Philo is a great value if you love feel-good movies, reality TV, and shows about home and family, but you’ll miss out on sports, news, and local channels. We put it to the test on browsers, phones, and streaming sticks, and we think it’s a fair contender for the softer side of live TV.
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).
Philo, a live TV streaming service cleverly named after the inventor of the television, is one of the cheapest live TV options we tested. It’s a great value for limited live TV and an endless array of movies, entertainment, and lifestyle shows. It offers HGTV plus all the Hallmark and Lifetime channels before add-on pricing, unlike some competing live TV services. There are other add-ons, but even if you pay for them all, you’ll still pay less than most of the other live TV services we reviewed.
It’s a nice price, but there’s a reason Philo can get away with charging less than half the other guys: there are no sports, no local channels, and very limited news options. That means missing out on more than just your local news broadcasts and home games. You’re also locked out of recently aired entertainment from PBS, NBC, ABC, CBS, and Fox. A digital antenna is an easy workaround, but you’ll need a separate DVR if you want to save the content to watch later. You could sign up for on-demand streaming apps to make up the difference, but prices add up quickly.
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. It’s a decent channel-per-dollar ratio, and Spectrum says all its channels are broadcast in HD. These basic packages include your local networks plus a range of options for news, entertainment, and sports. You’ll need add-ons for international programming, premium sports, and premium education and entertainment.
We love that Spectrum TV doesn’t require contracts and even pays to buy you out of another contract, and we like its upfront pricing structure. Compared to other live TV options, it’s easier to pay only for what you actually watch. However, add-ons get pricey in a hurry and you’ll 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 $22 per month. Worst of all, that low base price will increase in the range of $20–$30 per month after your first 12 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.
If you love home renovation shows, feel-good movies, and reality TV, Philo has a channel lineup you’ll love. You get more than 60 channels, including Lifetime, Hallmark, A&E, and the up-and-coming INSP with the base package price. We also happened upon shows from TV’s rich past, including I Love Lucy, Father Knows Best, Matlock, Doctor Who, and even Touched by an Angel. There’s a strong selection of shows about the Black experience, too, including Rasheeda Jones’s Boss Moves and much more.
In addition to its own channels and on-demand offerings, Philo makes it easy to access free programming from services including Crackle, Cheddar News, Gusto TV, and RetroCrush, the new station featuring classic anime hits.
There are more than 60,000 shows in the on-demand library, but it’s hard to recommend Philo for most cord cutters. The service stays super cheap by skipping local channels, sports, national news, and many of the most popular national networks. (1) That means no games, no Modern Family, no Late Night Tonight, and no 60 Minutes. You don’t get Fox News, MSNBC, HBO, or CNN either, and we didn’t happen upon any foreign-language programming in our tests.
It’s not great, but there is a silver lining. Philo comes with a free trial and is easy to cancel online, so you can sign up for just a month or two whenever you’re in the mood for all the movies and programming it offers.
Spectrum TV is pretty bare-bones when it comes to features. It 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 not nearly as good as the DVR setups you’ll get with satellite TV providers. We don’t love that you have to pay around $10 extra each month for DVR and even more for cloud DVR. Additionally, the HD receivers can handle only 1080p. You can get around that by using the included streaming service in 4K on a different device, but that feels like unnecessary hassle.
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.
Philo offers many of the features you’d expect from a modern live TV streaming service. In our tests, it was easy to create profiles for different watchers, and the DVR libraries and favorites were kept separate. You can add up to 10 profiles and assign each a separate mobile phone number, so different users can sign in using their personal phones. However, there were no parental controls to be found.
The DVR and on-demand experiences were pretty par for the course in our tests, and Philo recently upgraded its cloud DVR to save recordings for up to a year. We like that you get three extra months to watch your recordings, compared to competitors Hulu + Live TV and YouTube TV, which give you only nine months. Unlimited recordings is also pretty sweet, and we liked Philo’s 72-hour Rewind feature. You can use it to watch almost anything that’s aired in the last 72 hours, even if you forgot to add it to your library before it aired.
You can watch Philo on up to three screens at a time, without a lot of verification or hassle, and we didn’t run into any issues when we tried multiple devices and browsers from different locations. Unfortunately, there is no way to watch in 4K—the service maxes out at 1080p resolution no matter how you’re watching.
Spectrum’s equipment isn’t the best. You can’t choose which set-top receiver you get, and you have to pay extra to rent a DVR and even more for cloud storage. You can buy an Apple TV 4K from Spectrum, either in monthly installments or as a lump sum, but will pay extra for DVR services, which are available only over the cloud.
Installation isn’t top of the line, either. Spectrum doesn’t list its installation fees publicly, but many customers report a $50 charge for professional installation. We’ve also heard of a charge for self-installation. That price isn’t too high, but we don’t like the idea of paying for an installation when you do the work yourself. Waiting for a free installation promotion or calling to order over the phone is the best way to wriggle out of these fees.
We tested the Philo interface on iOS and Android mobile phones, a few different web browsers, and an Apple TV. The interface was similar across devices, and the setup was one of the simplest among all the live TV streaming services we tested. After we entered payment info, we got right into the guide. The original browser saved our login info. Signing in later on different browsers and apps required two-step verification using a mobile phone number or email address, but we never had to enter (or remember) a password.
When you get to the Home screen on Philo, you’ll find a roundup of trending live and recommended shows, plus top movies and other categories. You can see whether a show is available on demand by clicking through to the episode description or by hovering your mouse over a particular episode, but there’s no way to tell at the series level. However, you can favorite shows at either the episode or series level, and saving a series means all future episodes will be recorded in your Saved library. You can also favorite channels, and that makes them show up first in the channel guide. It’s fairly simple to unfavorite, and the changes appear across devices instantly.
The viewing experience is about what you’d expect from a live TV provider, but with some oddities. Watching live, the only way to skip commercials is to record the episode in progress, wait several minutes, and skip ahead whenever the commercials come on. You can also fast forward through most commercials on DVR content, and some channels let you skip ads with one click on Roku streaming devices. The weird part was seeing political ads for candidates and issues in faraway states. We didn’t love the repetitive commercials that have become common on streaming services in the last few years, either.
We ran into some buffering issues with Philo on the Apple TV we tested, particularly with the channel guide. It happened on different devices in multiple locations, so we’re pretty sure it wasn’t a bandwidth issue. The slow loading wasn’t a dealbreaker, but we can see how channel surfers would be annoyed.
To get the most out of Philo, we recommend spending some time in the beginning to find and add your favorite shows. Within a few days, your Saved library will fill up with dozens of episodes to choose from.
Sports are one of the main reasons to pay for live TV, and you can catch a lot of games in HD with Spectrum TV. Channels like ESPN and ESPN2 come included with the standard packages, and you can pay an extra $6 each month for a sports package that includes NFL RedZone, MLB Strike Zone, and Golf Channel. For around $100, you can add MLS DIRECT KICK or MLB EXTRA INNINGS.
There’s no way to watch every NFL game under the sun like you can with DIRECTV, but we like that Spectrum rolls its regional sports fee into its broadcast fee. Compared to Xfinity, you’ll pay about $10 less in broadcast and sports fees every month.
For movies and entertainment, Spectrum’s add-on prices are on par with the competition. You can choose HBO Max, SHOWTIME, STARZ, CINEMAX, THE MOVIE CHANNEL, or Epix, and everything’s in HD. There are fewer available add-ons than with Xfinity or either satellite provider, but Spectrum has the basics covered.
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.
Read our expert guides to learn more about how to watch MLB, how to watch the NFL and the top cheap providers we tested.