Hulu is arguably the best streaming-TV bargain at $5.99, but in the uncertain times of the coronavirus pandemic you may be looking for something a little more… free. As long as you’ve got internet, you can enjoy a wealth of free TV. Granted you may not be able to binge-watch entire seasons like you can on Netflix, nor will you be able to access every show you want to see. But you might be surprised at how much content is available online, and how many options you have for viewing it.
While there are plenty of free services, some of them come with limitations. First and foremost these services are almost all ad-supported, so you won’t be able to skip commercials. Most have older shows and movies, sort of like basic cable reruns. And many network sites won’t let you stream all their shows unless you’re a paid cable or satellite subscriber — but many offer a selection of stuff you can watch without signing in or paying. Let’s take a look at some the best free, legal ways to indulge your inner couch potato.
Roku Channel is designed for people who own the company’s streaming products, but anyone with a phone or PC browser and a connection to the internet can use it.
What you can watch: The selection of TV shows is heavy on reality TV such as Hoarders and crime shows such as Cold Case. Unfortunately, not every series is complete and the service only offers a single episode in some cases. There’s plenty of stuff to watch, however, including a dedicated kids section and another for live news. There’s also a solid array of past and recent movies including Stand By Me, The Karate Kid and Donnie Darky. The channel also offers the ability to subscribe to premium services including HBO, much like you can on Amazon Prime Video channels or the Apple TV app.
Where you can watch: As you might expect, you can get the Roku Channel on Roku devices including streamers and Roku TVs. However, you can also watch the Roku Channel in any browser or via the iOS/Android Roku app, though it doesn’t offer the option to download shows for offline viewing. There’s also a Roku Channel app on Samsung smart TVs.
Sony’s Crackle is an ad-supported streaming service that offers mostly movies, but also some TV shows — including original content. It’s available on a wide variety of devices and doesn’t even require you to set up an account, though doing so enables you to save favorites, get recommendations and resume playback if you switch between devices.
What you can watch: Crackle’s commercial-supported selection isn’t particularly extensive, with only a little over 100 different shows, and mainly consists of family sitcoms such as All in the Family, Roseanne and Who’s the Boss. As above, not every series is complete. In some cases you might get only one or two seasons, or even just a partial season.
Where you can watch: Crackle’s list of devices is also extensive. The service offers apps for all mobile platforms, game consoles and major streaming devices. It’s even baked into many smart TVs. It does not offer the option to download shows for offline viewing.
Pluto TV is noteworthy for offering not only on-demand movies, but also live TV channels including CBS News and, ahem, CNET. It’s ad-supported, of course, but definitely one of the best free-content options currently available. (Disclaimer: Pluto TV is owned by ViacomCBS, the parent company of CNET).
What you can watch: Pluto offers an impressive selection of live channels, all of them sorted into categories like news, sports, comedy and movies in a grid format. On-demand TV content consists mostly of crime and reality shows, and it’s not organized nearly as well as the live channels. One oddity: If you’re watching a live stream, there’s no way to pause. You can only mute it.
Where you can watch: Pluto TV works in desktop browsers, but also offers a Windows client. It has apps for Android, iOS and various smart TVs and channels for Apple TV ($179 at Apple), Fire TV and Roku.
The name belies the content: Tubi TV offers considerably more movies than it does TV shows, but that’s not to say you shouldn’t check out its extensive library. Similar to Crackle, this ad-supported network is available on a wide variety of devices and doesn’t require an account, though signing up for one enables you to save favorites and resume playback if you switch between devices.
What you can watch: Tubi TV definitely isn’t Hulu. Its TV selection consists of a lot of British imports and various shows you’ve probably never heard of. Indeed, there’s not even a dedicated TV section, just a few TV-specific categories (comedies, dramas, reality and so on) within its much larger content list……Read More>>