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Sling TV: Everything you need to know

Sling TV is a live TV package that starts at $20 per month for more than 30 channels, including ESPN, AMC, TNT, CNN, History, HGTV and the Disney Channel. How does it work, how can you get it -- and will it let you quit cable?

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Sling TV


Fully updated Tuesday Dec 6, 2016.

When it launched in February 2015, Sling TV was the first multichannel live TV service that streamed over the internet. Today it has some competition, but it's still the cheapest.

Sling TV starts at $20 per month for a package of around 30 live TV channels, including ESPN, AMC, History Channel and Disney Channel. You can pay more to get additional and/or different channels, just like regular cable, but there are also plenty of differences.

There are also a couple of alternatives. PlayStation Vue launched nationwide earlier this year, and offers more channels and extra features starting at $30 per month (and no, you don't need a PlayStation to use it). DirecTV Now is the newest and launched a week ago, but it has the most channels and starts at $35 per month (and no, you don't need a satellite dish to use it).

DirecTV Now vs. PlayStation Vue vs. Sling TV: Which one is best for you?

You're here to learn about Sling TV, however, so I won't dwell on those other services too much. Here's everything you need to know.

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Sling TV

The basics

What is Sling TV?

Sling TV is service that allows subscribers to watch a collection of live and on-demand TV channels on their TVs, computers or mobile devices. This is live TV, just like a cable or satellite TV service, except it's 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 (or a satellite dish) 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.

How is it different from my cable or satellite provider?

Depending on how much you pay for TV service, it's probably cheaper. To use it you'll need a good internet connection and a compatible device to run the Sling TV app, which takes the place of a cable or satellite box and connects to a TV. You can also watch on your phone, tablet or computer, either at home or away.

The best part? Unlike cable or satellite, there are no contracts and you can cancel or resume service anytime, with no penalties. One way to think of it is Netflix, but with live TV.

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Sling TV

What does Sling TV cost and what does it include?

As with cable, there's a set fee for a certain package of live and on-demand TV channels.

The cheapest base package, called "Sling Orange," is $20 per month. Another base package is called "Sling Blue," which costs $25 per month. Each offers slightly different channel lineups. You can also get all of the channels in both packages with "Sling Orange + Blue" for $40 per month.

The basic difference between Orange and Blue channels? Orange has ESPN and Disney channels, while Blue has Fox and NBC channels.

Here's a look at all of the channels offered by Sling TV's base packages as of December 6, 2016.

Sling TV Orange vs. Blue channels

Channel Sling Orange ($20) Sling Blue ($25) Sling Orange + Blue ($40)
A&E Yes Yes Yes
AMC Yes Yes Yes
AXS TV Yes Yes Yes
BBC America Yes Yes Yes
Bloomberg TV Yes Yes Yes
Bravo No Yes Yes
Cartoon Network/Adult Swim Yes Yes Yes
Cheddar Yes Yes Yes
CNN Yes Yes Yes
Comedy Central Yes Yes Yes
Disney Channel Yes No Yes
El Rey Network Yes Yes Yes
ESPN Yes No Yes
ESPN 2 Yes No Yes
Flama Yes Yes Yes
Food Network Yes Yes Yes
Fox No Yes* Yes*
Fox Regional Sports No Yes* Yes*
Fox Sports 1 No Yes Yes
Fox Sports 2 No Yes Yes
Freeform Yes No Yes
FX No Yes Yes
FXX No Yes Yes
Galavision Yes Yes Yes
HGTV Yes Yes Yes
History Yes Yes Yes
IFC Yes Yes Yes
Lifetime Yes Yes Yes
Local Now Yes Yes Yes
Maker Yes Yes Yes
Nat Geo Wild No Yes Yes
National Geographic No Yes Yes
NBC No Yes* Yes*
NBC Sports Network No Yes* Yes*
Newsy Yes Yes Yes
NFL Network No Yes Yes
Nick Jr. No Yes Yes
Polaris Yes Yes Yes
Syfy No Yes Yes
TBS Yes Yes Yes
TNT Yes Yes Yes
Travel Channel Yes Yes Yes
USA Network No Yes Yes
Viceland Yes Yes Yes

*On Sling Blue, Fox and NBC's local broadcast channels and sports networks available in select markets only.

What about other channels?

Only the channels listed above, and others for an extra fee (see below) are available on Sling TV.

For Orange customers, 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.) The exception is ABC, which is available to subscribers in select cities for $5 per month.

As mentioned on the chart above, Blue customers in some cities can watch local Fox and NBC broadcast networks (and regional sports channels) in select markets only.

A few other cable channels (like other regional sports, Fox News, PBS, Discovery channels, Nickelodeon and OWN), as well as premium channel Showtime, aren't available at all on Sling TV.

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 Showtime. 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.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

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), Apple TV (2015 only), Chromecast, Amazon Fire TV and Fire TV Stick, Xbox One, Android TV, Channel Master
Mobile devices Android phones and tablets, iOS phones and tablets (iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch), PC and Mac computers
Not available PlayStation (3 or 4), Xbox 360, Apple TV (pre-2015 versions)

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?

Depends. If you're an Orange subscriber, 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.

If you're a Blue subscriber, you can watch Sling TV on up to three devices at the same time.

If you're an Orange + Blue customer you also get three simultaneous streams, but some channels are single-stream only.

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 many channels. The pause, rewind and fast-forward commands don't work at all when watching many 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 some 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.

Can I record shows for later or watch shows on-demand?

No and yes. Sling TV lacks a DVR function, so you can't record shows to watch later on your own time (or skip commercials). If you want that, check out PlayStation Vue.

On the other hand nearly every channel has shows you can watch on-demand, instantly. Most of channels 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. Some even allow you to watch any show or movie that aired in the past 7 days.

Can I use my Sling TV account to sign in to other TV apps, like Watch ESPN and FX Now?

Yes, but with only a handful of apps.

Sling Orange subscribers get 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. And Sling Blue customers can't authenticate Watch ESPN at all.

Other apps like FX Now and Bravo allow you full access if you authenticate with Sling TV credentials, as long as the app is part of your Sling package. Here's more info.

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.

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Sling TV

Is it easy to find stuff to watch?

Much easier than cable, in our book. Sling TV's app has a user interface that's more like Netflix than the traditional cable TV grid guide. It features thumbnail images of shows and easy access to on-demand content, and the interface focuses on individual channels and genres in an easy-to use way.

The main My TV page lets you choose your favorite channels and shows, as well as continue watching on-demand content where you left off. The On Now section lists currently airing shows in categories like Sports, Kids and Lifestyle. There's a full guide too, but without a grid, just all of the channels you subscribe to, sub-divided again into categories. You also get an easy to use search function to find specific shows.

You mentioned paying extra for more channels?

Add-on packs, each $5 or more per month for a few additional channels, are also available. So are premium channels, namely HBO ($15), Cinemax ($10) and Starz ($9). You need to subscribe to the base package first before you can access any add-on channels.

Current packs include Sports Extra, Kids Extra, Comedy Plus Extra, Lifestyle Plus Extra, Hollywood Extra, and News Extra. Some channels in each vary depending on which base package you subscribe to. If you're an Orange customer for example, you have to subscribe to Kids Extra to get Nick Jr., while Blue customers get it as part of their base packages. Blue customers, conversely, don't get any Disney channels.

Sports channels vary the most. Orange customers get ESPN's extra channels (ESPN News, SEC Network, etc) as part of Sports Extra (for $5/month), but Blue customers don't. Meanwhile only Blue customers (not Orange) get access to NFL RedZone as part of Sports Extra, but that extra pack costs double for Blue customers ($10/month).

See the chart below for all of the add-on channels, current as of December 6 2016.

Channels available for extra money, by base package

Channel Sling Orange Sling Blue Sling Orange + Blue Extra package name
ABC Yes* No Yes* Broadcast extra
Baby TV Yes Yes Yes Kids extra
BBC World News Yes Yes Yes News extra
beIN Sports Yes Yes Yes Sports extra
BET Yes Base channel** Base channel** Lifestyle extra
Boomerang Yes Yes Yes Kids extra
Campus Insiders Yes Yes Yes Sports extra
Cinemax Yes Yes Yes PREMIUM
CMT Yes Yes Yes Comedy extra
CNBC No Yes Yes News extra
Cooking Channel Yes Yes Yes Lifestyle extra
Disney Junior Yes No Yes Kids extra
Disney XD Yes No Yes Kids extra
DIY Yes Yes Yes Lifestyle extra
Duck TV Yes Yes Yes Kids extra
E! No Yes Yes Lifestyle extra
EPIX Yes Yes Yes Hollywood extra
EPIX Drive-in Yes Yes Yes Hollywood extra
EPIX Hits Yes Yes Yes Hollywood extra
EPIX2 Yes Yes Yes Hollywood extra
ESPN Bases Loaded Yes No Yes Sports extra
ESPN Buzzer Beater Yes No Yes Sports extra
ESPN Goal Line Yes No Yes Sports extra
ESPNEWS Yes No Yes Sports extra
ESPNU Yes No Yes Sports extra
Euro News Yes Yes Yes World News Extra
France 24 Yes Yes Yes World News Extra
Fusion Yes Yes Yes World News Extra
FYI Yes Yes Yes Lifestyle extra
Golf Channel No Yes Yes Sports extra
GSN Yes Yes Yes Comedy extra
Hallmark Yes Yes Yes Lifestyle extra
Hallmark Movies & Mysteries Yes Yes Yes LIfestyle extra
HBO Yes Yes Yes PREMIUM
HDNet Movies Yes Yes Yes Hollywood extra
HLN Yes Yes Yes News extra
LMN Yes Yes Yes Lifestyle extra
LOGO Yes Yes Yes Comedy extra
Motors TV Yes Yes Yes Sports extra
MSNBC No Yes Yes News extra
MTV Yes Yes Yes Comedy extra
MTV2 Yes Yes Yes Comedy extra
NBA TV Yes Yes Yes Sports extra
NDTV 24/7 Yes Yes Yes World News Extra
News 18 India Yes Yes Yes World News Extra
NFL Red Zone No Yes Yes Sports extra
NHL Network Yes Yes Yes Sports extra
Nick Jr Base channel** Yes Base channel** Kids extra
Nicktoons Yes Yes Yes Kids Extra
Outside Television Yes Yes Yes Sports extra
Oxygen No Yes Yes Lifestyle extra
Russia Today Yes Yes Yes World News Extra
SEC Network Yes No Yes Sports extra
Spike Yes Yes Yes Comedy extra
Starz Yes Yes Yes PREMIUM
Sundance TV Yes Yes Yes Hollywood extra
TCM Yes Yes Yes Hollywood extra
Teen Knick Yes Yes Yes Kids extra
truTV Yes Base channel** Yes Comedy extra
TV Land Yes Yes Yes Comedy extra
Univision Yes* Base channel** Yes* Broadcast extra
Univision Deportes Yes Yes Yes Sports extra
Univision Mas Yes* Base channel** Yes* Broadcast extra
VH1 Yes Yes Yes Lifestyle extra
Vibrant TV Yes Yes Yes Lifestyle extra
WE tv Yes Yes Yes Lifestyle extra

*ABC, Univision and Univision Mas available in select cities as part of Broadcast Extra.

**Available without an extra fee as part of the base (Orange, Blue or Orange + Blue) package.

What else do I need to know?

That's plenty for now. If you want more info I recommend trying it for yourself. Sling TV offers a free trial, for a week and sometimes longer. If you've read this far, it's probably worth a shot.

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