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Ready to cut cable but want to keep live sports, news and originals? Here's how.

Hulu Plus Live TV is our No.2 pick.

Sarah Tew/CNET

What streaming TV services won't give you

Streaming TV services are great, but there are some things they can't do compared to a traditional cable box. 

First, it's worth looking at the channels that you can't get with any of these services. For example, only one of the services offers PBS -- YouTube TV -- and this is because the broadcaster reportedly hadn't acquired the streaming rights to all of the shows it airs. 

With sports returning from the pandemic-enforced hiatus, fans will want to make sure they can follow their teams. Most services carry ESPN and local channels for NFL football, but if you follow a professional baseball or basketball team, you might need their specific channel -- called a regional sports network or RSN -- to watch regular season games. RSN coverage varies widely for each service.

Every live TV service's video streaming is a few seconds to a minute or more behind the "live" stream you'll get from your local cable or satellite provider. That means you could get a preview of scores or big plays from Twitter, phone alerts or phone calls from friends slightly before you see the action on screen.

If you're used to 5.1-channel surround offered by cable or even OTA, then you'll probably be disappointed that all of the services only include stereo sound on live broadcasts. 5.1 audio is available on some on-demand material, though.

Don't care about live TV? More cord-cutter staples

HBO's Mare of Easttown is one of 2021's best shows.

HBO

In 2021 streaming fans have more choices than ever, including NBC/Comcast's Peacock, AT&T's HBO Max, Apple TV Plus and Disney Plus. While Peacock differs in that it has live news the other services lack traditional live channels -- focusing instead on back catalogs and new original programming -- but they can still eat into your entertainment budget.

Netflix: One of the first streaming TV services and it's so popular that it's become a catch-all term in the same way as "Magic Marker" or "Coke" in the South. And then, of course, there's the ever-popular "Netflix and chill." High-definition plans start at $14 a month, and the service covers thousands of TV shows and movies, including original TV series like The Queen's Gambit and Stranger Things. Then there's Netflix original movies like Army of the Dead and The Irishman. 

See it at Netflix

Amazon Prime Video: The "other" major streaming service, which is included as part of a $99 annual Prime Membership or $9 a month. The interface isn't as user-friendly as Netflix, but the service also offers shows not on its rival, including original content like The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and The Expanse. Amazon Prime also has the ability to add premium channels (HBO and Showtime and more), making it a potential one-stop shop.

See it at Amazon

Disney Plus' Loki premiere on June 9 was the most-watched on the streaming service.

Disney Plus

Disney Plus: One of the biggest streaming services to launch in some time, Disney has gathered a mix of movies, TV shows and exclusive content, including Loki, The Mandalorian and WandaVision, for $8 a month. Read our Disney Plus review here.

See it at Disney

Paramount Plus: Recently renamed from CBS All Access, Paramount Plus costs $5 a month, or ad-free for $10 a month The service offers live TV (in some cities), sports and on-demand content from CBS, MTV, BET, Comedy Central, Nickelodeon and Paramount Network, plus its Paramount Pictures movie studio. Paramount Plus also offers exclusive originals such as Star Trek: Discovery, Picard and the Good Fight.

See it at Paramount Plus

Vudu/Movies Anywhere: Digital libraries (or lockers) that incorporate legacy UltraViolet content and streaming movies and TV that are only available for purchase, such as new releases.

See it at Vudu

Peacock: Now live nationwide, Peacock is NBC's answer to Paramount Plus. Its main claim to fame is that its basic tier, with 7,500 hours of content, is free. Peacock Premium unlocks more content for $5 a month while an ad-lite version called Peacock Premium Plus is $10 monthly.

See it at Peacock

It's also worth investigating free, ad-supported services such as Roku Channel, IMDb TV, TuBi TV, Pluto and Crackle, which offer a wealth of content. Read CNET's roundup of free TV services here.

Is an indoor or outdoor antenna a viable option?

If you have a TV in your house -- that is, a screen that incorporates a tuner -- you're part-way to cutting the cord already. An affordable indoor antenna hooked up to your TV will let you watch free TV over the air from any channel you receive in your local broadcast area. Antennas cost as little as $10. See our comparison of indoor antennas here.

You can also add a DVR such as the Amazon Fire TV Recast or TiVo Edge for Antenna if you want. Then you can record those live TV antenna channels, play them back and skip commercials, just like on a standard cable TV DVR. Here's CNET's roundup of the best OTA DVRs for cord-cutters.

A solid, lower-cost alternative to live TV streaming services is the combination of an antenna for live local channels and an on-demand service such as Netflix or Hulu. That way you'll still be able to watch live programming and also have a choice of on-demand content.

Amazon's Fire TV Recast DVR is a cord-cutting antenna user's friend.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Conclusion: Try it yourself

Streaming live TV services are still in flux. Since launch, every service has increased its prices by at least $5 a month, channel selections and cities with local channel access are changing all the time, and reports persist about some services losing money, or even closing in the case of T-Mobile's TVision. While streaming is undoubtedly the future, and cable the past, it will be some time before both prices and the services offered settle in.

That said, if you want a cable-like experience both at home and for on-the-go devices, without the dead weight that a cable subscription brings, then a streaming service is worth a look. There's no contract to sign, and if you don't like the service you're on, you can easily switch. So whether you're looking for a basic package such as Sling TV or want to pay more for a deluxe experience from the likes of YouTube TV, there should be a streaming TV service to suit you.

More streaming advice

  • Best DVR for cord-cutters who use an OTA antenna
  • Free movies: 10 Netflix alternatives that will keep you entertained 
  • 38 of the best TV shows to watch on Hulu
  • Best TV antennas for cord-cutters, starting at just $10
  • Best TV for 2021
  • 20 Google Chromecast streaming tips and tricks
  • Best universal remotes for 2021
  • Best 75-inch TVs for 2021
  • Best streaming device in 2021: Roku, Apple TV, Fire Stick, Chromecast and more
  • Budget hack: Replace Netflix and other pricey subscriptions with these free versions
  • 22 of the best TV shows to watch on Amazon Prime Video
  • The 9 best TV series you can watch free on Peacock and other services
  • Best cheap internet providers of 2021
 



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