Cord cutting — ditching cable or satellite TV for online video — appeals to many people who are fed up with high pay-TV bills. Despite the appeal, many people can't bring themselves to cut the cord because of content they can't get online (or with an antenna), especially live sports.
The Sling TV streaming service (starting at $20 per month) targets hesitant cord cutters as well as young folks who never had pay TV to begin with. It offers ESPN and a bundle of favorites, such as AMC, A&E, Food Network, HGTV, Lifetime and the Disney Channel, as well as RedZone from the NFL Network. Sling TV also offers discounts on streaming-media boxes for those willing to prepay for service, including $60 off the Apple TV and a free Roku Express when you prepay for three months of service.
Is Sling TV's cable alternative worth the money? Read on.
What is Sling TV?
Sling TV is an "over-the-top," or OTT, service, meaning it comes in over the internet rather than on dedicated lines from a cable company or broadcasts from a satellite. In that respect, it's like other online channels, including Netflix, Amazon and Hulu. But Sling specializes in live (sometimes called linear) TV; it shows programs as they are broadcast, the way cable TV does, not on demand, as other online services do. There is some ability to rewind a show or watch older programs on demand, but those capabilities are still limited.
How exactly does Sling TV work?
As with other streaming services, including Netflix and Hulu, Sling TV offers a simple way for you to watch your favorite television shows, movies and on-demand programming. After signing up, you'll need only to download the app to the devices on which you want to watch Sling TV programming.
After you boot up the app, you'll see all of the channels you have access to based on the plan you chose. Sling TV also comes with a guide, allowing you to cut through the noise and find the content you really care about. Note that you'll need a stable internet connection to watch content; Sling TV doesn't support offline viewing.
What does Sling TV cost?
Sling TV is available in two different flavors: Sling Orange, which costs $20 per month; and Sling Blue, which costs $25 per month. At present, Orange offers more than 30 channels, and Blue offers more than 40. However, Blue doesn't include every Orange channel. You can get a combined Blue/Orange pack for $40 per month.
Sling TV also offers add-on packages that range from $5 per month to $15 per month. There are more than a dozen packages, so your monthly subscription cost could exceed $100 per month if you want absolutely everything.
Is a contract required?
Sling TV is a month-to-month service. You can start or stop at any time, and there are no startup fees, cancellation penalties or equipment-rental costs.
On which devices can I watch Sling TV?
Sling is currently available via apps for Windows and Mac computers, Android and iOS mobile devices, the Xbox One (but not the 360 or any PlayStations) and several set-top boxes or dongles (Amazon Fire TV and Fire TV Stick, and Apple TV).
The service is also available on Roku TVs, as well as Samsung smart TVs from 2016 and 2017.
Sling is also offering compatibility and support for over-the-air antennae, provided you're in a supported location. After visiting this page to see if your address qualifies, you can get a free indoor antenna (of a $59.99 value) when pre-paying for two months of Sling TV. If you don't have hardware for streaming Sling, you can save $129.98 by pre-paying for three-months of Sling TV and getting an AirTV Player and adapter with an antenna (a total value of $189.98).
Which channels does Sling TV offer?
The base Sling Orange package (i.e., without any add-ons) comes with channels such as ESPN, AMC, CNN, Comedy Central, Cartoon Network, the Disney Channel, TNT, IFC and A&E. Sling Blue offers selections including Fox, NBC, USA, Bravo, TBS, FX, Syfy and Bloomberg TV. There's some crossover between the two services, as the Sling TV website explains in more detail. Both packages have access to the Pac-12 college sports networks, as well as Starz and Starz Encore, for an extra cost. The Sports Extra package adds $5 per month. The package that includes Starz and Starz Encore goes for $9 more a month.
Sling TV also offers more than a dozen add-on packages, which range from sports channels to premium movie bundles. It would take too long to list the contents of each package, but as an example, the Sports Extra package contains NFL RedZone (which is also in Sling Blue), Golf Channel, NBA TV, Outside TV, beIN Sports and Univision Deportes Network, and costs an extra $5 per month. The HBO package contains just that one channel and costs $15 per month, while Showtime follows the same pattern for $10 per month.
In February 2018, Sling TV became the first service of its kind to integrate NBA League Pass, which costs $29 more per month and provides access to live, out-of-market games. If you just need games from your favorite team, it will launch Team Pass (for $18 more per month) in the coming weeks. Sling TV website provides a full list of add-on packages.
Sling also offers an easy way for football fans to find out what channels are showing which games. Just visit sling.com/gamefinder and search by your team's city, state or name. Gamefinder will also show you what games are streaming in your area if you type in your ZIP code.
Does Sling TV offer local channels?
Yes, although the selection varies depending on where you live, as well as whether you subscribe to Sling Orange or Blue. Sling offers ABC, Fox and NBC in certain markets. If your plan supports them, great; otherwise, your best bet is to invest in a good HD antenna.
Can I record or DVR shows on Sling TV?
Yes. DVR features cost an extra $5 per month, and give you access to 100 hours of recording time.
What's the difference between Sling Orange and Sling Blue?
Sling Blue offers more channels than Sling Orange, although each one has different channel lineups. Orange, for example, has no NBC networks, while Blue lacks ESPN and the Disney Channel.
The biggest difference between these two tiers is that Orange is a single-stream service, whereas Blue supports up to three simultaneous streams. This means that you can use only one Sling Orange stream at a time to watch or record content. With Blue, you could have multiple users watch different channels simultaneously.
Check out all of the differences between Sling Orange and Sling Blue.
How fast should my internet speed be to stream Sling TV?
Sling TV has internet speed recommendations based on the device you're using to watch programming.
So, if you're watching Sling TV on a mobile device such as an iPhone or iPad, you'll need at least 3 Mbps for good-quality video. When you move to a TV, PC or Mac, expect to need 5 Mbps to get the video quality you desire.
Sling recommends getting internet speeds of at least 25 Mbps through your internet service provider in order to get the best-quality streaming.
Why are major-network options limited?
Sling TV has select programming from major networks such as ABC, FOX and NBC, but if you're hoping for programming from CBS, you'll be out of luck. You'll also notice that even the big networks that offer content on the service only do so in select markets. Whether you'll get broadcast network programming, then, depends on whether you're watching it in the right market and whether you're subject to blackouts. It's not ideal, of course, but if you really want access to more network programming without the concern, consider Hulu. An HDTV antenna is another option.
Where are the Science/Discovery channels?
You may notice that Sling TV doesn't come with the Discovery or Science channels. Some internet users may wonder about the omission; after all, Discovery came to Roku's platform last summer. Sling TV hasn't said why Discovery and Science are missing, but given the licensing and other deals that need to be made in order to get channels to the services, there might be a negotiation hang-up.
Here's what Sling TV told us when we inquired: "In order to keep our price reasonable, we're not able to carry every requested channel without passing along the cost to our customers. We have not announced any plans to add Science or Discovery networks; however, we are always looking to grow our programming based on customer feedback."
Are there commercials on Sling TV?
Yes. In general, you see exactly what you would see if you were watching these channels on cable, with the full load of commercials. You cannot skip past commercials as you could with a DVR.
Are there movies on Sling TV?
In addition to the movies that air on included channels such as AMC or TBS and on the optional Hollywood Extra channels, Sling provides on-demand movies for additional rental fees. The movies are both new releases and older favorites, and generally range from $2.99 to $4.99.
What kind of on-demand content is there?
Video on-demand (VOD) content is available through Sling TV via its Available Now feature. In general, you'll find a healthy selection of movies, television shows and documentaries through the service. However, it's difficult to pin down exactly what's available at any one time is difficult.
Sling TV's on-demand content is not determined by Sling; rather, each channel chooses which content should be made available and for how long. You might see content stay there for a long time, or it might come and go. To see what on-demand content is available, use your Sling TV guide, which shows on-demand programming beneath the Schedule ribbon.
How many people can watch Sling TV at once?
It all depends on your plan. If you have a Sling TV Orange subscription, you'll be able to stream it to only one device at a time. If you have Sling Blue, you can stream content on up to three devices at the same time. Best of all, subscribers to the Sling TV Orange and Blue combined package can simultaneously watch Sling TV content on up to four devices. One other note: If you subscribe to HBO content through your subscription, you can watch it on up to three devices at a time, regardless of your Sling TV subscription option.
Are there any special deals for Sling TV subscribers?
Sling TV currently has bundle deals with Amazon and Roku. If you commit to three months of Sling TV, you can get a fourth-generation Apple TV for $89 — a $40 discount off the regular retail price. You can get a free Roku Express with one month of prepaid Sling TV, and 50 percent off a Roku Premiere+ when you pay for a three-month subscription.
I've heard about Error 9-XXX. What is that?
Whether it's Error 9-300, Error 9-400 or something else, some Sling TV users have complained of sporadic trouble with the service. According to Sling, errors that cause a disruption in service and start with a 9 "can occur for a variety of reasons."
However, the most likely cause happens in "account personalization services" that prevent a video from traveling to your device. Sling has a handy tool that will diagnose the problem and tell you how to address it.
Is Sling TV worth it?
If you like having a lot of channels and enjoy channel surfing, you're probably better off with cable or satellite TV. But if Sling TV's basic package or add-on packs have all or a lot of the kind of programming you like, it could be a better deal. You can also supplement Sling's programming with other online services, such as Amazon Prime ($99/year), Crackle (free), Hulu ($8/month) and Netflix ($9/month).
HBO has its own online service, HBO Now, for $15 per month, and Showtime has its own online streaming service that costs $11 per month. So think about what you like to watch, and add up how much it will cost with Sling TV and other streaming services compared with cable or satellite TV. Sling TV offers a free seven-day trial, so you can find out firsthand how you like it.
How do I cancel Sling TV if I don't like it?
If you find that Sling TV isn't what you had hoped for, you can follow the company's simple process for canceling your membership.
After you sign in, you'll see a Cancel Subscription link on your account page. Click on the Cancel Subscription option again, and tell Sling why you're leaving.
After Sling confirms your cancellation, billing will stop immediately. Because there are no contracts, you can cancel at any time for any reason, and you won't be penalized. We've also written a more comprehensive how-to if you have trouble.
Photo credit: Sling TV