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YouTube TV vs. Sling TV: Which live TV streaming service is best for you?

YouTube TV and Sling TV are two of the most compelling options for cord cutters who want live TV. But one costs twice as much as the other. Here's how to choose.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

So you have Netflix and Amazon Prime, but you want to bolster your binge-watching sessions with actual live TV channels such as ESPN, TNT and CNN. Sling TV and YouTube TV offer two compelling yet quite different live TV streaming services

YouTube TV is the more comprehensive of the two, with more channels and an included cloud DVR, but after the latest price hike it now costs $50 per month. Sling TV is the more stripped-down option at half the price, $25 per month, with roughly half as many channels and no cloud DVR included.

How do you choose between them? Let's dive in.

Note that CNET may get a share of revenue from the sale of services featured on this page.

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Sling TV and YouTube TV compared


Sling Orange ($25) Sling Blue ($25) Sling Orange & Blue ($40) YouTube TV ($50)

See at Sling See at Sling See at Sling See at YouTube TV
Number of popular channels (out of 100) 24 37 44 64
Locals included No Yes (NBC and Fox) Yes (NBC and Fox) Yes (ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox)
Simultaneous streams 1 3 up to 4 3
Cloud DVR included No ($5 extra) No ($5 extra) No ($5 extra) Yes
DVR storage 50 hours 50 hours 50 hours Unlimited (may be replaced by on-demand version)

Cost

There are two glaring differences between the two services, and they're directly related to each other: cost and number of channels. 

Sling offers three different tiers of service: Blue (usually $25), Orange ($25) and Orange & Blue ($40) with a mix of channels available. Signing up for the basic Sling TV is cheap, but you could quickly find that the costs pile up once you start adding channels or features. It costs an extra $5 a month for a DVR, for example, or $5 to add packages such as Comedy, Sports and Kids, which include extra channels such as TV Land, NBA TV and Disney Junior, respectively.

In comparison, YouTube TV costs $50 and doesn't offer any add-on channel packages, although it does have a handful of single-channel add-ons like Showtime and EPIX. This one-price approach mitigates the paralysis of choice a little bit. 

It's worth noting that Sling TV is currently offering discounts on its tiers: Blue or Orange for $15, and Orange & Blue for $25. 

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YouTube TV's desktop interface.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Channels

In addition to the disparity in total number of channels, there's a big gap in the availability of local channels (ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC -- note that CNET is owned by CBS). YouTube TV has all four in nearly every market in the US. Sling TV doesn't offer any with its Orange package. Its Blue and Orange & Blue packages have NBC and Fox, but only in a handful of major markets.

If you want ESPN then Sling Orange is for you, but if you want a little more variety, then Blue and its inclusion of Fox and NBC -- as long as you live in the right market -- might be more enticing. Meanwhile Sling's $40 Orange & Blue only adds four more channels out of the 100 most popular (including ESPN and Disney) so represents fairly poor value.

While you can check see how the two channels differ in their channel lineups in this handy chart, here's a quick summary of the main missing channels:

  • Major channels missing from Sling Orange: ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC, Bravo, Animal Planet, Fox News, FS1, FX, MLB Network, MSNBC, Nickelodeon, USA Network
  • Major channels missing from Sling Blue: ABC, CBS, Animal Planet, Disney Channel, ESPN, Fox News, MLB Network, Nickelodeon
  • Major channels missing from YouTube TV: A&E, Comedy Central, History, Lifetime, Nickelodeon
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The Sling TV live guide is pretty uninspiring.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Usability

Choosing between either of these services based on their interfaces alone would be a daunting task -- both are relatively drab, especially in the Roku versions.

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The YouTube TV interface on Roku.

Sarah Tew/CNET

In general terms the YouTube TV interface is much easier to use, and not just to people used to using regular YouTube. Watching a live program from Sling TV's guide, for example, takes more button presses than should be necessary (three versus one). You need to Select a show -- then Watch -- then Watch Live.

If you're using the desktop or app versions, the YouTube TV interface offers a more structured, easier-to-use interface that's also easier on the eye. 

The difference in simultaneous streams is also worth noting, especially for families and other households who watch a lot of TV. YouTube TV lets you stream to three different devices -- say the living room TV, a bedroom TV and a tablet -- at the same time. So does Sling TV Blue. But with Sling TV Orange you can only watch one stream at a time. If someone starts watching on a second TV or other device, you'll have to choose between the two. 

Sling TV's Orange & Blue package delivers up to 4 streams at once, but only one of them can be from an Orange-only channel. You still can't watch ESPN on two separate TVs simultaneously, for example.

Which service is best for you?

We're not talking about mortgaging a house here. The cost of either service is relatively affordable, especially compared to many cable TV packages -- although at $50 YouTube TV is inching closer to cable bundle territory, albeit without any contracts. If you want to save the most money, Sling TV offers a compelling mix of cable-only programming.

If you want greater channel selection, local channels and the addition of a DVR, YouTube TV is probably worth the additional $25 per month.

Originally published Apr. 9.
Update, Apr. 11: Add new pricing and channels for YouTube TV.