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Sling TV vs. Hulu

With streaming services like Netflix and Hulu providing on-demand content, a lot of people are cutting the cord on their cable bills. However, ditching cable can also mean abandoning your favorite cable TV shows that might not end up on a streaming service. 

The good news is that there might be a happy medium. Along with Hulu + Live TV, Dish Network’s Sling TV is another live TV streaming service that allows you to still catch your afternoon soap operas or talk shows.

Content

A streaming-TV service isn’t worth a dime if you can’t watch what you want. Thankfully, both Sling and Hulu + Live TV will let you view many of your favorite channels, but they each work a little differently.

Hulu + Live TV

Hulu + Live TV only has one primary subscription option, which contains almost everything in its catalog. Thankfully, that’s a lot. Most customers can expect to find the four major networks — ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC — represented via their local affiliates (though this varies by region), as well as a number of major cable channels such as FX, USA, and TNT, 24-hour news networks such as CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC, and sports channels such as ESPN and Fox Sports 1. The actual channel lineup varies by location, so if there’s one channel that’s make or break for you, check Hulu’s listings for your region before signing up.

Hulu doesn’t have everything, however. You won’t find many Viacom-owned channels, like Comedy Central and MTV, or AMC Networks either. You can subscribe to premium networks like HBO and Showtime through Hulu for an additional fee, as well add-on packages: The Entertainment add-on includes Destination America and the Cooking Channel, while the Español add-on includes several Spanish-language channels. Fees for these start at $9 and range up to $15 monthly.

As a bonus, you’ll also receive access to the standard Hulu service with your subscription. This gives you access to many excellent movies and TV programs, including episodes from broadcast networks that aired just a day or two earlier, (the Viacom properties mentioned above fall into this category, thankfully) as well as Hulu’s critically acclaimed original series like The Handmaid’s Tale.

Sling TV

Sling TV, on the other hand, offers an à la carte model that lets you choose which channels you get. For the most part, you’ll only be paying for programs that you actually watch, which is a good thing. On the other hand, it makes signing up for Sling TV more complicated and forces you to do a little math when calculating costs.

Sling TV subscriptions start with two base packages: Orange and Blue. There’s some overlap between the two — both Orange and Blue packages come with TNT, CNN, and Cartoon Network, for example. Orange also contains Disney-owned properties, which means it’s more sports-focused thanks to the three ESPN networks.

A list of Sling TV Orange channels
Sling TV Orange’s supported channels

By contrast, Blue has more entertainment options, including FX, AMC, and Comedy Central. As of this writing, Blue is also the only place where you can find NBC and Fox, assuming that they’re available in your area. You can also subscribe to Orange and Blue together at a discount.

A list of Sling TV Blue channels
Sling TV Blue’s supported channels

The rest of Sling TV’s channels come via optional add-ons that run from $5 to $15 and tend to be grouped based on themes like Kids, Comedy, News, and so on. This is where things get tricky. Which add-on package to get can depend on which base subscription you have. For example, if you subscribe to Sling Orange, the “Sports Extra” pack includes ESPNews, ESPN Goal Line, and ESPN Bases Loaded. If you subscribe to Sling Blue, Sports Extra won’t have any of those, but it will have RedZone, NFL Network, NBC Golf, and the Olympic Channel.

You can also add some individual channels, like the wellness-oriented Grokker, for a few extra bucks, as well as premium channels like Showtime and Cinemax. Note that Sling TV doesn’t currently support HBO subscriptions thanks to a feud between its parent company, Dish Network, and AT&T, nor does it give you any way to watch ABC or CBS.

Prices

Thanks to Sling’s à la carte model, it’s hard to make direct price comparisons between Sling and Hulu, but these are the basics. Hulu + Live TV costs $55 a month for about 60 channels, plus everything offered on regular Hulu (the price rises to $61 if you want the commercial-free version of Hulu’s on-demand platform). It’s pricey, but it’s a lot of entertainment. Sling’s basic packages, Orange and Blue, cost $30 per month each, or $45 together, after recent price hikes. As mentioned, extra Sling channels and features will set you back somewhere between $5 and $25 each, depending on the specific add-on package.

At the time of publication, you can get the first month of Sling Orange and Blue for $20 each, or $35 together, as part of a limited-time introductory promotion (it’s not clear how long this will last). In fact, Sling often has promotions for new subscribers, like a free Amazon Fire TV Stick with two months paid up front.

Hulu’s offers aren’t quite as exciting, but you can bundle the service with Disney+ and ESPN+ to get a $6 monthly discount on the package. That’s not a doorbuster by any means, and it’s only worth it if you regularly use at least two of these services, but every little bit counts.

Extra features like Hulu’s Unlimited Screens add-on (more on that below) or Sling’s cloud-based DVR will also raise your subscription price, as will premium channels like Starz, Showtime, and (only for Hulu) HBO. Subscriptions to those channels tend to cost the same as everywhere else unless there’s a limited offer, so expect to pay $15 for HBO, $9 for Cinemax and Showtime, etc. Both services also offer a free seven-day trial.

Leaning into its reputation of providing the best value, Sling also regularly offers free content. These are typically tied to promotions, such as the “Stay In & Sling” initiative to inform and entertain you throughout the current lockdowns. It offers free live news coverage and thousands of on-demand movies and TV shows without cost. Hulu once sparingly offered its content for free through partners like Yahoo, but it’s no longer available, and it wasn’t nearly as bountiful as Sling.

Devices

sling tv

Both Hulu + Live TV and Sling TV work on all of the standard streaming devices, so if you have a Roku, Amazon Fire TV or Fire tablet, Apple TV, Chromecast stick, a gaming console, or a home PC, chances are you should be set. If your hardware is older, however, it may not be supported, so it’s worth checking both Hulu and Sling’s device compatibility lists before you give either any of your money.

If you prefer to use a smart TV to stream media, Hulu has a slight edge. The standard Hulu app works more or less everywhere, but the Live TV option is only available on certain Samsung, LG, and Vizio SmartCast TVs. By contrast, Sling stops at Samsung and LG sets.

As far as gaming consoles go, both services will run just fine on the Xbox One, while Hulu + Live TV also works on the Nintendo Switch. Regular Hulu will play on Sony devices, but neither Hulu + Live TV nor Sling TV is available on Sony televisions, Blu-ray players, or PlayStation consoles, which was once thought to be due to the Sony-backed PlayStation Vue service, which is now defunct. Again, there are tons of streaming options out there and you can’t always assume every app is available for your device, so take a glance at the compatibility lists online before settling on a service. It’s better to be safe than sorry.

Extra features

Sling TV DVR UI

Modern cable companies offer all kinds of extra features and both Hulu + Live TV and Sling TV do, too.

DVR

As part of your Hulu + Live TV subscription, you’ll get access to a cloud-based DVR service, which will let you record up to 50 hours of your shows and watch them later (that’s in addition to Hulu’s standard on-demand programming, which is chock-full of recent series and movies). Unlike the DVR offered by PlayStation Vue, Hulu + Live TV recordings don’t expire. As long as you have storage space, you’ll be able to save whatever you want for however long you want. Hulu’s DVR won’t let you fast-forward through commercials by default, however. To enable that capability, you need to pay an extra $15 a month, which will also get you an additional 150 hours of recording space.

As of December 2019, Sling TV now includes 10 hours of Cloud DVR for free with every subscription, but $5 will get you 50 hours worth of storage space (or 100, if you’re using a Roku device). Not every program can be recorded, though, and some won’t allow you to fast-forward depending on the show.

Number of screens

With a standard Hulu + Live TV subscription, you can stream shows to two different screens at once. To add more screens, you’ll have to subscribe to the $15 Unlimited Screens add-on, which lets you stream to as many machines as you want while you’re at home and three mobile devices while on the go.

With Sling, the number of simultaneous streams you get depends on which base package you select. Orange subscribers get just one, while Blue subscribers get three. This can be frustrating, especially if you pay for both, which leaves you with some channels that can’t be streamed simultaneously.

Interface

Hulu + Live TV’s interface looks a lot like its on-demand offering. You can search for shows, add your favorites to a list, filter by genre, and see your most recently viewed channels, but there’s no real schedule grid. You can see what’s currently airing, but if you’re trying to figure out what’s coming on next, you’ll need to look elsewhere.

Sling TV does have a schedule, and it’s more streamlined than what you’ll find on most cable boxes. Sling TV also has an extra feature for sports fans called Game Finder, which makes it easy to find upcoming games and matches, and lets you know whether they’re available. It’s handy, and you don’t actually need a Sling TV subscription to use it — just head to the Game Finder website and give it a try.

Conclusion

If you’re looking for a service that will give you all you can get, it’s hard to argue against Hulu + Live TV. Not only is Hulu’s one-and-done subscription plan easier to figure out, but it gives you more channels. including all four major broadcast networks, upfront. You’ll also get access to Hulu’s regular on-demand service, which is essential to most cord-cutters.

On the other hand, if you’re on a budget and only watch a couple of specific channels, Sling TV can save you a few bucks. Pair Sling with an HDTV antenna (which should help you get those missing broadcast networks) and Netflix, which you probably subscribe to anyway, and you’ll end up with a pretty formidable — and cost-effective — entertainment collection.

Sling TV

Ultimately, both Hulu + Live TV and Sling TV are solid live TV services. If you’re looking to cut the cord for good, you really can’t go wrong with either.

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