Which cord-cutting TV streaming apps have the best DVR?

Not all streaming DVR apps are created equal.

Credit: Sling
Our editors review and recommend products to help you buy the stuff you need. If you make a purchase by clicking one of our links, we may earn a small share of the revenue. Our picks and opinions are independent from any business incentives.

—Our editors review and recommend products to help you buy the stuff you need. If you make a purchase by clicking one of our links, we may earn a small share of the revenue. Our picks and opinions are independent from any business incentives.

Until recently, one of the few disadvantages of canceling cable in favor of an internet-based TV streaming app was the latter's lack of DVR functionality. It seemed (for a short while, anyway) that anyone who'd gotten used to setting a DVR to record their favorite shows would need to cling to their cable contract in order to keep recording.

Related

Here's how to ditch cable and still watch everything you want

These days, with the streaming app landscape being as vast as it is, you're more likely to sign up for a streaming service that does offer some sort of DVR than one that doesn't. Unfortunately, this is where things get complicated, since every service has its own restrictions when it comes to how much, how long, and what, exactly, you can record.

Understanding how and why each service comes up with the rules that govern its DVR functionality requires a thorough (and admittedly boring) case-by-case look at contract negotiations and past business dealings, so instead, let's just establish that each service has its trade-offs and leave it at that.

Here's everything you need to know about some of the most popular streaming apps that feature DVR.

Sling TV

Cost: $5 extra/month (on top of base plan)
Hours allotted: 50
Ads: Can be skipped
Recordings do not expire
Other restrictions: Cannot record programming from Disney-owned channels, including Freeform, Disney Channel, and the ESPN suite

When we wrote our initial hands-on review of Sling TV, the company's optional Cloud DVR feature had just made its debut. Since then, the Sling TV experience has only gotten better, as changes to the UI and additional features have gone a long way in ironing out some of the platform's early issues.

Having spent a couple years using Sling TV and other streaming apps, I can confidently say that Sling is one of my favorite ways to watch and record live TV. The 5-dollar, so-low-you-won't-feel-it cost of the add-on DVR service pretty much makes it a no-brainer for folks who plan on subscribing to Sling, but the 50-hour restriction might not be enough for those of us with bigger media diets.

Additionally, I'm often disappointed by Sling's blackout on recording content that airs on Disney-owned channels like ESPN and Freeform.

My recommendation? If your favorite show airs on a Disney-affiliated channel, or if you're at all concerned about bumping into that 50-hour ceiling, you might want to pick another streaming platform to do your DVR bidding. If you're still on the fence and you've never used the app before, you can always try a free 1-week trial and then cancel it before your credit card gets charged automatically.

Sign up for a free 1-week trial of Sling TV

Hulu with Live TV

Cost: Included in the standard plan, can be upgraded to "Enhanced Cloud DVR" for $14.99/month
Hours allotted: 50 for standard plan, 200 for Enhanced
Ads: Can only be skipped with Enhanced Cloud DVR subscription
Recordings do not expire

Hulu's DVR service is included in the standard "Hulu + Live TV" subscription plan (around $40/month), but Hulu's standard plan is pricier than Sling TV's, so you might find it to be a wash if you're strictly comparing the two. This will net you 50 total hours of recording time, though you might still run into ad breaks that you're unable to fast-forward.

A $15 upgrade to Hulu's Enhanced Cloud DVR service will raise your recording limit to 200 hours and give you the ability to blast through commercial breaks during DVR playback—just like the streaming gods intended.

I love Hulu's clean, easy-to-navigate interface, and the sheer amount of content available in the Hulu library on top of its live TV programming is a big mark in the platform's favor. That said, the only way to get the most out of its DVR service is to cough up $15 to pay for the premium plan, and that might be a pain point for some people. Like Sling TV, if you want to get a feel for the feature, you can sign up for a free, 1-week trial of Hulu with Live TV and simply bail on the commitment before the week is up.

Sign up for a free 1-week trial of Hulu with Live TV

YouTube TV

Cost: Included in the standard plan
Hours allotted: Unlimited
Ads: Can be skipped, but with exceptions
Recordings expire after 9 months

YouTube TV's journey has been a complicated one, but in many respects, the service is finally establishing itself as an intriguing alternative to popular players like Sling TV and Hulu.

DVR access is included with a YouTube TV subscription, and friends, there are zero restrictions on the amount of hours you're able to record. The only catch? Your recorded programs automatically expire after nine months, whether you like it or not.

Personally, I'm not terribly worried about losing my saved shows after such a long grace period, but if there's one thing I know for sure, it's that I'm a big ol' weirdo whose preferences and priorities sometimes don't match up with those of my peers. If you value the ability to hold onto your recordings for as long as your heart desires, YouTube TV's compromise might, understandably, be a non-starter.

Up until recently, a common complaint among subscribers of YouTube TV was that the service would automatically feed you the on-demand version of select programs even if you recorded them with DVR. This might not seem like much, but when you consider that the difference between watching an on-demand episode and watching a recording of that very same episode is the user's ability to fast-forward through commercials, the complaint makes total sense.

Fortunately, in recent months, YouTube has steadily decreased the amount of channels that do this. It might not be a totally seamless, ad-free DVR experience, but it's not as restrictive as it used to be.

Note: If you jump into a free trial offer of YouTube TV, just keep in mind that this is a 5-day trial, not a week-long trial. If you don't cancel in time, you'll get charged for a full month.

Sign up for a free 5-day trial of YouTube TV

Playstation Vue

Cost: Included in every plan
Hours allotted: Unlimited
Ads: Can be skipped, but with exceptions
Recordings expire after 28 days

Contrary to popular belief, Playstation Vue isn't just for Playstation owners—though it might end up appealing to that crowd, nevertheless. In addition to being available on the Playstation 4 console, Playstation Vue is also available on most of the best streaming devices you can buy.

Sony's answer to the streaming DVR conundrum is to offer subscribers unlimited storage, but saved shows only last 28 days before expiration. It's the ultimate compromise, I suppose, but while I'm not concerned about YouTube TV's 9-month grace period, Playstation Vue's 4-week grace period legitimately makes me fear for my precious programming—especially given how prone I am to procrastination.

The concessions keep coming, too: Playstation Vue won't let you fast-forward through commercial breaks when watching saved recordings of shows on Fox, FX, FXX. And if you want to record something from a local channel like Fox, ABC, CBS, or NBC, you might be outta luck, since there are heavy restrictions on local network affiliates in certain areas. If this concerns you, head over to the complete list of DVR-restricted channels on Playstation Vue.

All in all, it's not the worst option available, but DVR-heavy users might start feeling the heat from all of Playstation Vue's restrictions.

Sign up for a free 1-week trial of Playstation Vue

DirecTV Now

Cost: Included in every plan
Hours allotted: 20
Ads: Can be skipped
Recordings expire after 30 days

DirecTV Now's DVR service (which is technically still in its Beta stage) is bundled with each of its price tiers, but unfortunately, it ties your hands in two ways: amount of hours allotted and amount of time before programs expire. It is truly the worst of both worlds, and I can't say I find it to be a selling point.

That said, if we're searching for silver linings, I suppose it's nice that DirecTV Now isn't funneling on-demand versions of TV shows into your life, but Hulu and Sling don't do that either.

There's really no way around it: If you consider DVR functionality to be a priority when sizing up streaming services, DirecTV is going to have a hard time coming out on top.

Sign up for a free 1-week trial of DirecTV Now


Prices are accurate at the time of publication, but may change over time.

Related Video: LG's latest OLED TV is smarter, faster, and looks incredible

Our editors review and recommend products to help you buy the stuff you need. If you make a purchase by clicking one of our links, we may earn a small share of the revenue. Our picks and opinions are independent from any business incentives.

What's Your Take?

All Comments
Our editors review and recommend products to help you buy the stuff you need. If you make a purchase by clicking one of our links, we may earn a small share of the revenue. Our picks and opinions are independent from any business incentives.
Advertisement - Continue Reading Below
Advertisement - Continue Reading Below
Advertisement - Continue Reading Below
Advertisement - Continue Reading Below
Advertisement - Continue Reading Below
Advertisement - Continue Reading Below