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Sling TV review: In praise of the bite-sized bundle

Steady improvements have turned Sling TV into a great budget streaming bundle—with a few lingering frustrations.

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At a Glance

Sling TV is a much stronger streaming service than it was when it launched a couple years ago. The interface is dramatically better, the channel lineup is broader, and it now offers optional DVR service.

The best thing about Sling TV is its $30-per-month starting price, which is much lower than comparable streaming channel bundles, and its array of add-on channel packs that make the service more customizable. Although Sling’s approach isn’t always cheaper than other services—and its claims of “a la carte TV” are bogus—it does feel less like an imitation of cable bundling, and more like a reboot.

Dish Network, which operates Sling TV, still has more work to do. The interface could use more cleanup, and video quality is squarely behind some other streaming bundles. But with most of its previous downsides out of the picture, Sling TV is easy to recommend as a cheap cable alternative.

Updated March 25, 2020 to reflect currently pricing. If you’d like to read our original opinion of Sling TV, you’ll find that review preserved for the record here.

Channel lineup: Build your own, not a la carte

Sling TV offers two base packages: The Sling Orange and Sling Blue plans start at $30 per month each, or you can subscribe to both for $45 per month. Compare that to the starting prices of $50 per month for YouTube TV, $55 per month for Hulu with Live TV and FuboTV; and $65 per month for AT&T TV Now.

The main tradeoff here is that Sling only covers local Fox and NBC channels in a small number of markets, and it doesn't include local ABC, CBS, or PBS stations at all. That means you'll need an antenna to get those channels—possibly paired with an AirTV tuner for DVR and TV guide integration. Sling has also been missing regional Fox Sports networks since last summer.

sling tv main menu Sling TV

Sling TV's main menu.

That doesn’t mean Sling is always the cheapest option. Although Sling’s two packages have lots of channel overlap, they also have some key differences. ESPN and other Disney-owned channels are only available with Sling Orange, for instance, and regional Fox Sports channels are only available with Sling Blue. 

Once you have a base plan, Sling TV offers an array of add-on packs, most of which cost $5 per month. You can also bundle Sling's Comedy, Kids, News, and Lifestyle add-ons for $12 per month, or get all of Sling's add-ons—along with 50 hours of DVR storage—for $20 per month. While these options are nice to have, the costs can quickly escalate beyond that of other bundles if you need a lot of channels.

Features: What you get

Aside from those broadcast networks, all Sling TV channels include a live feed that mirrors the regular cable channel. Some channels also include a selection of on-demand video, and some support a “Replay” feature that lets you pause, rewind, and watch a program that’s aired over the past several days. You can also log into more than a dozen TV Everywhere apps to watch live and on-demand video.

espn on sling tv Sling TV

ESPN remains the only Sling channel to support 60-frames-per-second video.

Sling also includes 10 hours of cloud DVR storage with all packages, but to really make sure you don’t miss anything, you’ll need to fork over an extra $5 per month for cloud DVR service. This allows you to save up to 50 hours of video for viewing across any Sling device, with no scheduling restrictions.

The DVR works largely as you’d expect, letting you schedule individual show recordings and entire series. While you can’t set up manual recordings based on time, you can start recording from the middle of a program, and watch partial recordings before the program is over.

As for app support, Sling TV runs on an impressive number of devices including Amazon Fire TV, Android TV, Chromecast, Roku, Xbox One, Apple TV, iOS, Android, PC, Mac, LG WebOS 3.0 TVs, and Channel Master DVRs. The only notable omission is Sony’s PlayStation 4.

Old meets new

When I last reviewed Sling TV in early 2016, I had a few major complaints about the interface: The horizontal guide made channel-surfing a chore, navigating on-demand video required too many steps, and there was no reliable way to keep track of favorite shows and channels.

sling tv channel guide Sling TV

Sling TV still needs to rethink its primary user interface.

Sling has since addressed most of those issues. The home screen now includes shortcuts to favorite shows, DVR recordings, unfinished programs, and favorite channels. And with a recent update on Roku, Android, and Amazon Fire TV, the app now includes a grid-based channel guide for live TV. (The grid guide will arrive on other devices in the future.)

Still, Sling’s interface is a few tweaks shy of greatness. For any given program, you must sift through separate menus for DVR and on-demand show,, and when you select a live show from Sling’s On Now menu, there’s no way to see if any on-demand episodes are available. Also, the list of favorite channels in Sling’s main menu doesn’t actually tell you what’s airing on each one, forcing you to sift through the channel guide instead.

Assuming Sling can streamline its menus, the next logical step would be to add support for multiple profiles. This is already available in other bundles such as Hulu with Live TV and PlayStation Vue, and will become increasingly necessary for Sling as it puts greater emphasis on personalization.

Video woes

The biggest remaining downside for Sling TV is the quality of its video playback, especially for sports channels. Five years after launch, some sports channels and nearly all non-sports channels don't support 60-frames-per-second video, which means you won’t get smooth motion for sports, news, and talk programs. If you care about frame rate, PlayStation Vue and DirecTV Now are your best options. (On the upside, Sling TV does give you the ability to reduce video quality, which could help avoid overage fees in homes with broadband data caps.)

Despite those issues, Sling TV is still the budget streaming bundle for those who can’t let go of cable channels. If Sling can just deliver a smoother, more reliable picture—and make a few more nips and tucks to its interface—it could become the best bundle, period.

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At a Glance
  • Steady improvements have turned Sling TV into a great budget streaming bundle—with a few lingering frustrations.

    Pros

    • Lower entry price than any other streaming bundle
    • Simple menu system with easy access to favorites
    • DVR supports ad-skipping, partial recordings, and time-shifting

    Cons

    • Price can quickly escalate to get certain channels
    • Most channels top out at 30 frames per second
    • Only supports one user profile
  
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