If you’ve been thinking about cutting the cable-TV cord, you might be in for a rude awakening: Live-TV streaming services, which aim to take cable’s place, are not inexpensive — and prices are on the rise.
Indeed, in recent months, DirecTV Now, Hulu with Live TV and YouTube TV have all seen. With rare exception, a live-TV service will now cost you $45-$50 per month. That’s pretty close to what many cable providers charge for a basic-TV addition to your internet service.
Thankfully, you have two options that cost considerably less: AT&T WatchTV and Philo. For as little as $15 per month, you can stream dozens of live stations.
AT&T WatchTV vs. Philo
|service||monthly fee||number of channels||on-demand titles||how to sign up|
|AT&T WatchTV||$15; free for AT&T Unlimited & More customers||40||15,000||See it at AT&T|
|Philo||$20||58||25,000||See it at Philo|
OK, but how do these two compare with each other? Is there a clear winner in the battle for cheap live-TV streaming? Let’s take a look at the features and benefits — and whether either of these services stands up to those costing 2-3 times more.
At $15 per month, AT&T WatchTV is currently the single cheapest live-TV streaming service on the market. Sweeter still, if you happen to be an AT&T Unlimited & More customer, the service is included at no extra charge.
Until recently, Philo offered two packages: $16 and $20 per month, the latter offering additional channels (see below). However, starting May 6, the $16 plan is going away, leaving you with only the $20 option. That definitely makes Philo the pricier of the two services — though if you hurry, you can still.
Winner: AT&T WatchTV
To evaluate these two services, we need to look at not only the number of channels offered, but which channels.
Philo has a higher count: 58 total (as part of the aforementioned $20 package) to AT&T’s 40. Even if you have the $16 Philo plan, you get 45 channels.
As for content, both services offer most of the major cable networks: A&E, AMC, Comedy Central, Food Network, HGTV, History, IFC, Sundance and so on. But Philo is missing CNN, TBS, TCM and TNT, all of which are offered by AT&T. Instead, Philo gets a little more niche with channels like Aspire, BET Her, Cooking and Discovery Family.
Ultimately, I think AT&T wins the quality award while Philo wins on quantity. But neither service gives you local stations or sports channels, which may be dealbreakers for some cord-cutters. Pricier services like Hulu with Live TV and YouTube TV do give you locals and sports — for a much higher monthly fee, of course.
DVR and on-demand content
The whole notion of live TV is starting to feel rather old-fashioned. These days, when we want to watch something, we just stream it on-demand. However, while AT&T WatchTV and Philo both have large libraries of on-demand content (15,000 and 25,000 titles, respectively), you can’t rely on that for everything.
Indeed, suppose you want to catch every episode of The History Channel’s Forged in Fire right after it airs. For that you’ll need a DVR option, which basically records selected shows for you to view later (just like a cable-TV or TiVo DVR).
Thankfully, there’s no extra hardware required; streaming services’ DVRs employ cloud storage.
Unfortunately, AT&T doesn’t offer a DVR option for WatchTV. But Philo does, and it’s included at no extra charge. It’s also unlimited, meaning you can record all the shows you want — though recordings do expire after 30 days.
Number of simultaneous streams
How many people can watch at once? This may not matter if it’s just you and your TV, but if you live in a multiperson and/or multiscreen household, it’s something to consider.
AT&T WatchTV limits you to just one stream at a time. Philo supports three at a time. That’s a big difference, and another point in Philo’s favor.
Apps and availability
A big question to ask yourself before choosing any streaming service: Where do you want to watch? Phone and/or tablet? On the couch in front of the TV? At your computer during the workday?
You might expect AT&T WatchTV and Philo to have all these bases covered, but one of them falls short.
Philo works in any web browser and has apps for Apple TV, Android, Android TV, Fire TV, iOS and Roku. But AT&T inexplicably has no Roku app, and Windows users can watch only in the Chrome browser. (On Macs, the service works in Chrome or Safari.) I can’t imagine any Roku user choosing WatchTV at this point.
It’s also worth noting that if you’re watching on mobile, you must have a live internet connection; neither of the apps, for either service, supports offline viewing.
Although AT&T WatchTV has a lower price and a slightly better selection of channels, Philo is my pick for the best cheap live-TV streaming service. Its key advantages: three simultaneous streams (versus AT&T’s one) and unlimited DVR (versus AT&T’s none). And as a Roku user, WatchTV simply isn’t a service I’d choose.
On the other hand, cord-cutters who want no-frills live TV and the cheapest possible price may find WatchTV a perfectly good choice. For just $15 you get plenty of great channels and substantial library of on-demand content. And, obviously, if you’re an AT&T wireless subscriber, double-check to see if you’re eligible to receive AT&T WatchTV for free.
It’s worth noting that Sling TV has live-TV streaming packages that start at $25 per month (actually,), though you’re faced with choosing between Sling Orange (34 channels) and Sling Blue (49 channels). Each one has some sports in the mix and can also stream to devices like game consoles and Oculus VR headsets. If you want Orange and Blue, your cost rises to $40 monthly. And DVR is optional; it adds another $5 per month.
Now that you know the pros and cons of these two super-cheap live-TV services, which one do you think you’d choose?
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