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YouTube TV vs. Sling TV: Which Live TV Streaming Service Is Best for You?

YouTube TV and Sling TV are the two best options for cord-cutters who want live TV. Here's how to choose between them.

Ty_Pendlebury.jpg
Ty_Pendlebury.jpg
Ty Pendlebury Editor
Ty Pendlebury is a journalism graduate of RMIT Melbourne, and has worked at CNET since 2006. He lives in New York City where he writes about streaming and home audio.
Expertise Ty has worked for radio, print, and online publications, and has been writing about home entertainment since 2004. He majored in Cinema Studies when studying at RMIT. He is an avid record collector and streaming music enthusiast. Credentials
  • Ty was nominated for Best New Journalist at the Australian IT Journalism awards, but he has only ever won one thing. As a youth, he was awarded a free session for the photography studio at a local supermarket.
Ty Pendlebury
6 min read
$65 at YouTube
01-youtube-tv
9
YouTube TV

Like

  • More channels than any competitor, and includes PBS
  • Excellent on-screen interface and handy search bar
  • Superb cloud DVR

Don't like

  • $20 upgrade doesn't include much 4K content
$35 at Sling
conan-on-sling-2
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

So, you've decided it's time to cut the cable TV cord to save money and hassle, but you don't want to lose live news and sports. Or, you have Netflix Amazon Prime  and Disney Plus and want to bolster your binge-watching sessions with actual live TV channels. We've tested all six of the major live TV-streaming services, and two of them came out on top: Sling TV and YouTube TV. Both are CNET Editors' Choice Award recipients, streaming a wide selection of channels to your Roku, Amazon Fire TV or Apple TV streamer or smart TV enabling you to ditch the cable box. So how do you choose between them?

If money isn't a concern, YouTube TV is the better service, with more channels and an excellent cloud DVR. But it does cost $65 per month. Budget-level Sling TV Blue is the superior value at just $35 per month, but it has roughly half as many channels and a less sophisticated DVR. Which one is right for you?

Read moreBest Free TV Streaming Services: Peacock, Plex, Roku and More    

01-youtube-tv
Sarah Tew/CNET

With an excellent channel selection, easy-to-use interface and best-in-class cloud DVR, YouTube TV is the service to pick if you want a cable TV replacement. Its search functionality is unmatched, as you'd expect coming from Google, especially if you're looking for particular sports. The service may not have every channel you want, and Hulu is now catching up with its Disney bundle, but nonetheless YouTube TV is still the current gold standard of live TV streaming.

Read our YouTube TV review.

conan-on-sling-2
Sarah Tew/CNET

If you want to save a little money, and don't mind missing out on local channels, then Sling TV -- in particular the Sling Blue package -- is the best of the budget services. It's not as comprehensive as YouTube but, with the addition of an antenna or an AirTV 2 DVR, it's an unbeatable value.

Read our Sling TV review.

Read more: Best TV Antenna for Cord-Cutters, Starting at $20

Sling TV and YouTube TV compared


Sling Orange ($35)Sling Blue ($35)Sling Orange & Blue ($50)YouTube TV ($65)

See at SlingSee at SlingSee at SlingSee at YouTube TV
Number of popular channels (out of 100) 25364179
Locals included NoNBC and Fox in select citiesNBC and Fox in select citiesABC, CBS, NBC, Fox and PBS in most markets
Simultaneous streams 13up to 43 ($20 for unlimited)
Cloud DVR included 50 hours ($5 for 200 hours) 50 hours ($5 for 200 hours) 50 hours ($5 for 200 hours)Yes (unlimited)

Cost: Sling is cheaper and has more options

Sling TV:Sling offers three different tiers of plans: Blue ($35), Orange ($35) and Orange & Blue ($50) with a mix of channels available. Signing up for the basic Sling TV is cheap, but the costs can 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 or Kids, which include extra channels such as TV Land, NBA TV and Disney Junior, respectively.

Sling TV is known for its promotions, and it is currently offering discounts on its service for the first month: Blue, Orange or the combo Orange & Blue are all half-price.

streamingtvservices
Watch this: Live TV streaming services for cord cutters: How to choose the best one for you

YouTube TV: YouTube TV costs $65 and doesn't offer any add-on channel packages, although it does have a handful of single-channel add-ons including Showtime and Epix. This one-price approach mitigates the paralysis of choice a little bit. However, YouTube also offers the $20 4K Plus upgrade, which gives power users unlimited streams and access to a limited selection of 4K content, but it's not the best value.

laptop open on a desk

YouTube TV's desktop interface.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Channels: YouTube wins hands-down

YouTube TV offers over twice the number of channels of Sling Blue, in addition to the major local channels (including PBS) in most areas.

Sling TV offers few to no local channels, depending on your package and where you live. Sling Blue offers Fox and NBC in a handful of major markets but the Orange package has none. Why get Orange at all? If you want sports, and especially ESPN. Yet, if you want a few more channels (and live in the right place for the local channels) then Blue might be more enticing. 

Sling's $50 Orange & Blue package combines the two packages, but as it only adds five more channels out of the 100 most popular (including ESPN and Disney) it also represents fairly poor value. Get YouTube TV instead.

You can check see how the YouTube TV and Sling differ in their channel lineups in this handy chart, or just scroll to the end of this article, but here's a quick summary of the main missing channels:

  • Major channels missing from Sling Orange: ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC, PBS, Bravo, Animal Planet, Fox News, FS1, FX, MSNBC, Nickelodeon, USA Network
  • Major channels missing from Sling Blue: ABC, CBS, PBS, Animal Planet, Disney Channel, ESPN, Fox News, Nickelodeon
  • Major channels missing from YouTube TV: A&E, History, Lifetime
Sling TV interface showing channels

The Sling TV EPG on Apple TV.

Ty Pendlebury/CNET

Usability: Pretty much a tie

The menus and interfaces on both are relatively utilitarian, especially in the Roku versions. If you have Apple TV things are a little better -- for example, the Sling interface now offers thumbnails, which is a helpful addition.  

YouTube TV: In general the YouTube TV interface is easier to navigate, and not just to people used to regular YouTube. If you're using the desktop or app versions, Google's streamer offers a more streamlined structure that's also nicer on the eye. 

Sling TV:Sling TV was the worst-looking live TV streamer for the longest time, and we kind of forgave it that because it was so cheap. However, a recent upgrade has meant it's both easier to use and easier on the eye. Sling has shaved down the number of button presses needed to watch a live show from the guide -- from three down to one -- which puts it on a par with YouTube TV. 

Interface with large images of shows to watch and tags below

The YouTube TV interface on Roku.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The difference in number of simultaneous streams is worth noting, especially for families and other households who watch a lot of TV. YouTube TV lets you stream to three different devices -- say a 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. Trading up to Sling TV's Orange & Blue package delivers up to four 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.

YouTube TV's biggest usability advantage is its excellent cloud DVR: It's included in the cost, offers unlimited storage and works great, much like the hardware DVR inside your cable box. Sling TV also offers a cloud DVR and it has 50 hours of storage; upping that to 200 hours (and adding the ability to "protect" recordings from erasure) costs an extra $5 per month. 

Read more:Best Streaming Device for 2022

Which service is best for you?

If you want to save the most money, Sling TV offers a compelling mix of cable-only programming, and recent changes to the interface mean it's also fun to use. Sure, you lose access to locals but an antenna can fix that very cheaply, and you're still paying a lot less than for many cable TV packages. On the other hand, the $65 YouTube TV is inching closer to cable bundle territory, with the bonus being that it comes without any contracts. It's worth contemplating YouTube TV for the extra $30 a month if you want the greater channel selection, the inclusion of local channels and a great DVR. 

Channel comparison

Below you'll find a chart that's a smaller version of this massive channel comparison. It contains the top 100 channels from each service. Some notes:

  • Yes = The channel is available on the cheapest pricing tier. That price is listed next to the service's name.
  • No = The channel isn't available at all on that service. 
  • $ = The channel is available for an extra fee, either a la carte or as part of a more expensive package or add-on.
  • Not every channel a service carries is listed, just the "top 100" as determined by CNET's editors. Minor channels like AXS TV, CNBC World, Discovery Life, GSN, POP and Universal Kids didn't make the cut.
  • Regional sports networks -- channels devoted to showing regular-season games of particular pro baseball, basketball and hockey teams -- are not listed. In general YouTube TV has more RSNs but it varies widely by area. To find out if your local RSN is available you can search YouTube TV by ZIP code here and search Sling TV by team or ZIP code here.

YouTube TV vs Sling Top 100 Channels

ChannelSling Orange ($35)Sling Blue ($35)Sling Orange & Blue ($35)YouTube TV ($65)
Total channels: 25364179
ABC NoNoNoYes
CBS NoNoNoYes
Fox NoYesYesYes
NBC NoYesYesYes
PBS NoNoNoYes
CW NoNoNoYes
MyNetworkTV NoNoNoYes
Channel Sling Orange ($35)Sling Blue ($35)Sling Blue ($35)YouTube TV ($65)
A&E YesYesYesNo
ACC Network $NoNoYes
Accuweather NoNoNoNo
AMC YesYesYesYes
Animal Planet NoNoNoYes
BBC America YesYesYesYes
BBC World News $$$Yes
BET YesYesYesYes
Big Ten Network No$$Yes
Bloomberg TV YesYesYesNo
Boomerang $$$No
Bravo NoYesYesYes
Channel Sling Orange ($35)Sling Blue ($35)Sling Blue ($35)YouTube TV ($65)
Cartoon Network YesYesYesYes
CBS Sports Network NoNoNoYes
Cheddar YesYesYesYes
Cinemax NoNoNo$
CMT $$$Yes
CNBC No$$Yes
CNN YesYesYesYes
Comedy Central YesYesYesYes
Cooking Channel $$$No
Destination America $$$No
Discovery Channel NoYesYesYes
Disney Channel YesNoYesYes
Disney Junior $No$Yes
Disney XD $No$Yes
E! NoYesYesYes
EPIX $$$$
ESPN YesNoYesYes
ESPN 2 YesNoYesYes
ESPNEWS $No$Yes
ESPNU $No$Yes
Channel Sling Orange ($35)Sling Blue ($35)Sling Blue ($35)YouTube TV ($65)
Food Network YesYesYesYes
Fox Business No$$Yes
Fox News NoYesYesYes
FS1 NoYesYesYes
FS2 No$$Yes
Freeform YesNoYesYes
FX NoYesYesYes
FX Movies No$$Yes
FXX No$$Yes
FYI $$$No
Golf Channel No$$Yes
Hallmark $$$Yes
HBO/HBO Max NoNoNo$
HGTV YesYesYesYes
History YesYesYesNo
HLN $YesYesYes
IFC YesYesYesYes
Investigation Discovery YesYesYesYes
Lifetime YesYesYesNo
Lifetime Movie Network $$$No
Channel Sling Orange ($35)Sling Blue ($35)Sling Blue ($35)YouTube TV ($65)
Magnolia Network $$$No
MLB Network $$$Yes
Motor Trend YesNoYesYes
MSNBC NoYesYesYes
MTV $$$Yes
MTV2 $$$Yes
National Geographic NoYesYesYes
Nat Geo Wild No$$Yes
NBA TV $$$Yes
NFL Network NoYesYesYes
NFL Red Zone No$$$
NHL Network $$$No
Nickelodeon NoNoNoYes
Nick Jr. YesYesYesYes
Nicktoons $$$Yes
Olympic Channel No$$Yes
OWN NoNoNoYes
Oxygen No$$Yes
Paramount Network $$$Yes
Science $$$No
Channel Sling Orange ($35)Sling Blue ($35)Sling Blue ($35)YouTube TV ($65)
SEC Network $No$Yes
Showtime $$$$
Smithsonian NoNoNoYes
Starz $$$$
Sundance TV $$$Yes
Syfy NoYesYesYes
Tastemade $$$Yes
TBS YesYesYesYes
TCM $$$Yes
TeenNick $$$Yes
Telemundo NoNoNoYes
Tennis Channel $$$No
TLC NoYesYesYes
TNT YesYesYesYes
Travel Channel YesYesYesYes
TruTV $YesYesYes
TV Land $$$Yes
USA Network NoYesYesYes
VH1 $$$Yes
Vice YesYesYesNo
WE tv $$$Yes
Channel Sling Orange ($35)Sling Blue ($35)Sling Blue ($35)YouTube TV ($65)