Sling TV review: The best budget live TV streaming service


Live TV streaming services are designed to replace cable TV by letting you stream live channels over the internet. That’s great, but not all services are created equal — for instance, while names like YouTube TV offer a lot of channels they cost twice as much as a budget-conscious cord-cutter such as Sling TV. Starting at $35, Sling TV offers an excellent value with plenty of channels on offer, but it also takes a little more effort to get the most out of it. Let’s explain.

LikeSolid selection of channels for the priceNumerous choices and add-onsOptional $99 AirTV 2 tuner for local channels

Don’t LikeNo local channels beyond NBC and Fox in a few citiesPackage options can be confusingLimited DVRAirTV channels don’t work on browsers or Apple TV

What makes Sling TV different is that there are essentially two main plans for the same $35 entry price: Sling Orange and Sling Blue. They share many of the same channels (like CNN, History and TNT) but other channels are exclusive to one or the other. Sling TV Blue is essentially the Fox and NBC option, while Sling Orange is the ESPN and Disney package. 

The biggest downside to both is that if you want a full slate of local channels — namely your local ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC stations — you’ll have to augment Sling TV with an over-the-air antenna or something like the $99 AirTV 2 DVR. More expensive alternatives such as Hulu Plus Live TV do offer local channels, no antenna required.

In January, Sling TV increased the price on its two main packages from $30 to $35 while also increasing the DVR storage to 50 hours (up from 10). If you’re an existing customer, however, Sling TV has guaranteed the $30 price until Aug. 1, 2021, a promise no other competitor has made.   

Despite its shortfalls Sling TV remains my favorite affordable live TV streamer for the money and the Blue plan in particular is a great deal. Even with that slight price bump you can still save money compared cable, and so Sling TV Blue remains the CNET Editors’ Choice as the best budget live TV streaming service.

Read more: YouTube TV vs. Sling TV: Which live TV streaming service is best for you?

What is Sling TV, anyway?
Sarah Tew/CNET

Sling TV is a subscription service that lets you stream a selection of TV channels live over the Internet. The channels are just like the ones offered by cable and satellite TV, but Sling has fewer of them and costs less money every month. You can watch Sling TV on televisions using the Sling TV app on media streamers (like Roku, Amazon Fire TV), smart TV systems LG and Samsung) and game consoles (Xbox Series S and X), as well as to phones, tablets and computers, no cable box required. 

Sling TV was the first of its kind, having debuted in 2016, but it now has a bunch of competitors at different prices, including Hulu Plus Live TV, YouTube TV, AT&T TV Now, Philo and Fubo TV. For ease of categorization, I’ve separated these into budget ($35 and under) and premium ($50 and up) services. Even with the recent price hike, Sling TV can still be considered a budget service, alongside the T-Mobile/Sprint exclusive TVision Vibe ($10) and the $20 Philo. 

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Of the two $35 tiers, I believe Sling Blue offers the best deal for most people. It has more channels than Orange and allows up to three people to watch different streams at once, while Sling Orange only allows one stream at a time. You can combine the two Blue and Orange services for $55 a month, but you’re only getting five more “top” channels than Blue, though this does include ESPN and ESPN 2. If you’re already paying that much, then FuboTV ($60) or YouTube TV ($65) are better options as they offer way more channels (including locals) and improved DVRs.  

Sling is also the only live TV service to offer a bunch of add-on channel packages. You can pay $5 or $10 monthly for packages such as Sports Extra, Comedy Extra, Hollywood Extra, The Best of Spanish TV and more. The channels in each vary depending on whether you have Blue or Orange, and some channels (like Animal Planet and Nickelodeon) are missing completely, but between its Extras and multiple base packages, Sling offers more ways to customize your channel lineup than any of its competitors.

The Sling TV guide.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Check out the chart at end of this article for all of the Top 100 channels Sling’s numerous services offer. It’s a condensed version of our complete list of the Top 100 channels offered by every service.

Sling stays inexpensive by eschewing most local channels. The Blue package has Fox and/or NBC in a handful of major cities but doesn’t include any ABC or CBS stations. The Orange package offers no local channels, period. As any cord-cutter knows, local channels are also available via over-the-air antenna. The cheapest way to watch locals is to just connect an HD antenna to the back of your television. Sling TV offers another option, however: the AirTV series of over-the-air streamers. The AirTVs connect to an antenna and your network and streams any local channels you receive into the Sling TV interface, integrating them right into Sling’s program guide and other areas. You can also connect an external hard drive to the AirTV to record over-the-air channels. Other OTA DVRs are available too, although no others feed into Sling’s interface.

The $100 AirTV 2 is designed to supplement missing local channels.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Whether you use an AirTV or not, Sling includes a cloud DVR for free that allows you to record almost any streaming channel on the service (the only exceptions are Local Now, ESPN3, ACC Network Extra and SEC Network Plus). It comes with 50 hours of storage but the free version won’t let you protect your recorded shows. You have to pay an additional $5 a month for 200 hours of storage and the ability to prevent shows from becoming automatically erased.

What’s Sling TV like to use?

As far as the cable-cutting experience is concerned, Sling TV is pretty good. The menus are clean and uncluttered, particularly on the Apple TV ($180 at Best Buy) version. The app consists of a number of sections, and Netflix-style rows of thumbnails. Across the top of the Roku app, as with the browser version, you can access a lot of information including MyTV, Guide, Sports, On Demand and Rent, but it’s also more cluttered than the cleaner Apple TV interface. The Apple screen on the other hand features a large marquee at the top of the MyTV page, which is used to drill down into the current selection. It’s fine, but the extra real estate would be better served by simply listing more shows.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Navigation is zippy, and it was easy to find the shows I wanted to watch and record. With the multiple discovery screens, including the main My TV screen, there were plenty of options available even when I didn’t know what I was in the mood for.

Sling has made numerous upgrades to its cloud DVR recently and it now allows you to record and live pause channels you couldn’t before including the Disney and ESPN channels bundled with the Orange packages.

Integration with AirTV 

Remote streaming local channels from the AirTV 2 on an iPhone.

Screenshot: Ty Pendlebury/CNET

While they’re not the most elegant OTA solutions I’ve seen, the AirTV 2 and higher-end AirTV Anywhere are still solid options for integrating local channels into Sling TV. They will let users tune in to all of the available channels in the area, and in my own tests in New York I was able to view and record 75-plus different stations. 

While the AirTV Anywhere incorporates four tuners and an integrated 1 terabyte drive, you will need to add a compatible external hard drive to turn the AirTV 2 into a DVR. The company says, “Hard drives must be larger than 50GB, AirTV 2 currently supports recording up to 2TB of storage for DVR.” I connected a WD 2TB Elements Portable without issue.

While my initial tests with the AirTV 2 were unable to pause live TV, and while I was unable to test it again I can confirm that the AirTV Anywhere will enable you to freeze the action for up to 60 minutes.

The AirTV recorders have one main limitation that stunt their usefulness, however. The second is that AirTV doesn’t work on Apple TV or via a browser — you won’t be able to see any of the OTA channels or watch any of the recordings provided by AirTV. To use the tuner you’ll need to use the Sling TV app on Roku, Amazon Fire TV, Android TV, iOS or Android, or via the AirTV mini or AirTV player.

Also, be aware that the AirTV can’t record streaming channels, just local ones, and so you’re still limited to either the 50- or 200-hour recording times there.

Setup has also been streamlined and users can now access AirTV devices from within the Sling TV app’s settings: It’s called Over the Air Channels. There is no longer any need to download a separate app.

Should you subscribe to Sling TV?

While you can save some money with Philo ($20), it’s worth spending more on Sling TV Blue. The experience is better overall, zippier and it offers more channels. It’s not perfect, but as a cable replacement it’s quite decent, and it should save you a chunk of change in the long term. Just be sure to have a local channel contingency in place before you start. 

Though the service costs an extra $5 than before, the upgrade to the DVR alone makes the charge seem justified, especially when most rivals cost almost twice as much.

Live TV streaming services compared

Channel

TVision Vibe ($10)

Philo ($20)

Sling Orange ($35)

Sling Blue ($35)

Sling Blue and Orange ($55)

YouTube TV ($65)

Total channels:

27

40

26

38

43

75

ABC

No

No

No

No

No

Yes

CBS

No

No

No

No

No

Yes

Fox

No

No

No

Yes

Yes

Yes

NBC

No

No

No

Yes

Yes

Yes

PBS

No

No

No

No

No

Yes

CW

No

No

No

No

No

Yes

MyNetworkTV

No

No

No

No

No

Yes

Channel

TVision Vibe ($10)

Philo ($20)

Sling Orange ($35)

Sling Blue ($35)

Sling Blue and Orange ($55)

YouTube TV ($65)

A&E

No

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

No

ACC Network

No

No

$

No

$

Yes

AMC

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Animal Planet

Yes

Yes

No

No

No

Yes

BBC America

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

BBC World News

Yes

Yes

$

$

$

Yes

BET

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Big Ten Network

No

No

No

$

$

Yes

Bloomberg TV

No

No

Yes

Yes

Yes

No

Boomerang

No

No

$

$

$

No

Bravo

No

No

No

Yes

Yes

Yes

Channel

TVision Vibe ($10)

Philo ($20)

Sling Orange ($35)

Sling Blue ($35)

Sling Blue and Orange ($55)

YouTube TV ($65)

Cartoon Network

No

No

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

CBS Sports Network

No

No

No

No

No

Yes

Cheddar

No

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Cinemax

No

No

No

No

No

$

CMT

Yes

Yes

$

$

$

Yes

CNBC

No

No

No

$

$

Yes

CNN

No

No

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Comedy Central

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Cooking Channel

No

Yes

$

$

$

No

Destination America

No

Yes

$

$

$

No

Discovery Channel

Yes

Yes

No

Yes

Yes

Yes

Disney Channel

No

No

Yes

No

Yes

Yes

Disney Junior

No

No

$

No

$

Yes

Disney XD

No

No

$

No

$

Yes

DIY

Yes

Yes

$

$

$

No

E!

No

No

No

Yes

Yes

Yes

EPIX

No

$

$

$

$

$

ESPN

No

No

Yes

No

Yes

Yes

ESPN 2

No

No

Yes

No

Yes

Yes

ESPNEWS

No

No

$

No

$

Yes

ESPNU

No

No

$

No

$

Yes

Channel

TVision Vibe ($10)

Philo ($20)

Sling Orange ($35)

Sling Blue ($35)

Sling Blue and Orange ($55)

YouTube TV ($65)

Food Network

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Fox Business

No

No

No

$

$

Yes

Fox News

No

No

No

Yes

Yes

Yes

Fox Sports 1

No

No

No

Yes

Yes

Yes

Fox Sports 2

No

No

No

$

$

Yes

Freeform

No

No

Yes

No

Yes

Yes

FX

No

No

No

Yes

Yes

Yes

FX Movies

No

No

No

$

$

Yes

FXX

No

No

No

$

$

Yes

FYI

No

Yes

$

$

$

No

Golf Channel

No

No

No

$

$

Yes

Hallmark

Yes

Yes

$

$

$

No

HBO/HBO Max

No

No

No

No

No

$

HGTV

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

History

No

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

No

HLN

No

No

$

Yes

Yes

Yes

IFC

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Investigation Discovery

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Lifetime

No

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

No

Lifetime Movie Network

No

Yes

$

$

$

No

Channel

TVision Vibe ($10)

Philo ($20)

Sling Orange ($35)

Sling Blue ($35)

Sling Blue and Orange ($55)

YouTube TV ($65)

MLB Network

No

No

$

$

$

Yes

Motor Trend

Yes

Yes

Yes

No

Yes

Yes

MSNBC

No

No

No

Yes

Yes

Yes

MTV

Yes

Yes

$

$

$

Yes

MTV2

Yes

Yes

$

$

$

No

National Geographic

No

No

No

Yes

Yes

Yes

Nat Geo Wild

No

No

No

$

$

Yes

NBA TV

No

No

$

$

$

Yes

NBC Sports Network

No

No

No

Yes

Yes

Yes

Newsy

No

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

NFL Network

No

No

No

Yes

Yes

Yes

NFL Red Zone

No

No

No

$

$

$

NHL Network

No

No

$

$

$

No

Nickelodeon

Yes

Yes

No

No

No

Yes

Nick Jr.

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

No

Nicktoons

No

Yes

$

$

$

No

OWN

Yes

Yes

No

No

No

Yes

Oxygen

No

No

No

$

$

Yes

Paramount Network

Yes

Yes

$

$

$

Yes

Channel

TVision Vibe ($10)

Philo ($20)

Sling Orange ($35)

Sling Blue ($35)

Sling Blue and Orange ($55)

YouTube TV ($65)

Science

No

Yes

$

$

$

No

SEC Network

No

No

$

No

$

Yes

Showtime

No

No

$

$

$

$

Smithsonian

No

No

No

No

No

Yes

Starz

No

$

$

$

$

$

Sundance TV

Yes

Yes

$

$

$

Yes

Syfy

No

No

No

Yes

Yes

Yes

Tastemade

No

Yes

$

$

$

Yes

TBS

No

No

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

TCM

No

No

$

$

$

Yes

Telemundo

No

No

No

No

No

Yes

Tennis Channel

No

No

$

$

$

No

TLC

Yes

Yes

No

Yes

Yes

Yes

TNT

No

No

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Travel Channel

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

TruTV

No

No

$

Yes

Yes

Yes

TV Land

Yes

Yes

$

$

$

Yes

USA Network

No

No

No

Yes

Yes

Yes

VH1

Yes

Yes

$

$

$

Yes

Vice

No

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

No

Weather Channel

No

No

No

No

No

No

WE tv

Yes

Yes

$

$

$

Yes

Channel

TVision Vibe ($10)

Philo ($20)

Sling Orange ($35)

Sling Blue ($35)

Sling Blue and Orange ($55)

YouTube TV ($65)

The chart above compares the top 100 channels on Sling to its two budget rivals as well as YouTube TV. “Yes” means the channel is available on the cheapest pricing tier, “No” means the channel isn’t available at all on that service and “$” means the channel is available for an extra fee, either a la carte or as part of a more expensive package or add-on.  



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