Image: Screenshot

Hulu’s riding high thanks to the critical success of its original miniseries, The Handmaid’s Tale, so now is the perfect time for it to follow up a great show with some good news. The TV provider is now giving subscribers access to live TV potentially as good as the stuff your cable provider pipes in. While Hulu was one of the first companies to provide next-day viewing of shows online (sans cable subscription), it’s arriving late to the live TV online gig. Sony, DirectTV, and Dish Network were all there before Hulu. So let’s break down exactly what the hell you’re getting from each of these live TV suppliers, and how Hulu stacks up.

Sling TV

Dish Network’s Sling TV is currently the cheapest live TV offering. It starts at $20 a month, half the price of Hulu’s Live TV service. Yet it also has far fewer channels. With the $20 Sling TV service (Sling Orange) you get 30 channels of the most basic cable.

Sling Orange gives you ESPN. (Image: Screenshot)

There’s ESPN for your sportsing and AMC for your zombie murder, and a small taste of the wide range of channels offered to subscribers who are willing to pay more.

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Sling TV, apparently wanting to make sure you don’t forget how tedious choosing a cable package is, helpfully offers multiple packages. Besides Sling Orange, there’s the $25 Sling Blue, which gives you Fox Sports, but denies you ESPN. If you’re not into sports, it has the more robust offering of channels, giving you 45 total.

Sling Blue takes away ESPN, but gives you Fox Sports. (Image: Screenshot)

If you are into sports then you have to throw down a minimum $45 for both Sling Orange and Blue. There’s some crossover, so despite paying for two services you’ll only get 50 channels total. Additional channels, including HBO, MTV, and Turner Classic Movies, can only be added piecemeal through additional packages that range in price from $5 to $15 more a month.

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Add in the fact that Sling offers no opportunities for streaming local TV and the fact that service can be excruciatingly spotty during popular TV watching times, and Sling TV, the first live TV service to market, looks like a bad old deal.

Price: $45

Channels: 50

Local channels? No.

Can I DVR? Yes.

Platforms: Chromecast, iOS, tvOS, Amazon Fire, Android Mobile OS, Android TV OS, Roku, Xbox One, LG TV


DirecTV Now

DirecTV Now has more channels than you’ll probably ever need, and more packages too. (Image: Screenshot)

Dish Network’s biggest competitor for space on your roof introduced its own live TV service late last year, and on price and channel options alone DirecTV Now trounces Sling TV. For the $35 “Live a Little” package you get 60 channels, including local ones. Price, and number of channels, goes up from there. $50 gets you the 80 channel “Just Right” package, while $60 gets you the 100 channel “Go Big” package. If you really miss paying for cable, you can splurge on the $70 “Gotta Have It” package, which gives you 120 channels you will probably rarely watch.

But a big round number is the only thing DirecTV Now has going for it. The service is available on far fewer platforms (there’s no Roku app or Android TV app), service can be spotty, and there’s zero DVR functionality. You can either watch shows live or hope DirecTV has them on demand.

For the same price as DirecTV Now, you’d be better off getting traditional cable, forgoing the cable box, and just streaming the stuff through the cable company’s set-top box app.

Price: $35

Channels: 60

Local channels? Yes.

Can I DVR? No.

Platforms: Chromecast, iOS, tvOS, Amazon Fire, Android Mobile OS

Sony PS Vue

PS Vue definitely has the priciest planes available, but the Core plan hits a sweet spot most viewers will be fine with. (Image: Screenshot)

Until Hulu Live TV went into beta today, there was really only one choice for a cordcutter who wanted quality cable TV-like action without the cable TV-like price: Sony’s live TV offering, PS Vue, was the second major live TV service to market, and it’s currently the best. The reliability and quality will cost you.

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PS Vue has just 45 channels for the $40 Access plan, but besides mainstays like ESPN, Fox Sports, and AMC, your $40 also gives you most local channels. Going up to the $45 Core plan gets you 60 channels, the $55 Elite plan gives you 90 channels, and the $75 Ultra plan throws in HBO and Showtime.

But it isn’t the offering of channels that has engendered us to PS Vue over the years—It’s the quality of the service. Streams rarely bug out or get choppy, as they do with Sling TV and DirecTV Now, and the service can be used on more devices than the other two. While originally available only on Playstation 3 and 4 consoles, PS Vue can now be used on every major streaming box, mobile device, and the web. It also has both DVR and on-demand viewing capabilities.

Price: $45

Channels: 60

Local channels? Yes.

Can I DVR? Yes.

Platforms: Chromecast, iOS, tvOS, Amazon Fire, Android Mobile OS, Android TV OS, Roku, Playstation 3, Playstation 4

Hulu Live TV

Image: Hulu

Hulu Live TV is a slightly different beast from the other three live TV services, because it’s technically a spin off of the popular Hulu TV on-demand service which has been competing with Netflix and Crackle by producing a lot of original content. So for $40, you’ll get 50 channels of live TV, including local channels, ESPN, and TNT (for all your Rizzoli & Isles reruns and sports needs), but you’ll also get all of Hulu’s original content, including The Handmaid’s Tale. AMC, where The Walking Dead lives, is noticeably absent from the channel lineup.

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Hulu Live TV will include a Hulu subscription, so if you’re already watching content on demand on Hulu you can continue to watch it. Yet if you want to avoid commercials in your on-demand content, you’ll need to drop an additional $4 a month, and if you want to DVR more than 50 hours of live content you’ll have to drop $15 a month. That will give you 200 hours, which is about 10 full seasons of a network show.

Hulu is already a service crucial to many people’s cordcutting plans, so it’s no surprise that the new service is available on most major set-top boxes, including Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, and Roku. The only box that seems to be missing is Android TV, which is used by Sony TVs as well as the Nvidia Shields.

While Hulu Live TV sounds appealing, particularly compared to Sling TV or DirecTV Now, it still can’t compete with PS Vue for cost or function, and the lack of AMC or the ability to bundle HBO in means many viewers will still have to go elsewhere if they want to watch the two most popular dramas on air today.

Price: $40

Channels: 50

Local channels? Yes.

Can I DVR? Yes.

Platforms: Chromecast, iOS, tvOS, Amazon Fire, Android Mobile OS, Roku, Xbox One


Correction: We incorrectly said DVR support in Hulu Live TV cost an additional $15. Hulu Live TV comes with 50 hours of DVR support. The $15 monthly fee increases that to 200 hours.