Sling vs Roku: What’s the Difference?

by Lisa Hayden
Sling vs Roku

Are you thinking about cutting your cable and just getting an online streaming service? Do you even know how to make your choice among these many providers? Are you becoming more confused as you search through the different options?

We’ve become more selective with our viewing habits and because of that, we’ve also steeredc towards on-demand platforms rather than the old-school cable technology. With streaming services offering better services as ever, it’s not surprising that people are cutting their cable bill and instead subscribing to providers like Sling and Roku. Now, while you can certainly get both at the same time, the limits of our finances dictate that it’s best to just get one – preferably the better one of the two.

In this article, we’re going to discuss exactly what separates one from the other and hopefully let you choose the better option for you:

Main Service Offered

Sling vs Roku services

First things first, we’ll have to make a distinction between what Sling TV and Roku really offers their subscribers. Note that Sling TV is not a cable provider but it does give you the same shows you get when you have cable. Unlike cable however, Sling TV will let you stream these TV shows through your own device. 

Roku does not operate on subscriptions. If you want to access Roku-offered television shows, you’ll have to buy an external device that’s attached with your existing television. There are several of these devices or “boxes” and just plug them in as needed. Hence, there’s no monthly payment to speak of – instead, you pay a one-time fee for the box and enjoy your shows.

Alternative Access for Sling TV and Roku

Sling TV stands out from Roku by the mere fact that’s there’s online access for the shows. If you can’t use the TV, you can use your PC to stream the same television shows you love. This is not possible with Roku. By extension, this means that you can watch shows through other gadgets like your laptop, your mobile phone, and your tablet. Note though – a VPN may be necessary if you’re trying to access shows that are outside your territory.

One thing to remember is that one Roku box works for one TV only. Hence, if you have two televisions and want to enjoy multiple channels for both, you’ll need to attach two Roku boxes.

Roku has also caught up when it comes to alternative access. They now offer screen mirroring for android or PC devices. There’s also an app now that can turn your mobile phone into a convenient Roku remote control, thereby increasing the ease of its connectivity and usage.

Internet Needs

From the basic description of these two show providers, it’s fairly obvious that you don’t need an internet connection when watching shows via Roku. With Sling TV however, you’ll definitely need internet. Note that the speed of the streaming service via Sling TV is largely dependent on the internet speed you enjoy at home. Obviously, the streaming will also be reflected in your data consumption. If you enjoy unlimited data, this should not be a problem.

Bandwidth is another consideration if you’re using the Sling TV. Minimum streaming bandwidth should be around 5mb per second. If you want to enjoy a smooth stream that means you’ll need at least 25mb per second to really enjoy a show. Now, let’s say you’re not the only streamer in your home. The minimum requirement should be multiplied by the number of people using the internet at the same time. If your internet is too slow, the Sling TV may not be worth getting.

Roku also needs internet connectivity if you want to use it. However, the mbps requires is a bit lower at just 1.5mb per second as its minimum. According to developers, an mbps of 3.0 would already provide you with an HD streaming service. Again, the same principle applies with Sling TV and bandwidth consumption. If you’re using multiple devices, your connection must be strong enough to handle all of them at once.

What You Can Watch

Sling vs Roku what to watch

As already mentioned, Sling TV is simply an alternative model of watching cable TV. Hence, you’re still getting the same show. Unlike a package deal however, it’s more a pick-and-take setup wherein you can get your favorite channels to stream through your subscription. This is on top of a standard package that’s offered to all clients. Hence, if all the channels you like are already in that standard package, then there’s really no need for you to make additional payments to get other TV channels.

Connectivity of Your Hardware

Both the Sling TV and the Roku operate by connecting with your television. Obviously, this means that your TV must be updated enough to communicate with whatever device you’re using to make that connection. For Sling TV, a television capable of connecting to an existing wireless internet would be perfect. Internet can also be connected via cable going from your TV to your modem.

As for Roku, the box is connected via an HDMI cable. In either case therefore, you’re going to need a slightly new model for a television. Fortunately, most TVs today come with slots for HDMI so connectivity is not a problem.

Ease of Setup

The actual physical effort to set up your TV access is practically zero when it comes to Sling TV. The process is a lot like signing up for a Netflix account or any other account online. It takes little effort, spanning only a few minutes, and without the need for added hardware.

It’s fairly obvious however that Roku needs some installation work. It’s not difficult as the setup takes just a few seconds once you find the right port in your television. Understand however that there are several types of Roku hardware in the market today. There’s Roku Express which is the standard offering of the brand. There’s Roku Premiere and then Roku Premier + which supports both HDR and 4K. There’s also the Roku Express+ which allows you to convert an old TV into one that has the same features as a smart TV set. The Roku Streaming Stick is also available and finally, the Roku Ultra which offers the best quality 4K and HDR.

Picture and Sound

Sling vs Roku picture and sound

Sling TV is not as good as the typical picture you get through cable television – but this can be expected, especially if there’s a drop to the internet connection. Audio is limited to stereo although some videos on demand come with surround sound.

Roku on the other hand also comes with a fairly low picture quality when compared to cable. The image is dependent on your internet connection but may be adjusted through the settings. Since it only uses 3mbps, the slight drop in the quality of the picture can be expected with this setup.

Cost of the Service

Just from the pricing alone, there’s already a huge difference between these two. Sling TV is a service – which means you’ll have to make repeat payments if you want to enjoy the service. Typically, subscription is on a monthly basis. Roku on the other hand is a product. Hence, you only pay for the box once and enjoy the basic channels for as long as you want. Additional channels are often paid for separately via Roku, but this is usually unnecessary because the basic channels are already abundant. For a Roku box, you’ll typically pay around 30USD as a one-time fee. 

Sling TV requires a monthly subscription of $30 US per month. There are three possible packages for Sling TV. That’s the Blue, the Orange, and the Blue+Orange which costs 45 USD. Note that those prices are for bundled channels ready to be made available to clients. Extra channels are paid for separately and can cost anywhere between $5 to 15, depending on the channel itself. Since it is subscription based, Sling TV allows a 7-day free trial for potential clients before they commit to the service.

Channel Count: Sling TV

As mentioned, Sling TV comes with two types of package: the Blue and the Orange. The two can be combined together and have a cheaper cost, but you’ll still have to pay for special channels in their list.

Orange: ESPN, CNN, AMC, GHTV, Comedy Central, Cartoon Network, Disney Channel, ACC, History Channel, ESPN2, TNT, Network Extra, BBC America, ESPN3, Local Now, TBS, Freeform, EPIX Drive In, AXS TV, Travel Channel, IFX, Tribeca Shortlist, Viceland, Newsy, Flama, Galavision, A&E, Lifetime, Cheddar, and Bloomberg Television

Blue: AMC, CNN, IFC, Food Network, Viceland, Cartoon Network, TNT, Bloomberg Television, EPIX Drive-In, TBS, AMC, Newsy, Comedy Central, Cheddar, BBC America, Tribeca Shortlist, A&E, Local Now, NBC, Fox, Bravo, CSN, USA, FX, FS1, FS2, Fox Sports, Galavision, FXX, NFL Network, Tru TV, National Geographic, BET, SyFY, NBCSN, Nat Geo Wild, UniMas, and Univision

Storage Services Offered by Sling TV

sling tv storage

One feature you can’t find with Roku is the saving feature. This allows you to record favorite shows and watch them later if you don’t have the time right now or if you want to enjoy a show without any buffering. The cloud storage is capable of covering up to 10 hours’ worth of television shows. Now, is this enough time? Most people find 10 hours to be too short – especially since most individuals today enjoy marathons of their favorite shows. Fortunately, this can be increased by 50 hours of storage, totaling to 60 hours of saved shows. Note that the additional 50 hours must be paid for every month. Compared to the fact that Roku does not have this feature however, Sling TV is clearly the winner on this one.

Sling TV manages to save the shows indefinitely, which means that it can stay there for a year if you wish. Note though that once you hit the maximum storage capacity, any other saved shows will immediately replace the oldest ones saved. Hence, you’ll have to be careful about recording new ones in your Sling TV setup.

Hardware Design

Let’s not ignore the fact that if you choose Roku, you’re going to add another hardware to your entertainment room. Fortunately, the Roku boxes are all sleekly designed and blend well in a contemporary home. It is attached via one cable to the television, which means that it will not cause clutter in your entertainment unit. Fairly small, it should not take up too much space. In fact, the Roku Stick is slightly smaller than a remote and can be easily placed aside without ruining the who setup of your private area.

Channel Count: Roku

roku tv

Here’s the most important question people want answered – which one will offer more channels to enjoy? Well, Roku will have more channels, but it’s really a question of what channels you want to watch through the box. Currently, there are more 100 channels via the Roku box, many of which overlap with what’s being offered through the Sling TV setup. Hence, in terms of numbers – Roku is clearly the winner here.

Choosing One from the Other

Of course, when it comes right down to it, the choice of online streaming service depends on the features and specifications that meet your current needs. Don’t be swayed by a seemingly “better” setup if that means you’ll have to overhaul what you have now and spend additional dollars. 

Now, if you have a reliable internet and would be the only person streaming via the Sling TV, then Sling would be your better option. You’d be able to enjoy all your shows here without dampening the quality of your viewing.

However, if you want cable access for you and your family, a Roku box would be the better option. This lets you connect multiple devices at less the cost when factored over long-term use. If the internet connection is also unreliable or slow, the Roku would be the better choice.

Both brands have been named as best media streamers for the year 2020. Hence, there’s really no bad choice and having one will not stop you from getting the other.

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