Sling TV is one of the lowest-cost live TV streaming services we tested at just $40–$55 per month. Unfortunately, we found it hard to share its small channel lineup with the whole family. But if you’re looking for a live TV service just for you, Sling TV could be your match.
Spectrum TV is good if you’re bundling and on a budget, and we love the $500 contract buyouts. Better yet, Spectrum doesn’t force you into a contract, so you can give the cable TV service a try with relatively little risk. We don’t love the low channel count, and it’s a bummer that you can get 4K programming only if you also have home internet (and upgrade your DVR to an Apple TV box).
Sling delivers a solid value. Its cost per channel is high (around $1–$1.33 per channel), but it also comes with a ton of on-demand content and the ability to record live shows and skip the commercials when you watch them later. You get only 50 hours of DVR cloud storage, but you can quadruple that for just a few bucks extra.
Sling also provides a good mix of channels, including a few sports, kids, lifestyle, and comedy channels. If you want more of any genre, you can grab a package or two to customize your content. Most add around $6 to your bill, or you can grab a bundle if you find one you like.
The Sports Extra add-on is pricier at $11–15 per month. The pricing and channels you get vary depending on whether you're adding the sports pack to Sling Orange, Sling Blue, or Sling Orange + Sling Blue (unnecessarily complicated, in our opinion). But with Sports Extra on Sling Orange + Sling Blue, you get an extensive list of channels (20 more), including the NFL Red Zone, MLB, NBA, and Olympic networks—some of which you can purchase separately for more than the cost of this whole package. You can also add over 40 premium packages, and many are priced lower than we’ve seen elsewhere.
Unlike other streaming services, Sling TV has a free version. This is no time-limited free trial that you forget to cancel until you see your credit card bill two months later. This is genuinely, indefinitely free—no credit card required. You can’t record shows with it, but it’s a great way to dip your toe into the cable-cutting waters at no cost.
Spectrum TV is a good choice for basic TV viewing on a budget, especially if you bundle with home internet. You get more than 125 channels with TV SELECT and more than 140 channels on MI PLAN LATINO, but those are your only package options. It’s a decent channel-per-dollar ratio, and Spectrum says all its channels are broadcast in HD. These basic packages include your local networks plus a range of options for news, entertainment, and sports. You’ll need add-ons for international programming, premium sports, and premium education and entertainment.
We love that Spectrum TV doesn’t require contracts and even pays to buy you out of another contract, and we like its upfront pricing structure. Compared to other live TV options, it’s easier to pay only for what you actually watch. However, add-ons get pricey in a hurry and you’ll pay even more for your cable boxes and DVRs. Plus, there’s virtually no way out of a local broadcast fee, which tops out at more than $22 per month. Worst of all, that low base price will increase in the range of $20–$30 per month after your first 12 months. Competing services have much bigger second-year price jumps (we’re looking at you, DIRECTV and Astound TV), but we still wish Spectrum would end the practice.
Sling TV offers a solid channel lineup, but it doesn’t include any local channels. You can add these with an HD antenna or an AirTV device, but that means you can’t watch them on the go. And if you’re looking for 4K content, you won’t find it here. Live content streams in 720p and on-demand content is 1080p.
Which channels you get depends on which plan you choose (and here’s where it gets a little confusing). Sling has three plans: Orange, Blue, and an Orange + Blue combo. The Orange and Blue plans each have a few channels in the same genre the other doesn’t, so be prepared to make some hard choices unless you spring for the combo plan. If you’re a sports fan, you’ll have to choose between ESPN (Orange) or FOX Sports, NFL Network, and NBC (Blue). If you have kids, you’ll have to choose between Disney Channel (Orange) or the Discovery Channel (Blue). Channels like BBC America, Nick Jr., Cartoon Network, AMC, and CNN are included in both plans.
Oddly, the free version of Sling gives you way more channels: 150+. But many of the free Sling TV channels are super specific (there’s a channel that plays The Carol Burnette Show 24/7) or on-demand channels, which is cheating. But there are some gems, like Outside TV+, Bon Appetit, and CMT. The downside is you don’t get DVR capabilities, and you’ll end up watching more commercials.
Spectrum TV is pretty bare-bones when it comes to features. It uses HD receivers from a handful of companies, but none are very impressive and there’s no way to control which one you receive. The no-frills remote has controls for channels, a TV guide, and your DVR (if you pay extra for the service). It’s functional, but not nearly as good as the DVR setups you’ll get with satellite TV providers. We don’t love that you have to pay around $10 extra each month for DVR and even more for cloud DVR. Additionally, the HD receivers can handle only 1080p. You can get around that by using the included streaming service in 4K on a different device, but that feels like unnecessary hassle.
Rather than create its own high-tech DVR, Spectrum offers a payment plan for a 4K Apple TV that’s preloaded with the Spectrum TV app. You can also use your own Apple TV or buy theirs up front, but the Apple TV option requires internet access. It’s the best way to access 4K programming with Spectrum, but it ends up being a little more expensive than the competition’s top-of-the-line DVRs.
If you end service before you pay your Apple TV off, you’ll be charged the complete price for the device. It’s not a bad deal if you’re already in the Apple ecosystem and have multiple streaming services in addition to cable TV, but it’s not a huge value add for a lot of users.
All Sling plans include 50 hours of cloud DVR storage, which isn’t much, especially if you want to share your plan with family or roommates. Adding DVR Plus for $5 will get you 200 hours and—we’re willing to bet—fewer fights over deleted shows. And you’ll get the ability to lock your favorite episodes so they aren’t automatically deleted to make room for new recordings if you go over the limit.
Unlike most of the other live TV streaming services we’ve tried, you can’t make separate profiles for different users to watch, record, and save their favorite shows. That’s a bummer because figuring out how to stream multiple live shows at once is confusing. Sling TV decides how many streams you can have based on the channel you’re watching: Orange channels have just one stream and Blue channels have up to three.
If you have the Orange + Blue combo plan, you’ll see both Orange and Blue versions of some channels in your Guide, since these lineups have some overlap. One person can watch the Orange version of TNT, for example, but three people can watch the Blue version. If too many people start watching the same channel, someone will be kicked off about a minute later—but the offending viewer will never know they just ruined someone’s day because Sling doesn’t tell them.
Add it all up, and sharing a single Sling TV subscription with members of your household could cause more arguments than it's worth.
Spectrum’s equipment isn’t the best. You can’t choose which set-top receiver you get, and you have to pay extra to rent a DVR and even more for cloud storage. You can buy an Apple TV 4K from Spectrum, either in monthly installments or as a lump sum, but will pay extra for DVR services, which are available only over the cloud.
Installation isn’t top of the line, either. Spectrum doesn’t list its installation fees publicly, but many customers report a $50 charge for professional installation. We’ve also heard of a charge for self-installation. That price isn’t too high, but we don’t like the idea of paying for an installation when you do the work yourself. Waiting for a free installation promotion or calling to order over the phone is the best way to wriggle out of these fees.
The browser and app interfaces were generally easy to use, and Sling is compatible on a ton of devices. Sling says you can run it on just a 5 Mbps internet connection but recommends at least 25 Mbps. When we tested it, Sling was laggy on a cell signal connection, but that’s not uncommon. And when it comes to watching shows on the go, there are a few areas where Sling can improve.
With on-demand content, we sometimes had trouble picking shows back up if we’d started them and had to step away. Finding the “Continue watching” section on the home tab was hard because it kept moving. And when we switched back and forth between devices (like between the app on an Android phone and the Safari browser on a Mac laptop), Sling didn’t always remember where we were in a movie. Sometimes, this kind of switch stumped Sling completely, resulting in an error and Sling forgetting that we’d ever watched the show. That meant having to find our place again—and having to sit through commercial blocks we’d already watched.
The DVR is a decent experience. It’s easy to record shows as you find them in the Guide, but starting a recording mid-show won’t record what you’ve missed. And you can’t use your phone to start recording a show that’s already started. The record button just isn’t there. Shows you’ve already recorded pop up behind the DVR tab, along with how much storage you’ve used and your scheduled recordings. If you delete something you didn’t mean to (or Sling deleted a show to make room for new recordings), it’ll stay in the Trash section for 48 hours in case you want to reinstate it. We found that handy, especially if you don’t want to spring for extra DVR storage.
Sports are one of the main reasons to pay for live TV, and you can catch a lot of games in HD with Spectrum TV. Channels like ESPN and ESPN2 come included with the standard packages, and you can pay an extra $6 each month for a sports package that includes NFL RedZone, MLB Strike Zone, and Golf Channel. For around $100, you can add MLS DIRECT KICK or MLB EXTRA INNINGS.
There’s no way to watch every NFL game under the sun like you can with DIRECTV, but we like that Spectrum rolls its regional sports fee into its broadcast fee. Compared to Xfinity, you’ll pay about $10 less in broadcast and sports fees every month.
For movies and entertainment, Spectrum’s add-on prices are on par with the competition. You can choose HBO Max, SHOWTIME, STARZ, CINEMAX, THE MOVIE CHANNEL, or Epix, and everything’s in HD. There are fewer available add-ons than with Xfinity or either satellite provider, but Spectrum has the basics covered.
You won’t see promotional pricing on any of the premium channels like you will with the competition, but we aren’t mad about it. Those promotions mostly amount to hidden charges a few months into the contract, and we applaud Spectrum for being more straightforward.
Read our expert guides to learn more about how to watch MLB, how to watch the NFL and the top cheap providers we tested.