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Sling TV: Everything you need to know

Sling TV is a great option for first-time cord-cutters looking for live TV without the agonizing bonds of cable, and in wake of the social distancing phenomenon, you can even try it free for live news and select on-demand movies and shows. The Dish-owned Sling delivers live entertainment over your internet line, and it has long offered the ability to sign up for individual channels on an à la carte basis, which was unheard of when it first launched.

Known for its inexpensive set of basic subscription options, Sling’s reputation as a trailblazer has since been overshadowed by a deluge of competition. Despite that — plus risky corporate strategy that could have alienated customers with a price increase of 20% and petty contractual disputes — Sling TV remains one of the best values for cord-cutters. To help simplify everything Sling has to offer, we put together a comprehensive, hands-on evaluation so you can see if it’s right for you. From packages to features to add-ons, here’s what you need to know.

Further reading

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. That’s what makes Sling TV’s inclusion of sports networks like ESPN and NFL Network so attractive — livestreamed sports are hard to come by outside of a contract. They’re even harder to come by without paying if you don’t own a digital antenna, but you now have many competing options to help you keep up.

Sling TV’s selection of channels was lean to start, but it is 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 signup fee, no contract, and you can test it out with a one-week free trial before fully diving in. One big change in recent months is the removal of the Broadcast Extra add-on, which included ABC and Univision, both of which account for a large chunk of American programming.

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 add-on packages starting at $5. The number of available channels for each package has grown and changed over time and is likely to continue expanding and changing into the future, but our guide is regularly updated as things change. Listings here are up-to-date as of February 2020. Note that while Sling has announced Big Ten Network, it isn’t yet available as of this writing. Expect the service to launch ahead of the kickoff of the 2020-2021 college football season (if it even happens).

Included in $30 per month Sling Orange package

Included in $30 per month Sling Blue package

A quick glance at the above listings shows major differences in the list of 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 FX, and Discovery, plus Fox and NBC in select markets. Each package can be upgraded with a Sports Extra add-on, but each add-on is different. The Sports Extra add-on for Orange costs $5 per month and includes football, baseball, basketball & hockey coverage on ESPNU, ESPNews, SEC Network, NHL Network, and, NBA TV. Meanwhile, the Sports Extra add-on for Blue costs $10 per month, giving you access to NHL Network and NBA TV, but also NFL RedZone, a virtual must-have for football fans.

Included in $45 per month Sling Orange and Blue package

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 for $45 per 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 Showtime are a bit more expensive. Below are all of the packages currently available. Keep in mind that some packages differ depending on which color of Sling TV you choose, though if you subscribe to both Orange and Blue, every channel from each package will be available. Some channels are truly à la carte, as you can subscribe to them without a base Sling TV package.

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

Multi-channel add-ons

Sports Extra (Orange), $10 per month: NBA TV, ESPN SEC, ESPN SEC+, PAC 12 Network, ESPNU, ESPNews, NHL Network, BeIN Sports, ESPN Goal Line, Stadium, ESPN Bases loaded, Outside TV, and Tennis Channel, Longhorn Network, ACC Network

Sports Extra (Blue), $10 per month: RedZone NFL Network, NBA TV, NHL Network, NBC Golf, BeIN Sports, PAC 12 Network, Stadium, Outside TV, Olympic Channel, and Tennis Channel

Cheddar Business, and Cheddar News, free: Both Cheddar Business and News channels are available to all Sling TV subscribers at no extra charge

Comedy Extra (Orange), $5 per month: MTV, TruTV, MTV2, Paramount Network, CMT, Logo, GSN, TV Land, and Revolt

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

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

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

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

News Extra (Blue), $5 per month: Fox News, Fox Business, MSNBC, CNBC, BBC World News, TheBlaze, HLN, Euronews, 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 News Extra add-on)

Lifestyle Extra (Orange), $5 per month: VH1, BET, Cooking Channel, DIY Network, FYI, Hallmark Channel, Hallmark Movies & Mysteries, Hallmark Drama, WE TV, Lifetime Movies, Vibrant Network, ZLiving Network, Afro

Lifestyle Extra (Blue), $5 per month: VH1, E!, Oxygen, Cooking Channel, DIY Network, FYI, Hallmark Channel, Hallmark Movies & Mysteries, Hallmark Drama, WE TV, Lifetime Movies, Vibrant Network, ZLiving 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

Best of Spanish Extra, $10:  EstrellaTV, Azteca, BeIN Sports Ñ, BeIN Sports, Cine Latino, Cine Sony, History en Español, Pasiones, INTI, CBeebies BBC, VME Kids, NTN24, Baby TV Español, El Financiero Bloomberg TV, ZeeMuno, ¡Hola! TV, Discovery en Español, Discovery Familia

À la carte add-ons

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

Stingray Karaoke, $7 per month: Includes more than 10,000 karaoke songs to choose from, with lyrics displayed on video backgrounds.

Dove Channel, $5 per month: Offers more than 300 hours of family-friendly movies, TV shows, musicals, and documentaries.

Outside TV Features, $5 per month: Includes TV series, feature films, and documentaries focusing on the world of action and adventure sports.

Starz, $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: Currently blacked out due to a contract dispute

Cinemax, $10 per month

ConTV, $5 per month: Shows and movies for Comic-Con fans including sci-fi, horror, retro cartoons, and more.

Docurama, $5 per month: A curated collection of documentary films and TV shows.

Grokker, $7 per month: Fitness-oriented channel with yoga, meditation, cooking classes, and more.

Here TV, $8 per month: LGBTQ+ movies, series, documentaries, and short films.

Comedy Dynamics, $5 per month: Stand-up from comedians like Bob Saget, Kevin Hart, Tiffany Haddish, plus shows and feature films.

DOGTV, $5 per month: The first TV experience meant for dogs, with mood-based programming like “Relaxation,” “Stimulation” and “Exposure.”

VSiN, $4 per month: Originating from the South Point Hotel Casino & Spa in Las Vegas, VSiN offers straightforward information on point spreads, odds and more from top personalities in sports media.

International add-on packages

Sling also offers several international mini-packs. These include the following:

Arabic Mini, $10 per month: Arabica, BBC Arabic, Al Jazeera Mubasher, MBC Drama, Melody Classic, ART Cima, Melody Hits, MBC 3, MBC Wanasah, IQRAA TV, Noursat TV, Aghapy TV

Brazilian Mini, $15 per month: TV Globo Internacional

Chinese Mini, $5 per month: CCTV-4, CGTN, China Movie Channel, CCTV-Entertainment, Hunan Satellite TV, Zhejiang TV, Dragon TV, ShenZhen Television, Jiangsu International Channel, Phoenix North America Chinese Channel, Phoenix InfoNews, Beijing TV

Deutsch Mini, $5 per month: P7S1 Welt

Français Mini, $5 per month: France 24, TV5 Monde Cinema, TiVi5Monde, Trace Urban

Hindi Mini, $5 per month: Aaj Tak, Zee Cinema, SAB TV, zoOm, Food Food, Times Now, News18, B4U Movies, B4U Music, Sony Mix, Sahara Samay

Italiano Mini, $10 per month: Rai Italia, Rai News 24, TV2000 Italia, La7, Rai World Premium

Polish Mini, $15/month: iTVN, PolSat 1, 360TuneBox, DocuBox HD, FashionBox HD, Fast&FunBox HD, FightBox HD, FilmBox Arthouse, Gametoon, Nature Vision HD

Tamil Mini, $5/month: Jaya Max, Jaya Plus, JMovies, Raj Digital Plus, Raj News, Zee Tamil, News18, zoOm, News18 North East, Desi Bonus, Zee Purvaiya

Telugu Mini, $5 per month: Maa Music, TV5 News, Zee Cinemalu, News18, zoOm, News18 North East, Desi Bonus, Zee Purvaiya

Willow Cricket Mini, $5 per month: Willow Cricket, Willow Extra

Features

Sling TV has several perks unique to the platform, as well as common features you would expect from most online streaming TV services.

Refer-a-friend discount and device offers

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 and your friend will get a $5 discount for the following three months. 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.

Sling TV routinely offers free devices when you sign up for a minimum period in advance. Past offers have included free Roku and AirTV Mini streamers, Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa devices, and more. Check Sling’s website regularly for the latest deals.

Single stream versus 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.

If you want more screens, you’ll need Sling Blue. This option comes with three screens as standard. Even better, if you decide to go the tag team route and get Orange and Blue, your maximum concurrent stream count jumps to four, making it the only realistic option for families.

Sling’s more niche subscription options — Sling International and Sling Latino — has similar restrictions. The former allows a single stream, while the latter supports up to two. Combining both will get you up to three.

Sports

In addition to the above sports channel packages, Sling TV includes a handy feature for tracking upcoming games called Game Finder. The feature is an online search tool where users can find upcoming regular-season games across the NFL, MLB, NBA, and a lot more. You can access the tool from the Sports tab within your Sling app or at Sling’s Game Finder page.

Cloud DVR and Cloud DVR Plus

If you want to ensure that you don’t miss anything, Sling TV’s cloud DVR feature will help. Every Sling TV customer gets 10 hours of free Cloud DVR storage.

For an extra $5 per month, you can expand that to 50 hours, which Sling calls Cloud DVR Plus — though Roku users can enjoy twice that much. Once you start approaching the storage limit, Sling TV automatically makes space by deleting the oldest recordings that you have already watched. Thankfully, Sling allows you to flag content as “protected” so you can prevent it 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.

Cloud DVR recording is available on almost every channel, but not all of them. However, users are able to record multiple shows simultaneously on channels that support the feature. Similarly, while the large majority of devices support cloud DVR, the Xfinity X1 and some Samsung smart TVs currently do not, though you may find relief in the Replay feature. It’s a bummer this feature isn’t open to all channels and devices, but Sling TV has been steadily increasing support as the service grows, so keep checking back.

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 $3 for SD and $4 for HD, with a 30-day window to watch anything you rent. 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.

Free content

If you decide to cancel Sling TV, whether that’s for good or just for a little while, you’ll still have something to watch. The service has a selection of free content that provides more than 100 hours of movies and TV shows including Wrecked, The Detour, Good Behavior, and Flip or Flop. A recent initiative brings Blockbuster into the fold, with the ancient peddlar of VHS rentals offering a free “flashback” film every Friday, no payment necessary.

User experience

Interface

Learning how to wade through a new layout is something that pains any service hopper, 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 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.

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, and the framerate is also prone to speeding up and slowing down depending on stream buffering. 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 best on screens that are 47 inches and smaller, and it’s beautiful on tablets and phones.

Sling also has a nice search feature. As you type your query, the app will present a list of the most popular searches happening now. Once you’ve chosen what to search for, results will be organized into a new set of categories, including top results, movies, shows, and channels.

As far as watching content, you’ll have the typical controls for pausing, fast-forwarding, rewinding, and scrubbing for on-demand and DVR content and live channels that support time shift (discussed further ahead). You’ll also see controls for volume, closed captions, and shortcuts to view the current channel information and the guide at large. When watching a series of shows, like Netflix, you’re prompted to play the next episode as soon as the current one is over.

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.

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 (0.5Mbps), 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.

Supported devices

Sling TV is available on a host of devices, and very likely on one (or multiple) you already own. Some of these devices even offer deep Sling integration, like the integrated guides feature on TiVo which adds Sling channels right alongside all the others in your native channels listing. Samsung and Amazon Fire TVs will soon get similar functionality.

Available on:

Our take

Sling TV isn’t for everyone, and Dish knows that. Still, at $30 a month for the basic package (or $45 for more channels), 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. There are cheaper services like Philo or AT&T’s WatchTV, which cost $20 and $15 per month respectively, but they don’t offer sports channels or locals, which are often what people are looking for from a live TV streaming service. Paired with an HD antenna and a couple of other streaming services like Netflix and Hulu, Sling TV can become an important part of a complete cord cutter’s diet.

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

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