Sling TV: The best budget live TV streaming service

Victoria D. Doty

Live TV streaming services are designed to replace cable TV by letting you stream live channels over the internet, but this newfangled way of getting TV is in a state of constant flux. The big names are all increasing the prices of their plans, removing or adding large chunks of programming or bowing out altogether. Amid all […]

Live TV streaming services are designed to replace cable TV by letting you stream live channels over the internet, but this newfangled way of getting TV is in a state of constant flux. The big names are all increasing the prices of their plansremoving or adding large chunks of programming or bowing out altogether. Amid all of the turmoil there’s one service that sticks out as a potential oasis for the budget-conscious cord-cutter: Sling TV.

Like

  • Solid selection of channels for the price
  • Numerous choices and add-ons
  • Optional $99 AirTV 2 tuner for local channels

Don’t Like

  • No local channels beyond NBC and Fox in a few cities
  • Package options can be confusing
  • AirTV 2 has several caveats, including no live TV pause

Sling TV is the original multichannel live TV service. And with some savvy updates and continued focus on low price, it’s still the best if you want to balance savings with a decent channel selection. It may not have the flashiest interface — especially on the desktop or Roku — but the service is dependable and offers a lot of entertainment for your $30 a month.

Sling TV’s worst enemy is itself. It’s complicated to pick a plan and there are a couple of hidden costs and gotchas as well. And if you want a full slate of local channels — namely your local ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC stations — you’ll have to augment Sling TV with an over-the-air antenna, the $99 AirTV 2 DVR, or choose a more-expensive alternative such as YouTube TV. (Disclaimer: CNET is a division of ViacomCBS.)

Despite some of its shortfalls and numerous competitors, Sling TV remains our favorite affordable live TV streamer, earning the CNET Editors’ Choice as the best budget live TV streaming service.

Read more: YouTube TV vs. Sling TV: Which live TV streaming service is best for you?

What is it?

05-sling-tv-screenshots

Sarah Tew/CNET

While CNET covers what kind of services Sling TV offers in depth here, in short it’s a selection of cable channels, streamed over the internet, for a monthly fee. Sling streams to TVs via media streamers, smart TV systems (LG and Samsung) and game consoles (Xbox One), as well as to phones, tablets and computers — no cable box required. 

Sling TV was the first of its kind, having debuted in 2016, but it now has a bunch of competitors at different prices, including Hulu with Live TVYouTube TVAT&T TV NowAT&T Watch TVPhilo and Fubo TV. For ease of categorization, I’ve separated these into budget ($30 and under) and premium ($50 and up) services. Sling TV is therefore a budget service, even with its new price hike, alongside AT&T Watch TV ($15) and Philo ($20). 

http://www.cnet.com/


Now playing:
Watch this:

Live TV streaming services for cord cutters: How to choose…



2:44

What makes Sling TV confusing is that there are essentially two main plans for the same $30 price: Sling Orange and Sling Blue. They share many of the same channels (like CNN, History and TNT) but other channels are exclusive to one or the other. Sling TV Blue is essentially the Fox/NBC option, while Sling Orange is the ESPN/Disney package. 

Sling is also the only live TV service to offer a bunch of add-on channel packages. You can pay $5 or $10 monthly for packages such as Sports Extra, Comedy Extra, Hollywood Extra, The Best of Spanish TV and more. The channels in each vary depending on whether you have Blue or Orange, and some channels (like Animal Planet and Fox News) are missing completely, but between its Extras and multiple base packages, Sling offers more ways to customize your channel lineup than any of its competitors.

Check the chart at end of this article for all of the Top 100 channels Sling offers. It’s a condensed version of our complete list of the Top 100 channels offered by every service.

06-sling-tv-screenshots

The Sling TV guide.


Sarah Tew/CNET

Of the two $30 tiers, I prefer Sling Blue. It has more channels than Orange and allows up to three people to watch different streams at once, while Sling Orange only allows one stream at a time. To add to the complexity, you can combine the two Blue and Orange services for $45 a month, but if you’re paying that much, YouTube TV is a better option — it’s easier to use, with more channels and a more generous DVR, for $5 more.

Sling stays inexpensive by eschewing most local channels. The Blue package has Fox and/or NBC in a handful of major cities but doesn’t include any ABC or CBS stations. The Orange package offers no local channels, period.

As any cord-cutter knows, local channels are also available via over-the-air antenna. The cheapest way to watch locals is to just connect an HD antenna to the back of your television. Sling TV offers another option, however: the $100 AirTV 2 over-the-air streamer. The AirTV connects to an antenna and your network and streams any local channels you receive into the Sling TV interface, integrating them right into Sling’s program guide and other areas. You can also connect an external hard drive to the AirTV to record over-the-air channels. Other OTA DVRs are available too, although no others feed into Sling’s interface.

img-4107

The original AirTV (above) and AirTV 2 feed local channels into Sling TV’s program guide.


Dan Ackerman/CNET

Whether you use AirTV or not, Sling includes a cloud DVR for free that allows you to record almost any streaming channel on the service (the only exceptions are Local Now, ESPN3, ACC Network Extra and SEC Network Plus). It only comes with 10 hours of storage, however, which isn’t much, and the free version won’t let you protect your recorded shows. You have to pay an additional $5 a month for 50 hours of storage and the ability to prevent shows from becoming automatically erased.

Sling’s cloud DVR works with any Sling device except for Comcast’s Infinity X1 platform.

What’s it like?

As far as the cable-cutting experience is concerned, Sling TV is pretty good. The menus are clean and uncluttered, particularly on the Apple TV ($169 at Walmart) version. There you get a choice of My TV, On Now Guide or Sports. The Sling logo takes up half of the Apple TV screen, and while it’s a placeholder for show information, I’d prefer to see more shows at all times. If the screen could slide up when you select a show and down when not needed, that would be better. The Roku interface offers more information at once, including further menu options like On Demand and Rent, but is also more cluttered for it.

04-sling-tv-screenshots

Sarah Tew/CNET

Navigation is zippy, and it was easy to find the shows I wanted to watch and record. With the multiple discovery screens, including the main My TV screen, there were plenty of options even when I didn’t know what I wanted.

Although Sling has upgraded its cloud DVR recently to allow you to record channels you couldn’t before — namely Disney and ESPN channels — I found that I still couldn’t pause live TV on those channels. On other channels, live TV pause worked fine. 

Integration with AirTV 2

img-5313.png

Remote streaming local channels from the AirTV 2 on an iPhone.


Screenshot: Ty Pendlebury/CNET

While it’s not the most elegant solution I’ve seen, the AirTV 2 is still a solid option for integrating local OTA channels into Sling TV. It will let you tune in to all of the available channels in your area; in my tests in New York, for example, I was able to view and record 76 different channels. 

Of course to record anything you’ll need to add a compatible external hard drive, which basically turns the AirTV into a DVR. The company says, “Hard drives must be larger than 50GB, AirTV 2 currently supports recording up to 2TB of storage for DVR.” I connected a WD 2TB Elements Portable without issue.

The AirTV 2 has a few limitations that stunt its usefulness, however. The first is that the DVR won’t let you pause live TV on local channels. Given you can pause (on most) streaming channels using the cloud DVR, this is a little annoying.

The second is that AirTV 2 doesn’t work on Apple TV or via a browser — you won’t be able to see any of the OTA channels or watch any of the recordings provided by AirTV 2. To use the tuner you’ll need to use the Sling TV app on Roku, Amazon FireTV, Android TV, iOS or Android, or via the AirTV mini or AirTV player.

Also, be aware that the AirTV can’t record streaming channels, just local ones, and so you’re still limited to either the 10-hour or 50-hour recording times there.

Lastly, setup is also a little confusing — it doesn’t use the AirTV app like the original version of the hardware, but is accessed by an easy-to-miss option in the Settings tab called Over the Air Channels. If this was called AirTV 2 setup or even Over the Air Channels Setup it would have been much more straightforward.

Should you subscribe?

While you can save some money with AT&T Watch TV ($15) or Philo ($20), it’s worth spending more on Sling TV, especially on the Blue package. The experience is better overall, zippier and it offers more channels. It’s not perfect, but it’s a decent cable replacement, and it should save you a chunk of change in the long term. Just be sure to have a local channel contingency in place before you start. 

The chart below compares the top 100 channels on Sling to its two budget rivals as well as YouTube TV. “Yes” means the channel is available on the cheapest pricing tier, “No” means the channel isn’t available at all on that service and “$” means the channel is available for an extra fee, either a la carte or as part of a more expensive package or add-on.

Select live TV streaming services compared

Channel AT&T Watch TV ($15) Philo ($20) Sling Orange ($30) Sling Blue ($30) YouTube TV ($50)
Total channels: 37 39 24 39 67
ABC No No No No Yes
CBS No No No No Yes
Fox No No No Yes Yes
NBC No No No Yes Yes
PBS No No No No Yes
CW No No No No Yes
MyNetworkTV No No No No Yes
Channel AT&T Watch TV ($15) Philo ($20) Sling Orange ($30) Sling Blue ($30) YouTube TV ($50)
A&E Yes Yes Yes Yes No
ACC Network No No $ No Yes
AMC Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Animal Planet Yes Yes No No Yes
BBC America Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
BBC World News Yes Yes $ $ Yes
BET Yes Yes $ Yes No
Big Ten Network No No No No Yes
Bloomberg TV No No Yes Yes No
Boomerang Yes No $ $ No
Bravo No No Yes Yes
Channel AT&T Watch TV ($15) Philo ($20) Sling Orange ($30) Sling Blue ($30) YouTube TV ($50)
Cartoon Network Yes No Yes Yes Yes
CBS Sports Network No No No No Yes
Cheddar No Yes Yes Yes Yes
Cinemax No No No No No
CMT No Yes $ $ No
CNBC No No No $ Yes
CNN Yes No Yes Yes Yes
Comedy Central Yes Yes Yes Yes No
Cooking Channel No Yes $ $ No
Destination America No Yes $ $ No
Discovery Channel Yes Yes No Yes Yes
Disney Channel No No Yes No Yes
Disney Junior No No $ No Yes
Disney XD No No $ No Yes
DIY No Yes $ $ No
E! No No No Yes Yes
EPIX No No $ $ $
ESPN No No Yes No Yes
ESPN 2 No No Yes No Yes
ESPNEWS No No $ No Yes
ESPNU No No $ No Yes
Channel AT&T Watch TV ($15) Philo ($20) Sling Orange ($30) Sling Blue ($30) YouTube TV ($50)
Food Network Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Fox Business No No No $ Yes
Fox News No No No Yes Yes
Fox Sports 1 No No No Yes Yes
Fox Sports 2 No No No $ Yes
Freeform No No Yes No Yes
FX No No No Yes Yes
FX Movies No No No $ Yes
FXX No No No $ Yes
FYI Yes Yes $ $ No
Golf Channel No No No $ Yes
Hallmark Yes Yes $ $ No
HBO No No No No No
HGTV Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
History Yes Yes Yes Yes No
HLN Yes No $ Yes Yes
IFC Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Investigation Discovery Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Lifetime Yes Yes Yes Yes No
Lifetime Movie Network Yes Yes $ $ No
Channel AT&T Watch TV ($15) Philo ($20) Sling Orange ($30) Sling Blue ($30) YouTube TV ($50)
MLB Network No No $ $ Yes
Motor Trend Yes Yes Yes No Yes
MSNBC No No No Yes Yes
MTV Yes Yes $ $ No
MTV2 Yes Yes $ $ No
National Geographic No No No Yes Yes
Nat Geo Wild No No No $ Yes
NBA TV No No $ $ Yes
NBC Sports Network No No No Yes Yes
Newsy No No Yes Yes Yes
NFL Network No No No Yes No
NFL Red Zone No No No $ No
NHL Network No No $ $ No
Nickelodeon Yes Yes No No No
Nick Jr. No Yes $ Yes No
Nicktoons Yes Yes $ $ No
OWN Yes Yes No No Yes
Oxygen No No No $ Yes
Paramount Network No Yes $ Yes No
Channel AT&T Watch TV ($15) Philo ($20) Sling Orange ($30) Sling Blue ($30) YouTube TV ($50)
Science No Yes $ $ No
SEC Network No No $ No Yes
Showtime No No $ $ $
Smithsonian No No No No Yes
Starz No No $ $ $
Sundance TV Yes Yes $ $ Yes
Syfy No No No Yes Yes
Tastemade No Yes No No Yes
TBS Yes No Yes Yes Yes
TCM Yes No $ $ Yes
Telemundo No No No No Yes
Tennis Channel No No $ $ Yes
TLC Yes Yes No Yes Yes
TNT Yes No Yes Yes Yes
Travel Channel No Yes Yes Yes Yes
TruTV Yes No $ Yes Yes
TV Land Yes Yes $ $ No
Univision No No No No No
USA Network No No No Yes Yes
VH1 Yes Yes $ $ No
Viceland Yes Yes Yes Yes No
WE tv Yes Yes $ $ Yes
Channel AT&T Watch TV ($15) Philo ($20) Sling Orange ($30) Sling Blue ($30) YouTube TV ($50)
Next Post

Norton Secure VPN review: More work is needed for this privacy product to shine

There are couple additional acquainted names in information and facts safety than Norton and LifeLock. Lengthy acknowledged for their competitive antivirus protection and means to adapt to an at any time-switching safety sector, a Virtual Private Community (VPN) from NortonLifeLock seems promising at the outset. But with confined server options and a […]

Subscribe US Now