Two million Americans use Sling TV instead of cable. Why is it so popular? Is it the right service for you? Check out our Sling TV review for 2018 to find out.
- 1 What is Sling TV?
- 2 Plans and Add-ons
- 3 Free Trial, Features and Channels
- 4 Channel Lineup and Features
- 5 Overall Review: 7.3
- 6 Final Thoughts
Sling TV launched in 2015 as “a viable alternative for live television to the millennial audience.” This was the first time people could subscribe to a cable-like service that the TV networks supported.
Initially, Sling TV’s subscribers couldn’t watch local TV stations or record programs. Yet for the first time, they could watch the live broadcasts from a dozen cable channels by streaming the video over the internet.
What really got people’s attention, however, was Sling TV’s price – only $20 per month. Sling TV now supports local TV and has more features, but the entry-level price is still $20.
Being first to market and the cheapest internet TV service made Sling TV the most popular internet TV service in the United States.
Until early this year, Sling TV was only available in the fifty states and the District of Columbia. Puerto Ricans now get the same access as Americans on the mainland.
If you travel outside the United States, Sling TV will cut off your access. Even when traveling within the US, Sling TV will change what channels you see. Licensing issues require Sling TV to present content based on your location. Texans living in California, for example, can’t watch their hometown TV stations.
You’ll find Sling TV apps for devices from Apple, Amazon and Roku as well as devices running Android and the official Android TV operating systems. Several smart TVs and Microsoft’s Xbox One have Sling TV apps as well. The only platform Sling TV left out is the PlayStation.
You get less flexibility when using Sling TV on a desktop or laptop since Chrome is the only browser that works.
Plans and Add-ons
My 2017 review dinged Sling TV for describing itself as an “a la carte” streaming service. You don’t get to choose just the channels you like — the traditional definition of “a la carte” for cord-cutters.
Instead, Sling TV lets you tailor your channel lineup through a system of base plans and add-on bundles.
Sling TV’s original twelve-channel “The Best of Live TV” plan evolved into today’s thirty-channel Orange plan. The low $20-per-month fee remained the same.
The Orange plan includes six Disney-owned channels: the ACC Network Extra, the Disney Channel and Freeform as well as ESPN, ESPN2 and ESPN3. These are the only unique channels in the Orange plan. The other twenty-four channels are also available in the Blue plan.
For $25 per month, the Blue plan gives you forty-five channels. That includes the twenty-four shared channels plus Fox and NBC, their regional sports networks and news channels, as well as the NFL Network.
The Blue plan has nine channels that the Orange plan lacks: Bravo, FX, FXX, Nick Jr, El Rey, BET, National Geographic, Univision and UniMas.
Comparing Orange vs Blue
Subscribing to just the Orange plan or just the Blue plan may make sense for some people. If most of your TV-watching is done using an over-the-air TV antenna, for example, one of Sling’s base plans would let you add cable channels on the cheap.
However, choosing between the two base plans is not simple. These base plans would make sense if one plan had only sports channels and the other plan only family-friendly entertainment channels. Yet, sports fans have reasons to like both the Orange and Blue plans. So do families.
Most of the channels that you get with either plan are the twenty-four lifestyle, entertainment and news channels that both channels share.
The Blue plan has more channels and better support for local TV for a slightly higher price. If available, you can get local Fox, NBC, UniMas and Univision stations. The Orange plan doesn’t have any local channels. However, an extra fee adds your local ABC station to the Orange plan (but not NBC or other local stations). You can’t get ABC with the Blue plan since that add-on only works with the Orange plan.
And then there’s the number of video streams to consider. The Orange plan only lets you stream to one device at a time. The Blue plan lets you stream to as many as three devices at once.
It’s all very confusing.
Conveniently for Sling TV, most of the confusion over its plans goes away if you buy the Orange+Blue combination plan.
The $40-per-month Orange+Blue plan comes with the ABC add-on bundle. That brings the total number of channels you get to around fifty, including your local ABC, Fox and NBC stations. Sling TV does not carry CBS.
The Orange+Blue plan is a solid alternative to cable thanks to its solid lineup of news, entertainment, lifestyle, sports and kids channels.
The combo plan does not remove the limits on simultaneous streaming, though. The single-device limit still applies to the Orange plan’s six exclusive channels as well as the ABC station.
Premiums, Extras and Minis
Sling TV Extras are expansion bundles organized by lifestyle, kids and other interests. The Sports Extra, for example, adds fourteen sports channels like NBA Network and NHL Network. The eight-channel Kids Extra includes Disney XD and Boomerang.
Unless you subscribe to the Orange+Blue plan, you’ll have to look at the Extras closely. Blue plan and Orange plan subscribers get different channels in some Extras. For example, the Kids Extra only includes Disney Jr and Disney XD if you have the Orange plan. MSNBC and CNBC are in the News Extra only with the Blue plan.
Sling TV offers traditional premium networks like HBO and several niche-oriented networks. CuriosityStream focuses on documentaries, UP Faith & Family provides Christian-oriented content and Pantaya streams on-demand movies in Spanish.
Sling TV’s Minis are interesting options for multilingual households or people learning foreign languages. Each Mini bundles TV stations from around the world by language.
If you’re just getting started as a cord-cutter, be sure to take advantage of Sling TV’s promotional offers. In exchange for pre-paying the first few months of your service, Sling TV will give you a free or discounted streaming device.
Free Trial, Features and Channels
Sling TV asks you to choose a base plan, Extras, Minis and promos when you sign up. You get seven days to check things out before the charges go through.
An Orange+Blue subscription gives you twenty-four shared channels. When you accidentally stream the Orange version of a shared channel, the single-stream limit will lock everyone else in the house out of the other Orange channels.
Right after you subscribe, Sling TV gives you a check box that fixes this. It tells Sling TV’s system to always stream the Blue version of any shared channels, keeping the Orange channel free for another stream.
Your favorite channels, recently watched shows, recent recordings and favorite TV shows appear on the My TV screen. It’s a good idea to populate your favorite channels and programs. You’ll get to that content much faster than through other parts of the app.
This screen presents thumbnails of programs broadcasting right now, all grouped by topics like “Action and Adventure” or “Drama”.
The topics aren’t arranged alphabetically. Fortunately, the list is short so you won’t have to scroll far.
This is your traditional cable-style programming guide. You can scroll up and down through the channel list and left and right through today’s programming. A drop-down list lets you jump to any day within the next week.
Sling TV organizes the channel list strangely as well. The Blue channels are grouped separately from the Orange channels. Within each group, Sling TV lists the channels in a counterintuitive way.
Fortunately, another drop-down list lets you filter the Guide to show only news channels, lifestyle channels or other categories.
This is the worst section of the Sling TV interface. A ribbon panel at the top has icons for each channel. You have to scroll through that linear list one by one until you find the channel you’re looking for.
And again, Sling TV uses its own way of ordering the channels. You have no way of knowing where the channel you’re looking for will be.
When you select one of the channels, two more ribbons panels appear. One shows the channel’s live TV broadcasts. Thumbnails of upcoming programs appear to the right of the current broadcast. If the network takes part in Sling TV’s three-day replay feature, then those thumbnails appear to the left of the current broadcast.
The other ribbon panel shows that channel’s on-demand options. On-demand availability varies by network. NBC, for example, only provides the five most recent episodes of Blacklist. On the other hand, you can watch all 128 episodes of Syfy’s Face Off.
Sports fans get a dedicated section that groups sports programming by sport. Since Sling TV’s programmers don’t believe in alphabetical listings, you’ll have to scroll back and forth before you find the sport you’re looking for.
Most Sling TV apps let you rent movies or buy pay-per-view events. You can scroll through categories or set filters by rating or by Rotten Tomatoes score.
Rentals are not available on apps for Apple TV, iPhone and iPad or the Amazon Fire TV and Fire Tablets.
The Sling TV interface has a basic search function. You can enter a TV show’s title, or an actor’s name, and Sling TV will do its best to present things to watch.
If a specific show isn’t available, however, you’ll get a sad face. A search for the Syfy channel’s The Expanse, for example, produces no results. A better approach would have been to present related content that you can watch — Killjoys, for example.
The Settings screen lets you change account details, throttle the streaming rate, and set parental controls. The section called Over-the-Air Channels lets you manage Sling TV’s preferred HDTV tuner.
Channel Lineup and Features
Sling TV also works with 18 TV Everywhere cable TV apps. With TV Everywhere, you can unlock on-demand content you wouldn’t get otherwise. You can get TV Everywhere access during the free trial.
More streaming services support 60 fps video streams. Frames per second refers to how often the image on the screen changes. Higher numbers are better for fast-paced sports and action movies.
Sling TV does not specify the quality of your video streams beyond low, medium, high and best. In fact, Sling TV only supports 60 fps on ESPN and Fox Sports. Fast-paced action at 30 fps can make other channels look jerky.
Sling TV does not include a cloud DVR with its subscriptions. You must pay $5 per month to record programs. Even then, your storage is capped at fifty hours, after which Sling TV automatically deletes the oldest recordings.
The Orange-vs-Blue issues come up here as well. None of the channels owned by Disney, including ABC, ESPN and Freeform, work with the cloud DVR. You can’t record those programs, pause live TV or skip forward through commercials.
Local live TV
Support for local TV stations is another weak area for Sling TV. When Flixed looked at local station support last year, we found that Sling TV could only stream one local station in twenty of the thirty largest TV markets. Sling TV couldn’t stream any local stations in five markets.
All streaming services struggle with the fragmented system of local station ownership. Sling TV, however, seems to struggle the most.
Overall Review: 7.3
If you’re looking for an alternative to cable, you may be frustrated by Sling TV’s approach. Despite low-low advertised prices, the complicated plans and add-ons could drive your monthly costs beyond the $40-$50 range.
Picking either the Orange or Blue plans, on the other hand, could supplement your over-the-air TV-watching nicely.
Content quality: 9
Sling TV has a solid channel lineup. The only mainstream channels missing from its Orange+Blue plan are those owned by Discovery Communications.
Local TV is the exception. Sling TV’s weak support for local network affiliates could be a turn-off for people unable or unwilling to set up a separate TV tuner.
Streaming quality: 7
Sling TV’s picture and audio quality were consistently good. Not great, just good. Sports fans will appreciate 60fps streams on ESPN and Fox Sports, but those are the only Sling TV channels that support high frame rates.
Device support: 9
With the exception of the PlayStation gaming consoles, Sling TV has excellent support for streaming platforms. Whether you plan to watch on your living room television or while out-and-about, there’s a Sling TV app for you.
Unfortunately, Sling TV has not rolled out all features to all platforms. You can’t rent movies, for example, on iPhones.
Sling TV’s value was clear when it was the only cable alternative. Today’s internet TV services, however, offer easily understood subscription plans. Many of these other services offer more channels for the price of the Orange+Blue plan.
Sling TV’s Orange plan isn’t even the lowest-priced streaming option anymore. That crown now goes to Philo’s $16-per-month package of lifestyle and entertainment channels.
Features like cloud DVRs that are standard with other services cost extra on Sling TV.
Sling TV hasn’t changed its approach since its 2015 launch. Offering complicated service plans and charging for essential features like a cloud DVR may have made sense at that time. The only comparison people could make was to cable companies whose policies were even worse.
Today’s cord-cutters, however, have many more options. Subscribing to services like DirecTV Now, YouTube TV and fuboTV is much less complicated and gives you better bang for the buck.
Sling TV needs to step up its game if it wants to keep promoting itself as the #1 Live TV Streaming Service.