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How to Watch PBS Online Live Stream & On Demand

PBS is a public broadcast station that specializes in educational programming. It also offers children's programming and British shows for all you anglophiles out there.

Concerts, news, documentaries—PBS has all the cultural and educational content you could possibly want. The only problem? It’s a public broadcasting channel, so it’s a bit harder to find if you’re trying to cut the cord.

Don’t worry, though—we’ve put in the time and figured out the best ways to watch PBS.

Top ways to watch PBS

Best overall:
PBS Apps
Both the PBS and PBS KIDS apps are free to download and grant you access to a good amount of content, though some requires a PBS Passport subscription.$5+/mo.
PBS Passport
Learn More
Runner-up:
DIRECTV
DIRECTV is a reliable option and offers pretty much every PBS station nationwide. Just be prepared for rate hikes after a year.$35/mo.*
SELECT™ package
View Plans
Wild card:
Digital antenna
Antennas let you tune in to your live PBS feed over the air, but they don’t include perks like a DVR or playback features.$10–$170View on Amazon
Data effective 11/9/18. Offers subject to change.
*For 12 months with a 2-yr contract, paperless billing, & autopay. Price increases for months 13-24.

#1 PBS Apps: The cheapest way to get PBS on your schedule

What we like: Lots of free shows and low-cost member content

Drawbacks: The best stuff is kept behind a paywall

Who it’s perfect for: Anglophiles and households that love PBS kids shows

Want to get PBS without subscribing to a cable or satellite provider? The PBS Video app and PBS KIDS Video app are your best option.

Both apps are free to download and allow you to stream tons of free, on-demand content over your internet connection. In fact, every show on the PBS KIDS app is completely free, so it’s perfect if your kids tend to lose their minds if they don’t get their daily dose of Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood.

Of course, if you’re an adult, the PBS Video app gets a little more complicated. A lot of the best shows are hidden behind a paywall, so you’ll need to become a PBS Passport member in order to watch Young Victoria, for instance.

Still, a yearly PBS Passport subscription is probably worth it, especially when you consider the high costs, hidden fees, and contracts associated with a cable or satellite provider.

How much does the PBS Video app cost?

The PBS apps themselves don’t cost anything (yesss). And shows on the PBS KIDS app are completely free, so it’s the best way to go if you’re looking for a way to stream your kids’ favorite shows.

The PBS Video app, on the other hand, does include some free content, including the most recent episode of each major show. But most of the big-ticket episodes are hidden behind a paywall. So if you’re trying to watch Eons or the most recent episode of Poldark, you’re good. Binge-watching seasons 1–3 of Sherlock? Not so much.

To get everything the PBS Video app has to offer, you’ll need to get PBS Passport. That means becoming a member of your local PBS station by making a minimum donation. Each station decides the minimum donation for membership, so the exact cost to get PBS Passport depends on where you live.

Most stations require a minimum monthly donation of $5 or more per month. Or you can just get a year-long membership for around $60. That’s a heck of a lot cheaper than a cable or satellite TV plan, plus you get the satisfaction of donating to a worthy cause. #winning.

Watching PBS on the PBS Video app

The PBS Video app is all on demand. Translation: you can’t watch anything live. So if you’re trying to avoid spoilers for season 3 of Young Victoria, you may want to use DIRECTV or your antenna to watch PBS.

On the plus side, watching your favorite shows on demand gives you a lot of flexibility. You can watch on your own schedule—no more rushing home from work so you can make it to your TV in time. And if you’re into binging Masterpiece Theatre shows en masse, the PBS Video app is the best way to do it.

PBS Video app device compatibility

All PBS content is available to stream on your computer via the PBS website. But if you’d prefer to watch on your TV, the PBS Video app is compatible with pretty much every major streaming device.

#2 DIRECTV: A reliable way to get your local PBS station

Price
$35 - $60

What we like: Cheaper for PBS fans than other cable and satellite options

Drawbacks: Contracts and higher overall price

Who it’s perfect for: PBS fans who can’t cut the cord (or just don’t want to)

The PBS Video app is great if you’re into watching on demand. But what if you’re looking for live content or don’t have an internet connection strong enough to support video streaming?

Enter DIRECTV.

DIRECTV offers pretty much every PBS station in the nation, and it’s included with DIRECTV’s cheapest package (SELECT). It’s also satellite TV, so you don’t have to worry about glitching or fuzzy picture quality during peak usage hours.

There is a catch, though. DIRECTV customers have to sign a two-year contract. And don’t be fooled by that low $35-per-month starting rate, either. DIRECTV plans can more than double in price halfway through your contract.

Long story short: if you’re planning to move within the next couple of years or you’re on a tight budget, you may be better off going the antenna route.

How much does DIRECTV cost?

To get PBS, you’ll need DIRECTV’s SELECT package or higher. The SELECT package costs $35 per month, assuming you sign up for autopay and paperless billing—otherwise, it’s $40 per month.

You need to keep in mind, though, that that’s just the introductory rate. After 12 months, the cost of the SELECT package more than doubles to $78 per month. If you average that out over the course of your two-year contract, that means you’re paying about $56.50 per month for PBS access.

That’s pretty cringe-worthy, especially considering how (comparatively) cheap it is to get PBS Passport or watch over-the-air broadcasts. So if your budget just won’t support that high TV bill, we’d definitely recommend one of the other options on our list.

Can I watch PBS on DIRECTV?

Definitely.

DIRECTV is ultra-reliable, especially compared to streaming or traditional broadcasts. DIRECTV is a satellite provider, so your TV feed is completely independent from your internet connection.

In other words, no glitching or buffering when everyone else in your neighborhood is online. And since your signal is transmitted via satellite, you don’t have to worry about getting a fuzzy picture if you live too far from your local broadcast tower.

DIRECTV’s Genie® HD DVR

Another perk to getting DIRECTV instead of the PBS Video app or an antenna is the included DVR.

If you get the SELECT™ plan, you also get DIRECTV’s powerful Genie HD DVR included with your package. The Genie offers up to 200 hours of HD storage, so you can easily record every episode of Call the Midwife without getting even remotely close to your storage limit.

Being able to record shows for later is a perk you don’t get with either the PBS Video app or an antenna, so if you’re all about fast-forwarding through commercials, DIRECTV is definitely the way to go.

DIRECTV installation and equipment

Because DIRECTV is a satellite service, it has a more in-depth set-up process than the other options on our list.

Once you order your DIRECTV service, you’ll set up an installation time with a DIRECTV technician. Unless you’ve had DIRECTV at your house previously, you’ll probably have to set aside most of your day so the technician can install your dish and get it all hooked up to your TV. The good news? You don’t have to pay installation fees (phew).

You will have to pay for extra equipment if you’re trying to connect multiple TVs, though. Each TV you connect will need a Genie Mini, which costs $7 per month each. That really starts to add up if you’ve got a TV in each room. If that doesn’t work for you, you may want to check out one of the cheaper options on our list.

Wild card: Digital Antennas

What we like: No monthly fees and low up-front cost

Drawbacks: No DVR or playback features

Who it’s perfect for: PBS fans trying to avoid spoilers

PBS is a public broadcast channel, so it’s available over the air in most areas. Over-the-air broadcasts are free to watch—all you need is an antenna.

Antennas have come a long way from the rabbit ears you probably remember from your childhood. These days, digital antennas (like our favorite Mohu ReLeaf on Amazon) are sleek and discreet. They’re easy to hide behind your TV, and they don’t take up a lot of room.

Of course, antennas are still prone to poor reception in some areas. So if you live behind a big hill or you’re too far from your local broadcast tower, you may have to deal with a fuzzy picture (or no picture at all). Nobody wants to go back to wrapping their arms in tin foil and standing in exactly the right position so the rest of the family can watch TV. So if you live in an area with bad reception, we’d say skip it and get DIRECTV or the PBS Video app.

The other drawback to watching PBS with an antenna? There’s no DVR. That means you can’t pause your show if nature calls mid-episode. So again, if you’re looking for more control and flexibility in your PBS-watching experience, you may want to try one of the other options on our list.

Still, if you live in an area with good reception and don’t mind watching all your PBS shows live, you can’t beat the cost-savings you get by watching PBS over the air.

The bottom line . . .

Overall, we think the PBS Video app is the best way to go if you’re looking to watch PBS shows. It’s definitely the cheapest way to watch PBS on your own schedule, even after making your $60 yearly donation for PBS Passport. But you are stuck watching on demand instead of live, and you’re subject to streaming issues if your internet connection is slow.

DIRECTV is a reliable choice and gets you DVR access, which is a huge plus for some users. Drawbacks? It’s a heck of a lot more expensive than other options, and you have to sign a two-year contract.

If all else fails, you can always watch live PBS broadcasts via antenna. But you may wind up dealing with bad reception if you live too far from a broadcast tower, and you won’t get perks like DVR access and playback control.

What do you think of our list? Do you have another way you prefer to watch PBS? Shoot us a message on Facebook or Twitter and let us know!

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