Sling TV review: The best budget live TV streaming service

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Live TV streaming services are designed to replace cable TV by letting you stream live channels over the internet. Yet for the budget-conscious TV viewer, not all services are created equal: For instance, YouTube TV offers a lot of channels but it costs twice as much as the cord-cutter-friendly Sling TV. Starting at $35, Sling TV offers an excellent value with plenty of channels on offer, and it finally looks the business with its new coat of paint

Like

  • Solid selection of channels for the price.
  • Numerous choices and add-ons
  • Optional $99 AirTV 2 tuner for local channels.

Don’t Like

  • No local channels beyond NBC and Fox in a few cities.
  • Package options can be confusing
  • Limited DVR
  • AirTV channels don’t work on browsers or Apple TV.

Sling TV is different from rivals because it offers 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 others 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 and even something like the $99 AirTV 2 DVR. While the company recently integrated local streaming startup LoCast into its program lineup the service has since been suspended. Meanwhile, more expensive alternatives such as Hulu Plus Live TV do offer local channels with no antenna required.

In January this year, 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). Existing customers got to keep their $30 price until Aug. 1 but now pay the same as newer patrons.

Despite its lack of local channels 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 to cable, and 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?

The upgraded Sling TV interface is now available on Roku, Fire TV and Android TV.


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 TVYouTube TV, DirecTV Stream, Philo and FuboTV. For ease of categorization, I’ve separated these services into budget ($35 and under) and premium (over $50) services. Even with this year’s price hike, Sling TV can still be considered a budget service, alongside the $25 Philo (as of Sept. 21, 2021). 

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 ($65) 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.

Sling TV on Roku Ultra 4K 2021

The guide


Sarah Tew/CNET

Check out the chart at the 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 by connecting 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.

Air TV 2

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 recordings from becoming automatically erased.

What’s Sling TV like to use?

sling-tv-1

Sling TV’s new interface has a side-mounted menu which lets the larger thumbnails shine.


Ty Pendlebury/CNET

Until now, the user interface has been the worst part of the experience, it simply lacked the sophistication of its rivals. The new menu system looks similar to Disney Plus in that it organizes your content horizontally on the left hand side. While the previous interface had way too many options, the menu has now been whittled down to Search, Home, Guide DVR and On-Demand. It’s more aesthetically pleasing in addition to being easier to use.

Sling TV on Roku Ultra 4K 2021

The Home screen replaces the old My TV


Sarah Tew/CNET

Regardless of which version you are using — new or old — navigation is zippy, and I found it was easy to find the shows I wanted to watch and record. With the multiple discovery screens, including the main Home screen, there was plenty of programming available even when I didn’t know what I was in the mood for.

Sling has made numerous upgrades to its cloud DVR since launch, such as the bump to 50 hours of recording space. In addition 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. Of course, there’s also its…

Integration with AirTV 

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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, the AirTV 2 requires a compatible external hard drive to turn it 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.


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During my initial tests with the AirTV 2 I was unable to pause live TV, and while I am unable to test the device 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 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 of the AirTV devices has also been streamlined and users can now access them 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 ($25), it is definitely worth spending a bit more on Sling TV Blue. The upgrade to the DVR alone makes even the recent $5 upcharge seem justified, especially when other rivals cost almost twice as much. The experience is better than Philo overall; it’s zippier and it offers more channels. It’s not perfect, but it’s getting better as a cable replacement, and it should save you a chunk of change in the long term. In the absence of LoCast just be sure to have a local channel contingency in place before you start. 

The chart below 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.

Top 100 channels

Channel Philo ($25) Sling Orange ($35) Sling Blue ($35) Hulu with Live TV ($65) YouTube TV ($65)
Total channels: 41 25 37 73 78
ABC No No No Yes Yes
CBS No No No Yes Yes
Fox No No Yes Yes Yes
NBC No No Yes Yes Yes
PBS No No No No Yes
CW No No No Yes Yes
MyNetworkTV No No No Yes Yes
Channel Philo ($25) Sling Orange ($35) Sling Blue ($35) Hulu with Live TV ($65) YouTube TV ($65)
A&E Yes Yes Yes Yes No
ACC Network No $ No Yes Yes
Accuweather Yes No No No No
AMC Yes Yes Yes No Yes
Animal Planet Yes No No Yes Yes
BBC America Yes Yes Yes No Yes
BBC World News Yes $ $ No Yes
BET Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Big Ten Network No No $ Yes Yes
Bloomberg TV Yes Yes Yes Yes No
Boomerang No $ $ Yes No
Bravo No No Yes Yes Yes
Channel Philo ($25) Sling Orange ($35) Sling Blue ($35) Hulu with Live TV ($65) YouTube TV ($65)
Cartoon Network No Yes Yes Yes Yes
CBS Sports Network No No No Yes Yes
Cheddar Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Cinemax No No No $ $
CMT Yes $ $ Yes Yes
CNBC No No $ Yes Yes
CNN No Yes Yes Yes Yes
Comedy Central Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Cooking Channel Yes $ $ $ No
Destination America Yes $ $ $ No
Discovery Channel Yes No Yes Yes Yes
Disney Channel No Yes No Yes Yes
Disney Junior No $ No Yes Yes
Disney XD No $ No Yes Yes
DIY Yes $ $ $ No
E! No No Yes Yes Yes
EPIX $ $ $ No $
ESPN No Yes No Yes Yes
ESPN 2 No Yes No Yes Yes
ESPNEWS No $ No Yes Yes
ESPNU No $ No Yes Yes
Channel Philo ($25) Sling Orange ($35) Sling Blue ($35) Hulu with Live TV ($65) YouTube TV ($65)
Food Network Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Fox Business No No $ Yes Yes
Fox News No No Yes Yes Yes
Fox Sports 1 No No Yes Yes Yes
Fox Sports 2 No No $ Yes Yes
Freeform No Yes No Yes Yes
FX No No Yes Yes Yes
FX Movies No No $ Yes Yes
FXX No No $ Yes Yes
FYI Yes $ $ Yes No
Golf Channel No No $ Yes Yes
Hallmark Yes $ $ No No
HBO/HBO Max No No No $ $
HGTV Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
History Yes Yes Yes Yes No
HLN No $ Yes Yes Yes
IFC Yes Yes Yes No Yes
Investigation Discovery Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Lifetime Yes Yes Yes Yes No
Lifetime Movie Network Yes $ $ Yes No
Channel Philo ($25) Sling Orange ($35) Sling Blue ($35) Hulu with Live TV ($65) YouTube TV ($65)
MLB Network No $ $ No Yes
Motor Trend Yes Yes No Yes Yes
MSNBC No No Yes Yes Yes
MTV Yes $ $ Yes Yes
MTV2 Yes $ $ $ Yes
National Geographic No No Yes Yes Yes
Nat Geo Wild No No $ Yes Yes
NBA TV No $ $ No Yes
NBC Sports Network No No Yes Yes Yes
NFL Network No No Yes Yes Yes
NFL Red Zone No No $ $ $
NHL Network No $ $ No No
Nickelodeon Yes No No Yes Yes
Nick Jr. Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Nicktoons Yes $ $ $ Yes
Olympic Channel No No $ Yes Yes
OWN Yes No No No Yes
Oxygen No No $ Yes Yes
Paramount Network Yes $ $ Yes Yes
Channel Philo ($25) Sling Orange ($35) Sling Blue ($35) Hulu with Live TV ($65) YouTube TV ($65)
Science Yes $ $ $ No
SEC Network No $ No Yes Yes
Showtime No $ $ $ $
Smithsonian No No No Yes Yes
Starz $ $ $ $ $
Sundance TV Yes $ $ No Yes
Syfy No No Yes Yes Yes
Tastemade Yes $ $ No Yes
TBS No Yes Yes Yes Yes
TCM No $ $ Yes Yes
Telemundo No No No Yes Yes
Tennis Channel No $ $ No No
TLC Yes No Yes Yes Yes
TNT No Yes Yes Yes Yes
Travel Channel Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
TruTV No $ Yes Yes Yes
TV Land Yes $ $ Yes Yes
USA Network No No Yes Yes Yes
VH1 Yes $ $ Yes Yes
Vice Yes Yes Yes Yes No
WE tv Yes $ $ No Yes
Channel Philo ($25) Sling Orange ($35) Sling Blue ($35) Hulu with Live TV ($65) YouTube TV ($65)

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