Sling TV made its mark as one of the first major streaming live TV services, and over the past three years it’s been steadily adding features and functionality. It lets you tune into dozens of live television channels for as little as $25 per month, with extensive service and programming customization options. It’s also available on a wide variety of platforms and devices, and since launch has added cloud-based DVR. The steady pace of upgrades and expansions earn Sling TV an Editors’ Choice for streaming television services.
Sling TV works on all major streaming media devices and mobile platforms. You can watch it on your Amazon Fire TV, Android TV, Apple TV, or Roku device, or on Sling’s own $100 AirTV Player. There are also Sling TV apps directly on LG and Samsung TVs, plus any TVs that use the Amazon Fire TV, Android TV, or Roku TV platforms.
You can also watch Sling TV on your Android or iOS smartphone or tablet, including Amazon Fire devices, and the app is Google Cast compatible, which lets you watch it through a Google Chromecast. A Sling TV app is available on the Xbox One, but that’s it for game consoles; Sony offers its own PlayStation Vue live TV service on the PlayStation 4, and the Nintendo Switch currently only has Hulu for non-gaming entertainment apps. For PCs, Sling TV has a Windows 10 app for full functionality, and you can watch live and on-demand TV (but not DVR recordings) through Sling’s site.
The interface is similar across all devices, opening up to a home screen that shows your favorite channels arranged in a horizontal row of large tiles, followed by your DVR recordings, various shows you were previously watching so you can pick them up again, and then individual favorite movies and shows. A sidebar on larger-screen interfaces like the Windows 10 app and a drop-down menu on smaller interfaces like the Android app let you access lists of what’s currently on TV, a full channel guide, sports, movie rentals, and a search engine.
Once you settle on what you want to watch, the stream opens into a full-screen view, reducing the interface to an information bar on the top and a set of playback controls and time slider on the bottom. Clicking on or tapping the arrow at the top of the playback bar brings up a navigation menu that covers half the screen with horizontal rows showing what’s coming up on the channel you’re watching, what channels are available, and collections of channels organized by genre. It isn’t a very powerful navigation interface, but it lets you channel surf easily without returning to the home screen. You can also access a conventional grid-based program guide.
Sling TV is built on three tiers, to which you can add a variety of additional packages and services. Sling Orange is the basic package, offering around 30 channels for $25 per month including AMC, BBC America, Cartoon Network, Comedy Central, Disney, ESPN, IFC, and TBS. Sling Blue offers around 45 channels for $25 per month, removing ESPN and Disney but adding FOX-owned networks like FOX Sports and FX. Since both packages have holes in the form of Disney or FOX networks, the best bundle is Sling Orange + Blue, which combines both lineups in a single $40 monthly package.
These packages are just the start, since you can augment them with any number of Extra bundles starting at $5 each. Kids Extra adds eight spin-off family and children’s networks like Disney XD, Nicktoons, and Boomerang. Comedy Extra adds eight comedy and lifestyle networks including MTV, TruTV, Logo, and CMT. Sports Extra adds eight specialty and college sports netwoorks like ESPN U, NBA TV, NHL Network, and PAC 12 Network. You can also add premium networks from Cinemax, Epix, HBO, Showtime, and Starz, though these add-ons generally cost more than the $5 Extra packages.
You’ll find local programming to be lacking. Unlike PlayStation Vue, there are few if any local networks available based on your market. The Broadcast Extra package adds ABC and Univision local affiliates to users in one of eight eligible markets including Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, and Philadelphia, but you won’t find any local ABC, CBS, or NBC networks here. However, Sling will send you a free indoor broadcast antenna if you prepay two months of membership, so you can still watch local TV using your television’s built-in tuner or the AirTV Player with adapter (available for $70 including the antenna if you prepay three months).
Sling Orange can only stream to one device at a time, but Sling Blue can stream to up to three. If you have Sling Orange + Blue, you can stream to up to four devices at once. This is a marked improvement from when the service launched, and only supported one stream at a time.
Sling rolled out a cloud-based DVR system similar to the service available on PlayStation Vue and YouTube TV. For an additional $5 per month on top of your channel packages, you can record up to 50 hours of live TV to watch later. It works on all media streamer and mobile platforms that have Sling apps, along with the Xbox One and Windows 10 apps. However, you can’t access it through Sling’s site and it might not be supported on your TV if it has a Sling app but isn’t based on Amazon Fire TV, Android TV, or Roku TV.
Besides live and recorded TV, Sling offers access to a variety of on-demand libraries depending on the networks in your subscription. If you have FXX, for example, you can watch 28 seasons (over 600 episodes) of The Simpsons. Browsing these libraries is difficult if you don’t already have something in mind; finding a given network’s VOD selections usually means drilling into a few menus, unless you simply search for a show that’s available.
You can also rent movies that aren’t available through network VOD libraries. New releases like Thor: Ragnarok and Coco can be rented for $4.99 for standard-definition versions and $5.99 for high-definition versions. Rentals last for 48 hours after you start playing them, and you can keep your rental “held” after renting it for up to 30 days. Currently, 4K content isn’t available on the service.
While plenty of sports networks are available on Sling TV, the service is somewhat lacking in fan-friendly features. I could search for Lakers games, but I couldn’t follow all Lakers games as an item in my favorites list. I was also very limited in controlling playback in on-demand games, as explained below.
Sling TV started out with smooth and responsive live TV a few years ago, and since then it’s maintained a solid level of quality. I watched American Dad on my phone and A.I. on my PC at the same time, and both streams loaded almost instantly over our test network.
Playback controls are inconsistent between channels. I could easily jump to any spot in a VOD episode of American Dad, but I couldn’t go to the beginning of A.I or flip back a few minutes on an episode that was currently being broadcast. I also couldn’t jump ahead of a rugby match or a basketball game available on ESPN 3 VOD; I had to wait through the entire broadcast including, opening commentary. Different networks have different policies on playback control, so if you’re not using DVR to capture broadcasts yourself, you might deal with some annoyances.
Sling TV and VPN
A virtual private network (VPN) is an excellent way to protect your privacy online. However, many video streaming services, such as Sling TV, block VPN users due to content licensing restrictions or other geographic-based policies. Since Sling TV is only available for users in the US and Puerto Rico, this rule applies to people in other countries using a VPN to access its region-locked content.
You will likely have a tough time finding a VPN that works with every one of your video streaming services, since these services actively look to close the loopholes that VPNs may exploit. Some VPN services maintain dedicated servers for various streaming services, but this shouldn’t be your main concern when choosing a VPN. Instead, you should look for the VPN that will best protect your privacy.
Is Sling TV for You?
Sling TV has come far in the last three years, and stands as one of the best deals among streaming live TV services. The subscriptions are economical and customizable, with options like cloud-based DVR and a variety of extra channels. Browsing on-demand libraries and sports isn’t the most intuitive process, but the content is there if you know what you’re looking for. The only big hole is local programming, though you can always use the antenna/tuner solution. Add support for all major media streaming and mobile platforms, and you have a very compelling way to cut your cable or satellite service while still keeping everything you want to watch live, making it our Editors’ Choice.