Should I Get Cable or Streaming TV?

At a glance

The bottom line: streaming is the simpler, smarter choice. Cable TV has contracts, hidden fees, filler channels, installation appointments, second-year price hikes, and sometimes poor customer service. Streaming has none of that, and you’ll love the flexibility and freedom that comes with it—especially when you’re moving.

CABLE TV

  • High channel counts
  • Bundling internet and phone service

LIVESTREAMING TV

  • No contracts
  • More popular channels, less filler
  • Fewer packages
  • More ways to watch
  • Cloud DVR
  • No installation appointments

Which is better: cable or streaming TV?

Streaming TV exists as a counterpoint to cable TV’s contracts, hidden fees, second-year price hikes, and channel packs stuffed with fluff. They have none of cable’s annoyances, which is already enough to convince a lot of people to start streaming.

Streaming services also tend to offer only one to three packages (AT&T TV NOW has six). These have fewer channels than cable, but they’re mostly popular ones.

You also get goodies like access to large on-demand libraries, cloud DVR (some have unlimited storage), and multiple concurrent streams for easy sharing. And all you need to get started is a subscription, an internet connection, and a supported streaming device.

That kind of content, flexibility, and freedom should appeal to singles, couples, and families alike. But cable TV does have its charms—most notably, the ability to bundle internet, TV, and home phone services for convenience and maybe even a discount. If you’re looking to save money—especially if you’ve just moved into a new home—those discounts may be worth it.

Bullhorn

SATELLITE TV

SATELLITE TV

There’s a third option—satellite TV services like DIRECTV and DISH work just like traditional cable TV. The difference is that satellite requires installing a dish on your roof, and has limited opportunities for bundling. It’s also a bit cheaper, with a cost per channel of $0.32–$0.41. If all you need is TV, maybe give satellite a shot.

Besides, some people dig buying multiple air fryers on three different QVC channels, which might explain why they don’t mind cable’s expensive packages, contracts, and hidden fees.

But if your priorities are flexibility, freedom, and value, streaming TV is the way to go. You won’t even have to schedule an installation appointment while you’re trying to settle into your new place.

Info box icon

OVER THE AIR (OTA) ANTENNAS

OVER THE AIR (OTA) ANTENNAS

What—there’s a fourth option? Yup. An OTA antenna gives you all the local network affiliates and subchannels in your area for a one-time payment as low as $20. If your budget, after moving, is too tight for cable, streaming, or satellite TV—this is a great option.

Additional related FAQ

How much does streaming TV cost?

The short answer regarding cable vs. streaming TV prices: streaming TV costs more than cable TV. It boils down to cost per channel (CPC). Remember, cable TV has more channels—but quantity isn’t quality (unless there’s a society where a hoard of air fryers and cheap jewelry makes you royalty).

Cable vs. streaming TV price comparison

Cost factorsCable TVStreaming TV
Package price range (TV only)$25.00–$90.00/mo.$20.00–$135/mo.
Channel counts55–425+30–192+
Cost per channel$0.21–$0.92$0.33–$0.96
Device fees$0.00–$30.00/mo.$0.00–$200.00 (one-time fee)
DVR feesUsually included in device feeIncluded in plan
Premium channels and add-on packs$0.00–$20.00/mo. each$5.00–$15.00/mo. each
Cost factors
Package price range (TV only)
Channel counts
Cost per channel
Device fees
DVR fees
Premium channels and add-on packs
Cable TV Streaming TV
$25.00–$90.00/mo. $20.00–$135/mo.
55–425+ 30–192+
$0.21–$0.92 $0.33–$0.96
$0.00–$30.00/mo. $0.00–$200.00 (one-time fee)
Usually included in device fee Included in plan
$0.00–$20.00/mo. each $5.00–$15.00/mo. each

Data as of 08/27/20. Offers and availability may vary by location and are subject to change.

Streaming services simplify things by offering mostly popular channels. That means you pay more per channel, but you’re getting the good stuff—for about the same price as most base cable plans.

As for equipment costs, cable companies tend to charge a monthly fee that covers receiver or receiver/DVR rental and service. Some (DIRECTV, AT&T TV) do not.

With a streaming service, you probably already have a supported device: your phone or computer. But you might want to buy a streaming device for your TV. These run from $25–$200, but it’s a one-time fee, so it’s likely cheaper in the long term. And there’s usually no fee for DVR service unless you want more storage.

The last pricing consideration is add-on content, which includes premium channels like HBO® and SHOWTIME®, and special-interest (kids, news, sports, etc.) channel packs.
Cable companies charge $5–$18 a month for these, but AT&T TV and DIRECTV both offer free HBO Max with select plans. Add-ons are a little cheaper with streaming services—around $5–$15 per month. But AT&T TV NOW’s MAX plan has free HBO Max, and YouTube TV has NBA League Pass for $40 a month.

What’s the difference between livestreaming and on-demand streaming?

Livestreaming services like AT&T TV NOW, fuboTV, Hulu + Live TV, Sling TV, and YouTube TV have live channels and on-demand libraries. Because of the live content, livestreaming services are more expensive.

On-demand streaming services (Amazon Prime Video, Disney+, ESPN+, HBO® Max, Hulu Basic, etc.) have only on-demand content and are therefore cheaper. For this reason, we highly recommend supplementing a livestreaming plan with an on-demand service. You can double your library by paying only $5.99–$15.99 more each month.

How much internet speed do I need for streaming TV?

We suggest internet speeds of at least 25–50 Mbps for the average household. That will support quite a bit of HD streaming (and even single-player online gaming) on two to four devices. But it’s important to note that internet providers promise only “up to” the advertised speed. Your location, the materials used to build your apartment/home, and other factors determine your actual speeds.

So get more speed than you think you need. The extra internet juice will also come in handy when you have houseguests (whenever we can do that again).

Does streaming TV have a DVR?

Streaming services’s DVR is cloud-based, so there’s no physical device and usually no monthly fee (if there is, it’s a lot cheaper than cable or satellite companies’ DVR fees).

More importantly, cloud DVR means you can get up to 500 hours, or even unlimited, storage. Cable TV providers’ DVRs only go up to 250 hours—for an additional monthly fee. Among satellite TV companies, only the DISH Hopper 3 gets up to 500 hours for $15 a month.

About Randy Harward

Randy Harward
Randy Harward’s scribblings have appeared in HARP, Guitar World, Blurt, and a couple dozen other publications since the late ’90s. When he’s not watching TV professionally for CableTV.com, he’s eating burritos, playing disc golf, and caring for his tarantulas. Like everyone else on the internet, he thinks his cat is awesome.