We loved how much extra sports content ESPN+ served up, but we couldn’t get around pay-per-view fees or regional blackouts. ESPN+ won’t replace our other live streaming services or help us cut the cord, but it makes for a great add-on for fans.
Spectrum TV is good if you’re bundling and on a budget, and we love the $500 contract buyouts. Better yet, Spectrum doesn’t force you into a contract, so you can give the cable TV service a try with relatively little risk. We don’t love the low channel count, and it’s a bummer that you can get 4K programming only if you also have home internet (and upgrade your DVR to an Apple TV box).
ESPN+ has tons of live (and replay) sports to stream, including NFL, UFC, multiple international soccer leagues, the US Open, PGA, X games, NHL, and a multitude of college sports, to name just a few. Some games even come with live stats and analysis when you watch them with the ESPN app. This service even helped us discover the rising Indian sport kabaddi, which is like watching adults on the playground at recess. It’s just delightful.
You’ll also get a metric ton of documentaries like the 30 for 30 and E60 series, which cover everything from Payton Manning’s life story to the history of boxing. There’s even an entire series following the Savannah Bananas, a team putting an entertaining spin on baseball (seriously, check out Banana Ball). An ESPN+ subscription also gives you access to multiple daily articles so you can read about last night’s game even if you missed it.
Unfortunately, if you’re hoping to get around regional sports fees or blackouts to watch your favorite local teams, ESPN+ won’t help you there. You have to share your location to watch certain games. And depending on the rules in your area, there’s a good chance you’ll still need to add your login credentials from a cable TV provider or another live TV streaming service like Fubo or Sling to catch the big game.
Spectrum TV is a good choice for basic TV viewing on a budget, especially if you bundle with home internet. You get more than 125 channels with TV SELECT and more than 140 channels on MI PLAN LATINO, but those are your only package options. Your exact channel lineup depends on where you live (and some areas even have unique package options), so enter your address and check the channel guide as you decide.
Spectrum does a great job of providing local channels throughout the hundreds of markets it covers. You get the big four—NBC, ABC, CBS, and FOX—plus The CW and Spanish-language channels. You’ll miss out on a few smaller local networks in some areas, such as Antenna TV and Estrella TV, but we have no major complaints.
Spectrum TV is only passable when it comes to sports. You’ll get national games on the local networks and coverage from networks like TNT and FS1, but you’ll have to pay extra for goodies like MLB Extra Innings, NHL Center Ice, and the ESPN College Extra. You may be eligible for various regional sports networks, but they almost always cost extra. The sports pack is a breezy $6 per month, which isn’t bad, but we’d still prefer the channels be in the standard package.
Family and education: 3/5
Spectrum TV also earns a passing grade for kids shows, but it’s nothing to write home. You won’t get Disney Jr., Nat Geo Wild, Cartoon Network, or Nick Jr., unfortunately. Smithsonian’s out, too, and Science (you can get some of these with the Entertainment View add-on, but it costs $12 extra each month). You do get PBS, though, plus the regular Disney channel, Family Entertainment TV (FETV), and Discovery. It’s not great, but it’s not awful either.
News and politics: 4.5/5
Spectrum doesn’t offer the hotly debated Newsmax channel at its base price, but it has almost everything else news junkies crave. You get national networks CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News, plus all the news that comes with local channels. If your primary reason to pay for live TV is to stay up to date, we think you’ll be pretty happy with what Spectrum has to offer.
Entertainment and lifestyle: 3.5/5
Spectrum TV’s lineup for movies, home improvement shows, reality TV, and true crime is just OK. You’ll have to pay extra for HBO, SHOWTIME, STARZ, and CINEMAX, or for an Entertainment View add-on that includes NFL Network, OWN, and the Cooking Channel. That said, you get channels like Investigation Discovery (ID), TLC, Hallmark, and INSP with the regular package price. You can’t get Ion or Ion Mystery either way, which is a bummer, but there are still hundreds of channels to choose from.
ESPN+ is one of the cheapest streaming apps we reviewed at just $10 per month or $100 per year. You can even bundle it with Hulu and Disney+, which helps you save more than $10 per month—making ESPN+ a sort of free add-on. You could spend just $13 for all three ($20 for commercial-free Hulu), then add an inexpensive live streaming service like fubo or YouTubeTV to cover all your bases.
Unfortunately, ESPN has a history of making it expensive to be a sports fan, and ESPN+ carries on the tradition. Since its launch in 2018, the monthly price has doubled from $5 to $10, and it comes with a ton of hidden costs that many fans don’t see coming. For starters, you won’t get any actual ESPN channels, so you’ll be disappointed if you sign up hoping to get ESPN1, 2, or 3, or other channels like ESPN U, Longhorn, SEC, or ACC. Technically, you can watch these channels from ESPN+, but you’ll still have to log in with credentials from a cable TV or other streaming provider that has these channels. Cord cutters take note: you’ll still have to pay for live TV if you want that.
Speaking of needing more credentials, you won’t get around regional sports fees or blackouts—nor will you get a discount on pay-per-view events, like numbered UFC matches. Although the ESPN+ website touts “unrivaled UFC access,” you’ll still have to cough up a whopping $75 for each pay-per-view Fight Night game on top of your ESPN+ subscription. That’s a jab to the faces of MMA fans if we ever saw one.
If you’re hoping ESPN+ will save you money on sports entertainment, you’re in for a rude awakening—especially since ESPN+ doesn’t have a free trial.
The two package options from Spectrum TV are pretty decent when it comes to channel per dollar, and you get all but one of America’s top 100 channels. (1) You’ll need add-ons for international programming, premium sports, and premium education and entertainment, but the cost is about average compared to other providers we review.
You’ll have to pay even more for your cable boxes and DVRs. Plus, there’s virtually no way out of a local broadcast fee, which tops out at more than $20 per month. Worst of all, that low base price will increase in the range of $20–$30 per month after your first 24 months. Competing services have much bigger second-year price jumps (we’re looking at you, DIRECTV and Astound TV), but we still wish Spectrum would end the practice.
In addition to adding exclusive content to the regular ESPN app and browser experience, ESPN+ adds some extra features like joining a fantasy league and live stats and scores for some events. But beyond that, ESPN+ doesn’t have as many features as other live streaming services—and that made it hard to use at times.
Ability to watch: Great
ESPN+ builds on the features of the regular (free) ESPN experience. So if you’ve already had the ESPN app, ESPN+ simply adds another tab for its exclusive content. The browser experience is a similar tacking-on of ESPN+ content. That meant we got all the regular ESPN features we were used to, but it was also frustrating to use compared to dedicated streaming apps.
In some formats (like our Chromecast and Samsung smart TVs), getting properly logged into the ESPN+ experience was confusing, because it wasn’t obvious which experience we were logging into: ESPN+ or regular ol’ ESPN. But after a few false starts, we got it working.
On the app, we liked that some events provided game stats and other graphics before the video when our devices were in portrait mode. It helped longtime fans get a fast glimpse of the game while multitasking, and helped the non-fans among us learn about a new sport.
Ability to record: Bad
ESPN+ lets you download some content to watch offline, but there’s no DVR capability. We were able to download some of the documentary content to watch offline, but no actual events. It was useful for calming our sports cravings on the go, but it wouldn’t satisfy us on an hours-long road trip or flight. But if we missed a live game and ESPN removed the replay, it was just gone.
Ability to find: Fine
Finding shows on ESPN+ is easier in a browser than with the app, but neither is stellar. We logged in to see the familiar ESPN website with an added ESPN+ bar at the top with all our premium content. The tabs helped us find featured content, documentaries, and live and replay events, or we could hit the Browse tab to choose a specific sport or league.
However, the Tools tab left us confused. It took us to an ad for fantasy leagues, then prompted us to sign up for ESPN+... which we clearly already had. It tried to push us into an annual subscription, and when we selected “Skip and get started,” it just took us back to the ESPN+ home screen. We were able to get onto a fantasy league using the Fantasy tab in the top (regular ESPN) navigation bar, which made the Tools tab seem completely pointless.
On the app, it got tough to find the events and shows we wanted. There’s no Live/Replay section to find currently or recently playing events. To find the kabaddi game we were looking for (a sport which is rarely in the Featured section), we had to dig around in the Browse tab for the correct league (Pro Vivo Kabaddi) to find it. There’s also no “Continue watching” section (though the browser version has it), so we had a hard time picking up where we left off. And switching between the app and the browser was annoying because ESPN+ didn’t remember our progress across platforms. It started up back at the beginning, and we’d spend several minutes trying to find our place again. Ugh.
Finally, there are no parental controls with ESPN+. While this streaming service was specific enough to quiet some of our concerns—we knew we wouldn’t log our kids in to watch cartoons and come back to find them watching a horror flick—we wanted more control over screen time and the kinds of sports content they watch. The lack of parental controls made us wary of sharing login credentials, which meant more active monitoring on our part.
Ability to share: Fine
ESPN+ doesn’t seem to be designed for sharing. It doesn’t have multiple user profiles and many events prompt you to input your location before they’ll play. The good news? ESPN+ says you get up to three simultaneous streams—but we were able to get five going at once without anyone getting kicked off. Looks like ESPN accidentally left some hidden value on the table, and we’ll take what we can get.
The daily Spectrum TV experience isn't as good as what you may find with other cable competitors, and it's quite a bit worse than you would get with a satellite TV provider. It all works, but it's not the top of the line.
Ability to watch: Good
Spectrum TV uses HD receivers from a handful of companies, but none are very impressive and there’s no way to control which one you receive. The no-frills remote has controls for channels, a TV guide, and your DVR (if you pay extra for the service). It’s functional, but there’s no voice remote or way to watch in 4K unless you have an Apple TV (or buy one from Spectrum).
Ability to record: Fine
Spectrum’s DVR options are not nearly as good as the DVR setups you’ll get with satellite TV providers, and it falls short compared to other cable providers, too. Rather than create its own high-tech DVR, Spectrum offers a payment plan for a 4K Apple TV that’s preloaded with the Spectrum TV app. You can also use your own Apple TV or buy theirs up front, but the Apple TV option requires internet access.
It’s the best way to access 4K programming with Spectrum, but it ends up being a little more expensive than the competition’s top-of-the-line DVRs. If you end service before you pay your Apple TV off, you’ll be charged the complete price for the device. It’s not a bad deal if you’re already in the Apple ecosystem and have multiple streaming services in addition to cable TV, but it’s not a huge value add for a lot of users.
That aside, we like that you can record from either your regular set-top box or the highly rated mobile app, and it’s easy to see how much storage capacity you have left. You top out at just about 100 hours of HD storage, though, so keep an eye on that library and make sure to delete anything you don’t need.
Ability to find: Fine
You don’t get a voice remote with the standard Spectrum TV equipment, but you do get channel buttons, and we like that you can see both channel numbers and icons from the home screen. We gotta say, though, the Spectrum system for showing which channels are free, which are blocked, and which you have to pay extra for takes some getting used to.
There are workarounds so you see only channels you’re subscribed to and even a way to hide adult-themed shows from the guide, but we wish it were a little more intuitive. Lucky for you, this guide from Spectrum can help you get oriented.
The ESPN+ website is overall very usable, but we’d like to see clearer pricing right away. You have to click the tiny print for terms or scroll down to the bottom and open an accordion to find out how much a subscription costs. If you miss these clues, you’ll have to give ESPN+ your email address before you know how much the service even costs.
Getting help is easy—at least, after you scroll to the bottom of the ESPN+ website homepage again. There, you’ll find step-by-step instructions and troubleshooting tips, videos, and contact options—including a live chat option. There’s even an entire section for troubleshooting UFC PPV events—though our biggest takeaway here was to purchase an event on the app at least 30 minutes before the event, or it may not go through the Apple Store or Google Play before the event starts.
Generally, people seem to like ESPN+ customer service representatives. However, many users seem to have trouble canceling their subscriptions, especially if they purchased it through a third party like Apple or Verizon. Some went as far as freezing or canceling a credit card to make the monthly fees stop, but most customers were able to cancel in a few minutes if they used live chat to talk to a representative. As for us, we purchased our subscription through a browser directly on the ESPN+ website and could easily cancel the same way.
Spectrum leaves a lot to be desired when it comes to how it treats its customers. Starting with installation, you can do it yourself for free if you have had the service at your address before, but there’s an unusual $25 activation fee no matter what. If you need a pro install, you may be charged up to $50, but the company doesn’t list those fees publicly. Either way, you have to pay for your first set-top box, you can’t choose which DVR equipment you get, and you have to pay hefty fees for local broadcast stations and premium channels.
If you have trouble, you’ll need to contact customer service. We like the online help guide and 24/7 chat option, but the service overall scores worse than average among TV providers. (2)
You won’t see promotional pricing on any of the premium channels like you will with the competition, but we aren’t mad about it. Those promotions mostly amount to hidden charges a few months into the contract, and we applaud Spectrum for being more straightforward.