The Best Free Cable TV Streaming Services

When it comes to television choices, we are living in exciting times thanks to the rise of streaming services. It wasn’t long ago that a few large companies dominated the television landscape, but then a little thing called streaming happened, and all heck broke loose.

It’s easy to see why free cable tv streaming services became popular as quickly as they have. Traditional cable tv had gotten fat, sassy, and expensive. They don’t care about customer service. Did we mention they were expensive?

When free streaming services came along as a viable alternative, of course, they would be of interest to the average viewer. 

What exactly do we mean we say streaming tv? There are a few different types to be aware of:

  • Live-streaming: view your favorite channels in real-time
  • On-demand streaming: watch shows when you want to
  • Hybrid-streaming: a combination of live and on-demand  

Why would you switch from a traditional cable company to a streamer? Well, you wouldn’t unless you like saving money. Potentially a lot of money. Plus, you gain flexibility, a feature that old-fashioned cable tv has been reluctant to embrace.

And we’re not just pulling your leg here. Free streaming television is the real deal. Keep reading to learn about your options.

Benefits of Free Cable TV Streaming Services

Let’s dig deeper into this idea of free tv. We’ve already mentioned that it’s cheaper. Add to that the flexibility to upgrade or downgrade into and out of premium channels you want. With cable streamers, the world is truly your oyster. Shows from the 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s, and now are an option again.

Yep, the true classics are back in play. And those benefits we mentioned? Learn more about them now.

The benefits of using free cable tv streaming services

Cost Savings

It sounds too good to be true. Can television entertainment be free again? It can. Imagine a world without a monthly subscription or expensive equipment. All you need is a smart tv, and these prices have decreased significantly in recent years.

A quick look at Walmart online shows you can get a 32” television for under $100. If you like your shows a little bigger, 50” televisions are under $300. So, you’ll save anywhere from $30 to $70 every month by ditching your cable subscription.

Increased Flexibility

With free streaming TV, you can forget the world of watching a certain show at a certain time. These services work more like an app than a traditional cable company. This means you can watch shows on multiple devices, on demand, whenever you want to. Not when they decide to show them.

Access to a Wide Selection of Content

If you peruse a traditional cable company’s television offerings, you’d think there were no tv shows more than five years old. That’s not the case. There are decades of high (and lesser) caliber content to choose from when you opt for a free cable tv streaming service.

That’s their specialty. You will have a universe of options rather than only a world. Here’s an example. Most readers are probably familiar with the current iteration of the show Magnum PI

While the current show is not bad, it can’t hold a candle to the mid-1980s version starring Tom Selleck portraying a former naval officer turned private detective in Hawaii. Good luck trying to find old episodes on your friendly neighborhood cable service.

But there’s a good chance you could watch every episode on a free cable streamer. Once again, that’s their specialty. 

The Best Free Cable TV Streaming Services

We’ve spent a lot of lung power talking about how great these free cable options are. It’s time to get more precise. We present below the top five free cable streaming services (in our humble opinion) and our reasons why.

Keep reading to find out why Pluto TV, Tubi, Crackle, Sling Free, and Roku made the cut.

The best free cable tv streaming services

Pluto TV

First up is Pluto TV. It kind of makes us feel icky to mention it, but this free, live-streaming company is owned by the multi-conglomerate cable leviathan Viacom. Yep, the traditional cable companies are sticking their greedy little fingers into free tv and hoping to make a buck there too. Somehow.

Let’s start with the good and bad about Pluto TV.

Why we like it

  • It’s free
  • There is a wide variety of content
  • You don’t have to create an account

Things to watch out for

  • There aren’t many traditional cable channels
  • Expect lots of ads
  • Bare-bones extra features

Before we go further, let’s get something out of the way. You aren’t going to find many traditional cable channels on any free tv provider. The shows featured on those channels cost money. Sometimes a lot of money. The “free tv” business model would go belly up in short order if they tried to carry them. 

You probably can guess the ones we’re talking about: ESPN, HGTV, MTV, Discovery, AMC, etc. These and dozens more have been the backbone of cable television for a long time. The reality is that free cable services just can’t afford them. The income they generate from selling ads certainly won’t cover it.

Okay, now that we’ve spent some time discussing what Pluto TV doesn’t have, how about what it does? 

There are about 250 live channels streaming at any one time. But this isn’t your dad’s television. Many of these “channels” only play content related to their narrow topic of interest. Examples of this are Wipeout and Dr. Who Classic. Then you’ve also got Cats 24/7 and Slow TV, which feature low-intensity content like woodchopping, knitting, and train rides. You get the idea.

Pluto TV is accessible either through apps for Android/iOS, or you can use the web interface to watch on any internet-enabled device. You’ll also find Pluto TV on media streaming devices like Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, Chromecast, PlayStation, Xbox, and Roku.

This free streaming service is not loaded with features, but it’s free. One noticeable lacking feature is the capability to DVR shows that you can’t catch on their live broadcast. Of course, no other free service allows this, so it’s pointless to prosecute Pluto TV for it.

Just remember, it’s free. And you get lots and lots of channels. Check ‘em out.

Tubi

We’ll kick off this Tubi tv free streaming review with a quick hit of what’s good and bad.

Why we like it

  • It’s free
  • Extensive library of movies and shows
  • Well-designed apps and interfaces
  • Supports watchlists and parental control

Things to look out for

  • Streaming resolution capped at 720 px
  • There’s no ad-free option

Tubi, owned by Fox Corporation, certainly won’t be mistaken for a traditional cable television powerhouse any time soon. Still, there’s a lot to recommend if you’re looking to save money with your entertainment budget and don’t mind a sort of “different” variety of content.

The Tubi library stands at about 20,000 movies and series, which is impressive. And the movies aren’t all forgettable, low-budget cult films. A quick glance reveals major Hollywood fare is represented in the form of movies like:

  • Catch Me if You Can
  • Donnie Darko
  • Fury
  • Memento
  • Snakes on a Plane
  • and more

A sampling of tv shows would include Third Rock from the Sun, Hell’s Kitchen, Shipping Wars, and V. Also worth noting is that Tubi produces no original content. For that, you’ll generally have to go back to subscription-based streaming services like Disney+ et al.

Unlike some of the other options on this list, Tubi offers no live tv. Everything is on-demand only. Tubi is available on all the major platforms mentioned in conjunction with Pluto TV and on the web. Also, like Pluto TV, there is no requirement to create an account.

Tubi’s web interface is better than even some paid services. The search function is intuitive and delivers targeted results. The longer you watch, the better Tubi gets at recommending movies you might like.

Expect to see 1-2 minutes of ads every 15 minutes, which isn’t too onerous. As far as quality, you only need a 4 Mbps connection to watch Tubi. Features include a decent set of parental controls and closed captioning for most programs.

The bottom line. Tubi is a well-designed free cable tv service that excels at its broad and frequently changing content choices. 

Crackle

All right then. You should be used to the review format by now. Here are the good and bad points of Crackle.

Why we like it

  • Decent set of movies
  • Reliable streaming performance

Things to look out for 

  • Lots of ads
  • Interface design could be better
  • Hard to find quality shows

From our quick-hit good/bad list, you can probably guess that Crackle is not at the top of the free cable tv streaming pecking order. There are some good things, which we’ll go into more detail below, and some areas that need improvement.

You might be wondering about Crackle’s conglomerate connection because there always seems to be one with these free streamers. Crackle is jointly owned by Sony and some outfit called Chicken Soup for the Soul Entertainment.

While Crackle, like all the free streamers, doesn’t allow downloads, you can find some decent movies on the service to watch on all the major platforms mentioned previously for other streamers. The interface appears to have been designed by a precocious kindergartner, but we’ll let that slide.

As of now, Crackle has a library of around 700 movies and 100 tv shows. Obviously, this is far less than some of the other entrants on this list. But some good movies can be found like 3:10 to Yuma, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Dr. Strangelove, Glory, Fury, and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.

Network television is represented in selections like Starsky and Hutch, Hell’s Kitchen, and NewsRadio. It doesn’t look like there are complete collections of all seasons for shows, so there’s that frustration to contend with.

Crackle does produce a smidgin of original content that no one has really heard of or seems to be paying much attention to yet.

Like Tubi, Crackle offers no live television options and is available on all major platforms. No account is required to use Crackle. This service seems to be capping resolution at 720 pixels (and even 540 pixels on some shows), which is a bit disappointing in this 4K world. We’ll mark them down a bit for that. Expect movies to have about ten ad breaks and tv shows with 2 or 3. Note: there are rumors that ad blockers work excellently with Crackle. We’ll leave the moral dilemma as to whether that is acceptable to you.

A Crackle list of features is nothing to write home about, but then no free streamer really is. Parental controls are available, but they’re flimsy and won’t keep a smart kid out unless you want to subject yourself to the same restrictions.

Crackle offers a few original shows. All the ones we checked out were pretty lackluster, but there’s one thing that you have to like.

Sling Free

Sling is a paid streaming service that has taken another path to try to attract customers. They’ve offered part of their library on a free basis with only a few attempts to pressure you into a paying account. 

Here’s what we like and don’t like about this dealio.

Why we like it

  • A pretty good library
  • Support of a well-developed subscription service
  • Premium channel upgrade options

Things to look out for

  • Not much in the way of live channels
  • Well-known channels with only single episodes available

The free library isn’t too shabby, including around 5,000 movies and tv shows, though top-rung, recent Hollywood fare is scarce or nonexistent. There is a limited selection of live channels. Obviously, they in no way compete with the company’s paid $30 monthly service.

For a few examples of the content reserved for the free side, you can find sci-fi cheese like Mega Snakes and every dang season of the 90’s biker drama Renegade. An interesting difference between Sling Free and the other services on this list is you do have on-demand access to channels you might have actually heard of.

We’re talking about heavy hitters like AMC, A&E, CMT, Comedy Central, Discovery, History, Lifetime, TBS, TNT, and others. But before you jump for joy, consider this. It’s not exactly what it seems. 

For example, AMC focuses mainly on reruns of the Walking Dead franchises, and Showtime has the annoying habit of presenting single episodes of a random assortment of series.

Since Sling Free is piggybacking off of Sling’s paid subscription, its design and features are top-notch compared to some of the others on this list. But that doesn’t change the reality that there is some wonkiness in the content. You should expect this because you’re not paying anything for it.

Roku Channel

Okay. You know the drill here. The good and the bad will please step forward.

Why we like it

  • Free
  • Original shows
  • Live tv
  • Premium channel options
  • Mobile doubles as a tv remote

Things to look out for 

  • No ad-free option
  • Library feels random
  • No offline downloads
  • Limited control over video quality

The Roku Channel has done an excellent job of putting its name in front of a lot of people through its integration into various lines of smart televisions. You can’t help but notice a Roku Channel as you go about finding content on traditional paid streaming services.

We’re betting Roku is hoping you will eventually check out their free channel sooner or later.

Regarding content, the Roku Channel currently offers around 10,000 free shows and movies, which is pretty good. A quick interjection. All of these free tv streaming services have what appears to be a grab-bag approach to choosing content.

It’s really beyond their control. 

Of course, current top-line content will likely not offer the appropriate licenses at a reasonable price. The free streamers are left to mix and match their library from the licenses on available content in their price range. Typical libraries span several generations of deep cuts.

But it isn’t all bad.

Television selections include Miami Vice, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Dennis the Menace (from the 1950s). Movies include Ace Ventura, Man on Fire, and Snowpiercer.

One area where Roku shines is when it comes to original content. They’re not going to be competing with Netflix or Apple TV any time soon, but they did buy a bunch of stuff from the now-defunct Quibi. The latter spent big money on quick-hit videos with major stars (think Punk’d and the Reno 911 reboots.)

These seem to stand at least a little ways above typical free cable tv streaming originals.

Roku also has more live channel options than others (Pluto TV notwithstanding). You can watch news channels NBC and ABC and then odd little channels built around such disparate topics as Lifetime movies or Bob the Builder.

But the reality is that Pluto TV’s live lineup is better.

Roku can be accessed through any branded device or the usual suspects we’ve already mentioned. You can download and install the app on your phone, desktop, or other internet-enabled devices.

The web interface is nice and splashy, and well thought out, with more information regarding featured content that we’re used to from a free tv streaming service. It’s a little vexing that there is no way to tell what resolution a particular show is streaming in, but you’ll just have to live with it.

It’s cool that you can use your smartphone for a tv remote, especially if you live in a house where the remote goes missing frequently.

Parental controls and accessibility are about what you’d expect. Not amazing, but okay. A word about parental controls in the free streaming tv industry. Any kid can circumvent a parent's best intentions by going out and downloading the app for themselves. With no requirement to create an account, they can surf all the mature content in no time.

Final Thoughts

No one will convincingly claim that free cable streaming service is on par with traditional cable companies or even subscription-based streamers except in one area. Price. Whether or not the free tv option is worth the drop in quality is a decision each viewer has to make on their own.

Maybe it’s worth it, and maybe it isn’t.

If you’re just looking to cut the cord, one (or all) of the free options mentioned in this article might be just the ticket. You’re not limited to choosing only one. You can grab them all. They’re free. It’s probably a good idea to research them, try them out, and decide which works best for you.

Then there’s always the chance that, after reading this article, paid cable television starts to look a lot better with first-run shows and channels you’ve heard of. Plus, you never know what kind of deals might be available at any given time. Check out our cable tv and internet search tool while you’re thinking about it. It’s free and all you need to do is to fill in your zip code for a list of all the providers in your area.

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