Due to the way live TV video streaming services obtain streaming rights for cable channels, most subscriptions cost as much as a traditional cable bill. Many people end up paying for channels they do not want to watch, too, which partially defeats the purpose of cutting the cord. Locast can help solve those problems. This highly affordable streaming service converts the local channels you would pick up with an antenna into a digital signal and makes them available in a video streaming interface. Locast lacks some common features of other live TV options, such as DVR recording and on-demand content, but we wouldn’t expect those features for such a low price (you can get service for as little as $5). Furthermore, Locast delivers solid streaming performance and is easy to use.
The service faces considerable (and ongoing) legal challenges, however. Locast (which is run by the Sports Fan Coalition NY, a non-profit), is currently entangled in a legal dispute with all the major broadcast networks (ABC, CBS, FOX, and NBC) over its right to retransmit broadcast TV for free. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) recently joined Locast’s legal defense fund, and litigation is ongoing.
Locast offers service in 23 markets across the US. Those markets are Atlanta, Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Detroit, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, Minneapolis, New York City, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Puerto Rico, Rapid City, San Francisco, Seattle, Sioux City, Sioux Falls, Tampa Bay, Washington DC, and West Palm Beach. The service is not available anywhere outside of the US. For this review, I tested Locast in New York City, where a total of around 47 channels are available via Locast.
Philo is a cheap option that covers those categories with aplomb.
Most of the more expensive live TV services also feature the major broadcast affiliates from ABC, CBS, FOX, and NBC. Apart from Locast, YouTube TV is the only other service I’ve reviewed that offers PBS, however. Those services typically have much larger channel lineups that cover a broader range of cable channels across the news, sports, entertainment, and family categories too. For example, you won’t find any cable news channels such as CNN, MSNBC, or Fox News; sports channels such as ESPN or any of the FOX- or NBC-owned regional sports networks (RSNs); or entertainment and family channels from Discovery or ViacomCBS networks.
Locast has a significant advantage over so-called free live video streaming services, such as Plex, Pluto TV, and Xumo, in that its channels are actually live. Those other services have a handful of live news feeds, but the vast majority of the available content is preprogrammed.
Unlike other paid video streaming services, such as Hulu Live TV or Sling TV, you cannot supplement Locast’s coverage with add-on packages or channels.
Locast is a donations-based service, which means that to avoid request-for-donation interruptions to your programming, you need to donate at least $5 per month. If you want, you can donate more per month, too. Locast lists $10-per-month, $25-per-month, $60-per-year, and $100-per-year tiers, though none of these more expensive plans offers benefits over the $5-per-month tier. A processing fee is added to each donation, so technically, the lowest available monthly price is $5.50 per month. Currently, during the COVID-19 crisis, you can watch Locast for free if you don’t mind donation requests every 15 minutes.
Locast is significantly cheaper than any other live TV streaming service I’ve reviewed. The closest competitor, in terms of price, is Philo ($20 per month). That service doesn’t have any of the local broadcast networks, however. Our Editors’ Choice winners for the category, Hulu Live TV and YouTube TV, cost $54.99 per month and $64.99 per month respectively. Sling TV’s Orange and Blue plans each cost $30 per month.
Locast is even cheaper than many mainstream on-demand video streaming services such as Disney ($6.99 per month), Prime Video ($8.99 per month), Netflix (the standard plan starts at $12.99 per month), and HBO Max ($14.99 per month).
There’s nothing cheaper than free, however. Apart from the free services we mentioned, others offer free TV shows and movies to stream. Our Editors’ Choice pick in that category is Peacock, which also offers select live sports coverage if you pay for its $4.99 per month tier. Still, there are much better sports streaming services available if that is your main interest.
Apart from watching Locast on the web, you can download apps for mobile platforms (Android, iOS, and Fire OS) and media streaming devices (Android TV, Apple TV, Roku, and TiVo). Locast is also available to AT&T U-verse, DirecTV, and Dish customers.
Locast’s website looks a bit crowded, but I didn’t experience any major bugs or broken pages. Account settings are available from the Settings menu option. Here, you can change your account email address and password, as well as toggle the closed captioning option. In the upper-right corner of the screen, you can change your location, manage your donations, and toggle between English and Spanish language interface options.
Locast on Android
I downloaded Locast on my Google Pixel 3 running Android 10 and had no issues signing in to my account. The app is simple to use and less cluttered than the experience on the web. You navigate the app via three icons in a bottom menu: Watch Now, Settings, and Donate. In the upper-left, you can scroll between the available locations, but you can only watch channels in the location that the app detects. There’s also an alarm bell icon in the upper-right, but it is unclear what it does.
Playback, Accessibility, and Extras
Locast’s web player is pretty basic. There’s a full-screen button, a volume slider, and a toggle for closed captions, but that’s it. You can’t adjust the resolution, pause playback, or see any other information about the programming. The mobile app’s playback screen is even less sophisticated; there are no buttons at all. You simply get the channel name and programming name at the bottom of the screen, and a button to head back to the Watch Now section.
Locast supports closed captions on all of its content. The captions are in a white font with a black highlight and appear on the left-hand side of the screen. You cannot change the font size, color, type, or position, which is a real limitation. YouTube TV allows you to adjust the appearance of its closed captions. You won’t find anything similar to Netflix’s and Prime Video’s Audio Description feature, which audibly describes scene changes and character actions that would otherwise not be discernible through dialog alone. No other live video streaming service we’ve reviewed includes that accessibility feature, either, however.
Locast does not offer any parental control features either, though few other live TV streaming services offer this. I can imagine some parents wanting to restrict what their children can watch by parental rating (Locast lists these ratings already) or by blocking some channels altogether.
Sling TV’s combined Blue and Orange plan also supports up to four simultaneous streams, but most other services only support two or three concurrent streams.
One of the biggest disadvantages of Locast is that you do not get the ability to record things to DVR storage. Every other live TV service I’ve reviewed provides at least some DVR storage to subscribers, often with the option to pay for more.
I tried streaming the PGA Tour Championship on Locast over my home Ethernet connection (200MBPs download) and did not run into any problems with stutters or reduced picture resolution. The audio synced up well with the video playback, too.
VPNs are a great way to protect your privacy online, since they send your internet traffic through an encrypted tunnel, thus preventing anyone from intercepting it or snooping on your activities. VPNs can also help you spoof your location online, a capability that may prove problematic for video streaming services with region-locked content. For example, Locast is only listed as being officially available in 23 US regions.
I tried streaming one of Locast’s channels on my desktop PC after connecting it to a New York City-based Mullvad VPN server. I had no issues streaming live channels. Next, I tried connecting the same device to a server in Dallas, another location Locast covers. Locast still detected my location as being in New York and would not let me watch the channels in the Dallas area. I verified that my IP had changed to a Dallas location, but I could not get Locast to detect Dallas as my location.
Even if you do find that your VPN and video streaming service work together without issues for now, that’s no guarantee that they will continue to do so. Video streaming services continue to look for new ways to block VPN traffic outright.
If all you are missing from your days as a cable subscriber are your local channels, Locast may be an easy solution to your streaming woes. The service is extremely cheap, it’s simple to use, and it performed well in our tests. You won’t find higher-end features that you will with other, more expensive streaming services and the channel guide could use improvements, but those are fair trade-offs. The ongoing legal battle is not something to lose sight of either, as it’s impossible to know if or how long Locast will remain a viable option.
Hulu Live TV and YouTube TV are our Editors’ Choice picks for the live TV category because of their extensive channel lineups and support for high-end streaming features. Netflix takes the top slot for on-demand video streaming services, offering the best selection of original shows and excellent apps.
|Starting Price||$5.00 per month|
|Sports Coverage||National & Regional|
|DVR Storage & Retention||None|
|On-Demand Movies and TV Shows||No|
|4K Live Streams||No|