Sling TV: Everything you need to know

Sling TV is a new $20-per-month live TV package with 16 channels, including ESPN, AMC, TNT, CNN, History, HDTV and the Disney Channel. How does it work, how can you get it -- and will it let you quit cable?

Sarah Tew/CNET

Sling TV is available now. Watch out, cable TV.

The new alternative TV package, which streams live TV channels over the Internet and is ostensibly aimed at cash-strapped Millennials and "cord-nevers," rather than people who plan to cut the cable TV cord, launched February 9.

We've had plenty of opportunity to play with the service and have published our full review of Sling TV , which contains pretty much everything you could possibly want to know about Sling TV. Here's the short version.

The basics

What is Sling TV?

Sling TV is a new live TV service that allows subscribers to watch a collection of cable TV channels on their TVs, computers or mobile devices. These are live TV channels, just like those offered by a cable or satellite TV service, except they're delivered over the Internet.

Although Sling TV is a subsidiary of Dish Network, the satellite provider, it's operated as an entirely separate service. You do not need a Dish subscription to get Sling TV.

Where is Sling TV available?

For now and the foreseeable future, it's only available to people who live in the United States.

What does Sling TV cost and what does it include?

The base package, called "The Best of Live TV," is $20 per month. It requires no contract or commitment, and you can cancel or suspend service at any time.

The package includes 19 channels, most of them basic cable staples like ESPN, AMC, Disney Channel, TNT, History and HGTV. Add-on packs, each $5 more per month, are also available. You need to subscribe to the base package first before you can access any add-on channels, so Sling TV's minimum cost is $20 per month.

Sling TV packages

Package Price Channels
The Best of Live TV (core) $20 per month ESPN, ESPN2, AMC, TNT, TBS, CNN, A&E, Lifetime, History, Food Network, HGTV, Travel Channel, Cartoon Network/Adult Swim, Disney Channel, ABC Family, IFC, H2, El Rey Network, Maker, Galavision
Sports Extra $5 SEC Network, ESPNEWS, ESPNU, Universal Sports, Univision Deportes, beIN Sports, ESPN Buzzer Beater, ESPN Bases Loaded, ESPN Goal Line
Kids Extra $5 Disney Junior, Disney XD, Boomerang, Baby TV, Duck TV
Lifestyle Extra $5 truTV, Cooking Channel, DIY, WE tv, FYI, LMN
World News Extra $5 Bloomberg TV, HLN, Euro News, France 24, NDTV 24/7, News 18, Russia Today
Hollywood Extra $5 EPIX, EPIX2, EPIX3, EPIX Drive-In, Sundance TV

All of the above channels are available now aside from A&E, History, Lifetime and H2, which are all coming before the end of March 2015, and FYI and LMN, which are "coming soon."

What about other channels?

Only the channels listed above are available on Sling TV.

Major broadcast networks, namely CBS, ABC, Fox and NBC, not to mention PBS, are not included. (And let us note, for the record, that CNET is published by CBS Interactive, a division of CBS.) Numerous other cable channels (like regional sports channels, Fox News, Bravo and Comedy Central) and premium channels (like HBO, Showtime and The Movie Channel) are also absent.

If you don't want to pay for cable TV, many of those absences can be addressed separately from Sling TV. The broadcast networks can be had for free (in some areas) with an over-the-air antenna. You can also get TV programming via broadcaster web sites or services like Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, Hulu Plus, CBS All Access or HBO's upcoming Internet-only service. And many individual TV programs are available within 24 hours of airing on services like iTunes and Amazon, if you're willing to pay by the episode or by the season.

How can I watch Sling TV?

You'll need to subscribe at Sling.com and set up an account, then install the app on a supported device.

Sling TV is currently available (or not) on the following devices.

Sling TV devices

TV devices Roku (TVs, boxes and streaming stick), Amazon Fire TV and Fire TV Stick, Xbox One
Mobile devices Android phones and tablets, iOS phones and tablets (iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch), PC and Mac computers
"Coming soon" Chromecast, Google Nexus Player, Android TV devices (select 2015 Sony and Sharp Smart TVs), Samsung and LG Smart TVs
Not available PlayStation (3 or 4)

There is no native Sling app for Apple TV , and Sling's promised compatibility on that product with AirPlay from an iOS device has not yet worked in our tests.

Once you have the device and app installed, you'll be able to sign in and start watching anywhere in the US that has stable Internet connection, whether wired, Wi-Fi or cellular data.

The devil's in the detail

Can I watch Sling TV on more than one TV (or other device) at the same time?

No. Unless you create more than one account, you cannot watch Sling TV on more than one device -- TV or mobile -- at the same time. The service is restricted to one stream at a time.

You can have more than one device registered to the same account, but if you're watching one and then begin streaming on another, the service makes you choose which single device to continue streaming.

Does Sling TV have commercials?

Yes. It has the same commercial breaks and national ads as the standard TV channels delivered via cable or satellite TV service.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Can I pause live TV or skip commercials?

Not on most channels. The pause, rewind and fast-forward commands don't work at all when watching any of the ESPN channels (including the SEC Network), AMC, TNT, TBS, CNN, Cartoon Network/Adult Swim, any of the Disney channels, ABC Family, Boomerang, HLN, IFC or Sundance TV.

What about the other channels?

On the other channels the pause, rewind and fast-forward buttons work as expected. You can pause a current show and rewind all the way to the beginning. You can also fast-forward, even through commercials, to catch back up to live time.

Most of channels also feature "3 Day Replay," allowing you to watch any show aired within the past three days. You can't easily skip commercials on those past shows, however.

The rest, including the Epix movie channels, Universal Sports, beIN Sports, Bloomberg TV, Baby TV and Duck TV, allow you to watch any show or movie that aired in the past 7 days.

Can I use my Sling TV account to authenticate other TV apps, like Watch ESPN?

Yes, to a certain extent. Sling TV subscribers get a stripped-down version of Watch ESPN app access if they authenticate using their Sling TV log-in credentials. They can watch live streams of ESPN, ESPN2 and ESPN3. Even subscribers to the Sports Extra pack cannot get those extra channels live via Watch ESPN.

Watch ESPN is still subject to the single-stream restriction, so you can't watch live TV via the Watch ESPN app on one device at the same time as you watch any live TV via the Sling TV app on a second device.

Sling says similar apps, like Watch Disney and Watch TNT, will be available to authenticate sometime after launch. It didn't specify whether they would also be subject to the single-stream restriction, but we expect they will.

How fast an Internet connection do I need?

Sling TV did not answer this question directly when we asked, instead referring us to the answer on its FAQ: "The same Internet speed is required to watch Sling TV that is needed to watch similar content on platforms like Netflix and Hulu."

Does the picture look as good as cable?

Not quite, but it's still very good. In our testing Sling TV came close to Verizon Fios' HD channel quality at its best, but did look slightly softer. It did briefly drop in quality when moving to a new channel, and there were other occasional picture quality drops, but on our high-speed connection it was mostly delivered at the highest quality with excellent stability. Picture quality on smaller screen devices was also very good.

What about sound?

Although Sling originally said the TV channels would be available in 5.1 surround sound where available, it now says 5.1 is restricted to video-on-demand (VOD) content. Live TV is stereo-only.

What VOD content is available on Sling TV?

Aside from 3 Day Replay channels it's pretty sparse at the moment. The selection is restricted to pay movies, the same kind available on other services such as iTunes, Amazon and Google Play store, with a few free offerings sprinkled in.

Sling says that soon every channel will include more VOD titles.

Do you have any other information?

Much more detail, including more notes on the Sling TV user experience, data caps and bandwidth restrictions, mobile app performance and much more, is available in our extensive Sling TV review.

Read it, or try the service yourself -- it's just $20 with no risk -- to find out if Sling TV is right for you.

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