So, you’re looking to dump cable? With its reputation, we can’t blame you. But if you still want to watch your favorite cable TV shows, an internet-based live TV streaming service may be your best bet. Two of the biggest names in that arena are Dish Network’s Sling TV and Hulu, the latter of which offers a “Live TV” streaming service in addition to its on-demand platform.
While both of those services will let you watch sports, news, and other live TV, they’re pretty different animals. Hulu Plus Live TV costs more at the basic level, but offers more programming upfront. By contrast, Sling TV is great for viewers who are keeping an eye on their wallets, but is a little trickier when it comes to figuring out what it does — and doesn’t — offer. So, which one is right for you? Here’s everything that you need to know.
A streaming-TV service isn’t worth a dime if you can’t watch what you want. Thankfully, both Sling and Hulu Plus Live TV will let you view many of your favorite channels, but they each work a little differently.
Hulu Plus Live TV
Hulu Plus Live TV only has one primary subscription option, which contains almost everything in its catalog. Thankfully, that’s a lot. Most customers can expect to find the four major networks — ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC — represented via their local affiliates (though this varies by region), as well as a number of major cable channels like FX, USA, and TNT, 24-hour news networks like CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC, and sports channels like ESPN and Fox Sports 1. The actual channel line-p varies by location, so if there’s one channel that’s make or break for you, check Hulu’s listings for your region before signing up.
Hulu doesn’t have everything, however. You won’t find many Viacom-owned channels, like Comedy Central and MTV, or AMC Networks either. You can subscribe to premium networks like HBO and Showtime through Hulu for an additional fee, though, as well add-on packages: The Entertainment add-on includes Destination America and the Cooking Channel, while the Español add-on includes a number of Spanish-language channels.
As a bonus, you’ll also receive access to the standard Hulu service with your subscription. This gives you access to many excellent movies and TV programs, including episodes from broadcast networks that aired just a day or two earlier, as well as Hulu’s critically acclaimed original series like The Handmaid’s Tale.
Sling TV, on the other hand, offers an à la carte model that lets you choose which channels you get. For the most part, you’ll only be paying for programs that you actually watch, which is a good thing. On the other hand, it makes signing up for Sling TV more complicated, and forces you to do a little math when calculating costs.
Sling TV subscriptions start with two base packages: Orange and Blue. There’s some overlap between the two — both Orange and Blue packages come with TNT, CNN, and Cartoon Network, for example. Orange also contains Disney-owned properties, which means it’s more sports-focused thanks to the three ESPN networks.
By contrast, Blue has more entertainment options, including FX, AMC, and Comedy Central. As of this writing, Blue is also the only place where you can find NBC and Fox, assuming that they’re available in your area. You can also subscribe to Orange and Blue together at a discount.
The rest of Sling TV’s channels come via optional add-ons that run from $5 to $15, and tend to be grouped based ob themes like Kids, Comedy, News, and so on. This is where things get tricky. Which add-on package to get can depend on which base subscription you have. For example, if you subscribe to Sling Orange, the “Sports Extra” pack includes ESPNews, ESPN Goal Line, and ESPN Bases Loaded. If you subscribe to Sling Blue, Sports Extra won’t have any of those, but it will have the RedZone, NFL Network, NBC Golf, and the Olympic Channel.
You can also add some individual channels, like the wellness-oriented Grokker, for a few extra bucks, as well as premium channels like Showtime and Cinemax. Note that Sling TV doesn’t currently support HBO subscriptions thanks to a feud between its parent company, Dish Network, and AT&T, nor does it give you any way to watch ABC or CBS.
Thanks to Sling’s à la carte model, it’s hard to make direct price comparisons between Sling and Hulu, but these are the basics. Hulu Plus Live TV costs $45 a month for about 60 channels, plus everything offered on regular Hulu (the price rises to $51 if you want commercial-free viewing for Hulu’s on-demand platform). It’s pricey, but it’s a lot of entertainment. Sling’s basic packages, Orange and Blue, cost $25 per month each, or $40 together. As mentioned, extra Sling channels will set you back somewhere between $5 and $15 each, depending on the specific add-on package.
At time of publication, you can get the first three months of Sling Orange and Blue for $15 each, or $25 together, as part of a limited-time promotion (it’s not clear how long this promotion will last). In fact, Sling often has promotions for new subscribers, like a free Roku Express with two months paid upfront, or a bundle that includes an AirTV (which, frankly, we didn’t like very much) for a three-month commitment.
Extra features like Hulu’s Unlimited Screens add-on (more on that below) or Sling’s cloud-based DVR will also raise your subscription price, as will premium channels like Starz, Showtime, and (for Hulu) HBO. Subscriptions to those channels tend to cost the same as everywhere else unless there’s a limited offer, so expect to pay $15 for HBO, $9 for Cinemax and Showtime, etc. Both services also offer a free seven-day trial.
Both Hulu Plus Live TV and Sling TV work on all of the standard streaming devices, so if you have a Roku, Amazon Fire TV or Fire tablet, Apple TV, Chromecast stick, or home PC, you should be set. If your hardware is old, however, it may not be supported, so it’s worth checking both Hulu and Sling’s device compatibility lists before you give either any of your money.
If you prefer to use a smart TV to stream media, Sling has a slight edge. The standard Hulu app works more or less everywhere, but the Live TV option is only available on certain Samsung TVs. By contrast, Sling supports both Samsung and LG sets.
As far as gaming consoles go, both services will run just fine on the Xbox One, while Hulu Plus Live TV also works on the Nintendo Switch. Regular Hulu will play on Sony devices, but neither Hulu Plus Live TV nor Sling TV are available on Sony televisions, Blu-ray players, or PlayStation consoles, which is probably an attempt to force customers to subscribe to Sony’s PlayStation Vue service. Again, there are tons of streaming options out there, so take a glance at the compatibility lists online before settling on a service. It’s better to be safe than sorry.
Modern cable companies offer all kinds of extra features and both Hulu Plus Live TV and Sling TV do, too.
As part of your Hulu Plus Live TV subscription, you’ll get access to a 50 hour cloud-based DVR service, which will let you record your shows and watch them later (that’s in addition to Hulu’s standard on-demand programming, which is chock-full of recent series and movies). Unlike the DVR offered by PlayStation Vue, Hulu Plus Live TV recordings don’t expire. As long as you have storage space, you’ll be able to save whatever you want. Hulu’s DVR won’t let you fast-forward through commercials by default, however. To enable that capability, you need to pay an extra $15 a month, which will also get you an additional 150 hours of recording space.
Sling TV doesn’t come with DVR capabilities standard, but $5 will get you 50 hours worth of storage space (or 100, if you’re using a Roku device). Not every program can be recorded, though, and some won’t allow you to fast-forward depending on the show.
Number of screens
With a standard Hulu Plus Live TV subscription, you can stream shows to two different screens at once. To add more screens, you’ll have to subscribe to the $15 Unlimited Screens add-on, which lets you stream to as many machines as you want while you’re at home and three mobile devices while on the go. With Sling, the number of simultaneous streams you get depends on which base package you select. Orange subscribers get just one, while Blue subscribers get three. This can be frustrating, especially if you pay for both, which leaves you with some channels that can’t be streamed simultaneously.
Hulu Plus Live TV’s interface looks a lot like its on-demand offering. You can search for shows, add your favorites to a list, filter by genre, and see your most recently viewed channels, but there’s no real schedule grid. You can see what’s currently airing, but if you’re trying to figure out what’s coming on next, you’ll need to look elsewhere. Sling TV does have a schedule, and it’s more streamlined than what you’ll find on most cable boxes.
Sling TV also has an extra feature for sports fans called Game Finder, which makes it easy to find upcoming games and matches, and lets you know whether they’re available. It’s handy, and you don’t actually need a Sling TV subscription to use it — just head to the Game Finder website and give it a try.
If you’re looking for a service that will give you all you can get, it’s hard to argue against Hulu Plus Live TV. Not only is Hulu’s one-and-done subscription plan easier to figure out, but it gives you more channels, including all four major broadcast networks, upfront. You’ll also get access to Hulu’s regular on-demand service, which is essential to most cord cutters.
On the other hand, if you’re on a budget and only watch a couple of specific channels, Sling TV can save you a few bucks. Pair Sling with an HDTV antenna (which should help you get those missing broadcast networks) and Netflix, which you probably subscribe to anyway, and you’ll end up with a pretty formidable — and cost-effective — entertainment collection.
Ultimately, both Hulu Plus Live TV and Sling TV are solid live TV services. If you’re looking to cut the cord for good, you really can’t go wrong with either.