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 provides a good mix of channels, including a few sports, kids, lifestyle, and comedy channels. Compared to other services, it has fewer channels in its base packages, but it offers plenty of top channels as add-ons. Unfortunately, you’ll see very few local channels no matter how many packages you add to your plan.
Sling TV offers a solid channel lineup, but you’ll get just three local channels: NBC, Estrella, and Comet. That’s some of the worst local content we’ve seen, even for a streaming service—which typically have fewer local channels than cable TV plans.
Sling has about two-thirds of the top sports channels, which is lower than a lot of streaming services. To get them all, you’ll have to get both the Orange and Blue plans and the sports add-on. Otherwise, you’ll have to choose between ESPN (Orange) or FOX Sports, NFL Network, and NBC (Blue). You can get NBA TV, MLB TV, and NFL Network, though, so that’s a plus.
Family and education: 3/5
Sling has some great family friendly favorites like Discovery, National Geographic, History Channel, Animal Planet, Disney, and Nick Jr. But you’ll miss out on some staples like Nickelodeon and PBS, as well as Disney Junior, Smithsonian Channel, and Game Show Network.
News and politics: 3.5/5
With Sling you’ll get national and international news from MSNBC, Fox News, BBC America, Newsmax, HLN, and CNBC. However, because Sling doesn’t have many local channels, you won’t get much local news from channels like CBS, FOX, and The CW. And you’ll miss out on The Weather Channel too.
Entertainment and lifestyle: 3.5/5
Sling has a decent entertainment despite the fact that many local channels count toward this category, and Sling doesn’t have many of those. That means the rest of its entertainment lineup is better than most. You’ll get both the Cooking Channel and Food Network, even though most providers only give you one. It’s the same with other kinds of channels, too. You get both Comedy Central and Laff, all three Hallmark channels, both western channels—Grit and INSP—and all three music channels—MTV, CMT, and VH1.
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. Your exact channel lineup depends on where you live (and some areas even have unique package options), so enter your address and check the channel guide as you decide.
Spectrum does a great job of providing local channels throughout the hundreds of markets it covers. You get the big four—NBC, ABC, CBS, and FOX—plus The CW and Spanish-language channels. You’ll miss out on a few smaller local networks in some areas, such as Antenna TV and Estrella TV, but we have no major complaints.
Spectrum TV is only passable when it comes to sports. You’ll get national games on the local networks and coverage from networks like TNT and FS1, but you’ll have to pay extra for goodies like MLB Extra Innings, NHL Center Ice, and the ESPN College Extra. You may be eligible for various regional sports networks, but they almost always cost extra. The sports pack is a breezy $6 per month, which isn’t bad, but we’d still prefer the channels be in the standard package.
Family and education: 3/5
Spectrum TV also earns a passing grade for kids shows, but it’s nothing to write home. You won’t get Disney Jr., Nat Geo Wild, Cartoon Network, or Nick Jr., unfortunately. Smithsonian’s out, too, and Science (you can get some of these with the Entertainment View add-on, but it costs $12 extra each month). You do get PBS, though, plus the regular Disney channel, Family Entertainment TV (FETV), and Discovery. It’s not great, but it’s not awful either.
News and politics: 4.5/5
Spectrum doesn’t offer the hotly debated Newsmax channel at its base price, but it has almost everything else news junkies crave. You get national networks CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News, plus all the news that comes with local channels. If your primary reason to pay for live TV is to stay up to date, we think you’ll be pretty happy with what Spectrum has to offer.
Entertainment and lifestyle: 3.5/5
Spectrum TV’s lineup for movies, home improvement shows, reality TV, and true crime is just OK. You’ll have to pay extra for HBO, SHOWTIME, STARZ, and CINEMAX, or for an Entertainment View add-on that includes NFL Network, OWN, and the Cooking Channel. That said, you get channels like Investigation Discovery (ID), TLC, Hallmark, and INSP with the regular package price. You can’t get Ion or Ion Mystery either way, which is a bummer, but there are still hundreds of channels to choose from.
Sling is one of the cheapest live TV streaming services that still delivers a relatively comprehensive channel lineup, but its cost per channel of $1.15 is relatively high. Sling’s largest base plan includes just 43 channels, with an additional 30 or so available as add-ons. That makes Sling great at letting you customize your service, but you could end up paying a high price if you want a lot of channels.
Most add-ons cost about $6, or you can grab a bundle if you find one you like. The Sports Extra add-on is pricier at $11–15 per month. You can also add more than 40 premium packages, and many are priced lower than we’ve seen elsewhere.
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).
Unlike other streaming services, Sling TV has a free version. And 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.
Oddly, the free version of Sling gives you way more channels: 150+. But many of these extras are super specific—there’s a channel that plays The Carol Burnette Show 24/7, for example—or on-demand channels, which is cheating. But there are some gems, like Outside TV+, Bon Appetit, and CMT.
The two package options from Spectrum TV are pretty decent when it comes to channel per dollar, and you get all but one of America’s top 100 channels. (1) You’ll need add-ons for international programming, premium sports, and premium education and entertainment, but the cost is about average compared to other providers we review.
You’ll have to 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 $20 per month. Worst of all, that low base price will increase in the range of $20–$30 per month after your first 24 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.
Ability to watch: Good
The browser and app interfaces were generally easy to use, and Sling is compatible with 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.
If you’re looking for 4K content, you won’t find it here. Live content streams in 720p and on-demand content is 1080p.
Ability to record: Good
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.
The DVR is a decent experience. You can record live shows and skip the commercials when you watch them later. 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 record a show that’s already started. The record button just isn’t there. Shows that 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.
Ability to find: Fine
Finding shows could be easier. We had to click into a show to see its description, which was annoying. And the channel guide for live TV is a bit confusing if you have both Blue and Orange plans because you’ll see some channels—those included in both plans—listed twice.
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.
Parental controls are PIN protected and easy to set up, and your kids won’t even be able to see descriptions of restricted content. But because Sling doesn’t have different user profiles, you’ll have to put in your PIN for every grown-up show you want to watch without the kiddos. You can’t even have separate settings for different devices.
Ability to share: Bad
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.
The daily Spectrum TV experience isn't as good as what you may find with other cable competitors, and it's quite a bit worse than you would get with a satellite TV provider. It all works, but it's not the top of the line.
Ability to watch: Good
Spectrum TV 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 there’s no voice remote or way to watch in 4K unless you have an Apple TV (or buy one from Spectrum).
Ability to record: Fine
Spectrum’s DVR options are not nearly as good as the DVR setups you’ll get with satellite TV providers, and it falls short compared to other cable providers, too. 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.
That aside, we like that you can record from either your regular set-top box or the highly rated mobile app, and it’s easy to see how much storage capacity you have left. You top out at just about 100 hours of HD storage, though, so keep an eye on that library and make sure to delete anything you don’t need.
Ability to find: Fine
You don’t get a voice remote with the standard Spectrum TV equipment, but you do get channel buttons, and we like that you can see both channel numbers and icons from the home screen. We gotta say, though, the Spectrum system for showing which channels are free, which are blocked, and which you have to pay extra for takes some getting used to.
There are workarounds so you see only channels you’re subscribed to and even a way to hide adult-themed shows from the guide, but we wish it were a little more intuitive. Lucky for you, this guide from Spectrum can help you get oriented.
Sling’s website is easy to navigate and shows plans and pricing upfront before you have to create an account or add a credit card. It also has a solid self-help section that you can find by scrolling to the bottom of the home page and clicking on the link in the footer.
Contacting customer service can be a little challenging. Agents are available via chat, social media, and phone for around 15 hours a day (depending on which contact method you choose). However, the website notes that you should expect long wait times for all avenues.
To help counter long wait times, Sling asks you to fill out a questionnaire before calling in, which is an okay idea in principle, but it asks for your email address. If you just want to know a few specifics before deciding whether to sign up, that feels invasive. But if you’re already a customer troubleshooting your technology or asking about billing issues, it’s not a big deal.
Finally, Sling TV’s channel lineup can be a little volatile. In October 2022, Sling lost ABC, ESPN, FX, Nat Geo, and Disney due to a dispute with Disney, but then got them back soon after. While other TV services were also affected, Sling seems more willing than competitors are to lose channels—at least temporarily—while renegotiating carriage deals.
Spectrum leaves a lot to be desired when it comes to how it treats its customers. Starting with installation, you can do it yourself for free if you have had the service at your address before, but there’s an unusual $25 activation fee no matter what. If you need a pro install, you may be charged up to $50, but the company doesn’t list those fees publicly. Either way, you have to pay for your first set-top box, you can’t choose which DVR equipment you get, and you have to pay hefty fees for local broadcast stations and premium channels.
If you have trouble, you’ll need to contact customer service. We like the online help guide and 24/7 chat option, but the service overall scores worse than average among TV providers. (2)
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.