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Sling TV: Everything you need to know

Sling TV lets you ditch cable TV and still watch live channels from ESPN, CNN, Disney and more for $25 a month. Here's the full skinny.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

Sling TV was the first live TV streaming service -- appearing in February 2015 -- and while it spawned a number of competitors it's one of the cheapest, and the best, ways to cut the cable TV cord.

Sling TV allows subscribers to watch a collection of live and on-demand TV channels on their?TVs, computers,?tablets?or?phones. This is live TV, just like a cable or satellite TV service, except it's streamed over the internet.

Sling offers two tiers, Blue and Orange, and if you're a sports fan then Sling Orange remains the cheapest way to watch live ESPN shows like SportsCenter. You can pay more to get additional channels or add a cloud DVR, and if you care more about Fox Sports and NBC than ESPN, you can subscribe to Blue. Here's everything you need to know.

All the live TV streaming services compared: Which has the best channel lineup?

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Sling TV

How is Sling TV different from my cable or satellite provider?

Sling TV is a live TV streaming service that's operated by?Dish Network, but it is an entirely separate entity. You do not need a Dish subscription (or a satellite dish) to get Sling TV. It's available on a number of different platforms including iOS, Android, Apple TV and Roku. In addition:

  • Sling TV is available everywhere in the United States.?
  • It's probably cheaper and has fewer channels. Plans start at $25 and include 30-plus live TV channels. It has either limited local channels or none at all, depending on the plan.
  • It requires a broadband home internet connection of at least 5.0 megabits per second (25 Mbps or higher is recommended). ?
  • Instead of a cable box, you'll watch on a TV-connected device, like a streaming stick or box, Smart TV or game console that runs the free Sling TV app. It's also available on mobile
  • There are no contracts, and you can cancel or resume service anytime, with no penalties.?
  • You can only watch one stream at a time with the Sling Orange package, or three streams with Sling Blue.?

What about the competition?

When it comes to live TV services, there are two types -- budget and premium. As a budget service Sling has two main competitors:?Philo?($20 per month) and?AT&T's Watch TV?($15 per month). Like Sling, these competitors lack local channels but also don't offer sports networks such as ESPN and Fox Sports.

Premium services include?YouTube TV,?Hulu with Live TV, PlayStation Vue,?DirecTV Now?and Fubo TV, all of which start at $45 to $55 per month. They cost more than Sling, mainly because they also carry many of your?local broadcast channels?--?ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC.

Why is it so cheap?

One of the biggest "gotchas" with Sling TV, and one of the reasons it's cheaper than cable, is the single-stream restriction on the Sling Orange package (the one that includes ESPN). Meanwhile, the Fox and NBC-inclusive Sling Blue does offers up to three simultaneous streams.?

If you're an Orange subscriber, you cannot watch Sling TV on more than one device -- TV or mobile -- at the same time. This restriction can be a real hassle for families who want to watch different shows in different rooms, for example.

How does it work? If you're watching Sling TV on one device and then someone else begins watching Sling TV on another device, the service makes you choose which single device to continue streaming. The other device is blocked from streaming Sling TV until the first device stops.

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Sling TV

How are Orange and Blue different?

Despite Sling TV's advertising itself as "a la carte TV," you can't pick and choose individual channels. As with cable, there's a set fee for a certain package.?

Sling calls its packages Orange and Blue, and differentiates them by channel selection and simultaneous stream limit.

  • Sling Orange: $25 per month.?33 channels, including ESPN and Disney (but not Fox or NBC channels). Limited to one simultaneous stream at a time.
  • Sling Blue: $25 per month.?48 channels, including Fox and NBC channels (but not ESPN or Disney channels). Up to three simultaneous streams.
  • Sling Orange + Blue: $40 per month. Includes all channels from both (total of 51). Up to four simultaneous streams, but only one at a time of Orange channels.

Here's all of the channels offered by Sling TV's base packages as of July 18, 2019.

Sling TV Orange vs. Blue channels

Channel Sling Orange ($25) Sling Blue ($25) Sling Orange + Blue ($40)
A&E Yes Yes Yes
AMC Yes Yes Yes
AXS TV Yes Yes Yes
BBC America Yes Yes Yes
Bloomberg TV Yes Yes Yes
Bravo No Yes Yes
Cartoon Network Yes Yes Yes
Cheddar Business Yes Yes Yes
Cheddar News Yes Yes Yes
CNN Yes Yes Yes
Comedy Central Yes Yes Yes
Comet Yes Yes Yes
Disney Channel Yes No Yes
Discovery Channel No Yes Yes
ESPN Yes No Yes
ESPN 2 Yes No Yes
ESPN 3 Yes No Yes
Food Network Yes Yes Yes
Fox No Yes* Yes
Fox Regional Sports No Yes* Yes*
Fox Sports 1 No Yes Yes
Fox Sports 2 No Yes Yes
Freeform Yes No Yes
FX No Yes Yes
FXX No Yes Yes
Fuse Yes Yes Yes
HGTV Yes Yes Yes
History Yes Yes Yes
IFC Yes Yes Yes
Lifetime Yes Yes Yes
Local Now Yes Yes Yes
MotorTrend Yes No Yes
Nat Geo Wild No Yes Yes
National Geographic No Yes Yes
NBC No Yes* Yes
NBC Sports Network No Yes Yes
NBC Regional Sports No Yes Yes
Newsy Yes Yes Yes
NFL Network No Yes Yes
Nick Jr. No Yes* Yes*
Paramount Network No Yes Yes
Stadium Yes Yes Yes
Syfy No Yes Yes
TBS Yes Yes Yes
TLC No Yes Yes
TNT Yes Yes Yes
Travel Channel Yes Yes Yes
truTV No Yes Yes
USA Network No Yes Yes
Viceland Yes Yes Yes

*On Sling Blue, Fox and NBC's local broadcast channels and sports networks are available in select markets only.

What other channels are available?

Beyond the channels listed above as part of the Orange or Blue base packages, Sling TV also sells add-on mini-packages it calls Sling Extras.?

To get one, you'll have to subscribe to either the base Orange or Blue package, then pay an additional monthly fee. Many Extra channels are restricted to either Orange or Blue subscribers. Here's a few current Extra packages and the major channels they include, all priced at $5 extra per month.

  • Sports Extra:?NBA TV, NHL Network, more ESPN channels (Orange only), NFL RedZone and Golf Channel (Blue only), more
  • Comedy Extra: MTV, Logo, TV Land, CMT, more
  • Kids Extra: Boomerang, Nicktoons, Teen Nick, Disney Junior and Disney XD (Orange only), more
  • News Extra: BBC World News, HLN, The Blaze, MSNBC and CNBC (Blue only), more
  • Lifestyle Extra: VH1, Cooking Channel, Hallmark, DIY, FYI, Lifetime Movies, more

Sling also offers Heartland, Hollywood and Broadcast extra packages, as well as a wide array of foreign-language channel packages. Premium channels available on Sling include HBO, Showtime, Cinemax, Stars, EPIX and CuriosityStream. Pricing varies from $5 to $15 extra per month.?

Lastly, customers can add the?Total TV Deal which includes eight extras for $20.

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Screenshot by David Katzmaier

What about local broadcasts (ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC)?

The biggest reason Sling costs less than many competing services is because it has very few local channels.?

Orange customers don't get the major broadcast networks' local channels, namely CBS, ABC, Fox and NBC. (And let us note, for the record, that CNET is published by CBS Interactive, a division of CBS.)?

As mentioned on the chart above, Blue customers can watch local live Fox and NBC broadcast networks (and regional sports channels) in?select markets only?-- and again, the number of markets is relatively small (about a dozen on each). Blue customers outside those markets have access to Fox and NBC shows on-demand.

Sling encourages users who want local channels to use an over-the-air antenna. It runs promotions that include free antennas and sells the AirTV Player?and AirTV to integrate antenna broadcasts with Sling's interface.

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The AirTV connects to an antenna to distribute live TV to your TVs and devices via the Sling TV app.

AirTV

What other channels are not available on Sling TV?

Beyond local channels, a handful of popular channels aren't available at all on Sling TV. They include:

  • Animal Planet
  • Fox News
  • Nickelodeon? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ?
  • OWN
  • CBS Sports

Sling TV also lacks many regional sports networks (RSNs) that are probably found on your local cable service. These vary by locality, but typically they include channels that show professional baseball, basketball and hockey games in the regular season; for example, NESN in New England and MSG in New York.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

How can I watch Sling TV?

You'll need to subscribe at Sling.com and set up an account, then install the app on a supported device.

Once you have the device and app installed, you'll be able to sign in and start watching anywhere in the US that has stable internet connection, whether wired, Wi-Fi or cellular data.

Sling TV is currently available (or not) on the following devices.

Sling TV devices

TV devices Roku (TVs, boxes and streaming sticks), Apple TV (2015 and newer only), Chromecast, Amazon Fire TV and Fire TV Stick, Xbox One, Android TV, Channel Master, LG TV (Web OS 3.0+), Samsung Smart TV
Mobile devices Android phones and tablets, iOS phones and tablets (iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch), PC and Mac computers
Not available PlayStation (3 or 4), Xbox 360, Apple TV (pre-2015 versions)

Does Sling TV have commercials?

Yes. It has the same commercial breaks and national ads as the standard TV channels delivered via cable or satellite TV service. There are also un-skippable and un-pausable ads on some on-demand content.

Can I pause live TV or skip commercials?

Not unless you pay extra for the cloud DVR service (below). Even then, live TV pause only works on certain channels.?

Without the cloud DVR, the pause, rewind and fast-forward commands don't work at all when watching many of the ESPN channels (including the SEC Network), as well as AMC, TNT, TBS, CNN, Cartoon Network/Adult Swim, any of the Disney channels, ABC Family, Boomerang, HLN, IFC or Sundance TV.

On some other channels the pause, rewind and fast-forward buttons work as expected. You can pause a current show and rewind all the way to the beginning. You can also fast-forward, even through commercials, to catch back up to live time. But the only way to schedule and keep recordings of shows is to use the cloud DVR.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

What's the deal with the cloud DVR?

On most devices you can pay an extra $5 per month to subscribe to Sling's cloud DVR. It's designed to mimic the functionality of the physical digital video recorder box available from many cable and satellite services, allowing you to record and play back recorded shows and skip commercials on certain channels. The DVR has 50 hours of storage.

Unlike traditional DVRs, however, Sling TV's cloud DVR won't work on these channels: Freeform, Disney Channel, Disney XD, Disney JR, ESPN, ESPN2, ESPN3, ESPN Deportes, ESPN Goal Line, ESPN Bases Loaded, ACC Network, and SEC Network.

Can I watch shows on demand?

Nearly every channel has shows you can watch on-demand, instantly. Most of channels feature "Three Day Replay," allowing you to watch any show aired within the past three days. You can't easily skip commercials on those past shows, however. Some channels even allow you to watch any show or movie that aired in the previous seven days.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

Can I use my Sling TV account to sign in to other TV apps, like Watch ESPN and FX Now?

Yes, but not with every app and platform.

Apps like FX Now and Bravo allow you full access if you authenticate with Sling TV credentials, as long as the app is part of your Sling package. ?Here's the full list of channels, apps and devices you can use your Sling TV login with.

Note that Watch ESPN is still subject to the single-stream restriction, so you can't watch live TV via the Watch ESPN app on one device at the same time as you watch any live TV via the Sling TV app on a second device. And of course Sling Blue customers can't authenticate Watch ESPN at all.

Does the picture look as good as cable?

Not quite, but it's still very good. In our testing, Sling TV has came close to Verizon Fios' HD channel quality at its best, but did look slightly softer. It did briefly drop in quality when moving to a new channel, and there were other occasional picture-quality drops, but on our high-speed connection it was mostly delivered at the highest quality with excellent stability. Picture quality on smaller screen devices was also quite good.

What about sound?

Although Sling originally said the TV channels would be available in 5.1 surround sound where available, it now says 5.1 is restricted to video-on-demand (VOD) content. Live TV is in stereo only.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

Is it easy to find stuff to watch?

Much easier than cable, in our book. Sling TV's app has a user interface that's more like Netflix than the traditional cable TV grid guide (though it has one of those too). The interface features thumbnail images of shows and access to on-demand content -- it focuses on individual channels and genres in an easy-to use way.

The main My TV page lets you choose your favorite channels and shows, as well as continue watching on-demand content where you left off. The On Now section lists currently airing shows in categories like Sports, Kids and Lifestyle. There's a full guide, which offers two different views: one is the traditional grid, and the other includes channels you subscribe to, subdivided again into categories. You also get an easy-to-use search function to find specific shows.

What happens if I cancel?

With other live TV services, canceling means you lose access to all of their programming. To watch anything, you'll have to pay (once the free trial period ends).

in 2018 Sling started offering a small selection of shows and movies?to former subscribers and newcomers, too, even if they're not currently paying for the service. That includes people who cancel without paying after the free trial period ended.?

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The new Watch Now row has a selection of free shows, with ads.

Sling

A new "Watch Now" row on the Sling TV app gives these users access to a few free TV shows and movies. It currently includes around 100 hours of programming, with shows like Wrecked, The Detour, Good Behavior, Flip or Flop and more. The shows have ads, which vary in length per show; some ad breaks will be two minutes and some will be shorter.

In addition, former subscribers can watch pay-per-view fights on Sling as well as certain premium channels for a separate monthly fee without paying for a full Sling subscription. They include Showtime ($10), CuriosityStream ($6), Stingray Karaoke ($7), Dove Channel ($5), Outside TV Features ($5), Up Faith & Family ($5), Pantaya ($6) and NBA League Pass ($29).?

As of January 2019, only the Roku app for Sling supports these extras, but the company has promised more devices will come.

In addition, users who cancel still have accessed to their DVR recordings for 30 days after the expiration of their service.

What else do I need to know?

That's plenty for now. If you want more info I recommend trying it for yourself. Sling TV offers a free trial, for a week and sometimes longer. If you've read this far, it's probably worth a shot.

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