Sling TV is cheaper than bloated cable- or satellite-TV bundles, but it's no less confusing. I'm about to fix that for you.
The pitch is simple: $20 per month gets you 20 streaming-video channels that you can't get with an over-the-air tuner, including ESPN, AMC, and CNN. You can also buy $5-per-month add-on packages, based on themes such as sports and world news, and you can subscribe to HBO for $15 per month.
Reality is just a little more complicated. There's no traditional DVR service with Sling TV, but some channels let you pause and rewind live shows--and some don't. Likewise, Sling's "Replay" feature lets you watch several days' worth of recent programming, but each channel has different rules on how far back you can go--and some don't support the feature at all. Some channels have libraries of on-demand content, while others restrict you to watching shows in real time.
To help make sense of Sling TV's content offerings, I've put together some charts that show which channels let you pause and rewind live programming, how many days' worth of "Replay" programming you get, and which channels offer video on demand. The first chart covers the basic $20 bundle, followed by charts for each $5 "Extra" package and the $15 HBO option:
While I've tried my best to summarize Sling TV's content, even the chart doesn't tell the whole story. Here are some other details to consider:
The on-demand catalog is wildly inconsistent...
If you want to binge-watch AMC's Better Call Saul, Sling TV won't help you. That's because the network offers only the latest two episodes of its new hit show. The same goes for Mad Men.
But a dearth of content isn't the biggest problem with Sling TV's on-demand catalog. Even more frustrating is how inconsistent the selection can be, even within a given channel. Some shows spread their episodes out over multiple seasons, while others offer non-consecutive episodes from a single season. In some cases, as with IFC's Portlandia, you get just a single episode. On-demand is a grab-bag on Sling TV, so you can't rely on it to catch up on what you missed.
...but the "Hollywood" add-on could replace Netflix for movie buffs
The one exception to Sling's spotty on-demand catalog is the "Hollywood Extra" add-on, which includes four Epix channels and Sundance TV. Each of these channels has a sizeable on-demand movie selection. I count roughly 150 movies, comedy specials, and concerts on the main Epix channel alone.
A lot of these Epix movies are also available on Netflix due to a streaming deal between the two companies. This might not matter if you use Netflix for TV shows, but if you're mainly subscribing for the movies, you could save a few bucks every month by going the Sling TV route.
Movie rentals are still lacking
In addition to what you get from the TV channels, Sling TV offers its own catalog of on-demand movie rentals, but the selection is lacking. For example, you currently can't rent Interstellar, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, or The Imitation Game, even though these films are readily available on Amazon Instant Video, Google Play Movies, and iTunes. If you're streaming Sling TV on a Roku or other set-top box, you'll have more movie rental options from other apps on the box.
HBO's catalog isn't all there yet
HBO fans who sign up for the $15 per month Sling TV add-on can already binge-watch Game of Thrones, Entourage, Girls, Silicon Valley, The Wire, and Veep, along with plenty of movies, documentaries, and boxing matches. All that's in addition to the live channel, which you won't get at all by subscribing to the standalone service HBO Now.
Unfortunately, other series--such as The Sopranos--haven't fully arrived yet, with only a patchwork of episodes available. Sling TV is supposed to get the full catalog eventually; but for now, you'll need HBO Now (or a mooched login for HBO Go) to see everything the network has to offer.
Blackouts can happen, however rarely
Sling TV doesn't tell you this up-front, but a small number of channels--including A&E and Lifetime--don't give you all their programming due to rights issues. Sling tries to replace these shows with alternatives, but it doesn't always happen, so you might get a blackout or two per day on certain channels.
Even with all these caveats, I still like Sling TV. It's not for everyone--it's definitely not for those who want everything on demand--but the live TV element and the lineup of channels available help fill some big gaps for cord cutters. Just be mindful of what you're actually getting before you sign up.