Free and cheap alternatives to cable and satellite TV

Video Streaming Services
Sept 13, 2017 By Brian Shim

More and more, we are seeing the cable TV monopoly crumbling. Movie channels and sports that used to be exclusively on cable are now becoming available for a lot less through the Internet streaming services I describe below.

You can watch most of these on your computer with an Internet connection, or on your TV connected to a game box, smart DVD player, or streaming player like Roku, Chromecast, Amazon Fire TV, or Apple TV. Some have a subscription model, while others let you purchase or rent individual movies or shows.

Check out my Internet TV Remote control with links to free content online.

Live TV Streaming Services

These services offer live TV, just like cable. Some offer on-demand programming as well. An internet connection is required for all of these services.

Sling TV: The Solution for Sports / AMC / History Channel

For the longest time, when people asked me about how to get sports without cable, the only answer I had was to get local sports using an antenna. But, if you were in an area with no reception, or wanted something other than local sports, you were stuck with cable TV. Well, now there's Sling TV, which offers ESPN, ESPN2, and a few other channels including AMC ("The Walking Dead"!), A&E, History Channel, TNT, and HGTV (12 total) for only $20/month with no contract. Sling TV streams through the Internet to your computer or Amazon Fire TV, Roku, or iOS/Android device. If you need ESPN but don't want to pay for cable TV, this is the way to go!

Note, this is a professional review site that receives compensation from the retailer or manufacturer when you purchase through the affiliate links such as the ones below. I test and/or research each product or service thoroughly before endorsing it. This site is independently owned and the opinions expressed here are my own.

Sony Playstation Vue: Lots of Cable Channels For $40/month

Sony Playstation Vue is an online video streaming service which offers lots of cable channels (similar to Sling) starting at $40/month. And no, you don't need to have a Sony Playstation. You can watch Vue on other devices including Amazon Fire, iOS and Chromecast (but no Roku yet).

Many people have asked me for a way to watch Fox News without cable. This is it! Here's a complete list of channels they currently offer with every plan: AMC, Animal Planet, BET, Bravo, Cartoon Network, CMT, CNBC, CNN, Comedy Central, Destination America, Discovery, Discovery Family, Disney Channel, Disney Junior, Disney XD, diy Network, E!, ESPN, ESPN2, Esquire Network, Food Network, Fox Business, Fox News Channel, FREEFORM, FX, FXX, HGTV, HLN, Investigation Discovery, msnbc, MTV, MTV2, National Geographic Channel, NBCSN, nick jr., nickelodeon, nickTOONS, OWN, oxygen, Pop, SCI, Spike, Syfy, tbs, TLC, TNT, Travel Channel, tru TV, TVLAND, USA, VH1, and WE.

In addition, Vue offers some local channels, including local sports, depending on your location. This could be the cable TV replacement you've been waiting for!

YouTube TV: Major Network and Cable Channels in Limited Locations for $35/month

This is a relatively late entry, but it's worth looking at, especially if you can't get local channels using an antenna.

YouTube TV offers live streaming TV from the major networks plus some cable channels like AMC, along with DVR capabilities. It's $35/month and there is a one-month free trial. The catch is that it's only available in certain cities, but the list is growing (see their FAQ section). Check to see if it's in your city, because it's a pretty good deal.

DirecTV Now: Lots of Channels for $35/month.. For Now

Yet another major player has thrown their hat into the streaming video arena. For a "limited time", DirecTV Now is offering 100 channels (some sites say 60) for the amazing price of $35/month. But, this promotional price will go up eventually for new subscribers. They claim that it won't go up for existing subscribers, but I wouldn't bet on that. You can add HBO or Cinemax for just $5/month. However, CBS is not included (but you can subscribe to thier service separately, see below), and ABC is only available in a few major cities. NBC local channels are not included. There is also no recording feature.

If you're still baffled (and it is complicated, especially since the DirecTV Now website is pretty useless), cnet.com has created a chart showing what channel each of these services offer.

CBS All Access: Live and On-Demand

You can watch CBS shows live and on-demand with CBS All Access for $5.99/month with limited commercials or $9.99/month for no commercials. This could be useful if you can't get free broadcast TV, and love the Big Bang Theory like me. But on the other hand, many top shows like Big Bang Theory are available of the CBS website for free for a limited time the day after as well.

On-Demand Subscription Services

Netflix: Good for Original Content and Movies

Netflix is shifting its focus somewhat from movies to original content like "House of Cards" and "Orange is the New Black". Some folks are concerned about the shrinking catalog of movies necessary to pay for quality original content. Unlimited streamed programming starts at $7.99 per month for SD quality and $9.99 or HD, and it works on a wide variety of devices including your computer, Roku, and Apple TV, as well as the PS3, Wii, and XBox game consoles. Some DVD players and TVs can also stream Netflix. You can try it free for a month to see if it's right for you.

Hulu: Good for TV Shows, Some Movies

Hulu is a subscription plan featuring TV shows and some movies for $7.99 per month with limited commercials and $11.99 per month with no commercials. Hulu does have some movies, but the selection is not as large as Netflix'. Many of the TV shows are on free broadcast TV, but if you don't have reception, or if you like to watch these shows at any time of your choosing, Hulu could be good for you. They also have some originals like "The Handmade's Tale". They have a one-month free trial so there's nothing to lose to try it.

Hulu's free TV show offerings have been moved to Yahoo View.

SHOWTIME: Movies and Original Series

If you subscribe to Hulu, you can add SHOWTIME for $8.99 per month. This could be a great combination for TV and movies for a lot less than the cost of cable!

If you don't want Hulu, you can get SHOWTIME on your Roku for $10.90 per month, also a great deal if you are into movies!

Amazon Prime

Amazon Prime is a subscription service that is well worth mentioning. For $99 per year (or $8.99/month without the free shipping and other benefits), you get access to thousands of movies and TV shows on Amazon. Now, these are going to be some of the older movies and shows, but the selection is not bad. As a bonus, you get free two-day shipping when you buy stuff on Amazon, and you get to borrow one free Kindle book per month. It's not a bad deal if you use what it has to offer. Many people I know swear by this service. And good news for Apple fans, Amazon Prime is coming to Apple TV

HBO Now: Good for Movies and Originals

HBO Now offers the movies and original programming of HBO, but all you need is an Internet connection! No cable TV subscription required! You can watch HBO Now on your computer, Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, Chromecast, iOS device, or Android device. It's currently $14.99 per month. If you just gotta have "Game of Thrones", now you can have it without cable!

Video Rental/Purchase

Amazon Video

Amazon Video offers tons movies and TV shows - a great selection, that you buy or rent individually as opposed to a subscription. Movies range from 99 cents to $4.99 to rent. You can also purchase movies and TV shows. I personally use Amazon Video and like the convenience of being able to watch content on my iPad or Roku or computer. Click the box for more information. For more info on Amazon Video, check out my review of it on my blog.

Fandango Now

Fandango Now is a new service offering recent movie and TV show purchase or rental, similar to Amazon Instant video. Prices are comparable to Amazon.

iTunes

If you own an Apple device, you know about iTunes. TV shows are $2.99 to buy and movies are $4.99 to rent. This is about a dollar more than other services like Amazon. Selection of recent movies and shows is pretty good. You can watch them using your Apple TV, iPad, iPhone, or computer.

Free Services

The Network Websites

Let's not forget full episodes available free on the major network websites. Be careful to distinguish between "full episodes" and "clips". Also, more and more sites are requiring "cable TV login", which means you have to have cable TV to view some of the shows unfortunately. But, there are still a good number of current shows availble for free on the networks' sites (I usually watch the Big Bang Theory that way).

CBS has lots of full episodes of classic old shows like Star Trek (The Original Series), Twilight Zone, Twin Peaks, and Melrose Place. The selection is quite impressive. There are some full episodes of newer shows like Big Bang Theory, Survivor, and Late Night with David Letterman mixed with a lot of clips.

ABC has a good selection of previously-aired full episodes of current shows. Examples include Desperate Housewives, Dancing with the Stars, Modern Family, and so forth.

NBC has a good selection of full episodes of some classics including 30 Rock, the original Battlestar Galactica, Saturday Night Live, and The Office.

Fox - good stuff here too, including full episodes of Family Guy, Glee, Hell's Kitchen, Kitchen Nightmares, House, and the Simpsons.

CW doesn't have as large a selection as the other networks. They do have some full episodes of current shows like America's Next Top Model, Gossip Girl, and others. To try this out, I clicked on "Smallville" only to find out there weren't any full episodes available, even though it was in the "full episodes" section.

PBS has full episodes of some great shows like Nova, Frontline, Antiques Roadshow, and American Experience. Good stuff. Click on the "Programs" button for the full episodes.

For a page full of free TV links, check out my Internet Remote Control.

YouTube

YouTube is a great source of free older TV shows, concerts, comedy shows, and other content. For example, I was able to watch a good number of some older full episodes from the Discovery Channel just by searching YouTube. All of the episodes of the vintage sci fi series, "Space:1999" is on YouTube. You never know what you will find. You can watch it on your TV using Apple TV, most modern Roku devices, Chromecast, or Amazon Fire TV. For more hints on what to find on YouTube, check out this article. I highly recommmend YouTube as a source for free video!

Crackle

Crackle is a source for free (and legal) Hollywood movies and TV shows. The selection is mostly older stuff, more more modern B and C-level stuff, but there are some gems in there. You can watch on your computer from the website, or on your TV; all of the major set-top boxes have a Crackle app built-in. Check it out!

Vudu Movies On Us

Vudu, formerly a video-rental-only service, now offers a selection of free movies! Navigate to the "Movies on Us" section to find a bunch of movies that are "free with ads". Okay, these aren't recent releases, but you might be able to find an oldie that you like.

Yahoo View

When Hulu discontinued their free shows, Yahoo acquired them and renamed the service Yahoo View. You can find some good TV shows here. They do have some movies, but the selection is pretty bad.

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