Live TV streaming services are designed to replace cable TV by letting you stream live channels over the internet. That's great, but this newfangled way of getting TV is in a state of constant flux. Big names like YouTube TV and AT&T are either increasing the prices of their plansremoving or adding large chunks of programming or bowing out altogether. Amid all of the turmoil there's one service that sticks out as a potential oasis for the budget-conscious cord-cutter: Sling TV. But it's also the most convoluted, so let's explain.

8.4

Sling TV

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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 2 has several caveats, including no live TV pause

What makes Sling TV confusing is that there are essentially two main plans for the same $30 price: Sling Orange and Sling Blue. They share many of the same channels (like CNN, History and TNT) but other 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 or something like the $99 AirTV 2 DVR. (Editor's note: CNET, like CBS, is a division of ViacomCBS.) More-expensive alternatives such as Hulu Plus Live TV do offer local channels, no antenna required.

Despite its shortfalls Sling TV remains my favorite affordable live TV streamer for the money. The Blue plan in particular is a great deal, especially with the last-minute addition of NFL Network and optional RedZone, just in time for football season. Sling TV says it will guarantee the $30 price until Aug. 1, 2021, a promise no other competitor makes. Since saving money is the biggest reason to cancel cable, Sling continues to deserve the CNET Editors' Choice award 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 One), 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 Fubo TV. For ease of categorization, I've separated these into budget ($30 and under) and premium ($50 and up) services. Even with last year's price hike, Sling TV is still a budget service, alongside the $15 AT&T Watch TV (which is basically discontinued) and the $20 Philo

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Of the two $30 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 $45 a month, but you're only getting five more channels than Blue, though this does include ESPN and ESPN 2. If you're already paying that much, then Hulu Plus Live TV is a better option for $55 -- it's more fun to use, has way more channels (including locals) and a better DVR.  

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 Fox News) 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 the chart at 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 via over-the-air antenna. 

The cheapest way to watch locals is to just connect an HD antenna to the back of your television. Sling TV offers another option, however: the AirTV 2 over-the-air streamer. The AirTV connects 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 an over-the-air DVR

Sarah Tew/CNET

Whether you use an AirTV 1 or 2 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 only comes with 10 hours of storage, however, which isn't much, and the free version won't let you protect your recorded shows. You have to pay an additional $5 a month for 50 hours of storage and the ability to prevent shows from becoming automatically erased. Sling's cloud DVR works with any Sling device except for Comcast's Infinity X1 platform.

What's Sling TV like to use?

As far as the cable-cutting experience is concerned, Sling TV is pretty good. The menus are clean and uncluttered, particularly on the Apple TV ($179 at Apple) version. There you get a choice of My TV, On Now Guide or Sports. The Sling logo takes up half of the Apple TV screen, and while it's a placeholder for show information, I'd prefer to see more shows at all times. If the screen could slide up when you select a show and down when not needed, that would be better. The Roku interface offers more information at once, including further menu options like On Demand and Rent, but is also more cluttered for it.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

Navigation is zippy, and 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 were plenty of options even when I didn't know what I wanted.

Although Sling has upgraded its cloud DVR recently to allow you to record channels you couldn't before -- namely on the Disney and ESPN channels bundled with the Orange packages-- I found that I still couldn't pause live TV on those channels. On other channels, live TV pause worked fine. 

Integration with AirTV 2

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

Screenshot: Ty Pendlebury/CNET

While it's not the most elegant solution I've seen, the AirTV 2 is still a solid option for integrating local OTA channels into Sling TV. It will let users tune in to all of the available channels in the area, and in my tests in New York  I was able to view and record 76 different channels. 

Of course to record anything you'll need to add a compatible external hard drive, which basically turns the AirTV 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.

The AirTV 2 has a few limitations that stunt its usefulness, however. The first is that the DVR won't let you pause live TV on local channels. Given you can pause (on most) streaming channels using the cloud DVR, this is a little annoying.

The second is that AirTV 2 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 2. To use the tuner you'll need to use the Sling TV app on Roku, Amazon FireTV, 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 10-hour or 50-hour recording times there.

Lastly, setup is also a little confusing -- it doesn't use the AirTV app like the original version of the hardware, but is accessed by an easy-to-miss option in the Settings tab called Over the Air Channels. If this was called AirTV 2 setup or even Over the Air Channels Setup it would have been much more straightforward.

Should you subscribe to Sling TV?

While you can save some money with Philo ($20), it's worth spending more on Sling TV Blue. The experience is better overall, 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. 

The chart below 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.

Live TV streaming services compared

Channel Philo ($20) Sling Orange ($30) Sling Blue ($30) Sling Blue and Orange ($45) Hulu with Live TV ($55) YouTube TV ($65)
Total channels: 39 24 39 43 60 75
ABC No No No No Yes Yes
CBS No No No No Yes Yes
Fox No No Yes Yes Yes Yes
NBC No No Yes Yes Yes Yes
PBS No No No No No Yes
CW No No No No Yes Yes
MyNetworkTV No No No No Yes Yes







A&E Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes No
ACC Network No $ No No Yes Yes
AMC Yes Yes Yes Yes No Yes
Animal Planet Yes No No No Yes Yes
BBC America Yes Yes Yes Yes No Yes
BBC World News Yes $ $ $ No Yes
BET Yes $ Yes Yes No Yes
Big Ten Network No No No No Yes Yes
Bloomberg TV No Yes Yes Yes Yes No
Boomerang No $ $ $ Yes No
Bravo No No Yes Yes Yes Yes
Cartoon Network No Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
CBS Sports Network No No No No Yes Yes
Cheddar Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Cinemax No No No No $ $
CMT Yes $ $ $ No Yes
CNBC No No $ $ Yes Yes
CNN No Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Comedy Central Yes Yes Yes Yes No Yes
Cooking Channel Yes $ $ $ $ No
Destination America Yes $ $ $ $ No
Discovery Channel Yes No Yes Yes Yes Yes
Disney Channel No Yes No Yes Yes Yes
Disney Junior No $ No No Yes Yes
Disney XD No $ No No Yes Yes
DIY Yes $ $ $ $ No
E! No No Yes Yes Yes Yes
EPIX No $ $ $ No $
ESPN No Yes No Yes Yes Yes
ESPN 2 No Yes No Yes Yes Yes
ESPNEWS No $ No No Yes Yes
ESPNU No $ No No Yes Yes
Food Network Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Fox Business No No $ $ Yes Yes
Fox News No No Yes Yes Yes Yes
Fox Sports 1 No No Yes Yes Yes Yes
Fox Sports 2 No No $ $ Yes Yes
Freeform No Yes No Yes Yes Yes
FX No No Yes Yes Yes Yes
FX Movies No No $ $ Yes Yes
FXX No No $ $ Yes Yes
FYI Yes $ $ $ $ No
Golf Channel No No $ $ Yes Yes
Hallmark Yes $ $ $ No No
HBO No No No No $ $
HGTV Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
History Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes No
HLN No $ Yes Yes Yes Yes
IFC Yes Yes Yes Yes No Yes
Investigation Discovery Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Lifetime Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes No
Lifetime Movie Network Yes $ $ $ $ No
MLB Network No $ $ $ No Yes
Motor Trend Yes Yes No Yes Yes Yes
MSNBC No No Yes Yes Yes Yes
MTV Yes $ $ $ No Yes
MTV2 Yes $ $ $ No No
National Geographic No No Yes Yes Yes Yes
Nat Geo Wild No No $ $ Yes Yes
NBA TV No $ $ $ No Yes
NBC Sports Network No No Yes Yes Yes Yes
Newsy No Yes Yes Yes No Yes
NFL Network No No Yes No No No
NFL Red Zone No No $ No No No
NHL Network No $ $ $ No No
Nickelodeon Yes No No No No Yes
Nick Jr. Yes $ Yes Yes No No
Nicktoons Yes $ $ $ No No
OWN Yes No No No No Yes
Oxygen No No $ $ Yes Yes
Paramount Network Yes $ Yes Yes No Yes
Science Yes $ $ $ $ No
SEC Network No $ No $ Yes Yes
Showtime No $ $ $ $ $
Smithsonian No No No No Yes Yes
Starz No $ $ $ $ $
Sundance TV Yes $ $ $ No Yes
Syfy No No Yes Yes Yes Yes
Tastemade Yes $ $ $ No Yes
TBS No Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
TCM No $ $ $ Yes Yes
Telemundo No No No No Yes Yes
Tennis Channel No $ $ $ No Yes
TLC Yes No Yes Yes Yes Yes
TNT No Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Travel Channel Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
TruTV No $ Yes Yes Yes Yes
TV Land Yes $ $ $ No Yes
USA Network No No Yes Yes Yes Yes
VH1 Yes $ $ $ No Yes
Viceland Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes No
Weather Channel No No No No No No
WE tv Yes $ $ $ No Yes
8.4

Sling TV

Score Breakdown

Design 7 Features 7 Content 8 Value 10