A few years ago, selecting a streaming option was simple: You chose either Netflix or Hulu, and you were grateful. These days, your streaming options are seemingly limitless with added competition from Amazon Prime and HBO Go. Despite the convenience of streaming, all those options can leave you feeling nostalgic for the simpler days of cable. That’s where Sling TV comes in. Here’s everything you need to know before you subscribe.
What is Sling TV?
Debuting in 2015, Sling TV is a service that lets you stream your favorite live TV channels on your smart TV, smartphone, streaming devices, or game console. One of the most common complaints about cable packages is the glut of channels offered that you don’t actually care about. For instance, you could be paying $70 a month for 200 channels, while you probably only watch 20 channels. Sling TV cuts cost by cutting your channel offerings down to just the most popular options. You can also get a selection of local channels.
How does Sling TV work?
Sling comes in three color-coded package options: Sling Orange, Sling Blue, and Sling Orange and Blue. Each package comes with different channels, though there are some important overlaps. Every Slings subscriber gets access to CNN, Cartoon Network, History, Food Network, TNT, BBC America, Travel Channel, Comedy Central, HGTV and a handful of other big names.
Sling TVs’ biggest selling point is the number of devices it can be utilized on. Here’s where you can use Sling TV:
- Amazon Fire TVs, Fire Sticks, and Fire Tablets
- Apple TV
- Android TV
- Google Chrome
- iOS and Android mobile devices
- Certain LG smart TV models
- Roku including Roku TV
- Your desktop or laptop computer
- Xbox One
Although PS4 users are out of luck due to Sony’s similar (and exclusive) PS Vue service, that’s already a ton of options. If you have a smart device, you can almost certainly use Sling TV. And if not, Sling is currently offering a free Roku streaming stick when you sign up for two months of service.
Sling TV packages
For $20 a month, you can subscribe to the Sling Orange package. This gives you those big-name basics along with a few niche options, such as Bloomberg, IFC, and Viceland. This basic package is one of the best ways to watch ESPN without cable. Note: You can only watch Sling TV on one device at a time with the Sling Orange package.
The $25 Sling Blue package removes some options (most notably ESPN, Disney, and Freeform) and gives you access to more news (Fox News, NBC, and CSN) and sports channels (FS1, FS2, and the NFL Network). You can watch Sling Blue on up to three devices simultaneously.
Sling Orange and Blue
For $40 a month, subscribers to Sling Orange and Blue get access to all the regular channels that Sling has to offer. Since Sling Orange and Blue is essentially two packages, you can watch them on up to four devices at once.
There are benefits to each package, depending on where your interests are focused. Sling Orange is ideal for sports fans, including ESPN, ESPN 2, and ESPN 3 as part of your subscription. Sling Blue, on the other hand, offers more entertainment options with Bravo, Syfy, Tru TV, BET, and National Geographic joining the party. Still, since the Blue service also comes with two channels of Fox Sports, sports fans won’t be entirely left out.
Which one you choose may depend entirely on how many people need access to the account. If you’re sharing with roommates, you’ll likely want the flexibility of Sling Blue. If all of these channels above are on your regular rotation, the $40 Orange and Blue package is a solid investment.
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Sling TV channels: The add-ons
Beyond standard packages, Sling TV offers a la carte channel packages, starting at $5 a month for more news, comedy, sports, or non-English channels. Pricing can go as high as $14.99 a month if you decide to add HBO. This an area where Sling TV can feel needlessly complicated.
If you want the Sports Extra package, for example, it’s only $5 a month if you have Sling Orange, but it costs $10 on the Sling Blue plan. And while Orange subscribers will get more channels overall, like ESPNU and ESPN-SEC Network, NFL RedZone is only available via the Sling Blue Sports Extra package. Confused yet? (Here’s a full breakdown of how to watch NFL RedZone without cable.)
The lesson: Make sure to read up on each plan when you choose a subscription. Sling TV does offer special bundles that are worth a few extra bucks. If you want to pick up a Kids, Comedy, News, and Lifestyle package, you can get all four for $10 a month instead of paying $5 apiece. Another hack worth noting: While HBO costs the same as HBO Now on Sling, you can add separate movie channels like Epix, Turner Classic Movies, and Sundance as part of a cheaper $5 package.
While some of these quirks require you to read between the lines, Sling TV is steadily improving and clarifying as it grows in popularity.
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Sling TV review
We tested Sling TV on a Roku smart TV, Xbox One, and iOS. Of the three options, iOS had the best interface. Sling’s grid-style guide was intuitive and ideal for touchscreen devices. On Roku and Xbox One, the interface was fine, but it felt slower when maneuvering around menu options. Thankfully, Sling lets you select your favorite channels for quick access from any device menu.
To test picture quality, we streamed using the “Best” quality option on a 100Mbps speed connection. For the most part, it looked like broadcast HD TV.
Occasionally during commercials, the picture would get fuzzy, but the connection stayed strong while watching a program. Overall the picture was around 720p, though there were periods on channels like Food Network where it looked more like 1080p. Sling offers Low (.5Mbps), Medium (.8Mbps), High(1.5Mbps) streaming options in addition to its “Best” option. Anything below High looks awful on an HD screen but is perfectly serviceable for smartphones and tablets.
Sling TV: Special features
Beyond bringing broadcast and cable channels to your streaming devices, Sling TV offers special features that allow you to access your old favorites with some of the benefits of streaming.
Most Sling TV devices can access cloud DVR for an extra $5 per month. That gets you 50 hours of Cloud DVR storage accessible from most of your Sling TV connected devices. When you run out of space on your DVR, Sling TV just deletes your oldest program—but you can easily set your favorite shows to save them from deletion. Due to licensing issues, not every channel supports DVR functionality. However, Sling has steadily added more channels over time.
Rewind and fast-forward
Most Sling TV channels will allow you to rewind, fast-forward, or start a show over from the beginning. Almost a quarter of all Sling TV channels support this feature, though more should be added over time. With the channels that do offer rewind and fast-forward features, you can check to see which episode of Seinfeld was playing on TBS three days ago and go back to watch.
Some channels also support on-demand content, though the selection varies from network to network. Some shows offer whole seasons while others have just a few episodes.
Want to rent a movie tonight? Sling TV has a wide selection of films to rent just like your old Pay-Per-View service. Movies cost between $0.99 and $4.99 to rent depending on how new they are and picture quality. Amazon or Vudu still offer a better selection, but if you want one app to control all your viewing, it’s a nice extra feature.
Editor’s note: This article is regularly updated for relevance.