If you’ve ever toyed around with the idea of moving to a online streaming cable replacement, you’ve undoubtedly heard of Sling TV. But it can be kind of confusing to figure out if Sling is a good fit for your lifestyle. Fear not, would-be cord-cutter—we’ve got you covered. Here’s everything you want to know about Sling TV.
What Is Sling TV?
In short, Sling TV is a streaming service that’s designed to take the place of your existing cable subscription. It has live TV and channels, just like cable, but it’s streamed over the internet instead of through a separate hard connection. Of course, this generally means you’ll need some sort of internet-connected box connected to your TV—Apple TV, Android TV, Roku, Fire TV, Chromecast, and Xbox One all have Sling apps. There are also apps for mobile platforms, like Android and iOS, as well as Windows. Basically, most of your bases should be covered here.
Unlike cable, though, Sling packages its channels a little differently. You start with two core packages as your foundation:
- Sling Orange: 30+ channels, one stream at a time, $20 a month
- Sling Blue: 40+ channels, multiple streams at a time, $25 a month
- Sling Orange+Blue: Both packages combined into one, $40 a month
From there, you can add additional packages depending on the channels that interest you:
- Sports Extra: 15 Sports channels, $5 a month
- Kids Extra: 9 channels, $5 a month
- Comedy Plus Extra: 8 channels, $5 a month
- Lifestyle Plus Extra: 12 chabbels, $5 a month
- Hollywood Extra: 7 channels, $5 a month
- New Extra: 10 channels, $5 a month
- Broadcast Extra: 3 channels, $5 a month
- World Cricket Extra: 2 channels, $5 a month
You can see which channels those packages contain when you sign up:
There are also premium packages for:
- HBO: 1 channel, $15 a month
- Cinemax: 1 channel, $10 a month
- Starz: 6 channels, $9 a month
Further, Sling offers a slew of Spanish, Hindi, Chinese, Arabic, Brazilian, World Music, Italiano, and Urdo-India channel lineups, many of which are $5 a month:
- Best of Spanish TV Extra: 27 channels, $5 a month
- Caribe Extra: 7 channels, $5 a month
- Sudamerica Extra: 6 channels, $5 a month
- Espana Extra: 4 channels, $5 a month
- Hindi Extra: 9 channels, $5 a month
- Chinese Extra: 13 channels, $5 a month
- Shahid Arabic Extra: 1 channel, $10 a month
- TV Globo Brazilian Extra: 1 channel, $15 a month
- World Music Extra: 15 channels, $5 a month
- Italiano Extra: 3 channels, $10 a month
- Urdu-India Extra: 8 channels, $10 a month
I’m a big fan of the à la carte packaging—you just choose your core plan (Orange, Blue, or both), then tack on anything extra you may want. If you decided to go all in for everything Sling has to offer, you’d be paying $194 a month. Also, that’d make you one culturally diverse individual.
But that’s the nice part: you don’t have to go all in. Don’t like sports? Don’t get the sports package! Don’t have kids? No need for Disney, Nicktoons, or the like. You can pick what you want and what works for you and your family.
Lastly, Sling includes a movie rental service, which features both new and older movies available to watch instantly any time. We’ll talk about this more in a moment.
How Sling Works
When it comes to actually using the service, the look and feel of Sling very much mimics that of a traditional cable interface—you still have your channel guide, info about programs, and options to only see specific types of content (like Sports) or search. Still, it also offers a very modern feel that’s also touch-friendly. Somehow, Sling has built an interface that works well with remote controls as well as fingers, has all the modern features you’d want for traditional live TV. It makes transitioning from traditional cable a breeze.
The interface is broken down the same across most devices, so here’s a quick rundown of what to expect if you make the switch.
The left-hand pane is the primary navigation, which is where you’ll find My TV (the main screen), On Now, Guide, Sports, Movies, and Settings. There’s also a search box in the upper right corner, so you can easily look for what you want to watch.
The “On Now” section breaks things down by categories—Sports, Kids, Lifestyle, Action/Adventure, Comedy, Drama, and New—with an “Everything on Now” section at the very bottom. Basically, instead of having to dig through the guide to find something worth watching, you can just go here and see what’s currently playing. Nice.
The Guide looks different than that of a traditional cable layout—it has all the channels listed along the top, then shows what’s playing on the selected channel down below. While still intuitive, I personally prefer the grid-style layout of a traditional guide, but this works well enough.
Much like the “On Now” section, the Sports tab breaks things down vertically—Game, Sports Shows, Football, Basketball, Soccer, Tennis, Cricket, Auto and Racing, Mixed Martial Arts, and Cycling were all available at the time of writing, but I’m absolutely certain that this list will change according to season.
Unlike the other sections that show what’s currently on, Movies offers a look at what’s available for rent, again broken down into several categories: Free Movies, New Releases, Featured, Collections, Action and Adventure, Comedy, Documentary, Horror, Kids and Family, Sci-Fi and Fantasy, Thriller, Classics, and Romance. Like most streaming rental services, pricing will vary according to popularity and release date.
Where Sling Falls Short
Update: Sling’s DVR service is rolled out everywhere, and it works just as you’d expect. It costs $5 per month as an add-on service.
Compared to traditional cable or satellite setups, there are a few things worth noting about Sling. The biggest issue for many is its lack of a DVR-type service (at least for the time being)—if you’re used to recording shows or movies and watching them later, you’ll likely have a bad time with Sling. That said, Sling is currently testing a DVR service that should be entering beta later this year, so hopefully that is on the horizon for everyone.
As a direct result in the lack of a DVR feature, you can’t pause Sling on most channels. Some still offer this feature—which includes rewind and fast forward, as well—but many do not. Hopefully that will also chance once Sling’s DVR service is introduced.
There is somewhat of a silver lining here, however: many channels offer any show that has aired in the last three days to be rewatched at your leisure. You still can’t skip or fast-forward commercials like on a DVR, but at least you won’t have to miss your show (nor will you have to worry about remembering to DVR it). On top of that, almost every channel offers some shows that you can watch instantly, like on Netflix or Hulu.
Other than the aforementioned lack of DVR, you’ll probably find that Sling offers far fewer channels than you’re used to with your current cable company. Popular channels like AMC, A&E, ESPN, and Disney are all available (depending on the package you pick), but there are many others you won’t find on the list. The best thing you can do is spend the necessary time mulling over the list of available channels—make a list of must-haves for yourself and your family, and see how it compares. I get 95% (give or take) of the channels that are important to me, so it’s worth the trade-off.
The trade-off here is, of course, price. Since Sling pricing starts as low as $20 a month for its base package, it can be more affordable than what you’re used to…unless you want channels from a bunch of different packages.
Can Sling Replace Your Existing TV Service?
Ah, now that’s the question, isn’t it? Unfortunately, it isn’t one I can’t answer for you, because it really depends on what you like to watch and how important certain features—like DVR—are to you.
Looking at channels, the best thing I can tell you to do is something I’m sure you already know: compare it to what you have now. Missing anything? If so, how important are those channels to you? That’s what you’re going to have to think about.
Looking to the horizon, we know DVR service is on the way—it’s already in testing. Within the next few months, it will hopefully be available to everyone. So really, even if Sling won’t work for you right now, it may in the future—just keep it in mind.
Of course, it’s also worth mentioning that Sling isn’t the be-all-end-all when it comes to streaming TV. There are other services out there—PlayStation Vue, DirecTV Now, and Hulu are all in on the streaming thing, and they each have pros and cons compared to both Sling and your traditional cable service. We’ll be taking a closer look at each of those in the coming weeks, which should help you make a more informed decision.