Philo: Live streaming 58 channels for $20 per month
Philo is one of the cheapest streaming services around for watching A&E, Discovery and HGTV live without a satellite or cable TV subscription.
I’ve been a subscriber to Philo since December 2017.
During that time, I have used Philo on just about every major streaming device.
Philo works on:
- Roku/Roku TV
- Amazon Fire TV
- Apple TV,
- Web browsers
- Android smartphones
- iPhones/iOS devices
- Android TV devices like NVIDIA Shield TV
In this review, I’ll outline what Philo offers, how it performs and the different ways you can set up your channels. I cut the cord from cable TV a few years back, and regularly test streaming services.
What is Philo?
Philo live streams channels over the Internet to your TV instead of a cable cord or satellite dish perched on your roof. You’ll need a supported streaming device connected to a TV. No cable box required.
The company got its start in the live TV business by serving colleges and universities. Philo — named after TV inventor Philo Farnsworth – rolled out its residential service in November 2017.
New customers can start a free 7-day trial in under a minute with their mobile number; after two days, you will need to add a debit or credit card to get the remaining free five days of service.
You can cancel online before the trial date ends if you decide Philo isn’t for you.
No obligations, contracts or hidden fees.
Philo TV channels
Here’s a quick look at the Philo’s channel lineup of 58 networks. It is made up of channels from AMC Networks, Discovery and Viacom. Unlimited Cloud DVR and TV Everywhere access is included. Recordings only stick around for 30 days. It’s an ideal service if you’re looking for entertainment networks, but don’t care much about sports networks. Note: Philo now has one single channel lineup for $20 per month. Back in May, Philo got rid of its $16 per month bundle, and mashed it together with an add-on bundle that costs $4 more.
|American Heroes Channel|
|BBC World News|
|Game Show Network|
|Investigation Discovery (ID)|
|Law & Crime|
|OWN (Oprah Winfrey Network)|
What is Philo’s picture resolution?
Philo streams in high definition resolution, but there is a slight difference in picture quality depending on how you watch. If you watch live TV, Philo streams in 720p. But if you watch those same programs on-demand, then the picture resolution is higher at 1080p. Audio is in standard 2.0 stereo quality.
Philo Menu: How it works
The Philo app is essentially the same across all streaming devices with a few minor exceptions.
The channel guide is a grid-style menu adds a little bit more of a description than a cable TV or satellite TV service.
The Home tab keeps track of shows and movies that you didn’t finish watching. That’s pretty handy if you watched half of a movie, and want to pick up where you left off the next day.
Under the “Keep Watching” section, you can see your saved/recorded shows, what’s trending on live TV, recommendations, top shows on Philo and what’s new and upcoming.
Cloud DVR is straightforward, and comes at no extra cost. Recordings will only be available for 30 days. And just about anything that’s aired in the last few days is likely available on-demand. That makes Philo a pretty good catch-all for whatever is airing on live TV in a given week.
I’ve been happy with how easy it has been to record shows. I can just click on an upcoming show’s thumbnail, and get the entire season that’s available. I don’t have to think too deeply about it, which is the best system you can have.
Roku has a no frills Philo app that’s functional and easy to use. It has all the sections described above and it’s fairly intuitive — even if you have never tried a live streaming service before.
If you use an Amazon Fire TV, a NVIDIA Shield or a Smart TV equipped with Android TV (version 5.0 or higher), then you can have a richer experience by customizing your menus.
Philo on Amazon Fire TV
An Amazon Fire TV is one of my favorite ways to watch Philo because you can pull together an a la carte style menu from a few different sources.
The Fire TV channel guide lets you see all your Philo channels alongside over-the-air channels from a TV antenna, free services like Pluto TV and Amazon Channels like HBO.
So when I combine Philo networks (58 total) with free over-the-air channels from a TV antenna (roughly 55) and another 100 free channels from Pluto TV, that’s a pretty robust cable TV replacement.
I’m not missing the local weather on NBC, or any national sports on FOX, either. I created a YouTube video that shows how the combo of Philo and over-the-channels runs on a Fire TV Cube.
To recreate my channel lineup here, you will need to buy a TV antenna, and a Fire TV Recast. Sure, you’re dishing out some more cash than your $20 per month Philo subscription. But consider how much you are paying for cable TV or satellite providers like DISH or DIRECTV.
Is it $150 or $200 per month? What kind of return on your investment are you getting with that monthly bill? None. Zero. You’re just paying another bill that’s too high. Having your own equipment is the difference between renting and owning a home.
If you’re interested in maximizing your Philo channel lineup, you can also read my guide, The Best Fire TV apps for Live TV.
Let’s say you’re not interested in all that. You can still use the Philo app on Fire TV on its own. Fire TV devices also have a “Live TV” section within the main menu.
NVIDIA Shield TV app (Android TV)
The NVIDIA Shield lets you add Philo channels right on the main menu.
The Shield runs on Android TV, which you can also find on certain Smart TVs, streaming boxes and even the Nebula Capsule II portable projector. With the Shield, you can go to the customize channels button at the bottom of the screen, and add a feed for a single Philo channel.
In my case, I added A&E, AXS TV and History. Click on the channel icon, and you will go to the live channel. To the right, there are a number of popular on-demand shows and movies — depending on the channel.
The Philo app can be launched directly from the main menu — just like any number of streaming devices. But if you add a channel to the home screen, then you can dive directly into a live stream of a particular network or peruse on-demand shows and movies without having to go into the Philo app.
TIP for On-demand shows: No matter what Philo app you’re using, here’s a neat way to find on-demand shows and movies. Under the Guide tab, navigate to the left column and hover over the actual channel icon. A long press of “OK” button on the remote makes that channel a favoirte. But try a quick tap of the OK button instead. That pulls up all the on-demand shows and movies for that channel.
TV EVERYWHERE ACCESS: Use Philo to activate apps
Aside from live TV, Philo users can activate 38 network TV apps on streaming devices, computers and smartphones.
These are called TV Everywhere apps and often have extra live streams, movies and shows. Philo posted a list of devices, including Xbox One that will accept TV Everywhere credentials.
Philo TV has no sports or locals
You’re not going to find your local NBC, ABC or FOX stations on Philo. And if you’re in range of over-the-air signals, then an antenna can get you those networks for free.
You could complain about the lack of sports channels on Philo, but if you do then you’re missing the point.
Sports networks are among the most expensive ones carried by cable, satellite TV and streaming platforms. The consulting firm PwC estimates that North American sports leagues earned $18.4 billion in 2016 from TV, radio and streaming platforms.
Philo is a first among any pay-TV carriers to cut out sports, giving those who don’t want networks like ESPN a price break.
For years, scores of cable subscribers frustrated by their ever-rising monthly bills have asked a simple question.
Why should anyone have to pay for a channel they don’t watch?
Now you don’t.
But surprisingly, even cord cutting sports fans have found a place for Philo in their roster of subscriptions. Users on the subreddit r/PhiloTV also see the non-sports platform as a supplement to other live TV streaming options that carry Major League Baseball or NFL games.
Battle of Cheap Channel Lineups
If ESPN is a must in your channel lineup, you could spend a few more dollars a month for Sling TV.
Like with all things, there are some trade offs.
|Philo||Sling TV (Orange)||Sling TV (Blue)||AT&T Watch TV|
|Number of Channels||58||33+||47||35+|
|Cost per month||$20||$30||$30||$15|
|Sports||No||4 ESPN networks||Regionals||No|
|Cloud DVR||Unlimited||50 hours for $5/mo||50 hours for $5/mo||No|
|Picture Resolution||720p – 1080p||1080p||1080p||480p/1080p|
|Activate apps “TV Everywhere”||38||up to 23||up to 23||No|
Sling Orange gives you about 34 channels, including ESPN, Disney Channel and A&E.
Sling Blue will give you regional sports networks in many markets in the U.S. You’ll also pick up gems like FX, FXX, FS1, FS2, National Geographic and Nat Geo Wild.
Sling TV gives you 10 hours of Cloud DVR for free. Want to record more shows or sporting events? That will cost another $5 per month for 50 hours of Cloud DVR. If you want ESPN and regional sports networks, then you can get Sling Orange and Blue together, which usually costs $45 per month
Sling TV is currently offering 40 percent off the first month to new customers.
The closest thing to either Sling TV or Philo is AT&T Watch TV. Subscribers get 35+ channels for $15 per month. AT&T Watch is geared as a mobile service with networks such as AMC, HGTV and TBS. There are apps for Apple TV and Amazon Fire TV devices. Picture resolution on smartphones is at 480p and up to 1080p on set top boxes.
AT&T Watch TV comes at no extra cost if you already pay for a AT&T Unlimited & More plan. The company offers a standalone subscription to its 35+ channel lineup for $15 per month. There’s no Cloud DVR. Picture resolution on mobile is 480p, but up to 1080p on a set top box like Fire TV.
Areas of improvement for Philo TV
Philo needs a section that aggregates all on-demand movies from every channel. Right now, you have to look within each channel queue to find on-demand movies.
That’s a big time suck, and you may not even realize what’s available on any given day.
Example: “Django Unchained” was once on-demand through BET Her, but I don’t ever watch that channel.
Looking over the on-demand offerings for each channel individually is a pain and not that user friendly. I don’t want to burn 30 minutes looking over my options when I only have two hours of free time to actually watch a whole movie. That could prompt anyone to run to Netflix in a heartbeat.
Is Philo worth it?
I’ve been happy as a paying customer of Philo. It’s been just the right amount of pay-TV for me because I already have so much else to watch.
The Amazon Fire TV right now is the best device to incorporate Philo channels into a single channel guide with over-the-air channels and free services like Pluto TV and Red Bull TV.
Philo won’t be for everyone. But if you’re not a big sports fan, or have other ways to watch baseball or basketball, then Philo might be the perfect fit in your cord cutting wheelhouse.
A lot of people want some kind of a la carte option. Television providers will probably never be able to do that and make a profit. But streaming services are beginning to recognize that smaller bundles are a perfect fit for a segment of TV watchers.
Since Philo offers a free 7-day trial, you can see how it works while you still have your cable TV or satellite subscription.
Yeah, I know. You need Internet too. Read through my guide on getting the best price for Internet without a cable TV or satellite TV subscription.
If you’ve already signed up for Philo, are you a happy customer? Tell fellow readers about your experiences in the comments below.
Note: This review was originally posted April 3, 2018 and has been updated.