Sling TV Review: Cheap Cable TV for Cord Cutters

Sling TV was the first service to venture into the cable-replacement sphere. Back when it launched, with its attractive $20 price tag and handful of basic cable channels, it seemed like an unusual experiment; now, it's grown into one of the most comprehensive streaming services on the market. Whether you'll want Sling TV is, of course, dependent on what you watch — and how much you're willing to spend.

While Sling TV may have been the first game in town, it's not necessarily the best. Its interface remains a little wonky at the best of times, its DVR features are just coming into their own and costs can rack up fast if you want to watch anything beyond the basics.

Still, for the (potentially) cheapest cable-replacement service on the market, Sling TV generally delivers what it promises: live cable channels for much less than the cost of a cable subscription. If you're looking for a small supplement to an HD antenna or a quick fix for live sports, Sling TV is where you should begin your search.

Interface

Sling TV has gone a long way toward making its interface look consistent across platforms. The utilitarian gray-and-black menus with yellow accents are workable, but unimaginative. Finding content is fairly easy, although — depending on your platform — it might not be very fast.

When you launch Sling TV, you'll see an eclectic options bar: My TV, On Now, Guide (depending on your platform), Channels, DVR (again, depending on your platform), Sports, Movies, Search and Settings. My TV shows your favorite channels and your DVR recordings; the rest of the options provide what they say on the label.

Still, the selection feels arbitrary. Why isolate Sports and Movies rather than offer more nuanced categories? Other cable-replacement services (Hulu with Live TV, for example) offer nuanced choices like Science-Fiction TV Shows or Dark Comedy Movies; it's odd that users don't have the option to browse like that on Sling TV. What's the difference between On Now and Guide and Channels? (Answer: not much — just the way content is organized.)

Even My TV isn't all that it could be. Depending on your platform, My TV will let you access your favorite channels right away, but won't tell you what's on, making the feature fairly useless.

You change channels by scrolling left and right.You change channels by scrolling left and right.While Sling TV has put a considerable amount of polish into its Roku app (which is, so far, the only one that includes both the Guide and DVR features), some of its other incarnations don't fare as well. On the Xbox One, it's impossible to access on-demand content from shows with a large number of seasons, since the interface always defaults to the season closest to the bottom of the screen. The Xbox One navigation is also very twitchy; even just entering a password can be difficult.

Pulling up the menus obscured much of the video on an iPhone 5.Pulling up the menus obscured much of the video on an iPhone 5.The PC version feels unpolished; if you go back to the main menu while watching a show, there's no easy way to get back to your program, leaving it droning on in the background until you either pick something else to watch or navigate back there manually. The PC version is also a Windows store app rather than a web-browser client, limiting its compatibility and utility.

Sling TV is probably the most widely available cable replacement at present, and could still expand in the future.

To be clear, nothing about Sling TV's interface is troublesome enough to compromise the overall experience. Once you learn the ins and outs, you can access your shows quickly and easily. But considering how far interfaces have come in the last few years (YouTube TV is snappy and efficient, while Hulu with Live TV is colorful and comprehensive), Sling TV has some room to improve.

Availability

As one of the veteran players on the market, Sling TV is available on a respectably wide variety of platforms. You can use Sling TV with Windows, Mac OS, Roku, Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, Chromecast, Android TV, Xbox One and a variety of smart TVs and smaller streaming boxes.

MORE: Best Streaming Players: Chromecast, Roku, Apple TV & More

While apps for PlayStation 4 and web browsers would be nice, Sling TV is probably the most widely available cable replacement at present, and it could still expand in the future.

Content

Sling TV excels not only in the sheer variety of content it offers, but also in how it sells that content. Rather than asking you to sign up for an expensive package with a bunch of channels you don't want, Sling offers two basic options, and lets you build on top of that with some extremely granular offerings.

This is one of the most complete cable replacement services around, as it offers just about all the basic cable staples.

Sling Orange is a single-stream service that offers about 30 channels for $20 per month. Sling Blue is a multistream service (up to three simultaneous users) that offers about 45 channels for $25 per month. You can see the exact breakdown on Sling's website; some channels overlap between the two, while others don't. Both offer a pretty good mix of basic cable sports, kids' shows, prime-time networks and movie channels, and you can pay $40 per month for both services at once, if you choose.

In general terms, Sling TV is one of the most complete cable-replacement services around, as it offers just about all the basic cable staples. Between Orange and Blue, you'll get A&E, AMC, BBC America, CNN, Comedy Central, ESPN, the Food Network, IFC, Nick Jr., SyFy, TBS, TNT, Univision and more. On Blue, you can even get a few local stations, like Fox and NBC, depending on your region.

Where the service really shines, though, is in its additional channel packages. Additional packs range from $5 to $15 per month, and offer extra channels for interests spanning sports, kids' programming, movies and foreign-language TV. While it's not uncommon for a cable-replacement service to offer a Spanish package or two, Sling TV goes above and beyond with Arabic, Hindi, Italian, Polish, Portuguese and German channels, among others. You can also add Cinemax, Starz and HBO, including all the on-demand content that those stations offer.

On-demand content is the only place where Sling TV is a bit of a mixed bag. As mentioned above, it can be difficult to navigate on-demand content, based on your platform. However, that assumes you can find on-demand shows in the first place. Sling TV's search feature doesn't include a lot of on-demand content, which is odd, since some channels, such as FX, Starz and SyFy offer a veritable king's ransom of shows and movies. You'd never know Sling TV's on-demand content existed without digging into each individual channel's ponderous menus.

Sling TV is in desperate need of a better way to search and browse its surprisingly large on-demand library. (I spoke to company representatives, who assured me that they are working on this, as well as making usability fixes for the Xbox One platform.)

DVR

For an additional $5 per month, you can get 100 hours of DVR storage on Sling TV. The feature was in beta for a while, but now that it's finally available in full release, it's pretty straightforward. When you find something you want to watch, you select Record. If a movie you've selected is available on demand, the service will ask if you want to watch that instead, which is pretty useful. If you record a TV show, Sling will ask whether you want to record every episode of the series, just new episodes or only the current episode.

For an additional $5 per month, you can get 100 hours of DVR storage on Sling TV.

Depending on your viewing habits, 100 hours may not last you that long. To help manage space, Sling TV pushes out older recordings first, once the storage limit rears its ugly head. You can protect certain recordings if you want to hang onto them indefinitely. DVR is a feature that Sling TV needed in order to keep up with its competitors, and its implementation is satisfactory.

Video Quality

Although you can specify bandwidth limitations in Sling TV's settings, it's frustrating that there is no way to gauge video quality on any given stream. Generally, cable channels broadcast at 720p and movies can go up to 1080p, but there's no way to tell for sure.

On a 25-Mbps home Wi-Fi connection, some channels stabilized at HD resolutions right away; others started off fine, then had to buffer, then jumped between 480p and 720p for a minute or so before finally stabilizing at higher resolutions. While streaming on-demand movies, fast-forwarding more than about 30 seconds or so would often cause buffering and lower resolutions.

Since Sling TV insists that you can stream at its "best" quality with about 3 Mbps, certain channels and services are probably just better optimized than others. A way to measure video quality and buffering times would go a long way toward alleviating this issue, but to be fair, only YouTube TV currently offers this feature, and its implementation is half-hearted.

Bottom Line

In the land of cable-replacement services, content is king, and Sling TV delivers content in spades. You could theoretically replace a cable or satellite subscription with just about every worthwhile channel for half the cost — or less, if you're a more casual viewer. Sling TV has something special to offer foreign-language viewers, and you almost certainly already own a compatible platform.

At the same time, Sling's interface lags behind its competitors, and its on-demand features need some work before users can really make the most of them. These issues aren't deal breakers, but other services — PlayStation Vue and Hulu with Live TV in particular — arguably handle them better.

Since Sling TV offers a free trial, there's every reason to check it out if you're looking to cut the cord. You may find that Sling TV is either a cheap and easy way to get your cable TV, or that it's not quite as robust as its competitors. Either way, Sling TV has been imitated often in the last few years, but, at present, rarely surpassed.



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  • kep55
    A nice addition to this and all streaming content reviews would be a comparison or comments on using the service on DSL, cable, fiber, etc.
    1
  • ubercake
    If they add Fox Sports networks for local sports viewing, I'm in.
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  • Robb Nunya
    You'd think that the big 4 broadcast companies would be able to work a deal with advertisers. Eyes on are eyes on. Stream live, don't let people "Tivo" the commercials, and the price shouldn't go up a penny at that time.

    Learn something from Google people: Eyes on your ads are eyes on your ads. The delivery is secondary.
    0
  • Dehliaa
    I catch the news maybe one morning, watch MSN during an election year, and catch a movie usuallyet from 1970 to 79, a nif he for insomnia. I rarely watch television, but it's good to know it's there if and when I want to watch it. The downside is the cost for the service on a really old model television. Just a service to watch movies like Posidan, Towering Inferno, Airport, Airport 1975, etc. Email back, if someone can meet my needs. New and old movies would be great, and MSN would be great!
    -1
  • Jimmy Zelski
    There are three of us in my household. We currently have Dish and are paying about $20 each ($60 total) for a rather basic lineup of channels including locals too (we are out of the OTA area). We get CNN, Discovery, History, MSNBC, ESPN, etc., but no premium movie channels like HBO or Showtime.

    I would love to cut the cord, because despite having all those channels most of the time there is nothing of interest to watch. There are endless infomercials and idiotic shows such as "I hate my wrinkles" and a variety of stomach-turning reality shows on Dish. The Discovery channel and History are no longer about discovering anything or historical anything, they are merely another outlet for lame reality shows these days. Very, very disappointing.

    But Sling doesn't seem ready for prime time. We would be paying the same price for it as we are for Dish, considering each of us would need a subscription (we watch on our own individual devices) and we would lose the local network channels as well as the ability to DVR.

    Glad to hear the offerings are getting better though. Maybe sometime soon someone will come up with a viable alternative. We will probably go ahead and cut the cord anyway, since paying good money for nothing in return is getting quite old. We can get news on the local TV websites, as well as movies through Netflix and Amazon Prime, so that ought to hold us for now.
    1
  • Zabala
    Sling TV should give access to ESPN3 online which is where you can watch "Live" or "replay". I watch tennis and the tournaments in Europe/Asia can start in the middle of the night here on the west coast.

    ESPN3 gives me the ability to watch later. This would be a big plus for me to get Sling TV even though ESPN only covers limited tournaments. Hope they can get Tennis Channel at some point for the rest.
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  • kjrn
    Biggest downfall in our home is the "single-stream" issue. This might work well for a single user, but even having two here means problems. CNN in one person's office cuts off ESPN or HGTV on a set in another part of the house. For $20 a month, it's no bargain if only one person can stream at any given time. We signed up, but it doesn't look like we'll be staying. If we'd need two memberships to each watch TV ($40/mo), we might as well get basic cable (with more options).
    2
  • olivermaher
    The service is a great idea, however, constant freezing has led me to cancel. I was able to sign up prior to the masses and everything worked great. It worked so well I went out and bought three Roku 3 devices. Unfortunately, once they opened the service to the general public the picture began freezing a lot. My daughter was able to watch Disney Jr for a minute or two before it would stop playing and the screen would go black. It took a little while for me to get the picture back and then 1-2 minutes later the process would repeat.

    Not sure if I will subscribe again.
    2
  • irenep
    I do have the same problem with the freezing and the audio ahead of the image. It is kind of annoying seeing lips moving but hear something else. I'm only streaming it right now on my laptop and I was about to go to buy two Roku devices, but I am not so sure right now what to do...
    2
  • Josh Ya
    Not ready for prime time. Too many issues buffering, doesn't work on Vizio smart TV's or Google Chrome. You can only watch one device at a time. Support doesn't understand English.
    1
  • Andrea Ansel
    Its the same damn price as dish or direct and you get less
    0
  • Andrea Ansel
    Especially if you add the netflix hulu and hbo. Your back up tp 60 bucks hows that cutting a cord Mod Edit: foolish donkeys


    Watch your language.
    1
  • keepitsimpleengineer
    I was interested in dropping cable TV through which I get HBO Go, so signed up for Sling immediately. Using Game of Thrones for a comparison, HBO Go showed remarkably better video quality than Sling on a Roku 3. I was very disappointed. I will say I had no buffering problems/stutter of drop-outs

    I contacted Sling support for a remedy and got no meaningful response. I would rate the video at 480p at best compared to the 1080i on HBO Go/R
    Somebody tell me they "fixed" the problem, please... .. .
    1
  • Edu Tech
    DO NOT BUY!!! The product is crap. It constantly freezes and when you call tech support they make you go trough a bunch of bullshit troubleshooting steps that they know is a waste of your time because the problem is on their end.
    0
  • ubercake
    Anonymous said:
    Biggest downfall in our home is the "single-stream" issue. This might work well for a single user, but even having two here means problems. CNN in one person's office cuts off ESPN or HGTV on a set in another part of the house. For $20 a month, it's no bargain if only one person can stream at any given time. We signed up, but it doesn't look like we'll be staying. If we'd need two memberships to each watch TV ($40/mo), we might as well get basic cable (with more options).


    This is good info. Thanks.
    0
  • Gunther_FL
    The concept of SlingTV is great, however, the company needs to move fast to resolve some open gaps or Sling International may turn off customers.

    A few Current Gaps:

    1) SmartTV App (DishWorld) dropped by Sling International: Samsung TV's have a application called Dishworld which would allow customer to watch the international channels and SlingTV domestic channels. I was using this app until May. Unfortunately, Sling International upgraded their systems which resulted in Dishworld app shutdown. The app works but it displays a message that it will not stream any channels. The answer from Sling International, we're working on a new Sling app. Well, one would think that you would wait to get your new app ready before breaking the old app. Adding more external devices is just not ecologically correct and more complex to use. Isn't the point of Smart TV's to allow access to all the services from one device. It seems Sling TV wants to sell third party devices instead. These kinds of issues turn customer off. If I have to use a third party device it will be my preference, which is Apple TV, not the choice of Sling International.

    2) MultiStream: Add an extra cost to stream to more than one television. This is so simple.

    3) Local OTA Channels: Add an extra offering to access local channels. Let it become the customers choice to add a OTA antenna or pay Sling.

    I can only hope the president of Sling reads these comments and understands their customer needs instead of pushing down what Sling thinks customers should get. Isn't that what the cable companies have done for years. I've been a cable subscriber for 30 + years and I'm tired of their crap. I was hopeful this would bring a refreshing and much needed change.
    1
  • iknowshaun
    Don't use this service. I tried the 7 day trial. Canceled at the end of it, and they charged me anyway. Then they are fighting the bank over it. Terrible experience all the way through!
    0
  • Diane_23
    I have been using Sling Tv for the past two months. I have made and connected a fractal outside antenna for OTA broadcasts which gives a much better picture than cable. Sling Tv gives us HGTV for my wife and YES network for Yankees games for me and my son. My other son is a soccer fan so I have the Sports extra add-on.

    Sling has been nearly perfect over the last 2 months. Customer service, via chat, has been a pleasant experience, first when I inquired whether I could get the YES network in the NY metro area and later, when Sling added the Sports Extra package (I originally added the spanish package because one of my sons wanted BeIn TV for soccer which was only offered as part of that, then was offered as part of the Sports extra package; when I discovered that I went to Sling and asked that the packages be switched, which was done immediately with no hassle at all).

    When I subscribed, Sling offered a Roku 2 for free for those who paid 3 months in advance; I received the Roku within a few days and look at this as either free TV service for 3 months or a free Roku. I was also offered a choice: one device at a time only with Disney channels and ESPN, or 3 devices at one time with FOX networks and no Disney, ESPN. I chose the 3 device option, and we have had no problem with 3 devices playing simultaneously.

    What I am not seeing in reviews and which I find very useful and valuable is the ability to watch Sling on multiple devices, and not just at home. I can watch in the backyard on an IPad or at my office on my PC, or on a phone at a ball field, or on my Roku at a hotel in another city. We are not tied to our home network and this has come in handy many times. Sling has worked on a windows 10 pc, a windows vista laptop, an IPad, and Iphones for us, all without a problem.

    Sling has added several channels to my original line-up over the last 2 months, including NYC channel 4 NBC and channel 5 FOX (although I get both already with the antenna).

    This service has been the perfect complement to the antenna and has the added benefit of multiple devices anywhere in the US. The channels play nearly flawlessly, and I have had only one short period where there was a problem playing the on-demand videos.

    The menu once used and gotten used to is a breeze and easily adopted. We also are not missing DVR capabilities and don't really care whether we have it or not.

    I haven't tried to cancel so I don't know about that aspect of customer service. But I don't intend on cancelling.

    I don't understand the negative reviews. I recommend it highly. We just have not had any of the problems I have seen complained of. Perhaps the complaints come down to poor internet service and are not the fault of Sling.
    0
  • ubercake
    I picked up the Sling Blue package and dropped cable. I used to live at a place where I could get all of the local channels no problem through an internal HD antenna. This changed when I move to a new location so I picked up cable for as long as I could stand to pay for it and here I am now.

    Sling TV blue at $25 costs the equivalent of leasing two cable boxes each month from comcastic/nofinity. Even when I had cable, I found my family members watching Netflix, Amazon Prime or Hulu all the time anyhow. With all of those cable channels to watch, you shouldn't have an issue finding something decent to watch, but there really isn't much I would watch personally outside of sports. When Sling TV started offering the Fox Sports channels, I began to notice.

    I can watch all local sports with it on the Fox Sports networks. I also get the Fox local channel.

    All of the Fox channels are local to where you sign in. For instance, on a business trip I tried singing into Sling TV on my PC at hotel in New York and my local sports and Fox became New York (which isn't my home locale).

    When I started my trial, I was able to stream Sling TV on two Roku boxes and my PC at the same time.

    Sling TV even offers on-demand content for some channels. It really has come along way and is a good value.

    The only thing that sucks is all NFL pre-season games have been blacked out for my local team on my local Fox version on Sling TV, though they play with no issue on everyone's cable version of their local Fox channel.

    Does anyone know if this will carry through the regular season? Or is the blackout restriction only for the pre-season?
    0
  • dhazisterlingcg
    I'm hoping Vidgo does a better job when it comes out. Sling wasn't too bad for what it is tho.
    0