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Philo: Everything to know about the live TV streaming service

Cutting the cable cord isn’t necessarily cheaper than paying for cable anymore. Many top streaming services offer massive channel lineups compared to cable but after paying for them (and your internet connection), you may just be breaking even.

But do cord cutters really need extensive channel offerings? Philo, a live TV streaming service that’s a competitor to Sling TV and other live TV streamers, believes the answer is no.

While device support was initially limited to Roku, the Philo app is now on Apple TV, Android TV, Amazon Fire TV, and more devices. Now that it’s available in so many places, it’s a great time to take a look at Philo if you’re looking to save some money without sacrificing live TV entirely.

What is Philo?

While Philo is similar to Sling TV, PlayStation Vue, AT&T TV Now, YouTube TV, or Hulu + Live TV in terms of how it works and the technology behind it, it is a very different offering. Instead of trying to replace a full cable subscription, it offers a smaller subset of channels, and while it’s more expensive now than when it launched, it is still a compelling service with a single $20 per month subscription plan. (Although it also offers a couple of add-ons.)

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 price

Philo offers a single $20 per month package, making it significantly simpler than many competitors that offer multiple packages and add-ons for different prices. It’s also significantly more affordable than the next closest competitor, Sling TV’s $30/month basic package.

As mentioned before, Philo mostly features its owners’ channels. Currently, the service offers 63 channels including popular cable networks like AMC, BBC America, BET, Comedy Central, Discovery Channel, Food Network, HGTV, IFC, Lifetime, MTV, Nickelodeon, TV Land, and VH1. Conspicuously absent from the service, however, are the major networks ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, and The CW, as well as sports channels like ESPN and Fox Sports. Philo does, however, offer premium add-on channels Starz ($9/month) and Epix ($6/month).

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’s what’s included in the $20 per month Philo subscription:

Philo TV Channels

Features

In addition to live streaming channels, and a collection of over 40,000 on-demand titles, 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, AT&T TV Now offers two, and Sling TV offers either one or four, depending on which package you choose. Philo also offers the ability to create up to 10 profiles, with individual saved shows and viewing history.

At CES 2019, the company announced that it had finalized the development of a co-viewing feature that would launch soon, though no date for the launch was given. The feature will let two Philo subscribers in different locations create a synchronized viewing session of a show. A link that corresponds with a specific channel, show, and time can be sent as a text message, which when opened will trigger the joint viewing session. In a similar vein, Philo users will be able to merge their profiles for the purpose of getting joint content recommendations from the platform. Philo is the first live TV streaming service to offer these features.

The service also offers a handy catch-up feature called 72-Hour Rewind, which lets you access almost any show that aired at any time during the previous 72 hours.

What about watching away from home? All of Philo’s live streaming channels can be accessed on-the-go via the company’s iOS app, or the Chrome browser on Android devices. Additionally, many of the channels carried by Philo offer their own on-demand shows and movies that might not be included in Philo’s on-demand catalog.  To access them, you need to download that channel’s dedicated app, and then sign-in using your Philo credentials. To see which channels offer this service, and the platforms they support, check out Philo’s “TV Everywhere” help page.

Supported devices

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. Things have changed however, and now Philo is also available on the Apple TV and Amazon Fire TV devices, including the Fire TV Cube. There’s also an app specifically for Android TV users.

An app is available for iOS and iPadOS devices as well as Android devices. It’s also accessible via web browser. It is not available, however, on Chromecast or game consoles.

Viewing experience

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 AT&T TV Now in the past.

When it comes to actually navigating through available shows, the interface is mostly universal from platform to platform, with any easy to use guide for browsing live TV and on-demand options alike.

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.

Our take

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, 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.

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