Live TV streaming services are designed to replace cable TV by letting you stream live channels over the internet. Yet for the budget-conscious TV viewer, not all services are created equal: For instance, YouTube TV may offer a lot of channels but it costs twice as much as the cord-cutter friendly Sling TV. Starting at $35, Sling TV offers an excellent value with plenty of channels on offer, and it finally looks the business with a new look coming this summer. 

8.4

Sling TV

Like

  • Solid selection of channels for the price.
  • Numerous choices and add-ons
  • Optional $99 AirTV 2 tuner for local channels.

Don't Like

  • No local channels beyond NBC and Fox in a few cities.
  • Package options can be confusing
  • Limited DVR
  • AirTV channels don't work on browsers or Apple TV.

What makes Sling TV different is that there are essentially two main plans for the same $35 entry price: Sling Orange and Sling Blue. They share many of the same channels (like CNN, History and TNT) but some channels are exclusive to one or the other. Sling TV Blue is essentially the Fox and NBC option, while Sling Orange is the ESPN and Disney package. 

The biggest downside to both is that if you want a full slate of local channels -- namely your local ABC, CBSFox and NBC stations -- you'll have to augment Sling TV with an over-the-air antenna and even something like the $99 AirTV 2 DVR. More expensive alternatives such as Hulu Plus Live TV do offer local channels with no antenna required.

In January this year, Sling TV increased the price on its two main packages from $30 to $35 while also increasing the DVR storage to 50 hours (up from 10). If you're an existing customer, however, Sling TV has guaranteed the $30 price until Aug. 1, 2021, the kind of promise no other competitor has made.

Despite its lack of local channels Sling TV remains my favorite affordable live TV streamer for the money and the Blue plan in particular is a great deal. Even with that slight price bump you can still save money compared to cable, and Sling TV Blue remains the CNET Editors' Choice as the best budget live TV streaming service.

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

What is Sling TV, anyway?

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Sarah Tew/CNET

Sling TV is a subscription service that lets you stream a selection of TV channels live over the internet. The channels are just like the ones offered by cable and satellite TV, but Sling has fewer of them and costs less money every month. You can watch Sling TV on televisions using the Sling TV app on media streamers (like Roku, Amazon Fire TV), smart TV systems LG and Samsung) and game consoles (Xbox Series S and X), as well as to phonestablets and computers, no cable box required. 

Sling TV was the first of its kind, having debuted in 2016, but it now has a bunch of competitors at different prices, including Hulu Plus Live TVYouTube TVAT&T TV NowPhilo and FuboTV. For ease of categorization, I've separated these into budget ($35 and under) and premium (over $50) services. Even with the recent price hike, Sling TV can still be considered a budget service, alongside the T-Mobile/Sprint exclusive TVision Vibe ($10) and the $25 Philo (as of June 8, 2021). 

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Of the two $35 tiers, I believe Sling Blue offers the best deal for most people. It has more channels than Orange and allows up to three people to watch different streams at once, while Sling Orange only allows one stream at a time. You can combine the two Blue and Orange services for $55 a month, but you're only getting five more "top" channels than Blue, though this does include ESPN and ESPN 2. If you're already paying that much, then FuboTV ($65) or YouTube TV ($65) are better options as they offer way more channels (including locals) and improved DVRs.

Sling is also the only live TV service to offer a bunch of add-on channel packages. You can pay $5 or $10 monthly for packages such as Sports Extra, Comedy Extra, Hollywood Extra, The Best of Spanish TV and more. The channels in each vary depending on whether you have Blue or Orange, and some channels (like Animal Planet and Nickelodeon) are missing completely, but between its Extras and multiple base packages, Sling offers more ways to customize your channel lineup than any of its competitors.

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The Sling TV guide.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Check out the chart at the end of this article for all of the top 100 channels Sling's numerous services offer. It's a condensed version of our complete list of the Top 100 channels offered by every service.

Sling stays inexpensive by eschewing most local channels. The Blue package has Fox and/or NBC in a handful of major cities but doesn't include any ABC or CBS stations. The Orange package offers no local channels, period. As any cord-cutter knows, local channels are also available by connecting an HD antenna to the back of your television. Sling TV offers another option, however: the AirTV series of over-the-air streamers. The AirTVs connect to an antenna and your network and streams any local channels you receive into the Sling TV interface, integrating them right into Sling's program guide and other areas. You can also connect an external hard drive to the AirTV to record over-the-air channels. Other OTA DVRs are available too, although no others feed into Sling's interface.

Air TV 2

The $100 AirTV 2 is designed to supplement missing local channels.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Whether you use an AirTV or not, Sling includes a cloud DVR for free that allows you to record almost any streaming channel on the service (the only exceptions are Local Now, ESPN3, ACC Network Extra and SEC Network Plus). It comes with 50 hours of storage but the free version won't let you protect your recorded shows. You have to pay an additional $5 a month for 200 hours of storage and the ability to prevent recordings from becoming automatically erased.

What's Sling TV like to use?

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Sling TV's new interface has a side-mounted menu which lets the larger thumbnails shine.

Ty Pendlebury/CNET

Until now, the user interface has been the worst part of the experience, it simply lacked the sophistication of its rivals. Yet help is on the way with a refresh rolling out to devices over the summer, starting this week with Fire TV. Until then, most people will be using the original interface, and the most I can say is that it works. The menus are clean, particularly on the Apple TV ($180 at Crutchfield) version, but there are a few too many options on the Roku app. Alongside the browser version, the Roku interface is broken up into a lot of different options including MyTV, Guide, Sports, On Demand and Rent. 

The other significant difference with the Apple interface is that it features a large marquee at the top of the MyTV page, which is used to drill down into the current selection. It's fine, but the extra real estate would be better served by simply listing more shows. Below that, on both versions, the content is presented in Netflix-style rows of thumbnails.

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It can be hard to know where to look on the existing Sling TV interface. 

Sarah Tew/CNET

Navigation is zippy, and regardless of which version I found it was easy to find the shows I wanted to watch and record. With the multiple discovery screens, including the main My TV screen, there was plenty of programming available even when I didn't know what I was in the mood for.

Sling has made numerous upgrades to its cloud DVR since launch, such as the bump to 50 hours of recording space. In addition it now allows you to record and live-pause channels you couldn't before, including the Disney and ESPN channels bundled with the Orange packages. Of course, there's also its...

Integration with AirTV 

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Remote streaming local channels from the AirTV 2 on an iPhone.

Screenshot: Ty Pendlebury/CNET

While they're not the most elegant OTA solutions I've seen, the AirTV 2 and higher-end AirTV Anywhere are still solid options for integrating local channels into Sling TV. They will let users tune in to all of the available channels in the area and, in my own tests in New York, I was able to view and record 75-plus different stations. 

While the AirTV Anywhere incorporates four tuners and an integrated 1 terabyte drive, you will need to add a compatible external hard drive to turn the AirTV 2 into a DVR. The company says, "Hard drives must be larger than 50GB, AirTV 2 currently supports recording up to 2TB of storage for DVR." I connected a WD 2TB Elements Portable without issue.

During my initial tests with the AirTV 2 I was unable to pause live TV, and while I am unable to test the device again, I can confirm that the AirTV Anywhere will enable you to freeze the action for up to 60 minutes.

The AirTV recorders have one main limitation that stunt their usefulness, however. The AirTV doesn't work on Apple TV or via a browser -- you won't be able to see any of the OTA channels or watch any of the recordings provided by AirTV. To use the tuner, you'll need to use the Sling TV app on Roku, Amazon Fire TV, Android TV, iOS or Android, or via the AirTV mini or AirTV player.

Also, be aware that the AirTV can't record streaming channels, just local ones, and so you're still limited to either the 50- or 200-hour recording times there.

Setup has also been streamlined and users can now access AirTV devices from within the Sling TV app's settings: It's called Over the Air Channels. There is no longer any need to download a separate app.

Should you subscribe to Sling TV?

While you can save some money with Philo ($25), it's worth spending more on Sling TV Blue. The experience is better overall; it's zippier and it offers more channels. It's not perfect, but as a cable replacement it's quite decent, and it should save you a chunk of change in the long term. Just be sure to have a local channel contingency in place before you start. 

Though the service costs an extra $5 than before, the upgrade to the DVR alone makes the charge seem justified, especially when most rivals cost almost twice as much.

Live TV streaming services compared

Channel Philo ($25) Sling Orange ($35) Sling Blue ($35) FuboTV ($65) YouTube TV ($65)
Total channels: 41 26 38 65 78
ABC No No No Yes Yes
CBS No No No Yes Yes
Fox No No Yes Yes Yes
NBC No No Yes Yes Yes
PBS No No No No Yes
CW No No No Yes Yes
MyNetworkTV No No No No Yes
Channel Philo ($20) Sling Orange ($35) Sling Blue ($35) FuboTV ($65) YouTube TV ($65)
A&E Yes Yes Yes Yes No
ACC Network No $ No $ Yes
AMC Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Animal Planet Yes No No Yes Yes
BBC America Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
BBC World News Yes $ $ $ Yes
BET Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Big Ten Network No No $ Yes Yes
Bloomberg TV Yes Yes Yes No No
Boomerang No $ $ No No
Bravo No No Yes Yes Yes
Channel Philo ($20) Sling Orange ($35) Sling Blue ($35) FuboTV ($65) YouTube TV ($65)
Cartoon Network No Yes Yes No Yes
CBS Sports Network No No No Yes Yes
Cheddar Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Cinemax No No No No $
CMT Yes $ $ Yes Yes
CNBC No No $ Yes Yes
CNN No Yes Yes No Yes
Comedy Central Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Cooking Channel Yes $ $ $ No
Destination America Yes $ $ $ No
Discovery Channel Yes No Yes Yes Yes
Disney Channel No Yes No Yes Yes
Disney Junior No $ No Yes Yes
Disney XD No $ No Yes Yes
DIY Yes $ $ $ No
E! No No Yes Yes Yes
EPIX $ $ $ $ $
ESPN No Yes No Yes Yes
ESPN 2 No Yes No Yes Yes
ESPNEWS No $ No $ Yes
ESPNU No $ No $ Yes
Channel Philo ($20) Sling Orange ($35) Sling Blue ($35) FuboTV ($65) YouTube TV ($65)
Food Network Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Fox Business No No $ Yes Yes
Fox News No No Yes Yes Yes
Fox Sports 1 No No Yes Yes Yes
Fox Sports 2 No No $ Yes Yes
Freeform No Yes No Yes Yes
FX No No Yes Yes Yes
FX Movies No No $ $ Yes
FXX No No $ Yes Yes
FYI Yes $ $ Yes No
Golf Channel No No $ Yes Yes
Hallmark Yes $ $ Yes No
HBO/HBO Max No No No No $
HGTV Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
History Yes Yes Yes Yes No
HLN No $ Yes No Yes
IFC Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Investigation Discovery Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Lifetime Yes Yes Yes Yes No
Lifetime Movie Network Yes $ $ Yes No
Channel Philo ($20) Sling Orange ($35) Sling Blue ($35) FuboTV ($65) YouTube TV ($65)
MLB Network No $ $ $ Yes
Motor Trend Yes Yes No Yes Yes
MSNBC No No Yes Yes Yes
MTV Yes $ $ Yes Yes
MTV2 Yes $ $ $ Yes
National Geographic No No Yes Yes Yes
Nat Geo Wild No No $ $ Yes
NBA TV No $ $ $ Yes
NBC Sports Network No No Yes Yes Yes
Newsy Yes Yes Yes $ Yes
NFL Network No No Yes Yes Yes
NFL Red Zone No No $ $ $
NHL Network No $ $ $ No
Nickelodeon Yes No No Yes Yes
Nick Jr. Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Nicktoons Yes $ $ $ Yes
OWN Yes No No Yes Yes
Oxygen No No $ Yes Yes
Paramount Network Yes $ $ Yes Yes
Channel Philo ($20) Sling Orange ($35) Sling Blue ($35) FuboTV ($65) YouTube TV ($65)
Science Yes $ $ $ No
SEC Network No $ No $ Yes
Showtime No $ $ $ $
Smithsonian No No No Yes Yes
Starz $ $ $ $ $
Sundance TV Yes $ $ Yes Yes
Syfy No No Yes Yes Yes
Tastemade Yes $ $ Yes Yes
TBS No Yes Yes No Yes
TCM No $ $ No Yes
Telemundo No No No Yes Yes
Tennis Channel No $ $ $ No
TLC Yes No Yes Yes Yes
TNT No Yes Yes No Yes
Travel Channel Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
TruTV No $ Yes No Yes
TV Land Yes $ $ Yes Yes
USA Network No No Yes Yes Yes
VH1 Yes $ $ Yes Yes
Vice Yes Yes Yes Yes No
Weather Channel No No No Yes No
WE tv Yes $ $ Yes Yes
Channel Philo ($20) Sling Orange ($35) Sling Blue ($35) FuboTV ($65) YouTube TV ($65)

The chart above compares the top 100 channels on Sling to its two budget rivals as well as YouTube TV. "Yes" means the channel is available on the cheapest pricing tier, "No" means the channel isn't available at all on that service and "$" means the channel is available for an extra fee, either a la carte or as part of a more expensive package or add-on.

8.4

Sling TV

Score Breakdown

Design 7 Features 7 Content 8 Value 10