Everything you need to know to compare DirecTV Now to Sling TV
You’re thinking about becoming a cord cutter because you hate your cable bill.
I get it.
You’re wondering lots of things. Can I still watch NFL games? Can I get the local channels I want? How can I sign into apps on my Roku without having a cable subscription?
Rest easy. Cable alternatives like Sling TV and DirecTV Now will put you on the path to getting all the channels you want at a much better price than a cable or satellite package. Whether it’s ESPN, HBO or Bravo, either service can fulfill your TV-watching needs.
This guide comparing Sling TV vs DirecTV Now will answer all of the other questions you have, too. And I will give you a glimpse of what’s on the horizon for 2018 – like 4K HDR picture quality and tuning in to pay-per-view events.
By the time you finish reading this, you’ll know about all the features each service offers and why one might better suit your needs and budget over the other. Ready?
How does Sling TV or DirecTV Now work?
Sling TV and DirecTV Now are among a half dozen companies that stream live television over the Internet. The channel bundles have popular networks that you see in a cable subscription like A&E, AMC, ESPN, History Channel and Viceland. Sling TV has been around since January 2015, and it’s owned by Dish Network. DirecTV Now debuted in November 2016, and it’s owned by AT&T.
Let’s face it: Someday people will laugh about using copper wire, or even fiber optic to get a pay-TV subscription. Cable is expensive and clunky. You’re shelling out $100 to $200 per month and you can’t even control your channel lineup.
Neither Sling TV nor DirecTV Now is a la carte, but you have a LOT more control of what channels you subscribe to. All you need to get started is a streaming device like a Roku or Amazon Fire TV and an Internet connection. You can also use your iPhone or tablet to watch live TV or on-demand shows and movies. Both Sling TV and DirecTV Now will even let you try their service for free while you’re still connected to your cable subscription.
Sling TV vs DirecTV Now: Free trial offers
I’m going to tell you the exact way I came to choosing my own live streaming service. Before you cancel your cable subscription, test out DirecTV Now or Sling TV with a free trial. Do you own a streaming device like a Roku or Fire TV? Even if you only have an iPhone or another smartphone, then you already have the equipment needed to start live streaming TV.
DirecTV Now has a free 7-day trial, where you can try any of their four channel bundles. There’s no contract or obligation ever. And you can simply cancel online before you free trial is up if you don’t want to keep the service.
The same goes for Sling TV. Try out either channel bundle free for 7-days. Cancelling is just as easy. Do it online. There’s no contracts or red tape.
How do I watch Sling TV or DirecTV Now once I sign up?
DirecTV Now and Sling TV has official apps for Roku streaming devices, Roku TVs, Apple TV (4th generation), and Amazon Fire TV devices.
You can stream either service with Chromecast (2nd generation). There’s no app for Xbox One for DirecTV Now, but there’s one for Sling TV. If you want to watch DirecTV Now on an Android TV device like a NVIDIA Shield TV, you will need to cast it from a smartphone.
The rules of the road are basically the same with smartphones and tablets when it comes to watching DirecTV Now and Sling TV. With iPhones and iPads, make sure your operating system software is iOS 9 and higher.
For Android phones and tablets, you’ll need software 4.4 and higher. On the web, use Chrome version 50+ or Safari 8+.
AirTV Player for Sling TV vs DirecTV Now mystery device
While we’re talking about streaming devices, it’s worth noting that Dish Network has its own custom streaming device for Sling TV. It’s called AirTV Player.
A key feature of this device is that you can attach a TV antenna and special tuner to the AirTV Player to get local over-the-air channels. But there’s no single channel guide that pulls everything together.
And if you were hoping to tap into an Amazon Video app, you will have to look elsewhere. Sling TV’s Cloud DVR feature was added to the AirTV Player in June. This is a 4K streaming device that operates off of Android TV software. Understand that Sling TV does not stream 4K picture quality. Right now, Sling TV has a live stream with 720p.
AT&T has been working on its own set top box for DirecTV Now that uses Android TV software. Plans were filed with the Federal Communications Commission back in October, and revealed that the device will have a voice remote with a touch pad.
A screen shot shows YouTube and Google Play Movie apps. An article in Variety speculates that the device will support Netflix, HBO Now, Hulu and other video apps. There’s no word on when this device will launch, but early 2018 might be a good guess. DirecTV Now already announced plans for streaming in 4K by 2018.
Why DirecTV Now and Sling TV is better than cable
Before jumping into channels and other neat features like TV Everwhere apps, let’s quickly cover why live streaming TV is better than cable.
There are no contracts or hidden fees when you subscribe to Sling TV or DirecTV Now. You may have to pay taxes, depending on where you live in the U.S. Cancelling and signing up for either service is very easy. You can do it online without any fuss. There are no customer service rep pestering you with probing questions about why you’re cancelling. It’s been proven that these customer service reps are just trying to talk you out of cancelling.
It’s fairly common among cord cutters to hop around from one service to another throughout the year. So they might get DirecTV Now so they can watch a bunch of NFL games through the fall and winter, but switch to another service in the spring.
There’s a new era of TV all around you. And it’s one where you realize that you might not need AMC all year long. Consider this: The new season of The Walking Dead is only around for 16 episodes. So do you really need the channel over the summer when you mostly traveling or at your camp? Nah, didn’t think so.
Here’s another neat thing: All of those useless home shopping channels and other junk channels that come with a cable subscription are now gone. You don’t have to waste time surfing past them to figure out where a sought-after channel might be located in your lineup.
Sling TV vs DirecTV Now channel lineups: Which is better?
Finding the best channel lineup comes down to priorities. Are you a huge fan of Snake City on Nat Geo WILD? Were you just looking for a way to watch binge every show on A&E? If so, then a Sling TV subscription is probably your best bet.
Chances are, you’re going to have to satisfy more than one person in your household. I recommend making a list of channels that are most important to everyone.
That’s how my wife and I made our decision when we first broke from cable. Before I get into a detailed breakdown of channels, let’s quickly cover a couple of premium areas – sports, and channels like HBO and Showtime.
SPORTS – WHAT’S IN, WHAT’S OUT
If you’re a sports fan, then DirecTV Now’s entry-level bundle may be the best value for you. You will get NBC, CBS, FOX, ESPN, ESPN2, FOX Sports 1 and TNT in the entry-level “Live a Little” package for $35 per month. If you want NBA TV or NHL Network then you will have to bump up into bigger channel packages that cost $60 to $70 per month. The bigger packages have Regional Sports Networks. You can easily look up what Regional Sports Networks are in your area with this RSN search engine.
Sling TV doesn’t have CBS in either channel lineup. So that means you have a hole in NFL football coverage and some college basketball. Sling TV’s Orange plan of 30 channels is definitely the least expensive way to get ESPN, ESPN2 and and ESPN3. You’re paying only $20 a month. And you’ll get TNT and TBS.
Sling Blue at $25 per month gives you more sports options, including Regional Sports Networks from FOX and NBC. But again, that may depend on where you live. Sling Blue offers NFL Network, FS1, and FS2. If you want ESPN while subscribing to Sling Blue, you’ll need to subscribe to both Sling Orange and Sling Blue, which will cost you $45 per month.
NFL Red Zone, NHL Network, Golf Channel, Pac-12 Network and beIN Sports are part of Sling’s Sports Extra bundle, which costs an extra $10 per month.
Getting HBO, Showtime on Sling TV vs DirecTV Now
DirecTV Now has the best deal for HBO, offering it for only $5 per month. You can also get Cinemax for $5 per month and Starz for $8 per month.
Sling TV offers HBO for $15 per month, Cinemax for $10 per month and Showtime for $10. If I were eyeing a Sling TV subscription, then I might shop around for a Showtime subscription.
The best deal for a standalone Showtime subscription is through Amazon Channels at $8.99 per month. You need to be an Amazon Prime member to add a channel subscription, but if you’re already a Prime member, then tapping into Amazon Channels could save you a few bucks a month.
HBO will likely cost you $14.99 regardless of where you subscribe with the exception of DirecTV Now. Be sure to check over your options with these premiums channels because saving a few dollars a month adds up.
Channel lineup: Sling TV vs DirecTV Now
It’s time to jump into the entry-level channel lineups a little deeper. Like I said earlier, you’ll want to focus on your priorities in order to hone in on the best channel selection.
If you’re making that list like I suggested, ask yourself what you really watch versus channels you think that you’d like to have. Cable providers have driven the belief into us that we need to have all these channels because we might miss something.
You won’t. The only thing you’re leaving behind is a hefty monthly bill and less control over what programming is available to you. Think about every dollar you spend, and the value that you’re getting for each dollar.
DirecTV Now has four channel bundles. Sling TV takes a slightly different approach by offering two main bundles called Sling Orange and Sling Blue. You can then (if you choose) pick up extra add-on bundles, which range in price between $5 and $10 per month. Here’s a breakdown of each package.
Live a Little vs Sling Orange
Live a Little (DirecTV Now: 60+ channels for $35 per month): This is a pretty attractive channel lineup because it’s so well rounded. A&E Networks including History and Viceland are in this bundle. AMC, Comedy Central, MTV, FOX, FX, FOX Sports 1, ESPN and ESPN2 are present. You will find a wide selection of news channels like CNN, C-SPAN, FOX News and MSNBC.
Sling Orange (Sling TV: 30 channels for $20 per month): If you can live with only a few sports channels, and want more entertainment-based channels, then Orange is a bargain. A&E, HGTV, History, Travel Channel and Epix Drive-In are among the 30 channel lineup. Tribeca Shortlist was recently added to Sling Orange, so you should have plenty of movies to watch.
My pick: DirecTV Now — Live a Little for $35 per month. It costs $15 per month more than the Sling Orange bundle. But you’ll likely be able to avoid any add-ons, including the sports package at $10 per month.
Just Right vs Sling Blue
Just Right (DirecTV Now: 80+ channels for $50 per month): This bundle has Regional Sports Networks (RSN). Bumping up to Just Right also gets you MLB Network, Tennis Channel, IFC and Sundance TV.
CNBC World, ESPNU, Fusion, Justice Central, MLB Network, Nicktoons, OWN, Science Channel and SEC Network are here as well.
Sling Blue (Sling TV: 45 channels for $25 per month): This bundle gives a nice mix of channels , including FOX, FS1, FS2, NBC RSNs and FOX RSNs. Comedy Central, A&E, Epix Drive-In, FX, FXX National Geographic and National Geographic Wild, NFL Network, Tribeca Shortlist, USA and Viceland.
My pick: Sling TV — Blue channel bundle for $25 per month. Sling Blue gives you a nice cross section of channels that can satisfy almost everyone in your household for $25 per month. You pay a lot less to get RSN channels. Sling Blue lacks ESPN, but having RSNs may be more important if you want to watch your home team.
Go Big vs Sling Orange + Blue
Go Big (DirecTV Now: 100+ channels for $60 per month): MTV Classic, Destination America, Centric, Discovery Family Channel and Discovery Life are all added to this bundle, but the price goes up $10 per month. Fox Sports 2 is in this lineup along with NHL Network, FXM, Lifetime Movie Channel, Logo and Nat Geo WILD.
Sling Orange + Blue (Sling TV: 75 channels for $45 per month): Instead of choosing just one of the main channel subscriptions, you can actually choose both Orange and Blue. By doing so, you will get many channels within the Go Big package like FXM, FS1, FS2, ESPN, A&E, History, IFC, National Geographic and Nat Geo WILD. FOX, NBC, FOX RSNs, NBC RSNs and NFL Network are included too.
My pick: Sling TV — Orange + Blue channel bundles for $45 per month. Combing Sling Orange and Blue provides you with a lot of key channels that you’ll want for less money. That includes ESPN, and RSNs for sports, entertainment channels like A&E, AMC and HGTV. You also have a few movie channels like EPIX Drive-In.
Gotta Have It vs Sling Orange + Blue with add-ons
Gotta Have It (DirecTV Now: 120+ channels for $70 per month): If you want some regional or genre-themed movie channels, then this might be your bundle. You will get all 8 Starz channels, including Action, Black, East, Family, Classic, Suspense, West and Westerns. The grindhouse-style, El Rey Network, is part of this bundle. Chiller, the home of campy horror flicks, is included.
Sling Orange + Blue (Sling TV: 75 channels + add-ons for $5 to $10): You can add six Starz channels for $9 per month. You can get three more Epix channels, including Epix 2 and Epix Hits for $5. There’s more add-ons like Comedy Extra, Kids Extra and News Extra for $5 each as well. The Sports Extra bundle gives you 11 channels including NFL Redzone, NBA TV and NHL Network for $10 per month.
My pick: Sling TV – Orange + Blue + add-ons for $50 or more per month. Using Sling TV with an add-on is overall better value. The extra money you’re paying for Gotta Have It is largely for the Starz channels, most of which are available through a Sling TV add-on.
Are there local channels on DirecTV Now and Sling TV?
If local channels are important to you, then you will want to check which service provides them in your area. Sling TV doesn’t have a list, but offers an easy to use search engine for local channels. Just enter your zip code to see what locals are in your area.
At last count, DirecTV Now offered 155 live, local channels across the U.S. including CBS, The CW, FOX and NBC affiliates. DirecTV Now offers a local channel search engine on their site, too.
Remember, Sling TV doesn’t have CBS. But that shouldn’t especially be a deal breaker for you. I personally rely on a TV antenna for my local channels like NBC, ABC, CBS, PBS and many others. Not everyone can get decent antenna reception. But in the spirit of saving some cash, I encourage you look over my guide: How to Choose the Best TV Antenna & DVR for some pointers on this topic.
Sling TV vs DirecTV Now: Can I use DVR?
There’s a caveat that comes with all of my picks above. Sling TV charges you another $5 per month if you want Cloud DVR to record shows and movies. You will get 50 hours of recording space. You might say, “Wait a second, why didn’t you tell me that ahead of time!” My picks wouldn’t really change either way, and if you’re really frugal, a DVR option might not matter to you if you use TV Everywhere apps instead to catch up on shows. I’ll talk about that a little later.
DirecTV Now has been beta testing its own Cloud DVR service. It’s currently unknown whether they will charge customers extra for it. Other competitors like PlayStation Vue, fuboTV and YouTube TV don’t charge extra for Cloud DVR.
Does DirecTV Now and Sling TV have on-demand?
Yes, both DirecTV Now and Sling TV has on-demand shows and movies. DirecTV Now has an impressive catalog of on-demand movies. It’s a pretty compelling feature.
But I wouldn’t depend on any on-demand content to keep up with your favorite shows. A common problem with on-demand is that you’ll come up short with having a full season of a popular show. And the gap can sometimes be right in the middle of a season. That’s why a DVR feature can be so important. It’s also why you’ll want to use your Sling TV or DirecTV Now subscription to sign in TV Everywhere apps for full access to shows and movies.
Can I sign into apps with DirecTV Now and Sling TV?
Being able to sign in to apps for your favorite channels is simply great. TV Everywhere apps give you access to lots of on-demand content that might not be available with your streaming service. Some apps like FX Now even give you extra live feeds of its channel from the east and west coast, so you’re essentially getting extra live channels without paying more. Some TV Everywhere apps will be better at keeping full seasons available to you. It has become pretty common for Netflix to scoop up the rights to popular shows on channels like AMC, especially popular shows like Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul and The Walking Dead.
Cord cutters even dial in to apps like FOX Sports Go to get live feeds of FS1 and Big Ten Network. The number of live feeds may depend on your subscription and where you live. But right now, I’m getting about 8 live channels from it. I can watch those live channels from anywhere outside of my home as well. As you can see from the two lists below, DirecTV Now supports a little over 50 TV Everywhere apps. Sling TV’s numbers are just below 20.
TV Everywhere appps with a Sling TV subscription
|Bravo||Airplay, Amazon Fire, Android, Apple TV, iOS, Roku, XBOX One||bravotv.com|
|CNBC||Airplay, Android, Apple TV, iOS||cnbc.com|
|E! Now||Airplay, Amazon Fire, Android Mobile and Tablet, iOS, Roku||eonline.com|
|FOX NOW||Amazon TV, Android TV, iOS and XBOX 360 only||–|
|FOX Sports GO||Amazon Fire, Android, Android TV, Apple TV, Chromecast, iOS, Kindle, Roku, Windows 10, XBOX One||foxsportsgo.com|
|FXNOW||Amazon Fire Stick, Amazon TV, Android, Android TV, iOS, XBOX One and XBOX 360||fxnetworks.com|
|Golf Channel||Airplay, Amazon Fire tablet, Android Mobile and Tablet, iOS||golfchannel.com|
|MSNBC Now||Airplay, iOS||msnbc.com|
|NBC||Airplay, Apple TV, Chromecast, iOS, Roku, XBOX One||nbc.com|
|NBC Sports||Airplay, Amazon Fire, Android Mobile and Tablet, Apple TV, Chromecast, iOS, Roku, XBOX One||nbcsports.com|
|NBC Universo||Airplay, Amazon Fire, Android||nbcuniverso.com|
|NFL Network||Android, Apple TV, iOS, Android, PlayStation, Roku, Web, Windows, XBOX One||nflnonline.nfl.com|
|Oxygen||Airplay, Amazon Fire, Android, iOS||oxygen.com|
|SyFY||Airplay, Amazon Fire, Android, Apple TV, iOS, Roku, XBOX One||syfy.com|
|USANow||Airplay, Amazon Fire, Android Mobile and Tablet, Apple TV, iOS, Roku, XBOX One||–|
Source: Sling TV
TV Everywhere apps with a DirecTV Now subscription
BTN2GO (Big Ten Network)
CSN New England
FOX Sports Go
MLB Network (Web only)
MLB.com At Bat (App only)
The Olympic Channel
SundanceTV (Web only)
Can I watch DirecTV Now or Sling TV on multiple devices at the same time?
With DirecTV Now, you can stream on two devices simultaneously.
Sling TV is slightly more nuanced. If you subscribe to Sling Orange, then you get one stream at a time. Sling Blue subscribers get up to three streams at once. If you subscribe to both Orange and Blue, then you get four streams at once.
Can I stream DirecTV Now and Sling TV on my smartphone or PC?
When DirecTV Now was developed, mobile support was a huge priority. It continues to be a big selling point because AT&T customers won’t get their data plan on their iPhone or other smartphone tolled by streaming DirecTV Now. The app is pretty slick and you can easily cruise through channels and find something to watch.
Sling TV has a mobile app too, and it works fine. But the interface is rudimentary and feels a little unfinished.
You can also watch DirecTV Now and Sling TV on your PC without any issues. Sling TV launched an in-browser player for Google Chrome back in August with an interface that’s close to what you’d see on a streaming device.
Do I need a fast Internet connection for DirecTV Now or Sling TV?
Don’t listen to any jive from your cable company or ISP about needing a super-fast Internet connection for streaming. DirecTV Now tells users that only 2.5Mbps to 7.5Mbps download speed is recommended for HD quality on a television. You will only need 2.5Mbps for an iPhone or other mobile device. HD shows will play 720p or better with the recommended download speed on browsers.
Sling TV recommends 5.0Mbps download speed for a TV, PC or Mac. Only 3.0Mbps for a tablet or smartphone. And 25Mbps for households that are using multiple devices simultaneously.
Is Sling TV a better deal than DirecTV Now?
If you’re a big sports fan, Sling TV’s Blue bundle might be enough for you. The thing to guard against with Sling TV is that adding on channel bundles like Sports Extra ($10) and Cloud DVR ($5) can quickly add up.
So here’s my rule of thumb with these two services: If you’re going for a lower number of channels, DirecTV Now is likely a better deal. With the Live a Little bundle, you’ll get 60+ channels for $35 per month. You can watch DirecTV Now on your Roku or iPhone without any worries about hitting a data cap if you’re an AT&T customer. DirecTV Now has a larger selection of on-demand content, and more access to TV Everywhere apps. So there’s a lot of value in that $35 compared ways that you can spend the same amount of money with Sling TV.
That said, a Sling TV subscription could be a better deal for you – even if you combine Orange and Blue bundles – if it gives you all the channels you need. If no CBS on Sling TV is a deal breaker for you, then read over my antenna guide to see if you can get it for free instead.
Try out DirecTV Now free for 7-days if you’re not sure. You can cancel online pretty easily.
Sling TV likewise has a 7-day free trial, and some offers that can get you a free or discounted streaming device. Right now, Sling TV is offering promotions for Amazon Fire TV Stick, a Roku Express and a AirPlay TV bundle.
Have you already cut the cord? Let readers know about your experience in the comment section below. Is Sling TV a better deal, or does DirecTV Now do it better? Good luck.
Founder and Editor of The Cord Cutting Report. Before launching the site in 2016, he worked for more than two decades as a staff writer or correspondent for a number of daily newspapers, including The Boston Globe. His enthusiasm for tech began with the Atari 2600. Follow @james_kimble