Home to greats like The Office, Parks & Rec, Real Housewives, and Law & Order, Peacock has some great content at a price we loved. But our hands-on testing revealed that its channel lineup was disappointing and couldn’t fully replace a more expensive live TV streaming service like Fubo or YouTube TV.
You can get your minimalist, cord-cutting groove on with Sparklight’s no-frills plans, but you’ll pay for the privilege. You’re probably better off with a simple HD antenna, a live TV streaming service, or a traditional cable TV company.
Peacock TV is different from other streaming services because it focuses on only NBC content. NBC has a little something for everyone though, so we were able to rate all five content categories. But instead of basing our ratings on the channels Peacock offers, we focused on the shows themselves.
If you’ve had cable TV or another live TV streaming service like YouTube TV, Hulu + Live TV, or fubo, you might see Peacock’s channel lineup and snort out loud. And you’d be totally within your rights. Most of Peacock’s “live” TV channels just play reruns of specific shows all day and night. You can’t control which episode you watch or when you start one, nor are you getting brand new content. It’s kind of the worst of both the live TV and on-demand worlds.
Our advice? Get Peacock TV for the sports, day-old NBC shows, and movies—not for the channels.
If you spring for the $10 per month subscription, you’ll get your local NBC channel. Otherwise, you won’t. If you live in Chicago, New York City, Philadelphia, South Florida, Boston, or Los Angeles, you’re in luck. You’ll get a local NBC news channel. If you live elsewhere, you won’t get any content local to you.
Peacock Premium and Peacock Premium Plus have some great sports content too. You’ll get a bit of everything, from soccer to golf to cycling to NASCAR to Sunday Night Football—all live or on-demand, depending on when you log in to watch. You also get the Olympics, of course, but these won’t be live. So if you like to stay up til three in the morning to watch your favorite curling team sweep their hearts out, consider this your permission to sleep in and catch all the bonspiels (that’s curling-speak for games) during normal waking hours. Oh, and if classic WWF matches are your jam (wait, is that just us?), Peacock has a channel that plays them 24/7/365.
Family and education: 3.5/5
Peacock has some great family-friendly movies and finding them is super easy. Create a kids profile, and it’ll be packed with Dreamworks movies like Turbo, Shrek, and Shark Tale alongside shows like Blippi, Strawberry Shortcake, and Trolls: The Beat Goes On. Plus, you can dress to the nines in your living room and join the Gentleminions movement without besmirching your polite theater-goer reputation.
News and politics: 2.5/5
Peacock has some strong news content in addition to its six local news channels. You’ll get a 24/7 Dateline channel, Today All Day, Sky News, and LX News. If you’re looking to get a sample of headlines and stories, it’s great. But all news programs are created by NBC, so you may not get the variety of perspectives you’re looking for. We like to see Peacock as a supplemental way to get news coverage, we prefer to get our news elsewhere.
Entertainment and lifestyle: 5/5
NBC has some award-winning shows, both new and old. From The Office, 30 Rock, and Parks & Rec to Blacklist, all the Saturday Night Live, and Real Housewives, there’s some great content to watch on Peacock. If you work your way through all the episodes of these shows before you’re done binge-watching (though we’d be surprised if you did), you can pick from classics like Dennis the Menace, reruns of Jimmy Fallon, and more.
Sparklight has a decent channel lineup, and people who love watching the news or enjoying a wildlife documentary with the family will get most of what they want. Unfortunately, sports content is lacking, and so is Spanish-language content.
Sparklight does a good job of delivering local channels for most viewers, but it doesn’t provide any Spanish-language locals. So you’ll get ABC, The CW, NBC, PBS, CBS, FOX, and more, but don’t expect Telemundo, Univision, or Estrella.
Sparklight brings you a variety of sports staples like both ESPNs, Fox Sports 1, TBS, TNT, and USA. You’ll get a couple of sport-specific channels like Golf and Motor Trend, but you’ll have to do without MLB, NBA TV, and NFL Network. And since you won’t have Spanish-language channels, you’ll be missing some great international soccer coverage too.
Family and education: 3.5/5
Sparklight has something for the entire family, but there are a few odd choices in its lineup. Most providers offer at least one Nickelodeon channel, and Sparklight doesn’t. Instead, you’ll get both National Geographic channels, which is also uncommon. You’ll get most everything else you expect, like Disney, History, Discovery, Animal Planet, and Cartoon Network, but be ready to go without the Science and Smithsonian channels.
News and politics: 4/5
Sparklight has better news coverage than a lot of TV providers—at least, for English speakers. You’ll get lots of local news, CNN, Fox News, HLN, MSNBC, CNBC, C-SPAN, BBC America, and even the Weather Channel. However, you’ll miss out on Newsmax and any Spanish-language news sources.
Entertainment and lifestyle: 3/5
Sparklight has less variety than we’d like in its entertainment lineup. Your life will have fewer laughs and less music than you’re used to because it's missing Comedy Central, Laff, CMT, MTV, and VH1. You’ll have plenty of feel-good movies from all three Hallmark channels, Lifetime, OWN, and Oxygen, as well as action and westerns from FX, FXX, Grit, and INSP. And enjoy great tastes from both HGTV and the Food Network, but not the Cooking Channel.
Peacock is a great deal, and it’s one of the cheapest TV streaming apps. Peacock gives you access to arguably some of the greatest shows on TV, solid news coverage, and a great sports lineup—especially international sports.
It’s a ton of value, but we recommend considering it an addition to a more complete live streaming option like Sling or Hulu + Live TV—especially since Peacock doesn’t give you access to NBC/Universal’s live stations, like CNBC, MSNBC, or, well, NBC. That means you can’t watch live episodes of The Voice with your friends. Instead, you can get them on Peacock the next day—after your co-workers passive-aggressively feed you spoilers. Womp-womp.
Peacock TV has three versions. The free version is kind of like a teaser for the paid versions. You get to watch a few new shows and a bunch of channels packed with syndicated reruns, all while drooling over all the shows you’d get if you coughed up the cash for the paid version. The next step up, Peacock Premium, is a great buy at $5 per month. You get all the content Peacock has to offer, and the commercials were surprisingly low-key.
Finally, the premium tier is Peacock Premium Plus. It’s twice the price and, in our opinion, rarely worth the cost. You get the same content with fewer commercials and the ability to download shows to watch offline (but no ability to DVR live content). It’s pretty meh.
Sparklight sounds like a company for cord-cutters—people who don’t want a traditional cable TV service at traditional cable TV prices. But when it comes down to it, you probably won’t save with Sparklight. If you want the same level of entertainment as a traditional cable company, you’ll pay more for it. If you want a minimal, no-frills plan, you’d be better off with a live TV streaming service like Sling or fuboTV.
Sparklight has just two plan levels. Economy Cable is barebones, giving you just 20 channels, while Standard Cable gives you 100—around what most competitors’ low-tier plans deliver. Unfortunately, you’ll pay mid-tier prices for low-tier service with Sparklight. While Sparklight has a decent (albeit short) channel lineup, many of the top-tier sports channels, like NFL Network and NFL Red Zone, are add-ons—at an additional cost.
Peacock makes watching and finding content a wonderful experience. You can’t DVR anything, but with so much on-demand content, we didn’t feel much need to anyway.
Ability to watch: Great
Peacock delivers a solid watching experience in both its app and browser versions. Something Peacock TV does really well is let you jump between devices in the middle of watching a show. It easily picked up where we left off when we switched from a computer to the phone app to TV and back again, whether we were watching live or on-demand content. For some streaming services, (we’re looking at you, Sling TV) switching devices mid-stream can get glitchy fast. So well done, Peacock!
In other ways, Peacock wasn’t as easy as some of the other live TV streaming services we tested, especially on our phones. We were bummed that we couldn’t multitask: there was no mini video we could watch while firing off an email or answering a text.
Ability to record: Fine
No matter which Peacock plan you get, you’ll never be able to record live shows. There’s no DVR capability, but we’re not sure you’d need it. Most of the content we wanted to record was available on-demand anyway (except for live sporting events). And if you spring for Peacock Premium Plus (the highest-cost plan), you can download on-demand shows to watch offline later. We’d probably skip the upgrade, though. We liked the idea for long flights or keeping the kiddos entertained at the car wash, but we didn’t find a ton more uses for this pared-back feature.
Ability to find: Great
Peacock makes it pretty easy to find the shows you want. Its interface is intuitive and it easily tracks where you left off, even when switching between devices. Parental controls are also super easy and effective. Just create a kids profile for quick access to only children's shows. You can also set up a PIN to keep the little ones restricted to these kid-friendly profiles. As a bonus, parents’ profiles won’t be bogged down with Curious George or Blippi episodes. (Although we’d probably keep a kids profile around just for all the Dreamworks movies.)
There are a few ways Peacock could improve its usability though. For starters, the app made us browse shows and channels in portrait mode, then flipped us to landscape mode to watch, which was annoying. Additionally, there’s no “back” button on the app, so if you get a few clicks into browsing for on-demand shows, you have to hit the Home button and start all over if you want to back out. (If you’re using a browser, you can hit its back button.)
There’s a “back” button on the live TV side of things, but, oddly, it doesn’t take you back a step. Instead, it brings up the channel guide on the bottom half of the screen while your show keeps playing. We liked being able to browse while catching up on the news, but it was confusing at first.
The only real gripe we had about using Peacock TV on a browser was that a lot of the descriptive text (like the channel guide and show descriptions) disappeared faster than we could read it, which meant we had to keep moving the mouse to get it back. It was a minor annoyance, but we’d love to see this fixed in the future. We’re not all speed readers, Liz Lemon.
Ability to share: Great
You can make up to six profiles on Peacock, which is a decent amount, and making new profiles is super easy. Beyond the basics, Peacock has some fun extras that delighted us. We loved picking profile avatars using headshots of our favorite NBC characters (hello Ron Swanson!).
We also confirmed that you can stream only three devices at once on Peacock. When you try to add the fourth, you’re alerted (by the adorable Puss in Boots from Shrek giving you those big, precious eyes in apology). You don’t have to worry about kicking anyone else off their show—but you can’t choose to either. You’ll have to kick them off the old-fashioned way, with a text, phone call, or shout down the hall.
Sparklight won’t be winning any awards for equipment and features anytime soon, but you should be able to watch, record, and find your shows just fine.
Ability to watch: Fine
To get started with Sparklight, you’ll need at least $10 for a modem. You’ll also need at least one streaming device like a phone or tablet, smart TV, Apple TV, or Amazon Firestick. Unlike other TV providers, Sparklight leans on its TV Everywhere app to let you stream your shows on the internet instead of over cable or satellite.
Ability to record: Fine
Unfortunately, Sparklight doesn’t come with DVR service either—unless you add TV Plus to your Economy or Standard plan for around $12 per month. If you do cough up the extra cash for this service (which is typically free with other providers), you’ll get a decent 200 hours of cloud storage and the TiVo app.
Ability to find: Good
While Sparklight's TV everywhere app lets you search live, recorded, and on-demand content all at the same time, how you’ll find your shows depends heavily on the streaming device you’re using. You’ll use the remote that comes with that device, so factor that into your choice when buying gear. We recommend using a device with a voice remote for the best experience.
In short, Sparklight doesn’t provide much of an experience, but you can choose your own adventure depending on the devices you use. While it does offer parental controls, you can block content only by rating, not by channel or individual show.
Peacock’s website is easy to navigate and it’s super easy to see right on the home page exactly how much a subscription will cost you. It also has a well-organized help page, though you’ll have to scroll to the website’s footer to find your way there. You can ask the chat bot for help, but to get more personalized service, you have to sign into your account.
Unfortunately, getting a live person to help isn’t as easy. There’s no phone number displayed, and the “Get in Touch” button just takes you to more self-help articles. To speak with an actual person via chat, you have to click into a help article, then click “No” to answer the question “Was this article helpful," and answer a feedback survey. Ugh.
That said, we had little genuine reason to seek out customer service because everything worked well, checkout was simple and transparent, and it was easy to cancel.
Getting started with Sparklight is a bit pricey. Professional installation is $90. You can opt for self-setup, but that’ll cost you $30 (free with most providers). But professional installation might be the better choice. If you end up wanting a refund later, a technician will have to come out and attempt a professional installation or troubleshooting anyway. If the problem isn’t Sparklight’s fault (or your home isn’t wired properly), you’ll be out $90 for the visit and you won’t get your refund.
Sparklight relies on a cable-fiber hybrid infrastructure that makes it more reliable than satellite TV providers. However, Reddit is peppered with customers complaining about outages. Sparklight’s TV service uses Wi-Fi internet, which can sometimes slow your binge-watching due to interference from other devices, competing networks, and well, walls. That said, Sparklight promises great Wi-Fi (and a money-back guarantee).