Internet protocol television (IPTV) allows you to ditch expensive cable and satellite bills by streaming live TV channels directly over the internet. The technology has exploded in popularity over the past few years among cordcutters. However, IPTV comes loaded with major legality questions that you need to consider.
In this comprehensive guide, we’ll cover:
- The top paid IPTV services and full breakdowns of each
- Major free, legal IPTV apps to supplement your streaming
- IPTV legality concerns and how to stay protected
- Live streaming devices, antennas, VPNs, and more
Let’s start with an IPTV overview so you understand exactly what it is and how it works.
What is IPTV and How Does it Work?
IPTV stands for Internet Protocol Television. It‘s a way of distributing live TV channels over the internet rather than through traditional cable/satellite providers.
With IPTV, TV broadcasts from around the world are captured as digital video streams. These streams are then compressed using codecs like H.264 or H.265 to reduce bandwidth. This allows them to be efficiently delivered over the internet.
The video streams are loaded onto servers that are able to distribute them through a technology called multicasting. This allows the same stream to be sent efficiently to many viewers at once.
A CDN (content delivery network) helps provide fast streaming speeds by distributing streams across global data centers located close to users.
On the receiving end, IPTV streams can be accessed through any internet connected device like phones, tablets, media players, smart TVs, etc. Some IPTV providers also offer their own proprietary set-top boxes.
IPTV provides a low cost alternative to bloated cable/satellite bills. But it also comes loaded with major legality questions…
Is IPTV Legal? Understanding the Risks
The short answer is it depends. The IPTV technology itself is entirely legal. There are many reputable, licensed services like Sling TV and YouTube TV operating properly.
However, there are also many "underground" IPTV providers capturing and distributing content illegally without proper licensing. This violates broadcaster copyrights and essentially operates like pirated cable.
The problem is it can be almost impossible to distinguish legal vs illegal services as an end user. Lots of IPTV providers make questionable claims about legality and operate in gray areas.
Some red flags include:
- Thousands of premium channels for suspiciously cheap prices
- Vague claims about licensing
- Constant channel outages and shutdowns
- Requests for payment in crypto or gift cards
In 2019, illegal service iStreamItAll was shut down in a massive piracy crackdown. At its peak it offered thousands of pirated channels for just $15/month. Users lost all access.
Illegal IPTV services can work until inevitably getting shut down. You also risk getting in trouble yourself depending on your local piracy laws.
Ultimately it comes down to trust. Reputable services from major brands like Sling TV and Hulu + Live TV can be trusted. But many fringe providers sit in shady legal territory.
I always recommend protecting yourself with a good VPN (virtual private network). This hides your streaming activity from prying ISPs, government agencies, and potential malware.
Surfshark VPN offers a great mix of streaming focused features and affordable pricing. It allows unlimited simultaneous connections so you can secure all your household‘s devices.
Get Surfshark for 85% off here and try it out with the 30 day money back guarantee. It takes just minutes to set up for anonymous, protected IPTV streaming.
With the legality breakdown covered, let‘s dive into the top services available across free and paid tiers.
Best Paid IPTV Services
These paid IPTV providers offer live TV streaming for a monthly subscription fee. They provide premium packages similar to your old cable or satellite provider but delivered entirely over the internet.
Most operate on a "skinny bundle" model with base packages starting in the $35-$75 range. You have the flexibility to customize channel add-ons to suit your interests from sports to movies and everything between.
Let‘s take an in-depth look at the top paid IPTV services available in 2022:
YouTube TV ties for the top spot thanks to an expansive channel lineup, unlimited DVR, and widespread device support.
For $64.99 per month, you get over 85+ channels spanning sports, news, entertainment, and more. Local affiliates from ABC, NBC, CBS, and Fox are available in most regions.
Unlimited DVR functionality allows you to record as much programming as you want which is stored for 9 months. You also get 6 individual user accounts and 3 simultaneous streams.
Supported platforms range across mobile, streaming devices, smart TVs, and web browsers.
The service is easy to set up and intuitive to navigate through the familiar YouTube interface. Reliability is also top-notch thanks to Google‘s powerful global infrastructure.
However, the relatively high price tag and lack of 4K streaming hold YouTube TV back compared to some competitors. But it remains a top IPTV contender.
Cost: $64.99 per month
Free Trial: Yes, 7 days
Simultaneous Streams: 3
Hulu + Live TV
Hulu + Live TV ($69.99 per month) competes closely with YouTube TV when it comes to top-tier paid IPTV services.
The service offers 75+ live channels—slightly fewer than YouTube TV but with some nice exclusive additions like the full ESPN+ library. You also get the entire Hulu on-demand streaming catalog of movies, shows, Hulu Originals, and more.
Supported devices are robust spanning mobile apps, media players, gaming consoles, and smart TVs/streaming sticks. Video quality is excellent with many channels available in 60fps and some in 4K.
The enhanced DVR functionality allows you to fast forward through ads and increases storage to 200 hours from the base 50 hours. This costs an extra $9.99 per month.
Downsides compared to YouTube TV include the limited number of simultaneous streams (2) and profile support (6 profiles but only 1 concurrent stream per profile).
But the combination of live TV and huge Hulu on demand library is a major perk you won‘t find elsewhere.
Cost: $69.99 per month
Free Trial: Yes, 7 days
DVR: 50 hours (200 hours Enhanced for $9.99)
Simultaneous Streams: 2
fuboTV is tailored specifically for sports fans looking to cut the cord on cable.
The base package includes major sports networks like NFL Network, NBA TV, MLB Network, and others. Regional FOX and NBC Sports channels are also available based on your location.
Cloud DVR functionality comes included with 250 hours of storage. You can upgrade to 1000 hours of DVR space for an extra $16.99 per month. Playback features allow you to begin watching recordings before they even finish.
The Standard plan includes over 125 channels for $69.99 per month. You can customize with add-on channel packs and premium networks. Drawbacks include the relatively high starting price and lack of TNT/TBS which are big omissions for NBA and MLB fans.
But overall fuboTV remains one of the best live TV streamers for sports-focused cordcutters. And they frequently run promotions where your first month is discounted 40% to $39.99.
Cost: $69.99 per month
Free Trial: Yes, 7 days
DVR: 250 hours (upgradable to 1000 hours)
Simultaneous Streams: 3
Sling TV rounds out our top paid IPTV contenders with an affordable starting price and "build your own" flexibility.
The base packages—Sling Orange and Sling Blue—each run just $35 per month. Orange focuses on sports and family while Blue caters to news and entertainment.
You can combine the two for $50 per month or start with a base package and build your own fully customized live TV tier by adding extras like the Comedy Extra, Lifestyle Extra, Sports Extra, and more. Spanish language and international add-ons are also available.
The Sling TV interface is intuitive and easy to navigate. 50 hours of DVR storage comes standard with each base package.
The biggest downside is stream limitations. Sling Orange allows only 1 stream at a time while Sling Blue provides up to 3 simultaneous streams. This can make it less ideal for larger households.
But overall, Sling TV remains one of the most affordable live TV options while still packing lots of customization potential. It‘s a great budget alternative to pricier competitors.
Cost: $35 per month (Sling Orange), $35 per month (Sling Blue), $50 per month (combined)
Channels: 30+ (Orange), 40+ (Blue)
Free Trial: No
DVR: 50 hours included
Simultaneous Streams: 1 (Orange), 3 (Blue)
Finding the Best Streaming Devices for IPTV
Once you‘ve chosen an IPTV provider, the next step is finding compatible streaming devices. The major services above support a wide range of platforms:
Smartphones and tablets – iOS, Android, Fire tablets
Computers – Windows, Mac, Linux
Smart TVs – LG, Samsung, Vizio
Media players – Roku, Apple TV, Fire TV, Chromecast
Game consoles – Xbox One, PS4
I recommend using a dedicated streaming box connected directly to your TV rather than casting from a mobile device. This provides a smoother streaming experience.
The Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K is my top pick for IPTV streaming. It‘s affordable, supports all major providers, and the remote includes quick access buttons for services like Hulu, Netflix, and Sling TV.
Many IPTV providers also offer their own proprietary set-top boxes tailored for their service. For example, fuboTV sells the fuboTV Stream 4K streaming device designed specifically for their platform.
No matter which streaming device you choose, I definitely recommend connecting it to your network via ethernet for the fastest, most reliable speeds possible over WiFi.
If your living room doesn‘t have ethernet ports available, you can use a powerline adapter or MoCA adapter to deliver wired speeds over your home‘s electrical/coaxial connections.
Supplement With Free IPTV Apps
In addition to full cable replacement services, there are also free, ad-supported IPTV apps that offer some live TV streaming.
These won‘t replace a proper paid IPTV service. But they can be great supplemental options to the services above adding more free content.
Here are some top free IPTV platforms:
Pluto TV – Pluto TV provides over 250 free live channels—no signup required. Programming spans movies, TV shows, news, sports and more. Supported devices include Fire TV, Roku, iOS/Android apps.
The Roku Channel – Ad-supported free live TV is baked right into Roku devices. Get 100+ channels from major networks like ABC, NBC, Fox, and more.
Plex – Plex offers over 80 free live TV channels in categories like sports, comedy, gaming, and tech. Streams through any device with the Plex app.
Xumo – Xumo provides 100+ free streaming channels spanning entertainment, news, movies, sports, and more. Supported on Roku, Fire TV, smart TVs, and mobile.
These free options can help you get by until you‘re ready to commit to a full paid TV replacement. Or use them to supplement paid services with additional content.
Use an HD Antenna for Local Channels
Another way to supplement IPTV streaming is with an HD antenna for free over-the-air local channels.
An HD antenna can pull in ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, and other local stations broadcast over-the-air in your region. Picture quality is excellent since it‘s direct uncompressed HD.
I recommend checking out AntennaWeb first to see what stations are available in your area. Then choose the appropriate antenna style:
Indoor antennas – Cheap but shorter range. Best in urban areas.
Outdoor/attic antennas – More powerful. Required for suburban/rural areas.
Amplified antennas – Contain signal boosters for max range.
The Winegard Elite 7550 is a top performing long range outdoor model able to pull stations from over 65 miles away.
Many streaming devices like Fire TV and Apple TV allow you to directly integrate local OTA channels into their live channel guides alongside streaming options. It‘s a seamless experience.
If you prefer to watch through mobile apps, I recommend the Channels DVR app. It adds DVR functionality and integrates OTA channels into iOS/Android alongside services like YouTube TV.
Use a VPN to Stay Protected
No matter what IPTV streaming setup you choose, I strongly recommend running all your connections through a VPN (virtual private network).
A VPN will encrypt all your streaming activity so ISPs and hackers can‘t see what you‘re accessing. It also hides your IP address and physical location.
This helps circumvent geoblocks and content blackouts. For example, you can spoof your location to somewhere like the UK if a service you want is only available there.
A VPN also provides an important layer of protection in case you do access any shady IPTV providers operating illegally. Your traffic will be anonymous.
I use and recommend Surfshark VPN which offers great speeds for HD streaming along with unlimited device support and affordable pricing.
Surfshark also offers a 30 day money back guarantee so you can try it out risk-free.
Get Surfshark for 85% off here and see how a VPN supercharges your streaming experience across paid IPTV, free apps, and on-demand services.
The Bottom Line
Hopefully this complete overview gives you a good feel for the legal IPTV landscape and main options available. While sketchy IPTV providers are abundant, you can feel comfortable using any of the services outlined above.
For paid offerings, I recommend starting with the 7-day free trials offered by YouTube TV and Hulu + Live TV. Both provide an excellent sampling of premium live TV streaming. fuboTV is great for sports-focused cordcutting.
On the free side, Pluto TV and Xumo both offer robust channels—quality won‘t match paid but the price is right. And you can augment with premium add-ons from any paid service.
An HD antenna pulls in free, local broadcast stations. And a VPN keeps all your streaming protected and anonymous across devices.
Now that you understand the basics, it‘s time to start streaming! Build your own personalized live TV package with the range of IPTV options now available in today‘s cordcutting era.
Let me know if you have any other questions!