Overview: What is Sling TV?
Sling TV, a subsidiary of DISH Network, was the first streaming service to launch into the cord-cutting phenomenon. Although back in 2015 streaming live TV from the internet seemed like an odd experiment, it started a new wave of streaming TV.
But almost 5 years later, Sling isn’t the only one available anymore– there’s Hulu with Live TV, DIRECTV NOW, YouTube TV, PlayStation Vue… just to name a few. And all those named offer more channels and options than Sling TV.
But even so, at the end of 2018, Sling had passed the 2.4 million subscriber mark, making it the most popular livestreaming service.
Why is that? Is Sling TV good? Are they worth that reputation? And is Sling TV going to manage to stay there? Let’s take a look at what Sling TV offers for packages, channels, pricing, DVR, and more.
Sling TV Pricing + packages
The two main Sling TV packages are named “Orange” and “Blue.” Why? We don’t know; I guess they liked Portal. But we don’t mind, either: rather than asking you to pay for an expensive package of channels you don’t want, you get just the two options– then you get to build-your-own on top.
The only major differences between the two are channels and simultaneous streaming abilities. Sling Orange gives you 34 channels that can be streamed by 1 user at a time. Sling Blue gives you 49 channels for as many as 3 users to stream simultaneously.
So, how much is Sling TV? Well, if all you’ve been concerned about up to this point is Sling TV’s cost, then you will be happy to know that Sling TV is worth it. At $25 bucks a month, you literally can’t beat those prices– they’re the lowest around. But if there’s more channels in the Blue package, why does it cost the same as Orange?
Although there is some overlap, you actually get a different selection of channels depending on which package you choose. That’s why they cost the same, even though Blue has many more channels– which we’ll discuss soon.
If you decide you want to have both Orange and Blue packages, you can do that, too, and at a discounted price. It can get confusing though– we’ll talk about that soon, too.
Currently, there is even a spiffy Sling TV deal going on: $15 for either Orange or Blue, or $25 for Orange + Blue, for the first month.
Beyond the base packages, Sling offers extra add-ons. Each package is an extra $5 apiece, and premium channel add-ons cost between $3 and $15 extra a month, too.
So if you wanted to combine a lot of different packages onto your base Orange or Blue, Sling TV could suddenly be costing you over $100 a month– easily— and for fewer channels than competitors DIRECTV NOW, Hulu with Live TV, or any of the others we named.
Contracts + fees
Perhaps the best thing about Sling TV– aside from the low base-package rates– is that they have no contracts. Your subscription is on a month-to-month basis, so you can cancel at any time. And, since you stream from the web, there are no installation fees, no startup fees, no equipment rental costs… nothing.
The price you see (plus the price of any add-on packages) is the price you pay.
Sling TV Channel Lineup
|Plans||Channels included||Price||View Plans|
|Orange||ESPN, ESPN 2, ESPN 3, TNT, TBS, CNN, AMC, HGTV, Comedy Central, History, A&E, IFC, Food network, BBC America, Investigation Discovery, Travel channel, Cartoon Network, epix Drive-in, Lifetime, Viceland, axsTV, fuse, Newsy, Freeform, Bloomberg Television, Motortrend, Disney Channel, Cheddar Business, Cheddar News, ACC, Shortlist, local now, Stadium, Comet||$25/mo.||View plans|
|Blue||TNT, TBS, CNN, AMC, HGTV, Comedy Central, History, A&E, IFC, Food network, BBC America, Investigation Discovery, Travel channel, Cartoon Network, epix Drive-in, Lifetime, Viceland, axsTV, fuse, Newsy, Freeform, Bloomberg Television, Motortrend, Disney Channel, Cheddar Business, Cheddar News, ACC, Shortlist, local now, FOX (select markets), NBC (select markets), TLC, Fox sports (select markets), ABC Sports (select markets), FX, NFL Network, MBCSN, FXX, FS1, FS2, USA, NickJr., Syfy, bravo, National Geographic, National Geographic Wild, Bet, Tru, E!, Paramount||$25/mo.||View plans|
|Orange + Blue||ESPN, ESPN 2, ESPN 3, TNT, TBS, CNN, AMC, HGTV, Comedy Central, History, A&E, IFC, Food network, BBC America, Investigation Discovery, Travel channel, Cartoon Network, epix Drive-in, Lifetime, Viceland, axsTV, fuse, Newsy, Freeform, Bloomberg Television, Motortrend, Disney Channel, Cheddar Business, Cheddar News, ACC, Shortlist, local now, Stadium, Comet, FOX (select markets), NBC (select markets), TLC, Fox sports (select markets), ABC Sports (select markets), FX, NFL Network, MBCSN, FXX, FS1, FS2, USA, NickJr., Syfy, bravo, National Geographic, National Geographic Wild, Bet, Tru, E!, Paramount||$40/mo.||View plans|
Between the Orange and Blue packages, you’ll get a lot of “staple” channels: A&E, AMC, BBC America, Comedy Central, etc. But when you divide the channels up between the two plans, you’ll find quite a few differences:
- Orange gives you channels like Disney and ESPN.
- Blue gives you a few more local options, like FOX, USA, and CSN– but no Disney or ESPN.
Hence the same price for different channel counts– you get more popular channels with Orange, but more volume with Blue. Luckily, they give you the option to subscribe to both with the Orange + Blue package– but that can get confusing.
Orange + Blue
So with the Orange + Blue package, you get both for a discounted price: $40 a month. The confusing part, though: the two packages function independently of one another. You’ll see them all on your interface, you’ll be billed for them both together, but that’s about as far as the “togetherness” extends.
On channels that belong to the Orange package, only 1 user will be able to stream at a time. On the channels that belong to the Blue package, up to 3 users will be able to stream at a time. Confused yet?
The easiest way to look at is that the channels are still designated as “Orange” channels and “Blue” channels. When you watch an “Orange channel,” it’s like you’re subscribed to the Orange package; conversely, when you watch a “Blue channel,” it’s like you’re subscribed to the Blue package.
It just feels awkward, like there’s a better way to marry the two together.
|Add-on packages||Channels included||View Plans|
|Kids||Disney Jr and XD, Boomerang, Baby TV, TeenNick, NickToons, Nick Jr, and Duck TV||View plans|
|Sports||ESPNEWS, ESPNU, SEC Network, Univision Deportes, Universal Sports, beIN Sports, ESPN Buzzer Beater, ESPN Bases Loaded, ESPN Goal Line, Outside Television, and Campus Insiders||View plans|
|World News||HLN, News 18 India, France24, RT, BBC World News, MSNBC, Euronews, NDTV 24x7, CNBC, TheBlaze||View plans|
|Heartland||PixL, Family net, The Cowboy Channel, Outdoor Channel, RFD-TV, Sportsman Channel, World Fishing Network||View plans|
|Lifestyle||BET, Vibrant, WE tv, FYI, LMN, Cooking Channel, DIY, truTV, VH1, Oxygen, E!||View plans|
|International||South Asian, Middle Eastern, European, South American, East Asian, Sports -- variety of channels from each||View plans|
|A La Carte||Options include: CineFest, Cinemoi, CON TV, Country Network Plus, CDN, Curiosity Stream, Docudrama, DOG TV, Dove Channel, Flix latino, Genius Brand Networks, Grokker, Hallmark Movies Now, Here TV, Hopster, Outside TV Features, Pantaya, SHOWTIME, STARZ, Stingray Karaoke, UP Faith and Family, VSiN||View plans|
In any case, once you’ve picked your base package (Orange, Blue, or Orange + Blue), you can now pick add-on packages for various channel selections. There are a wide variety and each costs $5 per month– including the A La Carte option, which gives you the option to personalize your lineup from 15+ channels for as little as $3 a month.
|Network||Number of affiliates|
Sling drops the ball a bit with local channels– you’ll find they’re quite a bit more limited than the likes of DIRECTV NOW or PlayStation Vue’s selection. Sling TV has NBC and FOX content available on demand anywhere, but depending on where you live, you might not be able to watch them live.
Although you can nab the Broadcast Extra package to gain ABC and Univision’s local affiliates (in the Chicago, NY, and Philadelphia areas), you still won’t get ABC, CBS, NBC, or PBS, though.
We advise you get an indoor HD antenna for locals. There is some good news, though. If you prepay for 2 months with Sling, they’ll send you one for free.
|Channel||HBO||SHOWTIME||CINEMAX||STARZ||Pantaya||EPIX||CuriosityStream||UP Faith & Family|
Sling TV’s premium channel add-ons are a breath of fresh air. You’ll get most premium channels for decent rates. It’s pretty standard, which is good news, and SHOWTIME, CINEMAX, and STARZ are each a buck cheaper than DIRECTV NOW’s offerings. However, where DIRECTV NOW offers HBO as an included channel in some of their plans, you’ll have to pay an extra $15 a month with Sling regardless of your package choice.
On demand content
Sling TV offers a pretty big selection of on demand movies and shows, but we have mixed feelings: they offer it, but it can be hard to find, as it often doesn’t show up in search. Plus, it can be hard to say what is actually going to be offered.
Although it should be noted that the latter point isn’t Sling’s fault: the networks themselves decided what shows and episodes will be available on demand, and for how long.
Features + availability
|Compatible devices||Apple TV, Roku, Amazon Fire TV, Android TV, Chromecast, AirTV Player, LG with Sling, iOS and Android devices, Amazon Fire tablets, Google Chrome, Windows 10, Xbox One, Xiaomi|
|Non-compatible devices||Older Apple TVs, PS3, PS4|
Sling TV is available for most major platforms and since they’ve been around the longest, that should be hoped for. That said, they aren’t available for PS3, PS4, or older Apple TVs (pre-4th generation)– but at least in the case of PS4, that could easily change in the future. Of course, you can just watch Sling TV on your PC if you don’t care about any of this other stuff.
By the way, Sling TV does not stream any 4K at this time.
Sling TV DVR
|DVR storage||Recording length of storage||DVR Price|
|50 hours||Unlimited, older ones deleted once 50 hours reached||$5/mo.|
Sling TV does offer a cloud DVR, and while it’s not as good as YouTube TV or PlayStation Vue’s — the option’s there, and it’s better than DIRECTV NOW’s. With Sling’s DVR, you can record up to 50 hours of content and keep it forever; but, unless you’re proactive in deleting things you don’t care about, be prepared to lose your favorite episode of Lost once you hit 50 hours. The DVR starts deleting to make space, starting with the oldest content.
While the DVR works on all media streamers and mobile platforms that have the Sling app, there are a few limitations:
- You can’t access it through Sling’s TV site (sling.com); and
- Your TV may not support it even if it has the app, unless it’s an Amazon Fire TV, Android TV, or Roku TV.
So that can be a major bummer for some people.
In terms of number of shows you can record at once, it gives you the same as your plan: 1 or 3. So not great, especially when compared to other competitors– DIRECTV NOW, allowing you to record as many as you want simultaneously, up to your 20-hour limit. So they have a major leg up there.
Finding content with Sling– with the notable exception of on demand content– is pretty easy, but it might not be very fast and users have reported glitchiness at times. But otherwise, it’s alright.
Starting out, when you launch the Sling TV app, you’ll see a grey-and-orange menu divided up into options bar at the top. Those include:
- My TV
- On Now
Just by looking at that, we have a few questions:
- Why keep such nuanced categories as “Sports” and “Movies” so broad? Competitors like Hulu with Live TV offer more niche choices, like Dark Comedy and Science-Fiction TV Shows.
- Also: what’s the difference between “Guide” and “On Now?” Once you click around a few times, you’ll realize it’s pretty much the same except it’s organized differently.
- My TV can be frustrating, too — depending on your platform, you can access your favorite channels, no problem; but you won’t be able to see what show is currently on — so what’s the point?
We have a few other complaints, too, by platform:
- Xbox One: On demand shows that have a large number of seasons are hard to access, as it defaults to the season closest to the bottom of the screen. Navigation can be twitchy at times, too, making it hard to search or enter your password.
- PC: It just doesn’t feel very “finished.” If you go to the main menu while watching a show, there’s no good way to get back — so you’ll hear the audio for your show, but won’t be able to see it until you make your way back manually or pick something new.
In contrast, the Roku version is probably the most polished available. Of course, if you already have a non-Roku smart TV, it might seem a little out of your way to buy a Roku even if it is the best streaming device for Sling TV.
Despite our complaints, Sling TV doesn’t have any interface issues that compromise the entire experience, and once you get used to things you’ll be fine-- but compared to YouTube TV, Hulu with Live TV, or PlayStation Vue, Sling’s interface is annoying and lagging behind.
Sling TV streaming is as close as you can get to “classic” TV streaming since it was the first of its kind. Heck, it even started this year strong, at the top for livestreaming services (we’ll see if that continues), but it’s not necessarily the best out there.
Common Sling TV complaints consist of: an irritating user interface, a lackluster DVR (although it is slowly coming into its own), and costs that can quickly rack up with add-ons.
But Sling TV delivers what it promises: live cable channels for much less, and without many of the ones you don’t care about. All with no contracts, fees, or equipment charges.
So if you’re looking to join the cordcutting movement, Sling TV is certainly a good place to start. And if you want to check out some more options, take a look at the “best livestreaming” section of our best TV service providers review.
How fast should my internet be for Sling?
Sling has a few a internet speed recommendations to check out, based on the device you’re using to stream.
- Portable devices (tablet, phone): 3.0 Mbps or more
- TV, PC, or Mac: 5.0 Mbps or more
- General speed overall/multiple devices: 25Mbps or more
In case you aren’t sure what your internet speed is, then you can check it here (or by searching for “internet speed test” on Google).
Are there commercials?
Yes there are. If you’re watching live TV, it’s the same as if you were to watch the show on traditional cable. If you’re streaming a DVR’d show, however, you’ll be able to skip forward past them.
Why are there so few local channels?
Sling TV has some programming, in select areas, from the big networks like NBC, ABC, and FOX, but you won’t get CBS or PBS. This is more the purview of the big networks and the content creators– they get to pick (to some degree) where they offer the programming.
So the local broadcast programming you get will depend on whether you’re 1) watching it in the right market, and 2) not subject to a blackout.