Why Sling TV is an essential part of a balanced cord-cutting diet

Caleb Denison
sling tv

Sling TV has gone through multiple evolutions since it debuted at CES 2015 (winning our Best in Show award in the process). Since then, it’s become an ever-present option for the cord-cutting crowd looking for live TV without the bonds of cable. However, the service’s multiple options have made it increasingly complicated.

To help simplify everything Sling has to offer (it’s a lot!), we’ve put together a comprehensive, hands-on evaluation so you can see if it’s right for you.

Sling TV: What it is and isn’t     

Dish Network would still be happy to sell you 250 channels for $85 per month, and it doesn’t intend Sling TV to replace full-blown satellite service or cable. Instead, it hopes to meet the needs of cord cutters (those who quit cable) or “cord nevers” (those who never had it), who can’t get everything they want from traditional streaming sites like Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu. That’s what makes Sling TV’s inclusion of sports networks like ESPN and NFL Network so attractive — live streaming sports are hard to come by outside of a contract.

Sling TV’s selection of channels was lean to start, but it’s regularly being beefed up, and the channels it does offer (listed below) are fairly popular. The service also offers video-on-demand from a handful of the channels it offers, as well as movie rentals. Best of all, Sling TV requires no sign-up fee, no contract, and you can test it out with a one-week free trial before fully diving in.

Available channels

Below, you’ll find charts for each of the base Sling TV channel packages, followed by a listing of the channels included in $5 add-on packages. The number of available channels for each package has grown and changed over time, and is likely to continue expanding and altering into the future, but we’ll do our best to update these listings as they change. Listings here are up to date as of November 2017.

Included in $20/month Sling Orange package

Included in $25/month Sling Blue package

A quick glance at the above listings shows that there are some major differences in channels included with each of the package options. Sling Orange includes multiple sports channels, most notably a suite of ESPN channels including ESPN, ESPN 2, and ESPN 3. Sling Blue, on the other hand, drops the sports but adds in networks like Fox and NBC, and also offers the ability to add on NFL RedZone via the $10/month Sports Extra package, a virtual must have for football fans.

Sling Orange and Blue

If you’re looking to keep costs low, you’ll have to pick between the two above options. Luckily, for those who don’t mind paying extra, there’s a third option: “Sling Orange and Blue,” which includes all the channels from both Orange and Blue packages plus the Broadcast Extra add-on package for $40/month. It’s a bit more expensive, to be sure, but you won’t have to decide between live sports on ESPN with Orange or network streaming with Blue.

Add-on packages:

To bolster your channel list, Sling TV offers several add on packs, most of which include multiple channels. These cost $5 to $10 per month, though some premium add-ons like HBO are bit more expensive. Below are all the packages currently available. Keep in mind that some packages differ depending on which color of Sling TV you choose, though you subscribe to both Orange and Blue, every channel from each package will be available.

It’s also important to state that these packages can update and change from time to time, so be sure to double check on Sling TV’s website.

Broadcast Extra (Orange), $5 per month: ABC, Univision, Uni Mas

Sports Extra (Orange), $5 per month: NBA TV, ESPN SEC, ESPN SEC+, PAC 12 Network, ESPN U, ESPNews, NHL Network, BeIN Sports, ESPN Goal Line, ESPN Bases loaded, Outside TV, Motorsport.TV, Univision TDN

Sports Extra (Blue), $10 per month: RedZone NFL Network, NBA TV, NHL Network, NBC Golf, BeIN Sports, PAC 12 Network, Stadium, Univision TDN, Outide TV, Olympic Channel, Motorsport.TV

Comedy Extra (Orange), $5 per month: MTV, Tru TV, Spike, MTV2, CMT, Logo, GSN, TV Land, El Rey

Comedy Extra (Blue), $5 per month: MTV, Spike, MTV2, CMT, Logo, GSN, TV Land

Kids Extra (Orange), $5 per month: Disney Junior Disney XD, Nick Jr., Nicktoons, TeenNick, Boomerang, Sling Kids, BabyTV, Duck TV

Kids Extra (Blue), $5 per month: Nicktoons, TeenNick, Boomerang, Sling Kids, BabyTV, Duck TV

News Extra (Orange), $5 per month: BBC World News, HLN, Fusion, euronews, News18, CGTN, France 24, NDTV 24×7, RT Network, Weather 24 (new users will get a free six months of Weather 24, even without the World News Extra add-on)

News Extra (Blue), $5 per month: MSNBC, CNBC, BBC World News, TheBlaze, HLN, Eauronews, France 24, News 18, NDTV 24×7, Russia Today, CGTN, Weather 24 (new users will get a free six months of Weather 24, even without the World News Extra add-on)

Lifestyle Extra, $5 per month: VH1, BET, Coocking Channel, DIY Network, FHI, Hallmark Channel, Hallmark Movies & Mysteries, WE TV, Lifetime Movies, Ibrant Network, Living Network, Afro

Hollywood Extra, $5 per month: Fandor, Reelz, HDNET Movies, Sundance TV, TCM

Heartland Extra, $5 per month: World Fishing Network, Sportsman Channel, Outdoor Channel, Ride TV, RFD TV, PixL, Cowboy Channel

CuriosityStream, $6 per month:  Includes over 1,500 documentaries on science, tech, nature, and history

UP Faith & Family, $5 per month: Includes a number of family-friendly movies, animated series, and TV series

Pantaya, $6 per month: Large selection of Spanish-language films

Stars, $9 per month: Starz, Starz West, Starz Edge, Starz Comedy, Starz Kids & Family, Starz Encore

Showtime, $10 per month: Showtime, Showtime West, Showtime 2, Showtime Showcase, Showtime Extreme, Showtime Beyond, Showtime Next, Showtime Women, Showtime Family

Epix, $5 per month: Epix, Epix2, Epix Hits

HBO, $15 per month, Includes on-demand content (Note that you may stream HBO on up to three devices via Sling TV regardless of your subscription plan)

Cinemax, $10 per month

Refer-a-friend discount

Sling TV already has competitive pricing models compared to the other live TV streaming services available, but its refer-a-friend program can trim down your bill even more. For every friend you refer to Sling TV, you’ll get $5 off your bill that month. Your friends will benefit too, as they will get $5 off their first month. While these discounts only apply to one billing cycle, a $5 discount equates to getting a free month of an add-on pack.

Single stream vs. multiple streams

Only certain subscription packages allow for multiple simultaneous streams. If you opt for the basic package, Sling Orange, you’ll be restricted to streaming from just one device at a time. You can easily jump from your tablet to your streaming set-top box, for instance, but you can’t use both at the same time. The other, more expensive subscription plans allow for up to three simultaneous streams.

Sports

In addition to the above sports channel packages, Sling TV includes a handy feature for tracking upcoming games called Gamefinder. The feature is an online search tool where users can find upcoming regular season NCAA and NFL games. You can access the tool at Sling.com/gamefinder.

Video on demand

Sling TV offers a fairly robust selection of movies on demand at launch, with even more promised in the near future. Rental costs are $2.99 for SD and $3.99 for HD. The eclectic library includes a healthy selection of Disney flicks, and plenty of big-budget fares. In addition, a new deal with Epix will bring in around 2,000 VOD titles, with titles new and old, spanning the gamut of popular programming.

DISH-Sling-TV-app_0020

Titles are broken down into categories including Action & Adventure, Comedy, Documentary, Drama, Foreign Films, Horror, Kids and Family, Sci-Fi & Fantasy, Thriller, Classics, Romance, War & Westerns. A search feature is also available to make finding out if a specific title is available much easier.

User experience

Interface

We expected it to take some time to learn how to wade through a new layout, so it came as no surprise that Sling TV felt a little awkward at first. But in less than a day, we became accustomed.

Sling TV avoids the blocky “guide graph” of your home DVR in favor of a slicker, timeline-based programming guide, enriched with thumbnail graphics for each show. We’re also glad to see an integrated search feature, which makes finding a specific movie in Sling TV’s on-demand catalog much easier.

The UI feels better on a tablet or phone than it does on our Roku or Amazon Fire TV, probably because Sling TV’s design lends itself better to a touchscreen or point-and-click interface than it does with directional cursor navigation.

Sling TV is also available on Google Chrome as of August 2017 . No extra plugins or software is required, and the interface will be immediately recognizable if you’ve used it on other devices.

Video quality

We tested Sling TV on a 65-inch TV screen, which we expected would expose any shortcomings in video quality…and it did. With a strong internet connection and good throughput, we felt like we were watching 720p at best. Cable, Satellite, Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu all have better-looking HD streams in our estimation. On smaller screens, compression artifacts and poor resolution are much less noticeable. We think Sling TV looks just fine for screens 47-inches and smaller, and beautiful on tablets and phones.

Loading and buffering

A solid, speedy Internet connection is recommended for the best Sling TV experience, but not required. Users can choose to stream at Low quality (0.5 Mbps) Medium (0.8Mbps) High (1.5Mbps) or Best (no limit). We streamed at the best quality and experienced longer load times and some buffering, depending on the state of our Internet connection, but it’s nice to know those with fast connections can get a quality experience, and those with bandwidth caps can control data consumption.

Shifty time shifting

Whether or not you are able to pause, rewind or fast-forward — also known as “time shifting” — what you’re watching will depend on which channel you’re watching, as not all support this feature. Sling continually adds time shifting support to new channels, with a little over a third of the channels now supported.

On the plus side, those channels that do allow time shifting will let you go back as far as three days in the program history, so you can catch episodes of your favorite shows on those channels that you may have missed.

Cloud DVR

If you want to ensure that you don’t miss anything, Sling TV’s cloud DVR feature will help. The feature isn’t available on all supported devices at present, but Sling is working to ensure that everything will be in tip-top shape by the full rollout.

Sling unveiled its cloud DVR at the end of 2016 via a limited beta that was only available to Roku users, but has since launched a $5-per-month “First Look” cloud DVR program that is available for Amazon Fire TV streamers and tablets, Android TVs and smart devices, Apple TV, and Xbox One consoles. Further support for Windows 10, iOS devices, and AirTV players is expected sometime in 2017.

Exactly how much DVR space you have currently depends on the device you’re using. Cloud DVR beta users get 100 hours of storage, while First Look customers get 50 hours — apparently, it pays to be a Roku user. Unlike the cloud DVR functionality provided by competitor PlayStation Vue, there is no 28-day time limit, just the storage limit. Once you start approaching the limit, Sling TV automatically makes space by deleting the oldest recordings that you have already watched.

However, in June 2017, Sling TV added the “protect” feature, which prevents a show from being automatically culled. Other added features include DVR folders for organizing your recorded content, and the ability to set up recordings from a show’s franchise page in the Sling TV guide.

In addition, June saw the addition of DVR support for FOX channels, including FOX Sports 1. As with time shifting, cloud DVR recording isn’t available on all channels, and you’ll often find that the channels that don’t allow DVR recording also don’t allow time shifting. However, users are able to record multiple shows simultaneously on channels that currently support the feature. While it’s a bummer this feature isn’t open to all channels, Sling TV has been steadily increasing the number of supported channels as the service grows.

Supported devices

Sling TV is available on a host of devices, and very likely on one (or multiple) you already own.

Available on:

Our take

Sling TV isn’t for everyone, and Dish knows that. Still, at $20 a month for the basic package (or $25 or $40 for the more expansive ones) with no contracts, commitments, or cancellation fees, it’s certainly worth a shot for those who have only kept cable around for channels like ESPN, CNN, or HDTV. Pair it with an HD antenna, and a couple of other streaming services like Netflix and Hulu Plus, and Sling TV can become an important part of a complete cord-cutter’s diet.

In the end, what’s there to lose besides your cable provider?

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Updated: Added newly available premium channels CuriosityStream, UP Faith & Family, and Pantaya.