Cable Alternatives: What is Sling TV?

Everything you need to know about the live TV streaming service

watch live tv with sling tv
Sling TV lets you watch live television on your phone, tablet, computer, or even on your TV. Patrick Foto / Moment / Getty

Sling TV is a streaming service that allows cord-cutters to watch live television without a cable or satellite subscription. The biggest difference between Sling TV and cable is that for Sling TV to work, you need to have a high speed internet connection and a compatible device.

The good news is that if you have a computer, smartphone, or a streaming set top box, you probably already have a device that will work with Sling TV. You can even cast shows from your phone or tablet to your television, or watch Sling TV directly on your smart television if it's compatible.

In addition to offering an alternative to cable and satellite television providers, Sling TV has a number of direct competitors that also stream live television. Vue from PlayStation, YouTube TV, and DirecTV Now all provide access to multiple live television stations, just like Sling TV. CBS All Access is another similar service that only offers live television from your local CBS station.

Other streaming services, like Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime Video, offer on-demand streaming of television shows but don't actually provide live television streams like Sling TV.

How to Sign Up for Sling TV

how to sign up for sling tv
Signing up for Sling TV is an easy process, but you do need to choose a plan and provide a credit card, even if you're just doing the free trial. Screenshots

Signing up for Sling TV is a very easy process, and it even includes a free trial. The trial is free even if you choose multiple ala carte options, but you do have to provide a valid credit card.

To sign up for Sling TV:

  1. Navigate to sling.com
  2. Look for a button that says sign up or watch now to begin the process of signing up.
  3. Enter your email address, choose a password, and click register.
  4. Choose the Sling TV plan that you want.
    Note: For more information on which plan to choose, see the next section of this article.
  5. Pick the extras that you want, including DVR and additional channel packages.
  6. Select any premium channels you want.
  7. Select any Spanish language or international channel packages you want.
  8. Click continue.
  9. Enter your name and credit card information.
  10. Click Finish & Submit.


Important: If you don't cancel before the trial ends, your card will be charged based on the options you selected when you signed up.

Choosing a Sling TV Plan

There are two main Sling TV plans, and you can also combine them together to save a little money:

  • Sling Orange: 30+ channels, including many popular basic cable channels like ESPN, Disney Channel, and AMC.
  • Sling Blue: 40+ channels, including some networks like Fox and NBC, regional sports, and NFL Network.
  • Sling Orange+Blue: 50+ channels, including everything from both Sling Orange and Sling Blue.

Which Sling Plan is Right For You?
If you are able to watch local broadcast television with an HD antenna, then Sling Orange is a great low-cost alternative to cable. It doesn't provide access to any local stations, but it does feature the most popular basic cable channels, including sports from ESPN and kids shows from Disney and Cartoon Network.

Sling Blue costs a little more than Sling Orange, but it's a good alternative if you haven't had any luck receiving broadcast television with an antenna. This plan doesn't include  ESPN or Disney Channel, but it does add both NBC and Fox in addition to a number of basic cable channels like USA and FX.

Sling Orange+Blue costs a little more than Sling Blue, but it includes everything, and it also allows you to watch more shows at once than either of the other plans.

How Many Shows Can You Watch at Once With Sling TV?
Services like Sling TV limit the number of shows, or streams, that you can watch at once. That means, depending on the plan you choose, your kids may be able to watch Disney Channel on your iPad while you're watching NFL Network on your TV.

The number of streams you can watch at once with Sling TV is based on the plan you choose:

  • Sling Orange: Limited to one stream at a time.
  • Sling Blue: Limited to three streams at a time.
  • Sling Orange+Blue: Limited to four streams at a time (one Sling Orange channel and three Sling Blue channels.)

What Internet Speed is Required for Sling TV?
Before you choose a plan and sign up, it's also important to make sure your internet speed is up to par.

The picture quality you experience from Sling is directly related to your connection speed, so don't expect a high definition picture quality on a low speed cellular data connection.

According to Sling TV, you need:

  • 3+ Mbps to stream a lower quality picture to portable devices like your phone or tablet.
  • 5+ Mbps for a single stream to a television or computer.
  • 25+ Mbps to take full advantage of the multiple streams offered by Sling Blue or Sling Orange+Blue.

Sling TV Ala Carte Options

One of the main selling points of Sling TV is that it provides more options than you get from either cable or satellite television providers. In addition to the main Sling Orange and Sling Blue packages, you also have the option of signing up for additional channel packages.

Ala carte packages include between about five and twelve additional channels and are based on themes like comedy, sports, and kids. Multiple packages can also be combined together to save more money.

Premium channels like HBO, Showtime and Starz are also available.

While no DVR functionality is included in the basic Sling TV plans, Cloud DVR is available as an ala carte option. It doesn't work with every single channel available from Sling TV, but it does work across multiple different devices. So if you set it to record something on your computer, you can access that recording later via your smartphone or other compatible device.

Watching Live Television with Sling TV

watching live tv on sling
You can watch any live television channel that's included in your package with Sling TV. Screenshot

The main point of Sling TV is that it allows you to watch live television, so it works a lot more like cable than streaming services like Hulu or Netflix.

That means when you open Sling TV on your computer, phone or television, it presents you with a list of everything that is currently on the air. It also means that when you watch a show on Sling TV, it includes commercials just like cable television.

If you have the cloud DVR option, you can record shows and then fast forward through the commercials just like you would with cable television.

Watching live television with Sling TV is a very easy process:

  1. Use the My TV, On now, Guide, or Sports tab to locate a show you want to watch.
    • Note: You can also use the search function to locate specific programs.
  2. Click on the show you want to watch.
  3. Click Watch Live.

Live and On Demand TV On a Per-Channel Basis

watch on demand tv with sling
Sling also allows you to watch a selection of on-demand TV shows on a per-channel and per-show basis. Screenshot

While Sling TV is primarily designed to provide live television to cord-cutters, it does include some on-demand content in a similar vein to what you get from cable television.

To watch on-demand television on Sling TV:

  1. Navigate to a the network that airs the show you want to watch. For instance, navigate to Cartoon Network if you want to watch Adventure Time.
  2. Look for the show you want to watch. If it has any on-demand episodes available, it will say "X Episodes" underneath the name of the series.
  3. Click on the show you want to watch on-demand.
  4. Select the season you want to watch.
  5. Locate the episode you want to watch.
    • Note: Episode availability is limited.
  6. Click Watch.

Renting Movies From Sling TV

Watching movies on Sling TV works in much the same way as watching movies through a cable television service. In addition to movies that are available on live television channels, Sling TV also offers movie rentals.

Renting movies on Sling TV incurs an extra cost above and beyond your monthly subscription charge, just like renting movies through a cable television set top box.

If you locate a movie you want to rent from Sling, you can choose whether to rent it in standard or high definition format. The standard definition format is less expensive, and it's a good choice if you're watching on a small screen like a phone or tablet.

After you pay for a movie rental, you have a limited amount of time to start watching. And after you start watching, you have a limited amount of time to finish. The limits are pretty generous, but they do exist.