There’s no doubt that viewers have more options for television viewing than ever these days, particularly when it comes to how to stream live TV and cable networks without a cable subscription. Grounded Reason previously looked at all of the Live TV streaming services as a group, to give a quick overview of how features compare. Now, we’re doing a series of one-on-one comparisons between different products, to help take a more in-depth look at what makes each one unique.
The popular video-streaming site, YouTube, launched its own cable alternative live TV service in 2017, YouTube TV. The service has more than 70 live TV networks, as well as local stations, and has a DVR feature with unlimited cloud storage.
In 2015, Sling TV emerged from the Dish Network as a newly reincarnated standalone a la carte cable alternative, offering several different cable channel packages and custom add-on bundles, at a variety of price points.
YouTube TV vs. Sling TV
Overall Winner: YouTube TV
For most features, including channels, and flexibility of options within a flat rate, YouTube TV is the more complete package than Sling TV. While you could nickel and dime a cheaper package with Sling, there are limits on availability that make it a little more complicated and less satisfying than YouTube TV overall.
Unlike comparing YouTube TV with other bundled live TV providers, like Hulu, comparing it to Sling is a little trickier. Sling has numerous combinations of features and channels that can be selected a la carte, in a much more flexible way. For example, viewers can choose between two base packages, Blue and Orange, that start as low as $25, and each has different combinations of channels. Or the two packages can be ordered together, for a combined $40 priced tag. This combined package is probably the most comparable to YouTube TV’s offerings, and still more affordable. So for basic offerings, Sling is the better deal if you are looking just for the cheapest option.
Both services have a 7-day free trial (although Sling frequently runs deep discounts on new memberships, and if purchased during a sale, the free trial may not apply). YouTube TV starts at $49.99, making it more expensive than either of Sling’s first two pricing tiers of $25 and $40.
The one thing to be aware of when comparing these price points, however, is that it is easy to add up features on Sling. Like choosing a lot of little things off a menu, sometimes you can spend more by picking and choosing than going with one main dish. YouTube TV has over 75 channels in its base package, with the combined Blue and Orange Sling package having around 50. Sling TV has multiple thematic add on packages that give you a handful of additional channels for $5 – $10 more a month, as well as several single-channel add-ons. In the process of building your perfect lineup, you might end up out-stripping the flat $49.99 of YouTube TV. However, if just the Sling Orange or Sling Blue plan gets you what you need, you can definitely save some dollars with it.
Streaming and DVR features
In general, when it comes to streaming features YouTube TV has most competitors beat. It comes with unlimited DVR storage space, not just for one viewer, but for six different users on one family account, each with their own personalized library and notifications. (Each user must have a Google account to join.) Between those six accounts, up to three people can be streaming the service at the same time.
In comparison, Sling TV users are limited to single-screen streaming with Sling Orange, and up to three with Sling Blue—however, when the packages are combined, viewers can stream on up to four screens simultaneously. Sling does not include a DVR option as part of the stand-alone subscription, but it can be added for $5 a month, but only up to 50 hours of storage, which doesn’t compete with YouTube’s storage plan.
Cable channel comparison
As mentioned, YouTube TV has more than 75 channels, and even comparing select titles, this is an area where it easily beats out Sling in the upfront package. The list is pretty extensive, and although it is missing a couple of major ones—of note there is no Comedy Central—for the most part, it has the big hitters, including BBC America, AMC, and Disney.
When looking at the combination of Sling TVs Orange and Blue packages, you get 50-plus base channels, without adding additional packages. That combination is missing some big names (TLC and Animal Planet), but the majority of the popular channels are available in one of the add ons if not in the base package. However, you have to dig around a little in their channel search page to find the best combination.
YouTube TV is just racking up the wins here, and local broadcasting is another notch in its belt. It has the big four, ABC, CBS, NBC, and FOX, as well as the CW. While it does identify the region and may be based on select markets, it was no problem to stream them all easily in most regions.
While Sling does offer local channels in some markets, it is rather a small number, and not all the channels are available (there is more info here about what channels accessible). However, when checking your market, Sling TV does offer other suggestions in regions where it can’t stream locals live. First, with two months of pre-paid service, Sling users can get a free indoor antenna to pick up local broadcasts. Or, with three months prepaid, they offer a free antenna and an Air TV player. The Air TV allows the broadcast from the antenna to be merged into the Sling app and then made available to stream through mobile devices as well.
Premium channels and sports
For premium channels, the two services are largely neck and neck. Neither one has add-on options for HBO or Cinemax. Both do have Showtime and Starz, and YouTube TV pulls ahead slightly for offering them at the slightly lower rates of $7 and $9, respectively, after a 5-day free trial, compared to Sling’s $10 and $9. In addition, both services offer Epix and Curiosity Stream add ons, and several other unique choices.
However, when it comes to the quantity of sports available, Sling may have taken the edge away from YouTube TV ever so slightly. The combined Blue/Orange package has several more sports stations included than YouTube (although both have most the major ones). In addition, the Sling sports add-on package increases that number by 12 more sports channels for $10 a month.
Both Sling and YouTube TV offer the NBA Team League Pass, with YouTube having the better deal, offering the full pass for $40 a month for all out of market games, while with Sling it is $17.99 per team added (with all 30 NBA teams available).
Device compatibility and user interface
Here is a quick summary of all of the devices that are listed as compatible with each service:
- Mac & PC computers – requires Google Chrome or Firefox browsers
- Roku TVs and select Roku boxes*
- Apple TV (select models)*
- Apple/IOS devices
- Android TVs and phones and tablets
- Amazon Fire TV and stick
- Xbox (One & 360)
- Samsung & LG smart TVs
- Xiaomi Mi box
- Google Smart Displays
- Vizio SmartCast TVs
- HiSense TVs
- Mac & PC computers
- Roku (select models)*
- Apple TV (4th generation)*
- Apple/IOS devices
- Android phones and tablets
- Amazon Fire TV and stick
- Xbox One
- Samsung & LG smart TVs
- AirTV Player
- Xiaomi Mi TVs
If you have a particular device you already use at home, it’s smart to check the individual device compatibility pages for Sling and YouTube TV to confirm model number compatibility. Many older models don’t actually have apps that support newer services, largely older Roku or Apple TV devices.
For most features, including channels, and flexibility of options within a flat rate, YouTube TV is the more complete package than Sling. While you could nickel and dime a cheaper package with Sling, there are limits on availability that make it a little more complicated and less satisfying than YouTube TV overall.