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).
WOW! (short for Wide Open West) offers a compelling case for switching to internet-based TV. You get a solid channel lineup at a great rate, all using top-notch Wi-Fi gear from eero—provided you’re willing to have a chillier relationship with your DVR and you don’t mind beta-testing the WOW! tv+ app.
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.
WOW! doesn't have an incredible channel lineup, but it has a decent amount of content for just about everyone. That is, unless you want to watch in Spanish.
WOW! tv+ give you only about half the local channels you might expect. You get the big ones like NBC, ABC, FOX, CBA, and PBS, but you won’t get Ion, Cozi, or Comet. You won’t get a single Spanish-language local channel either. So if you want Telemundo, UniMas, Estrella, or Univision, you’re out of luck.
When it comes to sports channels, you win some and lose some. You get the Tennis Channel in a Medium plan, whereas some providers only include it in their top-tier plans or as an add-on. NFL Network and NFL RedZone are both included in the Large plan, which is hit or miss among competitors. However, WOW! tv+ strikes out completely when it comes to the MLB channel, and there’s no way to get NFL SUNDAY TICKET.
Family and education: 3/5
With WOW!, you’ll get a decent amount of family-friendly content, but we’d like to see more channels for toddlers and young kids. You’ll get Cartoon Network, Animal Planet, Discovery Channel, and the History Channel. But you’ll get only one Disney, Nickelodeon, and National Geographic channel. Disney Junior, Nick Junior, and Nat Geo Wild are all missing, leaving less content aimed at the youngest kids.
News and politics: 3.5/5
WOW! has enough news and political coverage for most English-speaking viewers. You can keep up with Congress on C-SPAN and world events with BBC America. You’ll also get the biggest news channels like CNN, CNBC, Fox News, and MSNBC, along with Newsmax, HLN, and The Weather Channel. The biggest hole in coverage is Spanish-language news, but you’ll also miss CNN International, Bloomberg, CBS News, and Fox Business News.
Entertainment and lifestyle: 3/5
WOW! tv+ gives you a wide variety of entertainment and lifestyle, with at least one channel in some of our favorite categories: comedy, westerns, feel-good movies, food, and travel. But you might find only one channel that delivers your favorite genres. You’ll get Grit but not INSP (westerns) and Food Network but not the Cooking channel. But you’ll get all the best music channels—CMT, VH1, and MTV—and the top DIY channels HGTV and TLC. WOW! tv+ doesn’t include premium channels in any of its plans. You can add them to a Medium or Large plan, but they’ll cost more than other providers charge.
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.
WOW! Has some great introductory prices, but we’ve seen longer channel lineups from other companies. Channel quality is decent, but nothing to write home about. The real bargain comes when you realize your plan price already includes regional sports and broadcast fees, which can add $20–$40 in monthly fees with other providers.
You’ll have to get a WOW! internet plan, since this TV service is internet-based, but that comes at an excellent price too. All things said, WOW! provides a ton of value, but if you want all the channels and premiums to boot, it’s probably not the company for you.
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.
Because WOW! is internet-based TV, its equipment is makes it feel more like a streaming service than traditional TV. However, its features fall short of many streaming services when it comes to catching your shows where and when you want.
Ability to watch: Good
Since WOW! tv+ uses WOW! Internet, you need Wi-Fi gear. WOW!’s modem is free for your first year ($14/month after that), and its eero Wi-Fi system ($9.99 per month) is reasonably priced to rent. It’s also some of the best, most reliable Wi-Fi gear we’ve seen. WOW!’s TV boxes can get pricey if you want more than one ($10 per month), but since you can use WOW! tv+ with Amazon Firesticks, you shouldn’t need more than one box to get your shows on multiple TVs. You just need multiple Firesticks ($29.99 and up), but these will be one-time purchases instead of a monthly rental rate.
While you can use your phone to watch WOW! TV, its Android and iOS apps are in beta, which means they’re still working out some of the kinks. The apps have a pretty low rating on both Android and iOS (1, 2), which is a bummer. If you end up throwing your phone across the room in frustration, you can circumvent the app altogether by going to an individual channel’s website and logging in with your WOW! credentials. But you might still end up frustrated—and watching your shows through a cracked phone screen.
Ability to record: Fine
The WOW! tv+ box and remote are pretty standard, and you can find content and set up DVR recordings using voice commands or navigating through a guide. The downside is that all three of WOW!’s plans come with 50 hours of DVR cloud storage, which is pretty low. You can jump up to 100 (for about $20 per month) or 200 (for about $30 per month) hours, but that’s a steep charge when some competitors include 1,000 hours in their top-tier plans.
Ability to find: Good
WOW! doesn't have its own voice remote, but it's compatible with Google Voice. Without voice, it's still pretty easy to find channels in the guide, and parental controls make it easy to block the content you don't want your kids to see—or restrict TV time altogether. However, finding recorded shows can be challenging without sorting and filtering capabilities, even if you only get 50 hours of storage. That's still a lot of scrolling.
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.
WOW! is a decent experience, and most customers feel good about this provider. We love that you don't have to sign a contract. And although you have to get WOW! internet to get WOW!'s TV service, we like WOW! internet even more.
Self-installation is free and fairly easy, but you can hire a pro to come by and get you set up for $75. The website has plenty of self-help content if you run into trouble, or you can use its chat service to talk with a specialist.
What we don't like is WOW!'s lack of transparency. Prices aren't listed on its website, and you can't order TV without talking to a sales representative on the phone. That's not a great start.