Everyone in the tech industry wants your eyeballs.
More specifically, a growing number of tech companies are trying to attract the millions of “cord-cutters” who have ditched cable for services that stream live TV channels over the internet.
Hulu’s flashy new live-TV service is the latest to join the fray, while YouTube is just coming off the launch of its YouTube TV platform. Sony, Dish Network, and AT&T, meanwhile, have been fighting it out for months now.
But since this is the TV industry in America, figuring out what’s what is complicated. So to help you see which, if any, make sense for you, we’ve broken down the biggest live-TV streaming services you can choose from today: PlayStation Vue, Sling TV, DirecTV Now, YouTube TV, and Hulu with Live TV, as well as a smaller offering called Fubo TV that’s expanded in recent months.
Let’s dig into the fine print:
1. How much does it cost?
$20 a month for the base Sling Orange package, or $25 a month for a Sling Blue package with more channels.
For $40 a month, you can buy the Orange and Blue packages together, but the two do not totally overlap in terms of channel selection. (Hold that thought.)
From there, you can tack on a bunch of smaller specialized bundles of channels for between $5 and $15 a month per bundle. There are way too many to list here, so you should have a look at Sling’s service page.
2. How many channels does it have?
Sling Orange has about 30 channels. Sling Blue has about 45 channels depending on where you live, but its lineup doesn’t include everything in Sling Orange.
The add-on bundles can incorporate a few dozen more channels, but those vary wildly in terms of popularity. The likes of MTV, Starz, and Showtime are very much popular; other networks, like the Outdoor Channel, are more niche.
3. Which major channels are not included?
CBS is absent. ABC is there, but only for some markets, and only with a Sling Orange subscription; it also costs an extra $5 a month. For the kids, the main Nickelodeon channel isn’t available, either.
Also, while Sling does carry Fox and NBC channels, they’re only included in the Sling Blue package. And there’s a good chance those local channels won’t even be available if you don’t live in one of a few major markets. Check your coverage before you buy.
Sling TV (cont’d)
4. Does it include ESPN?
Yes, but like every other Disney-owned channel, it’s only in Sling Orange. There, you get ESPN, ESPN 2, and ESPN 3 by default. This is the main thing that keeps the Orange and Blue packages from overlapping.
5. What about local sports and non-ESPN sports networks?
This is a little convoluted.
Sling Blue doesn’t have ESPN, but it does include Fox and Comcast/NBC regional sports channels. Again, those vary by region; you can use the tool on Dish’s FAQ page to check what’s covered in your area.
As for other national sports channels, only Sling Blue includes Fox Sports 1, NFL Network, and NBC Sports Network. With Sling Blue, you can add a Sports Extra package that includes the NFL’s RedZone channel, NBA TV, NHL Network, and others for $10 a month.
If you have Sling Orange, though, that Sports Extra package costs $5 a month, doesn’t include NFL RedZone, and throws in a few more deep-in-the-weeds sports channels. Again, that’s in addition to the main ESPN networks, which Sling Blue does not have.
You can probably see why these services aren’t quite revolutionary now.
6. What about HBO?
HBO is available as an add-on to one of the core bundles. It costs $15 a month, the same as the standalone HBO Now streaming service.
Sling TV (cont’d)
7. Which devices does it support?
You can check Sling’s support page for the full list, but the only big no-show is Sony’s PlayStation 4.
Otherwise, Roku, Apple TV (4th-gen), Amazon Fire TV, Chromecast, iOS, Android, Android TV, Windows, macOS, Xbox One, and others are all supported.
8. Does it have DVR so I can record shows I missed?
Yes, but it doesn’t come included with a basic subscription. Instead, you have to pay an extra $5 a month for up to 50 hours of DVR storage.
Beyond that, a decent chunk of channels — namely Disney’s and ESPN’s networks — cannot be recorded for the time being. (Here’s a full list.) And while Fox networks can be recorded, you’ll automatically be reverted to the on-demand version of those shows if they’re available. That means you’ll have watch ads.
Sling has done well to roll out DVR support to more devices over the past few months, but Apple’s macOS is still out of luck. There’s no limit on how long you can keep a recording, though, and Sling now lets you “protect” specific recordings in case you run out of space.
9. Can I pause and rewind live TV?
Technically, yes. But several channels — including ESPN, CNN, TBS, Cartoon Network, and AMC — do not support the feature and can only be watched live.
These channels also typically lack support for Sling’s “Replay” feature, in which certain recently-aired programs are available to stream for a limited time after they first air.
10. How many people can use it at once?
With Sling Orange, you can only have one active stream going at a time. With Sling Blue, that’s bumped up to three concurrent streams. With the $40-a-month Orange + Blue combo package, it becomes four.