Everything you need to know about Sling TV before you subscribe

Screengrab via DailyTekk/YouTube

Hate your cable company but miss cable? Sling TV is the next best thing.

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 about Sling TV and live TV streaming 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.

Screengrab via Sling TV

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 are all of the ways you can stream Sling TV:

Photo via Sling TV

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.

Photo via Sling TV

Sling TV packages

Sling Orange 

Cost: $25

Once considered Sling TV’s entry-level package, a price increase in June 2018 made Sling Orange cost the same as Sling Blue. For $25 a month, you get big-name basics along with a few niche options, such as Bloomberg, IFC, and Viceland. There’s still plenty of clutter (Cheddar Big News, Mewsy, AXS TV), but Sling Orange 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. 

Sling TV

Sling Orange channels:

  • ACC Network
  • A&E
  • AMC
  • AXS TV
  • BBC America
  • Bloomberg Television
  • Cartoon Network
  • Cheddar
  • Cheddar Big News
  • CNN
  • Comedy Central
  • Disney Channel
  • Epix Drive-In
  • ESPN
  • ESPN 2
  • ESPN 3
  • Flama
  • Food Network
  • FreeForm
  • Fuse
  • Galavisión
  • HGTV
  • History Channel
  • IFC
  • Lifetime
  • Local Now
  • Newsy
  • TBS
  • TNT
  • Tribeca Shortlist
  • Travel Channel
  • Viceland

Sling Blue 

Cost: $25

The $25 Sling Blue package removes some options (most notably 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. It’s one of the best ways to watch FX online without cable., and in select markets, you’re able to watch Fox, NBC, Fox Sports, and NBC Sports. The lack of ESPN is kind of a jerk move, since this plan clearly caters to sports fans, especially with its inclusion of the NFL Network. 

Sling TV

Sling Blue channels

  • A&E
  • AMC
  • AXS TV
  • BBC America
  • BET
  • Bloomberg Television
  • Bravo
  • Cartoon Network
  • Cheddar
  • Cheddar Big News
  • Comedy Central
  • CNN
  • Epix Drive-In
  • El Rey Network
  • Flama
  • Food Network
  • FS1
  • FS2
  • Fox (select markets)
  • Fox Sports (select markets)
  • Fuse
  • FX
  • FXX
  • Galavisión
  • HGTV
  • History Channel
  • IFC
  • Lifetime
  • Local Now
  • National Geographic
  • Nat Geo Wild
  • NBC (select markets)
  • NBC Sports (select markets)
  • NBC Sports Network
  • Newsy
  • Nick Jr.
  • NFL Network
  • SYFY
  • TNT
  • Travel Channel
  • Tribeca Shortlist
  • TruTV
  • Univision
  • UniMás
  • USA
  • Viceland

Sling Orange and Blue

Cost: $40 per 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 has 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. 

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.

Sling TV

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Sling TV packages: 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.

Photo via Sling TV

Sling TV premium channels

The biggest change Sling TV announced in June 2018 is the ability to add premium channels without subscribing to one of its larger packages. The move helps Sling TV standout from some of its contemporaries and positions it to compete with Amazon Prime. Here’s what you can add:

  • HBO: $15 per month
  • Showtime: $10 per month
  • CuriosityStream: $6 per month
  • Stingray Karaoke: $7 per month
  • Dove Channel: $5 per month
  • Outside TV Features: $5 per month
  • UP Faith & Family: $5 per month
  • NBA League Pass: $28.99

Sling TV

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HBO on SlingTV

SlingTV is one of the easiest ways to get your HBO fix. Whether you’re looking forward to the new season of Curb Your Enthusiasm or trying to catch up on the last season of Game of Thrones, you can add HBO as a premium channel to either for Sling Orange or Sling Blue for $15 per month. Once you’re signed up, here are the best movies on HBO, the best HBO documentaries, and what’s new on HBO Go this month. You’ll definitely get your money’s worth. 

Screengrab via GameofThrones/YouTube

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.  

Free shows

A revamp of the Sling TV app in June 2018 included more than 100 hours of free TV. It’s great news for fans of WreckedAt Home with Amy SedarisGood Behavior, and Flip or Flop, but it’s not very convincing for anyone else. There are plenty of better ways to watch free live TV.

Cloud DVR

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. 

Photo via Sling TV

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.

Video on-demand 

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.

Pay-per-views

Starting in June 2018, users no longer need to be a Sling TV subscriber to order some pay-per-view events. The service has offerend more than a dozen UFC and boxing matches in the last two years, and it’s clearly looking to do more in the near future.

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Sling TV vs Hulu with Live TV

When it comes to live TV streaming, there are no shortage of options, but the best alternative to Sling TV is arguably Hulu with Live TV, which offers the same amount of packages as Sling Orange + Blue for the exact same price ($40), albeit without AMC. But, if you’re on a budget, you can save money with either of Sling’s entry-level packages, and it’s also considerably cheaper to add HBO from Sling ($10 a month) than Hulu with Live TV ($15).

That said, Hulu with Live TV comes with complimentary access (albeit with commercials, unless you pay $4 more) to the service’s deep catalog of movies, shows, anime, and documentaries, not to mention must-see Hulu originals. So, if you’re already paying for, or considering a Hulu subscription, Hulu with Live TV might be the better way to go.

Editor’s note: This article is regularly updated for relevance.

John-Michael Bond is a tech reporter and culture writer for Daily Dot. A longtime cord-cutter and early adapter, he's an expert on streaming services (Hulu with Live TV), devices (Roku, Amazon Fire), and anime. A former staff writer for TUAW, he's knowledgeable on all things Apple and Android. You can also find him talking about religion each week on the Who’s Your God podcast and performing standup comedy in Los Angeles.

Austin Powell is the managing editor of the Daily Dot. His work focuses on the intersection of entertainment and technology. He previously served as a music columnist for the Austin Chronicle and is the co-author of The Austin Chronicle Music Anthology.

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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 about Sling TV and live TV streaming before you subscribe.