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Sling TV promotes itself as the a-la-carte TV service people have dreamed of for so long. But can you really say goodbye to useless channels and one-size-fits-all subscriptions? Or is Sling TV an old-school TV provider in cord-cutter’s clothing?
Read our review of Sling TV to learn everything you need to know before you buy including features, pricing, add-on bundles and more.
What is Sling TV?
“TV on your terms, not your TV company’s” is the running theme throughout Sling TV’s marketing. The streaming TV service promotes itself as a fresh alternative to the way we experience TV by claiming to be an a-la-carte service that lets you pay for just the TV channels you want to watch. Sling TV promises:
No useless channels
No one-size-fits-all models
No long-term contracts
No hidden fees
Is Sling TV related to Slingbox?
The Sling brand has a time-honored place in the hearts of cord-cutters. Sling Media’s Slingbox converts home TV signals into a stream on your home network and remotely to wherever you are in the world. This was a uniquely elegant solution when it launched in 2005 and began the assault on cable monopolies.
Satellite communications company EchoStar bought Sling Media in 2007 and runs it as an independent subsidiary. EchoStar also owns satellite TV company DISH Network which began developing a streaming TV service to compete more effectively with cable companies. Rather use its own brand, DISH adopted the Sling brand to appeal to a new generation of TV-watcher.
Sling TV’s bold claims reach the heart of cord-cutters everywhere. Let’s take a deeper look to see if Sling TV lives up to its a-la-carte claims or remains an old-school TV provider.
Plans and Add-ons
Despite calling itself an a-la-carte service, you cannot design your own Sling TV bundle. Sling TV gives you three bundles for your baseline subscription – Orange Service, Blue Service and Orange + Blue Service – all of which share a core lineup of 23 channels. (Check out our Sling TV channel guide to see which channels come with which services.)
Sling TV’s advertising focuses on Orange – a $20-per-month service plan. With Orange, you get a total of 29 channels – the 23 core channels plus 6 Orange-specific channels. The Orange Service restricts you to a single stream at a time, limiting Sling TV access to the living room TV.
Sling TV’s Blue Service costs $25 per month. That gets you a total of 44 channels – the 23 core channels plus 21 Blue-specific channels. This service plan is a little more family-friendly as it allows up to 3 simultaneous streams.
Orange + Blue Service
Priced at $40 per month, the Orange + Blue Service combines the channel lineups of each individual plan: the 23 core channels, 6 Orange-specific channels and 21 Blue-specific channels. It also adds 3 channels from the Broadcast Extra (Disney’s ABC as well as Univision and Unimás) for a total of 53 channels.
Orange + Blue Service allows 3 simultaneous streams with the core and Blue-specific channels, but limits the Orange-specific and Broadcast Extra channels to a single stream.
You can get cloud DVR and additional channels by subscribing to Premium networks as well as add-on bundles called Extras and Minis.
Much like cable, Sling TV offers add-on subscriptions for HBO, Showtime and other premium channels. Check out our Sling TV channel guide’s Premium section for a detailed breakdown of channel selection and pricing.
Extras are bundles of mainstream channels organized by themes like Lifestyle or Sports. Sling TV offers more specialized Extras like “The Heartland” and “Best of Spanish” to address markets other streaming services overlook.
Your base Sling TV plan affects your experience with each Extra. The Sports Extra, for example, has 8 channels common to both versions. Orange subscribers get additional Disney-owned ESPN channels while Blue subscribers are the only ones to get the Golf Channel and NFL Red Zone. The streaming restrictions apply here as well – Orange subscribers only get one stream.
Check out our Sling TV channel guide’s Extras section for a detailed breakdown of channels in each Extra.
Minis are bundles of international channels grouped by language. The lineups in each Mini are the same regardless of which subscription plan you’re on.
Sling TV Minis are ideal add-ons in a country built on immigration. Households with non-native English speakers can get programming that speaks to them. Families can give kids learning a foreign language a more immersive experience at home.
Check out the Sling TV site’s Mini channel lineup for more details.
Orange vs. Blue vs. Orange + Blue
Sling TV’s strategy is pretty clear. They can undercut other streaming services by advertising their $20-per-month Orange Service, but they don’t expect anyone to actually get it. The only way many people will get the channels they want is to subscribe to the combined Orange + Blue Service.
Sports fans who subscribe to the Orange Service, for example, can get ESPN, ESPN2 and ESPN3, but must give up the NFL Network, FOX, NBC and the regional sports networks. Blue subscribers must make the opposite sacrifice.
Rather than “TV on your terms, not your TV company’s”, Sling TV treats its customers the same way cable companies – and satellite TV companies – have always treated them. Low prices bring customers to their site, but tricky channel lineups and features lead customers to the most expensive service plans.
Sling TV is available across the United States, but not in Puerto Rico or other US territories. When you travel outside the country, Sling TV will block your access.
Sling TV subscribers may get live streams of local TV stations. As with other streaming services, the stations people actually get vary from city to city thanks to the complicated negotiations between Sling TV, each broadcast network and its hundreds of independent affiliates.
You’ll want to check your zip code for your local lineup before subscribing. People in Boise, for example, can’t watch anything live. Houstonians get live feeds of local ABC, FOX, Unimás and Univision stations but only get NBC on-demand content. Manhattanites can watch ABC, NBC, FOX, Univision and the Yankee’s YES network. CBS hasn’t cut a deal with Sling TV so none of its subscribers can watch CBS live or on-demand.
Sports fans are used to blackout schedules affecting game availability. The NFL, however, added an extra twist to streaming by signing an exclusive deal with Verizon Wireless. You can stream available games on any of the Sling TV apps except mobile. Smartphones can only stream NFL games when connected to the Verizon network.
Sling TV has apps for almost all of the mainstream mobile, tablet, computer and set-top box platforms. You can also get Sling TV straight into smart TV’s running Android TV or LG’s WebOS. PlayStation 4 is the only major exception.
On-demand and pay-per-view
Each network makes on-demand content available to Sling TV subscribers. TV content is sometimes limited to recently-aired episodes or selections from previous seasons. Each network sets its own policies so the experience varies from channel to channel.
Sling TV’s movie rental service has the selection and pricing you would expect from your cable company, including Manchester by the Sea and Tom Cruise’s remake of The Mummy. Prices typically range from $2.99 to $4.99 depending on title and streaming quality.
You can also watch pay-per-view events like boxing through any of Sling TV’s apps. The Sling TV website is the easiest way to purchase your access as app support for purchases varies.
Sling TV’s interface lets you pause, rewind and fast-forward most live TV channels. As with cable companies, adding DVR capability requires a monthly $5 add-on subscription. With the DVR add-on, you get 50 hours of recordings which Sling TV will automatically trim as you bump up against the limit. You can protect specific recordings to stop that from happening to shows you want to keep.
Since the launch of the DVR service earlier this year, support has expanded across most Sling TV apps. Chromecast and LG smart TV’s are the only apps without DVR support at the time of this review. (Check the DVR support page for updates.)
Sling TV’s relationship with Disney creates problems for cloud DVR. Contract issues prevent all Sling TV customers from recording live broadcasts of Disney-owned networks including ABC, Freeform and the many versions of Disney and ESPN.
Sling TV has stable, good-quality video streams. However, Sling TV does not offer 4K UltraHD or high dynamic range content. Most of the video streams are 720p or 1080i, depending on the feed Sling TV receives from each network. That’s good enough for mobile, tablet and PC viewing.
Every time I used Sling TV, the picture quality always smoothed out after the initial buffering was complete. The player struggled with the fast-paced action of a football game, but that is not a problem that’s unique to Sling TV. Streaming TV services rarely offer high frame rate video streams that can keep up with sports.
We said up front that we would judge the Sling TV as an al-a-carte service that offers “TV on your terms, not your TV company’s”. From that point of view, Sling TV fails miserably. It uses the same old tricks as traditional cable and satellite TV providers. Confusing channel lineups lead customers into more expensive plans with a bunch of channels that they don’t want.
However, as a normal streaming service, Sling TV is very competitive. You get a good content and streaming quality, solid device support, and prices that hold their own with services like Hulu and PlayStation Vue. Our score for Sling TV would have been much higher if it had not misleadingly promoted itself as an a-la-carte service.
Content quality: 9
Sling TV’s Orange + Blue Service plan and Extras recreate the basic and premium cable service experience while giving you the benefits of internet-based streaming. CBS is the only mainstream gap in the Sling TV channel lineup.
Sling TV’s Extras and Minis take your TV experience to another level. Where other streaming services often ignore fly-over country and America’s Spanish-speaking population, Sling TV lets those communities get the content they want.
Streaming quality: 8
You won’t get 4K UltraHD or high dynamic range content with Sling TV, but what you will get is consistent high definition streams. Backed by the distribution infrastructure and financial resources of DISH Network, any problems you do run into are more likely due to issues with your ISP or your home network.
Device support: 9
Sling TV has done a great job supporting the full range of mainstream devices people are likely to use at home and on the road. The only major gap is the absence of an app for the PlayStation 4.
This is where Sling TV falls flat on its face. Sling TV’s claim that it’s an a-la-carte service with “no useless channels” and “no one-size-fits-all models” is totally bogus. The only realistic option for most families is a bloated, 50-channel, one-size-fits-all Orange + Blue bundle. DISH Network has cynically used the Sling branding to leverage Slingbox’s goodwill, but the Sling brand is really just a mask. Sling TV is just an old-school cable provider that’s made to look as if it’s an innovative new internet cable TV service.
Sling TV is a good streaming TV service overall, but a la carte it ain’t.
DISH Network has co-opted Sling branding to give its streaming TV service a veneer of cord-cutting credibility. The way Sling TV structures its bundles and pricing, however, makes it clear that Sling TV is run by your grandfather’s satellite TV service. Confusing options, compromised channel bundles and indispensable add-on features will lead many households to spend significantly more than $20 on Sling TV.