What Is the Best Cable Streaming Service Now?
I watch a lot of television, and given how much TV I watch (and how easily it cuts into sleep), I have become obsessed with efficiency. I also need a lot of DVR capabilities to keep up with all that I watch; I hate sitting through commercials; I want to be able to watch on any device; I have kids, so it needs to be accessible on more that one device; and I’m an online writer by profession, therefore I’m not exactly loaded, so cost is also important.
I’ve gone back and forth between streaming cable and traditional cable, and I have tried most of the various streaming cable options (except for DirectTV, which gets uniformly terrible grades), and my heart has found a new winner. YouTube TV.
Two years ago, I cut the cord for the first time, mostly out of spite toward Time Warner. It’s also incredibly expensive — I paid about $100 a month for cable service (which includes HBO, Showtime, and Starz), and I invariably navigate to the top tier package because of that one channel with that one show I feel like I need to watch. Given the number of television options, that’s dumb, especially when that one show on that one channel can usually be seen by other (legal) means.
Anyway, I started with Sling TV. It was fine. The base package is the cheapest package of them all, and that’s where I started, but they have an Orange and a Blue package, and I found that there were channels I wanted on each, so I inevitably upgraded to both, then added various other package add-ons, and before I knew it, Sling TV was running me $50 a month even before HBO, Showtime, and Starz. At the time, it didn’t have DVR service, which was maddening for me, because I’d either have to watch a show live or wait until the next morning and watch On-Demand. I hate watching things On Demand because of the goddamn commercials. They do have a DVR service now, I understand, but contractually, it does not work with several networks, which would prefer that viewers watch On-Demand the next day. That’s problematic, because I like to start watching TV around 10 p.m., and for some channels, I can’t watch that night’s shows until the next day.
But honestly: The biggest problem I found with Sling TV was the buffering. That may have since improved, but even with the best Internet service, I ran into a frustrating number of glitches, especially during Peak Time. I also hated that broadcast networks weren’t available in my area, except On Demand, so if I wanted to watch something live, like the Oscars or the Super Bowl, I had to use an antenna. Antennas don’t work work for shit in my area, so I found myself watching the Oscars on shitty YouTube streams that pirates probably set up.
Eventually, I gave up the Sling TV and moved over to Playstation Vue. As far as channel options, Vue is the best. It’s also the most expensive — when all is said and done, it’s not that much cheaper than traditional cable. Between traditional cable and Playstation Vue, I actually preferred cable, mostly because I hated using a Playstation controller to operate my television. The DVR service was fine, but not that responsive with the controller, and if I forgot to plug in the controller for a few days, I couldn’t change the damn channel because the battery would have run out. Plus, for whatever reason, it logged me out fairly frequently, so I’d have to type in my username and password again with a Playstation controller. It was a pain in the ass.
Also, at the time I had Vue, broadcast networks were only available in select markets (that, I understand, has changed). But Vue had the same issues with its DVR: For some channels, it just didn’t work, and if I wanted to watch, say, The Good Place and start 10 minutes after it aired and fast forward through the ads, that wasn’t possible.
Overall, Vue is a great service for most people. Ultimately, however, since I was paying a comparable amount for Playstation Vue as I was for traditional cable, the hassles associated with it weren’t enough to outweigh the cons of cable (mainly, I just loved cable’s sweet, sweet DVR service). So, eventually, I switched back to cable after Spectrum took over Time Warner and bundling with Internet ultimately made cable a better buy.
But I also still don’t love cable, and not just because it’s owned by a huge conglomerate. The DVR is great, but I can’t use the DVR on any other devices — it’s only available on the TV through the cable box. Also, a lot of live channels aren’t available if I’m away from my home. Plus, with 400 channels, I’m never going to remember which channel Nick Jr. is on when my kids watch to watch it, so I end up scrolling through the interface to find the right channel. Finally, while this is not necessarily a problem with most people, I have kids, which means the remote control is always hidden under a couch cushion, or in a room on the other side of the house, so I have to build in five minutes of remote searching every time I want to watch TV. You have no idea how many times this has led to, “F*ck it! I’ll watch it on Hulu tomorrow.”
I got fed up with cable again, and last week, I gave Hulu Live TV a shot. It’s great, especially if you’re already familiar with Hulu. Bumping your package from $12 to $44 still saves a lot of money over cable, and it has a great Cloud-based DVR service for $5. However, you have to pay an extra $15 for the Enhanced DVR service if you actually want to skip through the commercials on television that you record. That’s annoying, because by that point, you’re paying $65 for cable.
I might have paid the extra $15 and stuck with Hulu TV anyway, because it’s a familiar, it has convenient interface, and I already watch a lot of TV on Hulu, but Hulu TV has one critical issue that was ultimately a deal breaker for me: They don’t have AMC. Whenever I look at these services, the first things I look for are: Does it have FX, AMC, and the broadcast networks? Anything else, I can work around, but those six channels are critical, if only for the ability to watch The Walking Dead and Better Call Saul live. It’s insane that Hulu doesn’t carry the network with the biggest show on cable.
Finally, I switched to YouTube TV. I adore it. First off, it has almost all the channels I’d like. TBS, TNT, and CNN are not available, but that’s not a deal-breaker for me (of those, I only watch one show with regularity: The Detour (which eventually shows up on Hulu) (Samantha Bee I can watch online when Emily posts the clips the next day). MSNBC is available, so I can easily live without CNN, not that I watch much cable news.
But the best part is the interface and the DVR service. It’s unlimited DVR service; you can fast forward through all the commercials (and it even has a convenient 15-second forward button), and the interface is beautiful and incredibly easy to navigate. You find a show you watch, you click the + button, and it will be recorded for you forever. You can watch easily from you phone, iPad or laptop, although you will need Chromecast to watch on your television (it’s cheap, it’s small, and it allows you to watch Netflix and Hulu on your TV, anyway). I love the fast-forwarding capability — it’s even easier than using the remote on traditional cable TV since you can just point or click to where you want the show to fast-forward to on your screen. I’ll also never have to do On-Demand again — every show that I watch will be immediately accessible and I can fast-forward through them.
It’s $35, which makes it more than the base package from Sling but less than Vue, but even if you add Showtime, HBO, and Starz stand-alone services, it’s considerably less expensive than cable. Moreover, it allows you to watch it on up to three devices at the same time (so I can watch The X-Files on my laptop, my son can watch Fresh off the Boat on his iPad, and my daughters can watch Phineas and Ferb on the TV. Brilliant!). You also get YouTube Red included, which means I’ll finally be able to watch Ryan Hansen Solves Crimes on Television.
Downsides besides no TNT, TBS, CNN (or History Channel)? There’s fewer options for the kids, but if you’ve got Netflix/Amazon/Hulu, do you you really need Nick Jr.? (Besides, PBS Kids is free).
tl;dr: If you’re tired of traditional cable, or annoyed with your current streaming cable service, give YouTube TV a shot. There’s a 7-day free trial, and I suspect that by the end of the 7 days, you will have switched.