Sling TV has gone through multiple evolutions since it debuted at CES 2015 (winning our Best in Show award in the process). Since then, it’s become an ever-present option for the cord-cutting crowd looking for live TV without the bonds of cable. However, the service’s multiple options have made it increasingly complicated.
To help simplify everything Sling has to offer (it’s a lot!), we’ve put together a comprehensive, hands-on evaluation so you can see if it’s right for you.
Sling TV: What it is and isn’t
Dish Network would still be happy to sell you 250 channels for $85 per month, and it doesn’t intend Sling TV to replace full-blown satellite service or cable. Instead, it hopes to meet the needs of so-called cord-cutters (those who quit cable) or cord-nevers (those who never had it), who can’t get everything they want from traditional streaming sites like Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu. That’s what makes Sling TV’s inclusion of sports networks like ESPN and NFL Network so attractive – live streaming sports are hard to come by outside of a contract.
Sling TV’s selection of channels was lean to start, but it’s starting to beef up, and the channels it does offer (listed below) are fairly popular. The service also offers video-on-demand from a handful of the channels it offers, as well as movie rentals. Best of all, Sling TV requires no sign-up fee, no contract, and you can test it out with a one-week free trial before fully diving in.
Below, you’ll find charts for each of the base Sling TV channel packages, followed by a listing of the channels included in $5 add-on packages. The number of available channels for each package has grown and changed over time, and is likely to continue expanding and altering into the future, but we’ll do our best to update these listings as they change. Listings here are up to date as of April 2017.
Sling Orange and Blue subscriptions also include the Broadcast Extra add-on pack at no additional charge.
A quick glance at the above listings shows that there are some major differences in channels included with each of the package options. Sling Orange includes multiple sports channels, most notably a suite of ESPN channels including ESPN, ESPN 2, and ESPN 3. Sling Blue, on the other hand, drops the sports but adds in networks like Fox and NBC. This is a bit of a conundrum, as being able to stream both live sports and network content without a cable subscription are major draws of services like Sling TV.
If you’re looking to keep costs low, you’ll have to pick between the two options. Luckily for those who don’t mind paying extra, there’s a third option, “Sling Orange and Blue,” which includes all the channels from both Orange and Blue packages for $40/month. It’s a bit more expensive, to be sure, but you won’t have to decide between live sports on ESPN with Orange or network streaming with Blue.
Note: Below are the available add on packs. Be aware that some packages differ depending on which color of Sling TV you choose. If you subscribe to both Orange and Blue, every channel from each package will be available.
$5 add-on packs
- World News Extra (Orange): BBC World News, HLN, News18, euronews, France 24, NDTV 24×7, RT Network, Weather 24 (new users will get a free six months of Weather 24, even without the World News Extra add-on)
- World News Extra (Blue): Everything above, plus CNBC and MSNBC, Weather 24 (new users will get a free six months of Weather 24, even without the World News Extra add-on)
- Broadcast Extra: ABC, Univision, UniMas (Broadcast Extra is included as a free addition in “Sling Orange and Blue” subscriptions for select markets, specifically: Chicago, Fresno-Visalia, Houston, Los Angeles, New York, Philadelphia, Raleigh-Durham and San Francisco.)
- Comedy Plus Extra: MTV, TruTV, Spike, MTV2, CMT, GSN, Logo, TV Land
- Lifestyle Extra: VH1, BET, Cooking Channel, DIY, FYI, WE TV, Lifetime Movie Network, Oxygen, E!, Vibrant, Hallmark Channel, Hallmark Movies & Mysteries
- Heartland Extra: PixL, Family Net, Sportsman Channel, Outdoor Channel, World Fishing Network, RFD-TV
- Kids Extra (Orange): Disney Junior, Disney XD, Nick Jr., Nicktoons, TeenNick, Boomerang, Baby TV, and Duck TV
- Kids Extra (Blue): Nick Jr., Nicktoons, TeenNick, Boomerang, Baby TV, and Duck TV
- Sports Extra (Orange): NBA TV, NHL Network, ESPN Bases Loaded, ESPN Buzzer Beater, ESPN Goal Line, ESPNEWS, ESPNU, ESPN SEC Network, ESPN SEC Network+, Motors TV North Am, Outside Television, beIN Sports, Campus Insiders, PAC12 Network, Univision Deportes
- Hollywood Extra pack: Epix, Epix2, Epix Hits, Epix Drive-in, TCM, HDNET Movies, Sundance TV
$10 add-on packs
- Sports Extra (Blue): NFL RedZone, NBA TV, NHL Network, Motors TV North Am, Outside Television, beIN Sports, Campus Insiders, PAC12 Network, Univision Deportes
In addition to these add-on packs, Sling TV offers live and on-demand content from premium network HBO for an additional $15/month, the same price as the HBO Now standalone app. Similar add-ons are also available from Cinemax for $10, Showtime for $10 (including nine varieties) and STARZ — which includes STARZ, STARZ Encore, STARZ Kids & Family, STARZ Edge, STARZ Comedy and STARZ West — for $9. (Note that you may stream HBO on up to three devices via Sling TV regardless of your subscription plan.)
Sling TV already has competitive pricing models compared to the other live TV streaming services available, but its refer-a-friend program can trim down your bill even more. For every friend you refer to Sling TV, you’ll get $5 off your bill that month. Your friends will benefit too, as they will get $5 off their first month. While these discounts only apply to one billing cycle, a $5 discount basically equates to getting a free month of an add-on pack.
Single stream vs. multiple streams
Only certain subscription packages allow for multiple simultaneous streams. If you opt for the basic package, Sling Orange, you’ll be restricted to streaming from just one device at a time. You can easily jump from your tablet to your streaming set-top box, for instance, but you can’t use both at the same time. The other, more expensive subscription plans allow for up to three simultaneous streams.
Video on demand
Sling TV offers a fairly robust selection of movies on demand at launch, with even more promised in the near future. Rental costs are $2.99 for SD and $3.99 for HD. The eclectic library includes a healthy selection of Disney flicks, and plenty of big-budget fares. In addition, a new deal with Epix will bring in around 2,000 VOD titles, with titles new and old, spanning the gamut of popular programming.
Titles are broken down into categories including Action & Adventure, Comedy, Documentary, Drama, Foreign Films, Horror, Kids and Family, Sci-Fi & Fantasy, Thriller, Classics, Romance, War & Westerns. A search feature is also available to make finding out if a specific title is available much easier.
We expected it to take some time to learn how to wade through a new layout, so it came as no surprise that Sling TV felt a little awkward at first. But in less than a day, we became accustomed.
Sling TV avoids the blocky “guide graph” of your home DVR in favor of a slicker, timeline-based programming guide, enriched with thumbnail graphics for each show. We’re also glad to see an integrated search feature, which makes finding a specific movie in Sling TV’s on-demand catalog much easier.
The UI feels better on a tablet or phone than it does on our Roku or Amazon Fire TV, probably because Sling TV’s design lends itself better to a touchscreen or point-and-click interface than it does with directional cursor navigation.
We tested Sling TV on a 65-inch TV screen, which we expected would expose any shortcomings in video quality…and it did. With a strong internet connection and good throughput, we felt like we were watching 720p at best. Cable, Satellite, Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu all have better-looking HD streams in our estimation. On smaller screens, compression artifacts and poor resolution are much less noticeable. We think Sling TV looks just fine for screens 47-inches and smaller, and beautiful on tablets and phones.
Loading and buffering
A solid, speedy Internet connection is recommended for the best Sling TV experience, but not required. Users can choose to stream at Low quality (0.5 Mbps) Medium (0.8Mbps) High (1.5Mbps) or Best (no limit). We streamed at the best quality and experienced longer load times and some buffering, depending on the state of our Internet connection, but it’s nice to know those with fast connections can get a quality experience, and those with bandwidth caps can control data consumption.
Shifty time shifting
Whether or not you are able to pause, rewind or fast-forward — also known as “time shifting” — what you’re watching will depend on which channel you’re watching, as not all support this feature. Sling continually adds time shifting support to new channels, with a little over a third of the channels now supported.
On the plus side, those channels that do allow time shifting will let you go back as far as three days in the program history, so you can catch episodes of your favorite shows on those channels that you may have missed.
If you want to ensure that you don’t miss anything, Sling TV’s cloud DVR feature will help. The feature isn’t available on all supported devices at present, but Sling is working to ensure that everything will be in tip-top shape by the full rollout.
Sling unveiled its cloud DVR at the end of 2016 via a limited beta that was only available to Roku users, but has since launched a $5-per-month “First Look” cloud DVR program that is available for Amazon Fire TV streamers and tablets, Android TVs and smart devices, Apple TV, and Xbox One consoles. Further support for Windows 10, iOS devices, and AirTV players is expected sometime in 2017.
Exactly how much DVR space you have currently depends on the device you’re using. Cloud DVR beta users get 100 hours of storage, while First Look customers get 50 hours — apparently, it pays to be a Roku user. Unlike the cloud DVR functionality provided by competitor PlayStation Vue, there is no 28-day time limit, just the storage limit. Once you start approaching the limit, Sling TV automatically makes space by deleting the oldest recordings that you have already watched.
However, on June 14 Sling TV added the “protect” feature, which prevents a show from being automatically culled. Other added features include DVR folders for organizing your recorded content, and the ability to set up recordings from a show’s franchise page in the Sling TV guide.
In addition, June saw the addition of DVR support for FOX channels, including FOX Sports 1. As with time shifting, cloud DVR recording isn’t available on all channels, and you’ll often find that the channels that don’t allow DVR recording also don’t allow time shifting. However, users are able to record multiple shows simultaneously on channels that currently support the feature. While it’s a bummer this feature isn’t open to all channels, Sling TV has been steadily increasing the number of supported channels as the service grows.
Sling TV is available on a host of devices, and very likely on one (or multiple) you already own.
Not yet …
- PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 4
Sling TV isn’t for everyone, and Dish knows that. Still, at $20 a month for the basic package (or $25 or $40 for the more expansive ones) with no contracts, commitments, or cancellation fees, it’s certainly worth a shot for those who have only kept cable around for channels like ESPN, CNN, or HDTV. Pair it with an HD antenna, and a couple of other streaming services like Netflix and Hulu Plus, and Sling TV can become an important part of a complete cord-cutter’s diet.
In the end, what’s there to lose besides your cable provider?
Updated: Added information about new Refer-a-friend program, and news channels.