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YouTube TV vs. Sling TV: Which live TV streaming service is best for you?

CNET logo CNET 6 days ago Ty Pendlebury
a laptop computer sitting on top of a wooden table: 07-sling-versus-youtube © CNET 07-sling-versus-youtube

So you have Netflix and Amazon Prime, but you want to bolster your binge-watching sessions with actual live TV channels such as ESPN, TNT and CNN. Sling TV and YouTube TV offer two compelling yet quite different live TV streaming services

YouTube TV ($40) is the more comprehensive of the two and CNET's overall favorite. Meanwhile Sling TV ($25) is a very popular, more affordable option.

How do you choose between them? Let's dive in.

Cost

a laptop computer sitting on top of a table: 09-sling-versus-youtube © Provided by CBS Interactive Inc. 09-sling-versus-youtube

Brooke Baldwin, Rachel Nichols are posing for a picture: 05-sling-versus-youtube © Provided by CBS Interactive Inc. 05-sling-versus-youtube a screenshot of a cell phone screen with text: 02-sling-versus-youtube © Provided by CBS Interactive Inc. 02-sling-versus-youtube There are two glaring differences between the two services, and they're directly related to each other: cost and number of channels. 

Sling offers three different tiers of service: Blue (usually $25), Orange ($25) and Orange & Blue ($40) with a mix of channels available. Signing up for the basic Sling TV is cheap, but you could quickly find that the costs pile up once you start adding channels or features. It costs an extra $5 a month for a DVR, for example, or $5 to add packages such as Comedy, Sports and Kids, which include extra channels such as TV Land, NBA TV and Disney Junior, respectively.

In comparison, YouTube TV costs $40 and doesn't offer any add-on channel packages, although it does have a handful of single-channel add-ons like Showtime. This one-price approach mitigates the paralysis of choice a little bit. 

It's worth noting that Sling TV is currently offering discounts on its tiers: Blue or Orange for $15, and Orange & Blue for $25. 

Channels

In addition to the disparity in total number of channels, there's a big gap in the availability of local channels (ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC -- note that CNET is owned by CBS). YouTube TV has all four in nearly every market in the US. Sling TV doesn't offer any with its Orange package. Its Blue and Orange & Blue packages have NBC and Fox, but only in a handful of major markets.

If you want ESPN then Sling Orange is for you, but if you want a little more variety, then Blue and its inclusion of Fox and NBC -- as long as you live in the right market -- might be more enticing. Meanwhile Sling's $40 Orange & Blue only adds four more channels out of the 100 most popular (including ESPN and Disney) so represents fairly poor value.

While you can check see how the two channels differ in their channel line-ups in this handy chart, here's a quick summary of the main missing channels:

  • Major channels missing from all of Sling TV: ABC, CBS, Animal Planet, Fox News, MLB Network, Nickelodeon
  • Major channels also missing from Sling Orange: Fox, NBC, Bravo, FS1, FX, MSNBC, USA Network
  • Major channels also missing from Sling Blue: ABC, Disney Channel, ESPN
  • Major channels missing from YouTube TV: A&E, Comedy Central, Discovery, Food Network, HGTV, History, Lifetime, Nickelodeon

Usability

Choosing between either of these services based on their interfaces alone would be a daunting task -- both are relatively drab, especially in the Roku versions.

In general terms the YouTube TV interface is much easier to use, and not just to people used to using regular YouTube. Watching a live program from Sling TV's guide, for example, takes more button presses than should be necessary (three versus one). You need to Select a show -- then Watch -- then Watch Live.

If you're using the desktop or app versions, the YouTube TV interface offers a more structured, easier-to-use interface that's also easier on the eye. 

The difference in simultaneous streams is also worth noting, especially for families and other households who watch a lot of TV. YouTube TV lets you stream to three different devices -- say the living room TV, a bedroom TV and a tablet -- at the same time. So does Sling TV Blue. But with Sling TV Orange you can only watch one stream at a time. If someone starts watching on a second TV or other device, you'll have to choose between the two. 

Sling TV's Orange & Blue package delivers up to 4 streams at once, but only one of them can be from an Orange-only channel. You still can't watch ESPN on two separate TVs simultaneously, for example.

Which service is best for you?

We're not talking about mortgaging a house here. The cost of either service is relatively affordable, especially compared to many cable TV packages. If you want to save the most money, Sling TV offers a compelling mix of cable-only programming. If you want greater channel selection, local channels and the addition of a DVR, YouTube is probably worth the additional $15 per month.

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