable alternatives that can make cutting the cord easier.
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The cord-cutting dream sounds great: Just call your cable company and tell it to ax that $100 (or more) entertainment extravaganza you're paying for, then hop online to subscribe to the streaming services of your choice — and save a bundle of cash while doing it.

Reality is a bit more complicated. Many TV watchers want content, like sports and current-run shows, that can be more difficult to find on streaming. Fortunately, streaming services are now bringing both major networks and our favorite cable channels online. Premium channels are becoming easier to stream, too, with subscriptions for HBO and Showtime available on their own or bundled with your streaming package of choice.

The streaming offered by DirecTV Now, PlayStation Vue, and Sling TV can be true cable replacements, offering live and on-demand viewing of your favorite channels. But if you're not careful, it's easy to spend as much on streaming as you did on cable TV. We offer an in-depth comparison of these three services, so you can decide if you should make the switch.

Streaming Content Varies by Location

Before we jump into a straight-up comparison, there are a few things you need to know. Most importantly: What we talk about here may not be exactly what you get. The availability of broadcast networks varies regionally, with many major cities getting live programming and smaller communities only having on-demand access.

As a side effect, this typically means those big cities have a slightly higher price (typically $10 per month) for the extra access. You can expect better coverage from the available cable networks, where you typically have access to both live and on-demand programming.

Wherever you are, these services typically won't give you all the major broadcast channels. CBS, which has its own pay-for streaming service (CBS All Access), is notably absent from everything except PlayStation Vue.

Even if channels are available in your region, you may find additional, sometimes inexplicable restrictions on watching. For example, DirecTV will only stream live NBC programming to mobile and desktop devices — not streaming media players. How much content is available on demand and how long you can watch varies from network to network, too.

SEE ALSO: Tune In and Drop Cable With a Digital Antenna

If you have to have ABC, CBS, The CW, Fox, NBC, and PBS, you'll either need to supplement your streaming service with programming available on the web or an HD antenna to catch live programming. This is the big snag with all current streaming services: None provide complete access to the traditional broadcast networks.

However, they do offer a lot of channels — so let's dig in to what's available.


DirecTV

DirecTV Now

The Rundown

Channels: 60 to 120, with ABC, NBC, Fox, and Telemundo available live in select markets

Cost: $35 to $70 per month, with HBO and Cinemax for an additional $5 each

DVR Features: None, but due to be added in 2017

Stream to: Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, Android and iOS devices, Chromecast, Mac and Windows desktops (Roku coming early 2017)

Number of Streams: Two simultaneously

The latest addition to the streaming lineup, DirecTV Now still feels a bit like a first-gen product — but AT&T is already promising improvements. While it isn't the cheapest option (that's Sling's $20 Orange package), it's definitely the best value with current promotional pricing. Right now, the $35 Go Big package will get you 100-plus channels, including AMC, USA Network, FX, Comedy Central, CNN, Discovery, and ESPN. On top of that, HBO can be added for $5 a month, a nice discount from its $15-a-month stand-alone price.

When that promotional price expires on January 9, those subscribed at the $35 rate can keep it for as long as they maintain their subscription. So if you're signing up for a streaming service now, DirecTV Now's Go Big plan is a great bet for value. However, if you miss the January 9 cutoff, the plan's price will go up to $60.

The biggest miss on DirecTV Now's launch is the lack of Roku support; fortunately, it's set to be added in early 2017.

But the service has some flaws. While it offers ABC, NBC, Fox, and Telemundo, there are only a few cities where you can watch all of them live. Other big markets may get some of those major networks live, while most of the country will only get them on demand. And there's no CBS; DirecTV Now subscribers need to subscribe to CBS All Access (or get an HD antenna) if CBS is a must-have.

You can't pause or record the live content, either, meaning it's a bit like watching live TV before the DVR era, where you had to wait for a commercial break to jump up and grab a drink. AT&T says DVR features are coming in 2017, but there's no word on when.

The biggest miss on DirecTV Now's launch, however, is the lack of Roku support; fortunately, it's set to be added in early 2017. At present, you can watch on Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, Android and iOS devices, Chromecast, and your computer. But ABC won't stream to Internet Explorer 11 on Windows 7, and NBC will only stream to mobile and desktop, rather than your television.


streaming TV

PlayStation Vue

The Rundown

Channels: 45 to 90, with ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC available live in select markets

Cost: $30 to $65 per month, with premium channels like HBO and Showtime available for retail price (though both are included in the $65 Ultra Slim package)

DVR Features: Cloud DVR will automatically record your favorite shows for 28 days, whether they're available on demand or not

Stream to: Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, Android and iOS devices, Android TV, Chromecast, PlayStation 3 and 4, Roku, Mac and Windows desktops

Number of Streams: Five simultaneously

Despite the name, PlayStation Vue isn't just for people who own Sony's PlayStation console. Instead, it's a full-fledged streaming service that you can access from your computer and most streaming media players. Its $30-a-month Access Slim plan includes a solid selection of channels, but most notable is CBS (at least in some regions), which you won't find on any other service.

The 90-channel, $65-a-month Ultra Slim may actually be the best value though, because it includes HBO and Showtime — which would otherwise cost you an extra $26 every month. Depending on which channels you want, you could save money by jumping up to the Ultra plan instead of tossing in add-on packages. Ultra is discounted to $55 a month for anyone subscribing by January 5, with the price guaranteed for a year — making it practically a steal.

SEE ALSO: How to Cut the Cable Cord: 6 Steps to Stream TV and Save Money

In addition to HBO ($15) and Showtime ($11), you can buy a number of other add-ons: Cinemax ($15), Epix ($4, included in Elite and Ultra), an Epix and Showtime bundle ($14), a Spanish language bundle ($5), NFL RedZone ($40 per season), Fox Soccer Plus ($15), Machinima ($2, included in Elite and Ultra), and Polaris ($3, included in Elite and Ultra). While these extras will run up your costs, you'll find a number of them bundled in higher-price packages, meaning upgrading may be cheaper than adding them.

The sports offerings on Vue are particularly good, with ESPN included in the base package and NFL Network, NBA TV, NBC Golf, and more sports-specific channels added in the $35 Core package. Plus, having CBS gives you access to NFL coverage — at least if you're in an area that can stream CBS live.

PlayStation Vue is also the only cable alternative to include DVR functionality at present. You can pause, fast-forward, and rewind — though some programming restricts this, and you can only pause live TV for five minutes. Any shows you add to "My Shows" will automatically be recorded and stored for 28 days, even if they aren't available on demand. While watching with Vue isn't exactly like watching cable with a DVR, it's a reasonable approximation.


stream TV

Sling TV

The Rundown

Channels: 30 to 50, with numerous add-on packages, including Fox and NBC in select markets and ABC for an additional fee ($5 as part of the Broadcast Extra package)

Cost: $20 to $40 per month, with extra channel packages available for $5 to $15 each and premium channels available at retail price

DVR Features: Currently in beta

Stream to: Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, Android and iOS devices, Android TV, Chromecast, Roku, Mac and Windows desktops, Xbox One

Number of Streams: One for Sling Orange, three simultaneously for Blue, and four for Orange + Blue

Sling TV is the budget option of the bunch, starting at just $20 a month. Sling offers two basic packages: Orange ($20 for 30-plus channels) and Blue ($25 for 40-plus channels). But unlike DirecTV and Vue, in which each price tier adds channels to the previous tier, Sling Orange and Sling Blue are totally different packages. Though the two have some overlap — both offer AMC and CNN, but only Orange has ESPN and only Blue has Fox — if you want everything, you'll need to subscribe to both and get 50 channels for $40 a month.

If you stick to Orange or Blue you're getting a decent value, but the value of the 50 channels in the $40 Orange + Blue package is more iffy. After all, Vue offers 90 channels for $45.

Sling remains the best budget buy out there for viewers who just need a few channels.

The value proposition gets even worse when you start looking at Sling's add-on packages. These bundles of specialty channels range from $5 to $15 for anywhere from one to 27 channels. With 19 channel bundles and three premium channels — HBO ($15), Cinemax ($10), and Starz ($9) — available, your price can really jump up. Sling does offer a wide variety of regional bundles, with more than 40 Spanish language channels as well as packages of Chinese, Hindi, Urdu, and Italian language channels. However, some are simply channels that are already included in DirecTV and Vue's lineup — like ABC, ESPNU, Disney XD, and CNBC.

Sling was the first service to make cable networks easily available to cord cutters, but with competition heating up, Sling has fallen somewhat behind its rivals. Still, it remains the best budget buy out there for viewers who just need a few channels.

Is It Time to Cut the Cord?

So is it time to give cable up for one of these services? Streaming has definitely reached the point where it's a viable alternative, but you'll need to check that the channels you want are available and review the costs before making a decision. Each service does offer a one-week free trial, so you can check them out to see if they'll work for you — just remember to cancel before you get billed if they aren't a good fit — and be aware that promotional pricing ends soon for several of these plans.

Readers, have you tried any of these three streaming services? If so, what are your thoughts? Would you recommend one over the others? Let us know in the comments below!


Contributing Writer

Originally working in IT, Elizabeth now writes on tech, gaming, and general consumer issues. Her articles have appeared in USA Today, Time, AOL, PriceGrabber, and more. She has been one of DealNews' most regular contributors since 2013, researching everything from vacuums to renters insurance to help consumers.
DealNews may be compensated by companies mentioned in this article. Please note that, although prices sometimes fluctuate or expire unexpectedly, all products and deals mentioned in this feature were available at the lowest total price we could find at the time of publication (unless otherwise specified).
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16 comments
johnfischer23
The point that everyone seems to be missing is that the key to cord cutting is getting a decent over the air signal. I actually cut the cord years back, before the term came into use. There are many ways to get an over the air signal, and they don't have to be very complicated. I live in the Milwaukee metro, about 25 miles from the tower farm. A quite modest outdoor antenna, with a preamp, does the job quite nicely for me. I also use a distribution amp, because I am routing the signal throughout the house. I am now getting just short of 50 services over the air, with channels and subchannels. The winegard flatwave indoor antenna can also do a nice job, as long as your're not in a basement. As always, your milage may vary, but once you do this, you can look at streaming services as a supplement, rather than your main source of content. I've built a computer to handle dvr functions, and to supply the streaming services.
inreno777
I've tried sling tv and playstation vue and neither one is doing anything different than their high priced counterparts. My objections are the useless channels they force on you e.g., telemundo, ESPN, along with a slew of streaming channels I will never watch and don't like. Until these corporations give me the power to choose which channelsi want to pay for, I won't give them a dime of my money.
brent copeland
I've used all 3 and find Playstation Vue the best.

DirecTVNow could be the best once they fix the stability issues and add DVR functionality. WIthout the DVR there's really no use in using any of them. Who wants to go back to the days of having to be there when the shows air.
richmosher
Hi. Thanks for compiling this information. Please address the computer hardware/internet speed to let us know how much of each is required for streaming to be buffer-free. We've tried streaming Amazon Prime on an old MacBook, and a small Celeron-based notebook, and neither was adequate, the buffering was unbearable. Things worked pretty well using a 2012 MacBook Pro, but that machine can't always be available for entertainment. We supposedly have top-speed Internet from Spectrum (TWC), but I can't see cutting the cord unless I can set up everything so it will work without anguish. A little bit of stink at the wrong time can really make one regret trying so hard to save a few bucks.
kurt lofgren
I have both the Apple TV and Roku and the free Playstation for a week. The Apple TV has a nice gird displaying the channels and Roku has the channels displayed like apps and it is not even in alphabetical order. I contacted Roku and they said to contact Playstation to try to get a change.
sprill
I have the Sling $20 package in Michigan and have it because they offer a choice between ESPN or local sports on Fox.

Getting the Detroit Tiger and Red Wings games on Fox Sports Detroit was key to me cutting the cord and Sling started to offer this in early 2016.
cunnida
Currently, we have 3-month subscriptions to both DirectTV Now and Sling TV. Essential features included support for our Apple TV. However, based on performance, we would only keep Sling TV. We have yet to make it through a 30 minute DirectTV Now show without having "xxx is having problems try again later". We never have that problem with Sling TV. While I think DirectTV Now has a better user interface, I am not convinced their service is ready for prime time. Almost like early days of Netflix or Acorn...full of stops and starts.
yenat
I've had PS Vue since November and generally like it although it takes some getting used to. I like the online DVR but it can be a bit awkward. Suppose you see that your favorite episode of MASH is coming on at 2 am and you want to record it to watch it later. You can't just record that one episode, you have to record the whole series.

Another consideration is your streaming device. There is NO program guide on Roku for PS Vue which really sucks. There is with Amazon Fire which is a good thing. The catch with the Fire is that the stick apparently only does 30fps with PSV. The new Fire TV box does 60 fps with Vue so I've read.
slatevt
(Part 2 due to the 1000 character limit)


Of the three, I personally think that the DirectTV Now interface is probably the best but their streaming quality is the worst of the 3. I consistently get DirecTV's blue caching box as the content tries to catch up with the stream. This does NOT happen with Sling for the same channels. (I currently have both.) This may just be an issue of the service being brand new for ATT and they are working out the bugs(?). feature.

And it should be noted that if you are an ATT cell phone customer, you can stream ATT via your cell data plan without counting against your data limit. A very nice feature.
slatevt
One thing missing in the Playstation View review section is their "home network" streaming limitation. While you get 5 simultaneous streams you can only stream to ONE location. So you can't watch your TV while on vacation or at some other location. So if some big breaking news story happens and you want to check it out from work or on the road, you can't do it. For me this is a show stopper. While I liked their DVR feature (lacking in the other two), I found Playstations interface to be "clunky" and the worst of the three. I think Sony is missing the mark as to how people want to watch TV these days.

With the Sling interface there is also the lack of a time zone settings for the guide. I'm on the East coast and only get West coast times for shows. It's also inconsistent when it comes to the location of the show that is currently playing on a station. With some channels it's all the way to the left and others its dead center in the middle. Not terrible but annoying.
fcastro
All you need is an Amazon firestick with kodi, bang every piece of content out there. So long as the build you have is maintained, you will not need cable.
jake2011
Big Vue advantage. You get network app access opens a lot of extra content. Can watch Sunday night Football if you don't get live Nbc. Will be able to watch the super bowl on fox sports go . Sling ad Now don't have this.
eyeseeyou
As an apple tv user, the single sign-on functionality, streaming to up to 3 devices and possibly DVR capabilities coming soon I might not renew my DirectTV Go subscription once my pre paid 3 months are up.
from50613
I was a cord cutter and went back. The cost was the same - the product was not.

Cord Cutting:
$10 Netflix
$8 Hulu+
$40 Sling
$15 Local Cable Package (to get discount on internet)
$73 Total

Dish Network
$75 for 240 channels plus DVR

I will be Amazon Prime regardless, and their movie/show package is decent. Now, the benefit is that I DVR the shows I want, flip the channels, and the Hopper3 is fast and responsive. It is not switching between services trying to find who has the show and wondering if I get it. I know the total cost is slightly higher, but it just works better.

What I do miss is we would turn on/off services to save some $$$ and to have new content when we came back. I do like having sports, but after a 4 year cord cutting break I don't like sports like I used to. The future is streaming, but right now the advantage is with cable.
RBC3
I have the $35 Playstation Vue and love it so far.

I am running it on a 2nd generation Amazon Fire TV, and it runs really well. There are occasional hiccups, but nothing that makes me regret saving almost $100 a month compared to DirecTV!! I locks up very rarely, and the 2nd gen Fire TV has a high FPS for live sports.

My biggest complaint with it is there is no live local channels in my area, but they do have ABC, NBC, and Fox on demand. CBS is not available on demand, and CBS wants to charge over $5 a month for access to their content via their app. (Note to CBS, I will never pay you that much when you provide it free over the air!!) They also lost Comedy Central and other Viacom channels, which was a big blow for me.

I recommend this package and think it is the best bet for the money.
datsun2
I have Sling and it needs work.

First, the "Guide" is completely worthless. Every time you want to see what is on, you have to look by channel, plus it has to load each time you change channels (FYI, it isn't quick). Why can't they have this updated all the time?

Second, it crashes my Roku about once a day.

Third, I don't get any local channels.

On the good side, it is cheap.

I'll subscribe for DirecTV's while they have the discounted price and hope they get a Roku app quick. (How do you not launch with Roku?)

Hope that helps.
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