YouTube TV vs Sling TV: Which cable TV alternative wins?

 A graphic of a TV with its screen split by logos of YouTube TV and Sling TV.
A graphic of a TV with its screen split by logos of YouTube TV and Sling TV.
The YouTube TV logo inset in a TV logo
The YouTube TV logo inset in a TV logo

YouTube TV

The first major live TV streaming service to give you an unlimited DVR and nearly every channel (outside of RSNs) you could want, YouTube TV is a favorite. While Sling gets incrementally pricier, YouTube TV's access to NFL Sunday Ticket may entice people to buy or stay.

For

  • More than 100 channels

  • Unlimited DVR

Against

  • Pricier

  • No bundled in services

Sling TV logo inset on an orange background on a TV icon
Sling TV logo inset on an orange background on a TV icon

Sling TV

Sling may not have all of the broadcast networks and as many cable channels, but its lower entry-level price makes it a favorite for those looking to cut the cord on a budget. It's also super-customizable. But to get local networks and ESPN, you're paying at least $55 per month.

For

  • More affordable

  • Offers ESPN, FOX and NBC

Against

  • DVR capacity is smaller

  • App isn't as capable

The battle of YouTube TV vs. Sling TV is one of the more prominent fights to replace the cable box — and both got more expensive this year, enough so that they still have more or less the same gap that they used to, while still being two of the top best cable TV alternatives. And yours truly has paid for both (and canceled both).

Sling TV and YouTube TV were my top two options when I cut the cord in 2021. That year, I had enough with cable's price and the slow-paced nature of using a cable box, and just left. That summer, I tried out all of the live TV services to see which was right for me, and I've come back now to re-test these services and see which is the best for most.

When I recently switched providers, I actually listened to my own advice, and selected the winner of this face-off (find out if I picked Sling TV or YouTube TV), and that shows how complicated the process is. The service that's best for the average person may not be what's right for you, too. Sling, for example, is the service that looks to replace cable with the most affordable price and a channel assortment that shows it. YouTube TV, however, offers more channels at a higher price.

Putting these services against each other in seven rounds of competition for this YouTube TV vs. Sling TV comparison, I used both on two of the best streaming devices: the Apple TV 4K (2022) and the Fire TV Stick 4K.

Without further ado, let's break down all the fine print, the Sling TV channels, YouTube TV channels, special features and more.

YouTube TV vs. Sling TV: At a glance

YouTube TV vs. Sling TV: Channels

YouTube TV is $33 to $13 more expensive than Sling TV, so we're not exactly shocked that YouTube TV delivers more channels. YouTube TV offers more than 100 channels, while Sling TV delivers either less than a third or less than half of that stack. Sling Orange gives you 31 channels, Sling Blue gives you 41 and Sling Orange + Blue gives 47.

Recently, YouTube TV added Magnolia Network to its main tier, a channel you need to spend $6 extra to get on Sling TV.

Sling TV, fortunately, does have some of the channels you'll find in YouTube TV.

The channel grid on YouTube TV
The channel grid on YouTube TV

Looking at the top 25 most popular TV networks, YouTube TV's big differentiators come out early, with the ABC and CBS broadcast networks. It also boasts Univision, Ion and Telemundo.

ABC is coming to many, but not all Sling users, though. Select markets saw Sling TV's Blue package get ABC and a $5 price hike, which began on March 1.

To solve her current lack of ABC and CBS, my colleague Kelly Woo (a fellow Sling TV subscriber) uses the AirTV Anywhere device to bring in over-the-air broadcast channels. With that device, and the TV antenna that Sling bundles in with it, she can even record those over-the-air broadcasts, though she has to do so manually (finding each episodes in the grid).

YouTube TV isn't perfect, though, as it's lacking Lifetime, the History Channel (which Sling has), and the INSP network (though Sling subscribers need to pay $6 for the channel pack that adds it in).

The TV channels grid on Sling TV on a wall-mounted TV
The TV channels grid on Sling TV on a wall-mounted TV

Here's a breakdown of how many of the top 25 most popular channels are on YouTube TV and Sling TV. And for the totals at the bottom of the list, note that we count channels that are only in one of Sling Blue and Sling Orange, as well as those available in add-on packages, as worth a half-point.

In a bit of breaking news, YouTube TV is losing the MLB Network, which Sling subscribers can find in the $11 per month Sports Extra package.

Winner: YouTube TV, by a ton of channels

YouTube TV vs. Sling TV: Price

The Sling TV app button on the Apple TV home screen.
The Sling TV app button on the Apple TV home screen.

And this is when price-sensitive cord-cutters may go away from the larger channel assortment. Sling TV, with a $40 starting price, offers the much cheaper entry-point for live TV online. YouTube TV is notably pricier, as it starts at $73, following a YouTube TV price hike going into effect in April 2023.

Sling's addition of ABC, in Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Oakland and San Jose, though means Sling Blue and Sling Orange & Blue will go up by $5 per month, introducing new $45 and $60 price points. Those price hikes may be why Sling TV subscriber numbers just hit a 5-year low.

As someone who was going to be spending $60 per month on Sling, that realization is why I left Sling TV. But YouTube TV's price increase has me looking towards my YouTube TV vs Hulu + Live TV face-off.

Winner: Sling TV, letting you spend up to $33 less per month

YouTube TV vs. Sling TV: Value

This one is a little tricky, since the services' pricing and channels sets are so varied. So, let's start with how many channels each service's major packages give you per dollar spent (using 100 for YouTube TV's set, since they advertise "100+ channels).

Then, YouTube TV gives you around 1.4 channels per dollar spent, while Sling TV offers 0.8 channels per dollar (Orange), 1 channel per buck on Blue and 0.9 channels per dollar on Blue + Orange.

Youtube TV app on Apple TV home screen
Youtube TV app on Apple TV home screen

But, then, YouTube TV still gives you more DVR (but that's its own section, below) space, and 3 simultaneous streams (Sling TV only offers that for Blue or Orange + Blue).

There's also one specific portion of the audience who will get a lot more value out of YouTube TV: NFL fans. YouTube TV subscribers who get NFL Sunday Ticket will save at least $100, if not $200.

Winner: YouTube TV with more channels per dollar

YouTube TV vs. Sling TV: Picture quality

Paul Walker as Brian O'Conner is in 2 Fast 2 Furious in the Sling app on a wall-mounted TV
Paul Walker as Brian O'Conner is in 2 Fast 2 Furious in the Sling app on a wall-mounted TV

Both YouTube TV and Sling TV normally stream as high as 1080p at 60fps, with much content (channel depending) at 720p or lower. Watching both channels on the Apple TV 4K and the Fire TV Stick 4K, I didn't see a difference in their feeds as I watched episodes of Friends, various live NFL and pro wrestling shows and the news.

YouTube TV offers some 4K quality in its $9.99 per month 4K Plus pack. It also adds unlimited simultaneous streams at home, and the ability to save DVR recordings to mobile devices for. Sling doesn't do 4K.

Winner: It's a tie

YouTube TV vs. Sling TV: Sports

Football fans may now choose YouTube TV over Sling and all other services, just to save $100 or more. YouTube TV is one of the new homes of NFL Sunday Ticket, and while YouTube will sell Sunday Ticket on its own via YouTube Primetime Channels — YouTube TV subscribers will get a discount.

The Sports row shows college basketball and hockey on Sling TV on a wall-mounted TV
The Sports row shows college basketball and hockey on Sling TV on a wall-mounted TV

Both YouTube TV and Sling TV let you watch national sports games live, and each offers some stats, but one team is superior here. Neither service is ideal for regional sports networks, and while YouTube TV has some, many if not most of those channels such as YES, NESN and the Bally Sports channels are on FuboTV or DirecTV Stream.

Also, YouTube TV is rolling out multiview for sports, so you can watch different games at the same time. It's currently in a small test, starting with NCAA March madness games.

A 2 by 2 grid of four college basketball games is seen in YouTube TV's multiview mode.
A 2 by 2 grid of four college basketball games is seen in YouTube TV's multiview mode.

YouTube TV is one of the best streaming services for sports fans who are OK with just getting national broadcasts and the FOX and NBC NFL live streams. For starters, it will be the new home of NFL Sunday Ticket (which will also be sold ala carte), it also offers the NFL Network and NBA TV. Annoyingly, YouTube TV lost the MLB Network.

Of those, Sling carries the NFL Network in Sling Blue, while NBA TV and the MLB Network are in the $11 per month Sports Extra package.

Stats are overlaid on screen during a football game on YouTube TV
Stats are overlaid on screen during a football game on YouTube TV

YouTube TV also offers a ton of live stats mid-game, and surfaces the biggest moments in YouTube TV's Key Plays. It also offers scores from live games, which Sling TV also does.

Plus, since YouTube TV has ABC (which are only available to select Sling subscribers) and CBS (which Sling doesn't), it has access to some national and local sports events (such as NFL games) that Sling does not.

Winner: YouTube TV is more sports-focused

YouTube TV vs. Sling TV: DVR

The DVR screen on YouTube TV
The DVR screen on YouTube TV

Unlike what happened in our YouTube TV vs. Hulu + Live TV face-off, this section will not end in a tie. YouTube TV offers unlimited DVR recording space, with recording expiring after 9 months.

The DVR page in Sling TV on a wall-mounted TV
The DVR page in Sling TV on a wall-mounted TV

That's the best cloud DVR option in the game, while Sling TV offers the least of any competitor, with only 50 hours in its entry-level tier. As a paying Sling TV subscriber myself, I can attest that this is not enough. Though I'm too cheap to upgrade to a 200-hour cap for $5 per month.

Winner: YouTube TV, by a ratio of infinity:fifty.

YouTube TV vs. Sling TV: User experience

While this category is admittedly a little lopsided, there are arguable faults on both halves of the YouTube TV vs. Sling TV battle. YouTube TV, though, is (nearly) the picture-perfect experience of the post-cable world. First off, their 'player' — i.e. the interface used while watching shows — is snappy and responsive and organized. This app owes the original YouTube some love, as it's all visibly inherited.

On top of that, YouTube TV's interfaces are snappier and more responsive. YouTube TV users are complaining about changes to the Library section, which they claim are 'disastrous,' though that might be a bit hyperbolic.

Law & Order: Special Victims Unit is playing on YouTube TV on a TV
Law & Order: Special Victims Unit is playing on YouTube TV on a TV

In contrast, Sling ... just works. And I don't mean that in the way Steve Jobs did. Sling TV is a service that gets the job done. I have experienced some buffering and outage issues, but they were rare. For the most part, Sling TV isn't an impressive app the way YouTube TV is, but it's functional and affordable — which is what cord-cutters want. Coming to Sling TV from cable still feels like an upgrade.

Sling has recently added some new features, though, including picture-in-picture for web browser-based streaming, iOS widgets and sports scores on the home page.

The home screen on Sling TV shows cable news options on a wall-mounted TV
The home screen on Sling TV shows cable news options on a wall-mounted TV

My biggest gripe with the Sling TV service is how its DVR capabilities are implemented. When I turn on a show mid-way in, I can't just open that show from the Sling home screen — because it will dump me to the current and live moment. Without the option to rewind.

YouTube TV gives you the option to start from the beginning or go to the live moment. To go to the beginning of a currently-live show, Sling requires that you click over to its DVR section, and start the show there. It's not a whole lot of extra work, but it's friction that shouldn't be there. I believe Sling is working to fix this.

Winner: YouTube TV, which had a head-start with the YouTube app perfecting the streaming experience

YouTube TV vs. Sling TV: Verdict

This YouTube TV vs Sling TV face-off has focused on the large ways these services differ, but I know first-hand that this is a situation where one cord-cutter's No. 1 choice can be another's No. 2 — and vice-versa.

So, going just off those scores, you'd think I was a dyed-in-the-wool YouTube TV user. And, well, I was. After YouTube TV's price hike, though, I'm switching to Hulu + Live TV, so check out our YouTube TV vs Hulu + Live TV faceoff.

So much for me ditching Sling TV for YouTube TV lasting forever.

I value price and a few select channels (AMC, my local Fox affiliate, TBS, TNT and USA) above all others. During F1 live stream season, I want ESPN, though — which is why I switched. And if I needed CBS, I'd consider the AirTV that my colleague uses.

But Tom's Guide face-offs aren't about what the person writing the service uses. Instead, we're considering every single option you might need. If I were a huge sports fan, or someone who needed all of the channels, or someone who really valued a DVR, I'd go with YouTube TV.