Sling TV is one of the better-known, lower-priced live TV options these days (plans start at $35 per month for 47 channels), which helps it stand out as the market for streaming services has gotten more crowded. The top-tier plan, which costs $50, offers 53 channels including ESPN, is still cheaper than most.
Starting price: $35 per month
Supported devices: Roku, Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, Xbox One
Cloud DVR: 50 hours for free, $5 per month for 200 hours
Simultaneous streams: 1 (Sling Orange), up to 3 (Sling Blue), up to 4 (Sling Orange + Blue)
Network channels: NBC and Fox in select regions
Sling TV's interface isn't as slick or easy to use as some of its competitors like YouTube TV or Philo TV, but it gets the job done (and it is available on every major platform).While the channel selection is decent and the video quality is excellent, where Sling TV lags behind the competition is in its DVR storage.
But if you just want top cable channels, and the flexibility to add on specific networks according to your preferences, Sling TV (especially its top plan) may be the perfect cable TV alternative. We like Sling TV so much that it won two of the 2021 Tom's Guide Awards: Best Live TV Streaming Service and Best Sports Streaming Service. This is due to Sling's customizable set of channels and prices, and how it's been a reliable destination for watching tons of playoffs action.
Sling TV review: Pricing and availability
Sling TV offers a free, seven-day trial, but there's a sneaky trick to getting it: You can't sign up through the web, you have to sign up through a Sling-compatible device (more on that below). After the trial, Sling offers $10 off the first month for all three of its plans.
The lower tiers, Sling Orange and Blue, are $30 for existing subscribers (a rate that will last until at least July 2021), but $35 per month for new subscribers. The top-tier plan, Sling Orange & Blue, costs $50 per month for new members and $45 for existing accounts. Pricing for new members rose on January 27.
If you're interested in watching live local programming from broadcast networks, Sling Blue and Sling Orange & Blue provide access to NBC and Fox in some markets (which you can check here). If you're not in one of those markets or you also want ABC and CBS, Sling offers packages that include an HD antenna and AirTV (which integrates the local feeds with the Sling app), but they require you prepay for three months of Sling service.
In contrast, YouTube TV costs $64.99 per month for access to up to 70-plus channels. Hulu with Live TV costs $64.99 per month for 85-plus channels. Fubo TV costs $64.99 for 110+ channels. All three services offer (most) local networks in most areas as part of their plans. Sling's pricing and channel lineup is more similar to Philo, which costs $20 for 59 channels (no locals and no antenna add-on packages).
As far as availability, Sling TV can be played on many devices, besides its own AirTV Mini:
- Web browsers (Chrome, Safari)
- iPhone and iPads (iOS 11 and later)
- Most Android phones and tablets (OS KitKat 4.4 and later)
- Apple TV (4th gen and later)
- Roku (LT and higher)
- Smart TVs (LG, Samsung, Roku, Fire TV, Vizio and select Android TVs)
- Fire TV (all models)
- Fire tablets (Android OS 4.4.2 and later)
- Select Chromebook devices
- All Chromecast devices
- Google Nest Hub and Nest Hub Max
- Oculus Go (3.54 or later)
- Xbox One, Xbox One S and Xbox One X
- Xfinity X1
That's a pretty complete list, but it's missing PlayStation 4 (which has only YouTube TV).
Unlike most of its competitors, Sling TV users cannot create multiple accounts under one subscription. Sling Orange users can watch on only one screen at a time, while Sling Blue users can stream up to three screens simultaneously. Sling Orange + Blue subscribers can simultaneously watch on four screens at a time.
So while you can share your Sling login with family and friends, you have to watch out for simultaneous watching. And everyone's viewing preferences and recordings will be tossed together — which makes the extremely limited DVR storage even more of a pain. More on that later.
Sling TV review: Interface
Perhaps because it's been in the live TV streaming market for some time, Sling doesn't seem to have made updates to its interface to keep up with competitors. Fellow low-cost live TV service Philo is much slicker. The big guns, YouTube TV and Hulu With Live TV, both boast deep, rich experiences.
Upon opening Sling, you first see the My TV screen, which is divided into sections: My Channels, Recordings, Recommended For You and collections like Top News and Hit Movies.
In the navigation, you can select On Now, which shows live programming broken down by genres, such as Kids, Lifestyle and Comedy. This screen is fairly useless, unless you're the type of viewer who decides what to watch by saying, "I’m in the mood for Action and Adventure."
More useful is the Guide screen, which is the typical cable-like grid with a vertical list of networks and horizontal times. But the networks are not alphabetized, so finding your preferred channels can be a bit of a hunt.
The Sports screen is exactly what it sounds like and is divided into segments by the type of sport (i.e., Pro Basketball, Combat Sports, eSports, Obscure Sports).
On the web and certain devices, there is also a Rentals screen, where you can rent movies, much like you can do on Amazon Prime or Apple TV. Rental prices are typical, generally $5.99 for new releases.
A search box lives on the top right in the navigation bar on the web. The search is not as lightning fast as YouTube TV, nor does it yield as robust results (it doesn't include related videos, for example), but it works well.
Once you find a show or movie and click on it, a window pops up with such information as a synopsis and cast listing. Depending on if the show is airing live, you can Watch or Record. Sling gives you the option to record only new episodes or all episodes, which gives it the advantage over Philo. And once you get to the playback window, it's fairly standard with the usual controls.
Sling TV review: Content and channels
Sling's channel lineup is decent — not as robust as its higher-priced competitors YouTube TV and Hulu With Live TV, but better than the lower-tier livestreaming services like Philo.
Sling Orange and Sling Blue's channel offerings largely overlap, but both feature networks that the other doesn't. Orange includes ESPN, ESPN2, ESPN3, Disney Channel and Freeform (basically, Disney-owned networks). Blue provides access to more unique networks, such as USA, Bravo, Fox News, FX, E!, National Geographic and Syfy.
Of course, if you sign up for Sling Orange + Blue, you get all of the above. And as mentioned, if you want local channels, both Blue and Orange & Blue offer NBC and Fox in some regions. But otherwise, you have to purchase an HD Antenna package.
There are also a number of add-on packages, which let you select groupings of content to get you closer to a complete lineup:
- Starz (six channels for $9 per month)
- Showtime (nine channels for $10 per month)
- EPIX (four channels for $5 per month)
- Sports Extra ($10 per month) — MLB Network, NBA TV, SEC Network
- Comedy Extra ($5 per month) — MTV, CMT, TV Land
- Kids Extra ($5 per month) — Disney Junior, Nick Jr., Boomerang
- News Extra ($5 per month) — BBC World News, HLN, RT America
- Lifestyle Extra ($5 per month) — Cooking Channel, Hallmark Channel, BET
- Hollywood Extra ($5 per month) — Sundance TV, TCM, Reelz
- Heartland Extra ($5 per month) — Outdoor Channel, Sportsman Channel, Ride TV
- International ($5 per month) — channels from Europe, India, China, more
- Espanol ($5 per month) — Azteca, Cine Latino, NBC Universo
- Deportes ($5 per month) — LaLiga, Ligue 1, Superliga Argentina, more
Sling also offers the 4 Extras Deal — bundling Kids Extra, Lifestyle Extra, Comedy Extra and News Extra — for $12. For $20 extra, you can add on the Total TV Deal (all Extras and Cloud DVR Plus).
Sling can also users can choose from among 22 channels (listed here) to add a la carte, starting at $3, to their plan.
Sling TV review: DVR
The No. 1 downside of Sling is that it gives you only 50 hours of DVR storage for free with each subscription. Subscribers can upgrade to 200 hours for $5 a month.
That puts Sling behind some of its competitors in live TV streaming. YouTube TV and Philo both offer unlimited DVR. Hulu With Live TV's Cloud DVR has similar entry-level pricing, with 50 hours free — but a pricier upgrade option with 200 hours costing $15 per month
Sling TV review: Video quality
Sling TV doesn't have detailed information about its streaming resolution, though most of the content I watched looked to be 720p, which is fairly standard among livestreaming services. Only Fubo YouTube TV offers some channels at 1080p; Fubo also offers limited events and some on-demand content in 4K.
Programs achieved HD resolution almost instantly or within 2-3 seconds and held steady after stabilizing, both on a fast home connection and slower networks.
Sling TV review: Verdict
Sling TV is an attractive option for cord-cutters who want to replace their cable-television package with a live TV streaming service. The low cost of the Sling Orange and Sling Blue plans make them affordable — as long as you like their channel lineups. The top-tier Sling Orange & Blue is only slightly more expensive and provides access to most top cable channels, including ESPN.
The flexibility to add a la carte channels and themed extras, as well as premium networks, means Sling users can mix and match to meet their preferences. The biggest downside we encountered during our Sling TV review is the meager DVR storage, which got better in 2021's update — but still pales in comparison to YouTube TV.
But if you want live TV for relatively cheap, Sling TV could be your path to cutting the cord for good.