Sling TV (2020 REVIEW): The Best Budget Option?
Sling TV is a decent place to start if you want live TV channels without a huge bill from a cable TV or satellite service.
For $30 per month, you get to choose a package with top cable channels like CNN, Fox News, ESPN, NFL Network and AMC.
Sling may not have the slickest menu in the streaming game, but it does have crisp picture quality and now includes a very basic Cloud DVR feature that you don’t have to pay extra for.
Is Sling TV still the best option for cord cutters who are looking to pay as little as possible for live TV? Are there better deals with some of the newer players out there?
Is Sling TV still the best for budget-minded cord cutters?
Sling TV is still one of the cheapest options out there for sought-after live TV channels. It’s still the cheapest way to stream ESPN live without a cable TV or satellite plan.
And it takes a different approach from other live TV services because you can build-out your channel bundle a number of ways. First, you need to pick a core channel bundle — either Sling Orange or Sling Blue.
Sling Orange has a little over 30 channels such as ESPN, AMC and A&E for $30 per month.
Your other option, Sling Blue, has about 47 channels and costs $30 per month.
Sling Blue has FX, FS1, FS2, both National Geographic channels and regional NBC Sports networks. The Blue bundle also offers local NBC and FOX in some markets. But there’s no ABC. And frankly, Sling’s list of markets for local channels is pretty limited.
The Orange plan lets you live stream TV channels on one screen at a time. Sling Blue gives you up to three simultaneous streams.
Once you have picked Sling Orange or Sling Blue, you have the option of adding more channels.
Sling TV has a number of smaller channel bundles such as “Sports”, “Lifestyle”, “Comedy” and “Kids”. These smaller bundles can add another $5 to $10 per month to your bill.
No matter which core bundle you pick, Sling throws in 10 hours of Cloud DVR for recordings.
Personally, I would start out with the free DVR space that Sling gives you. The free DVR space breaks down to 10 one-hour episodes of a TV show, or two to three pro sports events.
If you want more space later, you can get 50 hours of recording space for another $5 per month.
Sling TV works on every major streaming device: Roku, Amazon Fire TV, Chromecast, Apple TV and NVIDIA Shield. There are mobile apps for Android smartphones and iPhones. You can use XBox One, a Fire Tablet or stream from a web browser.
Internet speed and menus
You don’t need a fast Internet connection with Sling TV.
If you’re watching on a smartphone, Sling says 3 megabits per second download speed will do the job. You’ll want 5 megabits per second for a TV and 25 megabits if you’re in a house with a whole bunch of Internet connected devices.
As mentioned earlier, the menu and interface overall isn’t exactly elegant. But it’s functional. The best section is the Guide tab, where you can channel surf just like with a cable or satellite box. Within the Guide tab, you can also search for on-demand and upcoming shows channel by channel.
The On-Demand tab pulls together all TV shows and movies available from your subscription. The “My TV” and “On Now” tabs feel repetitive to an extent and unnecessary. Sling’s menu also has a “Rent” tab where you can rent movies for a one-time fee. Sling could definitely use a rehab with its interface — especially now that it has slicker competitors such as Philo that hew close to Sling TV’s price point.
Pros and Cons of Sling TV
The best part about Sling TV is if you really take a hard look at what channels you actually watch, as opposed to ones you just like, you can really save some money.
You can be a wise consumer and control your spending with Sling because you’re starting off with a core bundle that costs much less than competitors, and you decide what extra channels to add if any at all.
There are no contracts with Sling TV. And new customers can sign up for a free 7-day trial.
It’s very easy to pick up a Sling TV subscription for only two or three months, then cancel it online after you catch up on a favorite TV show or NFL season — or whatever is important to you.
Here’s the problem if you’re a big sports fan. Let’s say your two favorite channels are ESPN and NFL Network. ESPN is on Sling Orange, and NFL Network is on Sling Blue.
If you want both of those channels, you’re going to have to mash together Sling Orange and Sling Blue subscription at a discounted price. That’s going to cost $45 per month.
Now you’re only about $10 less than competitors such as Hulu with Live TV, which actually still carries FOX Regional Sports Networks.
When savings reach the tipping point
The value proposition for Sling TV starts to fall once you start getting beyond paying $40 per month.
That’s especially true if you want live TV channels such as AMC for The Walking Dead, or Paramount Network for the new season of Yellowstone, and have no interest in sports.
Philo vs Sling TV
Philo now offers a single package of 59 channels for $20 per month.
Subscribers get unlimited Cloud DVR, and a big on-demand library of TV shows and movies.
You can watch the latest seasons of: Fixer Upper on HGTV, Live PD on A&E, Alone on History channel. And you have channels such as Discovery, a few MTV channels, VH1, all three Hallmark channels. Philo offers a free 7-day trial, and with its quick signup process you can start live streaming in under a minute by just using your mobile number.
If a bigger channel bundle is your thing, here are a few quick comparisons and another resource that I put together for further guidance.
Hulu Live vs Sling TV
Let’s say you’re thinking about subscribing to the Orange and Blue bundle together because it will have channels for everyone in your household. That will get you 78+ live TV channels. If you get the extra DVR space, then that’s another $5, putting your total at $50 per month.
It’s time to look at your other streaming subscriptions.
Hulu packages its live TV and on-demand library into one service for $54.99 per month. There are 65+ live TV channels. Hulu carries all regional FOX Sports networks, local channels such as ABC, CBS, NBC and FOX in most markets and 50 hours of Cloud DVR. And there’s unlimited access to its on-demand library that people pay $6 per month for. So you’re really getting two streaming services for the same price as some competitors. New customers to the live TV service are eligible for a free 7-day trial.
fuboTV and YouTube TV: Bigger channel packages
fuboTV also charges $54.99 per month for its basic plan that has about 110+ channels. There’s AMC, A&E, HGTV, regional NBC Sports, FS1, FS2 and beIN Sports. Plans include local NBC, CBS and FOX stations but no ABC. fuboTV includes 30 hours of Cloud DVR and a big on-demand library. fuboTV shows what local and regional sports channels are available in your area before you sign up for a free 7-day trial.
YouTube TV has 75+ channels, unlimited Cloud DVR, all your local channels, and a number of popular sports networks including ESPN and ACC Network. A subscription costs $49.99 per month.
I just threw a lot at you so if you want to see a more detailed comparison, head over to my video on the best live TV streaming services. I cover a few more live TV services in the video below that’s not covered here.
Is Sling TV still worth it?
Sling TV casts itself as an a la carte style of cable alternative.
It’s not quite a la carte. But Sling TV is definitely worth trying out if you’re someone who already gets local channels from a TV antenna and just needs a little help with getting ESPN or a favorite entertainment channel such as AMC.
Sling TV does offer a free 7-day trial, but rewards new customers willing to pre-pay for two or three months by providing a free streaming device such an Amazon Fire Stick, AirTV or TV antenna. See the Sling TV deals page for details.
So is Sling TV still the best deal out there? Is it better than Philo? Let me know what you think in the comments below.
*This review was originally published in February 2017, and has been updated.
Jim Kimble is a seasoned industry expert with over two decades of journalism experience. He has been at the forefront of the cord-cutting movement since 2016, testing and writing about TV-related products and services. He founded The Cord Cutting Report in 2016.
Major publications, including MarketWatch, Forbes, and South Florida Sun Sentinel, have interviewed Kimble for his years of expertise. He gives advice on the complexities consumers are navigating with streaming options, and over-the-air TV. Kimble has been a staff writer or correspondent for several award-winning, daily newspapers, including The Boston Globe. You can follow Jim on LinkedIn, YouTube and at X at @james_kimble