Streaming live TV over the internet may offer more flexibility than a cable or satellite package, but it isn’t necessarily cheaper. Many of the top streaming services out there offer massive channel lineups compared to cable, but after you pay for internet, you’re pretty much breaking even. But is that really what cord cutters need? Philo, an up-and-coming live TV streaming service aiming to compete with the likes of Sling TV and its contemporaries, is betting the answer is no.
In July 2018, the Philo app arrived on the Apple TV and Amazon Fire TV. So if you’re a user of one of those platforms who hasn’t taken a look at the service because it wasn’t available on your streaming box of choice, now is a great time to take a look at it.
What is Philo?
While Philo is similar to Sling TV, PlayStation Vue, DirecTV Now, YouTube TV, or Hulu with Live TV in terms of how it works and the technology behind it, it’s a very different offering. Instead of trying to replace a full cable subscription, it offers a smaller subset of channels, and as a result, it offers one the lowest monthly prices we’ve seen for a TV streaming service of its ilk so far — just $16 per month on the low end.
AT&T offers the closest competitor to Philo when it comes to price and programming with its $15-per-month AT&T WatchTV service. That service might have a slightly lower price, but it also offers fewer channels. In the end, which service you choose will likely have to do with the channels offered, though AT&T is hoping to draw more users to its service by offering it free to customers of certain AT&T Wireless plans.
There are some trade-offs for that low price, however. Philo is focused on offering mainly entertainment and lifestyle programming, which makes sense given that most of its programming is provided by owners A&E, AMC, Discovery, Scripps, and Viacom (provider of channels like Comedy Central, CMT, MTV, and others). This focus means you won’t find two things that are often prominently featured in other services’ packages: sports channels and local network channels. But what you will find are plenty of sought-after channels plucked from cable’s deeper catalog.
Channels and packages
Philo’s most expensive package costs less than Sling TV’s cheapest package at $20 per month compared to Sling’s $25. Philo’s other package — yes, there are only two — drops that price by $4 (i.e., one fancy coffee). In addition to a lack of sports or local channels, several big names are missing from the service’s lineup, including Turner channels like CNN and TNT, and the big four networks — Fox, CBS, NBC, and Disney-owned ABC, along with other Disney offerings like ESPN. In October 2018, the company added three new channels to its most expensive package: aspiteTV, Revolt, and UPtv.
The good news when it comes to local networks is that many of us can easily get them for free (and in HD, no less) with the purchase of an affordable HD antenna. If you’re in that camp, and you don’t mind missing out on sports, Philo is an enticing option, and the cheapest way to catch up on banner shows like The Walking Dead or The Daily Show live. Here are the full channel listings for both packages.
40-channel package — $16 per month
- Animal Planet
- AXS TV
- BBC America
- BBC World News
- Cheddar Big News
- Comedy Central
- DIY Network
- Food Network
- Investigation Discovery
- Lifetime Movies
- Paramount Network
- Science Channel
- Sundance TV
- Nick Jr.
- History Channel
- Travel Channel
- TV Land
- WE TV
52-channel package — $20 per month
Includes everything in the 40-channel package, plus:
- American Heroes Channel
- BET Her
- Cooking Channel
- Destination America
- Discovery Family
- Discovery Life
- MTV Live
In addition to live and on-demand content, Philo also offers a free cloud DVR like many pricier streaming services. There is no limit to how much you can record, either, but you’ll have to make sure you catch up fairly quickly, as recordings only stick around for 30 days. This isn’t the first time we’ve seen a DVR time limit; PlayStation Vue’s cloud DVR cuts off recordings after 28 days.
Another feature to consider when shopping streaming services is how many different devices can tune in at the same time. Philo offers three concurrent streams, meaning up to three people can watch on different devices at a time on the same account. This falls roughly in the middle of the pack: PlayStation Vue offers five concurrent streams, DirecTV Now offers two, and Sling TV offers either one or four, depending on which package you choose. One thing to take into account is that Philo doesn’t currently offer profiles, so your saved programming and viewing history will be the same, no matter who is watching.
What about watching away from home? Philo TV initially offered only a few channels for mobile viewing, including the Cooking Channel, DIY Network, Food Network, Great American Country, HGTV, and Travel Channel. Fortunately, the company bolstered its lineup in February with support for Discovery, AMC, Viacom, GSN and Scripps-owned networks, with A&E networks in the works.
Early on, Philo struggled to keep up with rival services when it came to device support. For a long time, the Roku platform was the only way to watch the service on a TV, meaning you needed either a Roku TV or one of the company’s streaming boxes or streaming sticks. As of July 2018, Philo is now also available on the Apple TV and Amazon Fire TV devices, including the Fire TV Cube. The service is also available on the web and, of course, via mobile devices.
An app is available for iOS devices, though it’s only an iPhone app, so you’ll be dealing with a scaled display if you’re trying to watch on an iPad. For Android, there isn’t a bespoke app. Instead, you can watch via the Philo website using the Chrome web browser.
For the time being, there is no word on which devices will be supported next or when new apps might be released.
During our time testing Philo, we watched the service on every supported platform, and the picture quality was good no matter which we chose. The picture is slightly softer-looking than either PlayStation Vue or Sling TV, but not as much as we have experienced with DirecTV Now in the past.
When it comes to actually navigating through available shows, the interface is mostly universal from platform to platform, with one notable exception: The only place you’ll find a traditional channel guide is on the website. On both the iOS and Roku versions, this is nowhere to be found. This may not be a bad thing, though, as the guide feels a bit like an afterthought and is somewhat awkward to navigate when compared to the rest of the service’s interface.
It’s clear from the get-go that Philo is content-oriented, not channel-oriented. No matter which platform you’re watching on, the first thing you’ll see when firing up the app is the home screen, which features two main sections: Trending Live shows, presumably which shows other users are watching the most; and New & Upcoming, which lets you see which shows and movies are on the way. If you were previously watching one or more TV shows or movies, you’ll also see an option to pick up where you left off.
There is also a Live section that shows what is currently airing, organized alphabetically by channel. While other streaming services tend to start you off on the livestream, Philo instead gives you the option to click through on-demand content or skip to the live stream if you prefer.
Finding the right streaming service isn’t an easy task, especially when you’re looking for something comprehensive yet affordable. That said, if Philo offers the channels you’re looking for and you don’t mind the limited device support (we like Roku best, anyway), it’s a great option. Obviously, this isn’t the streaming service for news junkies or sports fanatics, and if you’re just looking to save money, you might also consider a Netflix or Hulu subscription supplemented by a more limited (but totally free) service like Pluto TV.
If you’re curious about Philo but aren’t ready to commit, there’s a free seven-day trial, and you don’t even need to enter payment information for the first two days — all you need is your mobile number. If you’re still uncertain, make sure to check out our comparison of the other most popular live TV streaming services to get the lay of the land.