The Tip Jar: Are online TV streaming packages cheaper than cable?

Thinking of dumping cable? Tip Jar looks at how streaming TV packages compare.
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Cable TV is expensive, and despite the hundreds of channels you can access, chances are you watch only a fraction of them regularly.

But with several new entries into the streaming market in the past couple years, cord-cutters now have the chance to ditch their cable package. So do online TV services offer a better deal than their cable counterparts? The Tip Jar takes a look.

The cost of cable+internet

These are the cheapest TV/internet bundle packages I found from Comcast and CenturyLink, based on Minneapolis prices.

Comcast Xfinity

What you get: The X1 Saver Double Playis 140-plus channels and has 25 mbps internet, and runs you $69.99 a month for 24 months at a minimum two-year term. Then it's $10 per month HD Technology fee (for your HD DVR, though it's optional), a $6.50 per month broadcast fee, and a $4.50 per month local sports fee. A one-off $14.99 self-installation charge caps it off.

Total cost: $98.49 per month plus taxes over two years.

CenturyLink

What you get: A 12 mbps internet package with DirecTV Select (145-plus channels but no ESPN) costs $74.95 a month for the first year, and $114.95-per-month for the second. You need a CenturyLink provided modem that costs $99.99.

Total cost: A minimum of $99.11 per month plus taxes over two years if you include the modem.

The cost of internet+streaming

If you're buying a TV streaming package you'll need internet. For our purposes we'll look at two options:

The cheapest in Minneapolis is US Internet, offering a 50 mbps plan for $34.95 a month, however US Internet is only available in certain areas of south Minneapolis.

And then generally the most widely available is Comcast's 55 mbps plan. That's $29.99 per month for the first year then $64.95 per month minimum after that. That works out to $47.47 per month over two years.

Here's a look at how four streaming packages compare. (Note: Major broadcast networks are available in most packages, and if not they're free with an antenna.)

SlingTV

What you need: A Roku streaming stick/box .(The stick is currently being offered for free if you sign up for a month – regular cost is $49.99.)

What you get: There are three TV packages. The cheapest is Sling TV Orange for $20 a month, which comes with 30-plus channels including ESPN 1, 2 and 3, AMC, HGTV, TNT, Food Network, TBS, Disney, BBC America and A&E.

The next step up is Sling TV Blue at $25 a month, which has NFL Network, FOX Sports 1 and 2, NBC Sports Network, FX, FXX and USA, but doesn't offer ESPN. You can get both orange and blue, offering access to all 49 channels, for $40.

You can pay $5 extra a month for more sports channels, including NFL Redzone, BEIN Sports, ESPNU, NBA TV and NHL Network.

If you want 50 hours of cloud storage though, that'll cost you $5 a month extra. 

Max devices: Up to one device with only Orange. Up to three at once with only Blue. And up to four devices at once with both Orange and Blue.

Total cost? Sling Orange combined with US Internet would be $54.95 a month, and with Comcast $67.47 per month.

PlayStation Vue

What you need: You can use a PS3 or PS4, but it also can work through a Roku device or Amazon Fire TV. The cheapest would be buying an Amazon Fire Stick for $39.99.

What you get: In its Access Slim package for $39.99 each month you get 45-plus channels including FOX Sports 1 and 2, ESPN 1 and 2, HGTV, FXX, National Geographic, TBS, TNT, USA, SyFy, Disney and Bravo.

Upgrade to its Core Slim package for $44.99 a month and you get 65-plus channels including more sports, such as FOX Sports North, ESPN News, NBA TV, NBC Golf and SEC. Elite Slim for $54.99 has 90 channels and Ultra Slim costs $74.99 and has 90 channels, plus HBO and Showtime.

Max devices: Five at once.

Total cost? When adding in the cost of the Fire Stick over two years, an Access Slim package with US Internet would set you back $76.60 per month, while with Comcast it'd be $79.12 per month. 

DirecTV Now

What you need: A Smart TV with built-in Chromecast or a streaming device. It's compatible with all the main ones except Roku. The cheapest option is a Chromecast at $35.

What you get: For $35 a month you can get the 60-plus channel "Live A Little" package, including A&E, AMC, BBC America, Comedy Central, CNN, Disney (including Jr. and XD), E!, ESPN 1 and 2, Food Network, Fox Sports 1, FX, FXX, HGTV and MTV 1 and 2. There is no access to CBS however.

For $50 you can go for the "Just Right" package that has regional sports networks, NBC Sports Network, and 80-plus channels. There are 100-plus channels in its $60 package and 120-plus in its $70 package.

Max devices: Two at once.

Total cost? For "Live A Little" on US Internet service, including the cost of Chromecast, you'd be paying $71.40 per month over two years. For Comcast it'd be $83.92.

YouTube TV

What you need: A Google Chromecast streaming device ($35) or Airplay for Apple TV.

What you get: For $35 a month you get access to 48 channels, unlimited storage of downloaded shows via Cloud DVR, and a membership to YouTube Red (which lets you watch YouTube both without ads and offline).

Channels include ESPN, Disney, FOX Sports, E!, Disney, National Geographic, USA, FX, and NBC Sports Network. Its announced lineup has some notable absentees however, such as TNT, HGTV, AMC and CNN. You can add FOX Soccer or Showtime for $15 and $11 respectively.

Max devices: Can stream through three at once. You can also share subscription with up to 6 people in your household.

Total cost? If you have US Internet, including the cost of a Chromecast you'd be paying $71.40 a month for two years. For Comcast it'd be $83.92 a month.

Hulu TV

What you need: A Google Chromecast streaming service ($35), Apple TV or an Xbox One. It can also be viewed on Android and Apple devices and through Amazon Fire/Firestick, but is not yet compatible with Roku.

What you get: For $39.99 a month you get 55 channels, 50 hours of recorded TV storage, as well as a Hulu account with access to more than 3,500 on demand shows and movies.

Here are the channels you get:

Max devices: Two at once.

Total cost? With US Internet and the cost of a Chromecast spread over two years, you'll be paying $76.44 a month. With Comcast it'd be $86.46.

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