Series: Streaming TV Services
Reviews of various new TV streaming services that seek to replace traditional cable and satellite connections.
Article 1 of 5 in series
The new Sling TV Internet service provides many basic paid channels for a low monthly fee, and makes them available just about everywhere. Is it enough to cut the cable cord or drop satellite TV? Yes, but not for everyone.Show full article
I’m a wannabe “cord cutter,” forever thwarted. I would have canceled my Comcast cable TV service years ago if it were up to me. I am married, though, and my wife has veto power over decisions like this.
She’s hooked on such basic-cable shows as “House Hunters International,” “Love It or List It,” and the suspiciously handsome “Property Brothers” on the HGTV channel. She loves having an on-demand archive of her favorite programs via Comcast’s X1 service, too.
But my case for ditching cable became stronger with a new Internet streaming video service called Sling TV. Aimed squarely at cord cutters, it offers an array of basic-cable channels for $20 per month, with no contractual obligation. No cable or satellite TV service is required (an interesting arrangement, since Sling TV is owned by satellite provider Dish Network).
Do you like sports? Sling TV offers ESPN. How about cooking? Sling TV users get the Food Network and the Cooking Channel. For news junkies, there’s CNN and Bloomberg Television. Kids can load up the Disney Channel, and Spanish-speaking households like mine can watch Galavisión.
Sling TV has roughly 30 channels, running the gamut from travel and home repair to general-interest programming on such popular channels as TNT and TBS, with more on the way. Sling TV recently announced that it will add AMC, home of “The Walking Dead” and the “Breaking Bad” spinoff “Better Call Saul,” along with Univisión, another Latino channel. And, yes, Sling TV has HGTV for my wife.
Sling TV also offers add-on channel tiers. For an extra $5 per month, sports fans can expand from ESPN and ESPN2 to a total of 11 sports channels, including the SEC Network and several other ESPN channels. There are also $5 bundles for kids and news junkies. But you are out of luck if you crave Lifetime, A&E, USA, BET, MTV, Bravo, Spike, SyFy, TLC, the History Channel, the Weather Channel, C-Span, Telemundo, Nickelodeon, and many others.
All supported channels are live, just as they are via a cable or satellite provider, and some also include on-demand access to recently aired episodes. CNN is only viewable live, so I can’t record new episodes of Anthony Bourdain’s “Parts Unknown”, but I can watch old episodes of his previous show, “No Reservations,” on the Travel Channel. Live programs can’t be paused, rewound, or fast-forwarded, but archived shows can be. There are no DVR features for recording video for later playback, unlike my Comcast X1 service.
Archived content is limited compared to, say, the on-demand programming available from Comcast (some of it free but much not). While Comcast gives me archives going back seasons, Sling TV provides only recently aired shows.
Sling TV has one major omission: no basic broadcast channels are included. But this is simple to remedy for many people with a rooftop antenna that pulls in those channels in pristine, uncompressed high definition, and for free.
Sling TV also provides a selection of rental movies, such as “Fury,” “Lucy,” and “Guardians of the Galaxy,” much as Google’s Play store, Apple’s iTunes Store, Wal-Mart’s Vudu, and others have long done. As with those others, you pay for films individually; they aren’t included in the monthly fee. No one will join Sling for access to the movies.
But that may change. Sling TV earlier this month said it will soon add the EPIX network with four new channels and 2,000 more video-on-demand titles. The EPIX service will also cost an extra monthly fee, which hasn’t yet been announced.
Best of all, Sling TV is viewable on just about any device.
The service has iOS and Android apps, along with Mac and Windows applications. Users of recent Roku streaming-video TV boxes get access, and Sling TV has just added compatibility with the Amazon Fire TV and Fire TV Stick. Microsoft Xbox One and Google Nexus Player compatibility is coming soon. Devices that are not yet Sling TV-compatible include the Apple TV and Google’s Chromecast streaming stick.
Taking Sling TV for a Spin -- I tried out Sling TV on an iPhone 6 Plus, an iPad Air 2, and a MacBook Air with no major problems. I also installed the service on a Windows PC, an Android-based Google Nexus 9 tablet, a Roku 3 streaming box, and both of Amazon’s Fire TV devices. Sling TV generally worked dependably for me, with very little buffering and lag, and only a couple of cryptic errors that forced app restarts.
Sling TV’s interface is nearly identical across the range of compatible computers, mobile devices and TV streamers. It features a basic design with two side-scrolling menus: one for channels and, just below that, another for shows on each channel. This worked reasonably well with both mouse-driven and touch-based platforms, but it felt a bit clunky with the Roku and Fire TV remotes, and the side-scrolling design tested my patience everywhere since I was constantly navigating through dozens of channels.
On computers and mobile devices, a drop-down menu on the upper right eased my pain a bit by dividing channels into four categories: sports, entertainment, news, and family.
On the upper left there is a second drop-down menu for shifting between Sling TV’s television and movie listings.
Navigation is slightly different on a TV. On the Fire TV remote, for instance, you tap the menu button to navigate to the movie section, a search engine, and more.
Streaming quality on my computers and mobile gadgets tended to be decent if not HD-pristine via my Comcast broadband and Wi-Fi router. Quality took a hit on my TV, via either Roku or Fire TV, but it was hard for me to tell whether Sling TV or my Wi-Fi network was to blame. I suspect the latter since my living room has tended to be a Wi-Fi problem area and I’ve had trouble with other services too. (That said, TidBITS Managing Editor Josh Centers has also seen poor video quality with Sling TV, even with a wired connection.)
Sling TV is supposed to save your place when viewing a show on one device, so you can pick up where you left off on another gadget later, but I found this to work imperfectly.
I also had a devil of a time remaining logged in to Sling TV on certain devices, such as my iPad and Roku. My multi-device use may have accounted for some of this misbehavior. The service doesn’t allow simultaneous access on multiple devices, so forget about sharing credentials with friends and family, HBO Go-style.
Login problems aside, the iPad Air 2 struck me as the perfect environment for full Sling TV enjoyment with its Retina display, flawless touch interaction, high portability, and nice audio. I suspect Sling TV was conceived with Apple’s tablet primarily in mind.
Is It Worth It? -- Sling TV is affordably priced at $20 a month for its core channels, and even the $5 add-on bundles are reasonable, but the service has to be a good fit content-wise. If you like the channels the service has, you’ll be tempted to take the leap. My wife and I have no interest in the ESPN channels (the biggest selling point) and its other shows are a mixed bag, so Sling TV is not a slam dunk for us in that regard.
We’d definitely save money, though. Our Comcast bill comes to $175 a month with cable TV, broadband, and telephone service bundled together. If I canceled the cable TV part of the bundle, I’d pay only $70 a month, or $90 with broadband plus Sling TV.
We’d take a hit in terms of features, however, if we threw in our lot with Sling TV. Comcast’s X1 service provides a DVR along with a wealth of on-demand video, a powerful search engine with autocomplete, and movie and TV-episode purchases or rentals, plus pause, rewind and fast-forward for live TV.
Sling TV doesn’t compete well with Comcast X1 at any level other than price. It has no DVR options, a weak search engine, clunkier navigation, and much less on-demand content. When push comes to shove, my wife is more than willing to pay more for Comcast’s superior service, and so we will keep doing so. How that comparison works out for you, only you can say.
But, as I said earlier, I would have canceled cable a long time ago if it were just up to me, and that was before Sling TV came on the scene. Sling TV makes the cord-cutting scenario all the more alluring, and I’m sure many others will feel the same way.
Article 2 of 5 in series
The Sling TV service offers cable-style programming over the Internet at a lower cost, but a lack of Apple TV compatibility has kept many users away. Sling TV has now released an Apple TV app with a revamped interface. Julio Ojeda-Zapata reviews the app.Show full article
For cord cutters seeking to ditch ever-costlier cable and satellite TV, Sling TV is a compelling alternative, which I first wrote about in “FunBITS: Sling TV Is Made for Cord Cutters” (20 February 2015). It’s a cable-style service, with enticing and affordable packages of leading networks, but delivered online, with no need to set up a special box.
I have at times been tempted to jettison my Comcast TV service largely on the strength of Sling TV’s offerings. I’ve hesitated for a number of reasons, not least of which is that I could not access Sling TV on an Apple TV, my preferred video-streaming box.
Now that barrier has been removed. Sling TV has finally released an app for the fourth-generation Apple TV to complement its iOS and Mac apps. Sling is also offering a 32 GB Apple TV for $89, compared to the usual $149 price tag, for those who prepay three months of Sling TV.
Sling TV’s new Apple TV interface is pretty good. I don’t think it quite matches up to the Comcast X1 interface, another reason I’ve hesitated to cut the cord, but Sling has made great strides in usability since I last reviewed it.
Sling Content -- Sling also has significantly expanded its content offerings. It once had only 20 or so channels, and that number is now up to about 100.
Blue is a “multi-stream” service – meaning you can watch on up to three devices at once – with 42 channels, including new ones like USA, Bravo, and Syfy. It also includes local NBC stations in some markets, with more markets to come eventually.
Orange is a single-stream service with 29 channels, including new addition BBC America. Sling also offers an option to combine Blue and Orange (Sling Gray?) for a single $40-per-month fee.
If that’s not enough, you can add themed bundles, each $5, that focus on sports, children’s shows, comedy, world news (including recent addition BBC World Service), and more. HBO and Cinemax each cost an additional $15 and $10, respectively.
Sling also emphasizes Spanish-language programming, and the company has just augmented its longstanding “Best of Spanish TV” bundle with a “Caribe” bundle focused on Cuba and Puerto Rico, along with a “Colombia Extra” bundle. Such add-ons also cost $5 apiece, but Spanish speakers who want only this content, and nothing en inglés can also purchase them for $10 entirely on their own.
Interface for the Live and the Canned -- Sling’s vast program options are a blend of live and on-demand content, and various networks have made different decisions as to what ratio of live and canned shows they make available.
Accordingly, Sling TV’s Apple TV interface attempts to cluster its content into corresponding sections. It doesn’t do this perfectly, but making sense of it all isn’t hard. To get started, you access the main menu by swiping downward from the top of the TV screen.
One menu option, dubbed Guide, is the busiest and a bit tricky to navigate by way of the Apple TV’s touch-based Siri Remote. All available channels appear in a strip near the top. That’s a lot of sideways thumb scrolling to find the channel you want, but you can refine selections by criteria – like sports, news, or family – via a menu underneath the channel strip.
Once you select a channel, a host of options appear below. These vary by channel. In some cases, you can select live content and see a schedule of upcoming live airings. In other cases – such as HBO and Cinemax – there’s a wealth of on-demand content that you can watch at any time. It includes movies and TV shows like HBO’s “Silicon Valley” and “Game of Thrones,” for those who like Netflix-style binge watching.
But, again, Sling organizes its content into horizontal strips that require endless sideways scrolling. It is torture, for instance, to move rightward alphabetically through dozens of films available from HBO alone.
Elsewhere in the Sling TV interface, you can pick the My TV option to see your partially viewed programs and content you’ve favorited for later viewing. Faved offerings include most-watched shows, on-demand movies, and entire channels for a customized and convenient personal menu that bypasses that awkward main channel strip.
On Now shows programs that are currently playing live.
A redesigned Mini Guide lets you browse through available live content without interrupting what you are currently watching. It takes up less space than the previous Mini Guide, according to Sling. To access the Mini Guide on the Apple TV, swipe upward from the bottom of the screen.
Sling TV has a search engine, which you can harness either via an on-screen alphabet interface or by using voice commands spoken to the Siri Remote. The app also provides simple parental controls that let parents prevent access to particular program ratings — along with unrated content.
Sling’s Apple TV interface is different from that on the iPad and the Mac, though not exponentially better in terms of interface design. The Apple TV app seems more reliable, though; I’ve struggled to pull up content like HBO’s “Silicon Valley” on my iPad, but that has been far less of an issue on the Apple TV. However, the Mac version has always performed reliably for me.
Still, Sling said the redesigned interface debuting on the Apple TV will eventually become its standard look and will migrate to other platforms in coming months. As I was finishing this article, it had already debuted on the Roku.
SlingTV provides apps for a variety of other platforms – like Google Chromecast and Amazon Fire TV streaming devices. This broad platform compatibility makes Sling TV an enticing option for those who are tempted to cut the cord amid skyrocketing cable and satellite bills.
Article 3 of 5 in series
AT&T, via its DirecTV arm, joins the likes of PlayStation Vue and Sling TV with a TV streaming service that has cable-like offerings but is delivered entirely online. DirecTV Now works with the Apple TV, iOS devices, and the Mac, too.Show full article
Those wanting to ditch pricey cable and satellite services have a growing number of alternatives offered over broadband connections, yet with programming options roughly mirroring those of traditional TV providers.
These newfangled cord-cutting services include Sling TV, which recently gained Apple TV compatibility (see “Sling TV, a Cord Cutter’s Delight, Arrives on Apple TV,” 6 July 2016), and the relatively new PlayStation Vue (see “PlayStation Vue Wins Cord-Cutter Option for News and Sports,” 9 December 2016).
DirecTV Now, unlike traditional DirecTV, does not require you to install an unsightly satellite dish. Instead, upon signing up for any of several channel packages, you can watch your TV content on your Mac, iPhone, iPad, and some TV-connected streaming devices, including the Apple TV. If you don’t have an Apple TV, DirecTV Now is currently offering one for free to those making a three-month commitment. And if you get your cell service through AT&T, you can watch DirecTV on your iPhone or cellular-enabled iPad without it counting against your bandwidth cap.
DirecTV Now Basics -- DirecTV Now provides an abundance of viewing options that might make it tempting to forgo traditional services, though it has certain glaring omissions – notably the CBS and CBS-owned CW channels, along with the Showtime premium channel. (CBS may be joining soon.)
You can choose from packages containing between about 60 and 120 channels – similar in selection to what cable users enjoy – along with premium channel offerings. There’s a 7-day free trial, too. Here’s how regular pricing breaks down:
- “Live a Little” provides 60+ channels for $35 per month
- “Just Right” provides 80+ channels for $50 per month
- “Go Big” provides 100+ channels for $60 per month
- “Gotta Have It” provides 120+ channels for $70 per month
For a limited time, you can get Go Big for $35 per month, supposedly forever or at least for the foreseeable future.
HBO and Cinemax, the sole premium offerings thus far, each cost an extra $5 per month.
Even at the highest level, DirecTV Now subscribers may come in well under what one might pay for cable, which can top $100 per month.
DirecTV Now is a mix of live and on-demand TV – mimicking legacy cable and satellite services along with the likes of Sling TV. AT&T is launching the service with 15,000 on-demand movies and recently aired TV episodes.
Before scrambling to sign up, though, you should be aware of other DirecTV Now shortcomings. For instance, it lacks DVR capabilities, which are standard on PlayStation Vue and are being launched in beta form on Sling TV. AT&T said it plans to add a DVR option by next year.
Also, you can stream video on only two devices at once, which may limit DirecTV Now’s appeal in larger households. PlayStation Vue offers five simultaneous streams and Sling TV offers one or three streams depending on the channel bundle.
Live viewing of local channels varies with locale. Where I live in the Twin Cities of Minnesota, Fox is my only live local option. What’s more, you can’t view any NBC local channels live on mobile devices or TV streaming boxes in any area, only in a Web browser.
If you’re a sports fan, DirecTV Now boasts plenty of sports offerings, including ESPN and its offshoots along with the Golf Channel, NBA TV, Fox Sports, Tennis Channel, NBC Sports Network, NHL Network, and others. However, it lacks the NFL Sunday Ticket package and the NFL RedZone channel. A maddening number of other limitations might apply, depending on blackout rules and what regional sports networks you watch.
How does the DirecTV Now lineup compare to those of Sling TV and PlayStation Vue? CNET has the 169-channel chart you need.
Apple Apps -- DirecTV Now works seamlessly on iOS devices and the Apple TV. Some minor issues arise on the Mac, where DirecTV Now runs in a Web browser, unlike, say, Sling TV, which has native apps for all of Apple’s platforms.
Mac users have to install Microsoft’s Silverlight software for DirecTV Now streaming to work. That’s somewhat troubling, since Microsoft stopped working on Silverlight in 2012, apart from patches and bug fixes, and doesn’t even support it in its new Edge browser for Windows 10.
On the Mac, Microsoft warns that Safari “may not be fully compatible” with its software. I did get it to work, but only after manually enabling Silverlight in the plug-in portion of Safari’s security settings. Everything worked fine in Google Chrome, but Mozilla’s Firefox was a total no-go.
Regardless of device or app, I repeatedly saw an annoying “error 60” warning. You’ll see this error if you try to use too many devices simultaneously – but I was using only one device at a time. Many others have encountered this glitch, and AT&T suggests shutting down all apps and starting over.
Look and Feel -- DirecTV Now looks virtually identical on all platforms with a streamlined, easy-to-grasp design that’s a stark contrast to Sling TV’s convoluted, trickier-to-master approach.
On the iPad, for instance, DirecTV Now offers a Guide button at the upper left and search and settings buttons at the upper right along with a simple toolbar at the bottom with Home, Shows, Movies, and Networks.
The Home screen shows sideways-scrolling strips with content that varies depending on the device. On my iPad, I had What’s On Now, New Shows, Returning Shows, Catch Up, Featured Movies, and more.
Likewise, the Shows and Movies screens display strips with thumbnails offering programming selections (along with a Show All link for access to additional content).
The Networks screen is even simpler, with a grid of gray boxes, each displaying a network logo. The screen is split into Subscribed and Unsubscribed sections that represent which networks are or aren’t in your package. If you try to access a network in the Unsubscribed section, DirecTV Now lets you sign up for additional channels.
On the Apple TV, the DirecTV Now interface differs slightly. A finger flick upwards on the Siri Remote’s touchpad triggers a menu on the screen’s bottom with Home, Shows, Movies, and Networks, along with Guide and Search.
A downward flick on the touchpad – or a press of the Siri Remote’s Menu button – shows Live TV, Guide, Watchlist and Settings along the top of the screen, along with (again) an option to search.
When watching on-demand video on the Apple TV, sideways flicks on the touchpad rewind or fast-forward. When doing the same thing while watching live video, though, you move from channel to channel. You can pause live TV, but not rewind as you can on other services, such as PlayStation Vue.
Time to Watch -- Once I worked through the aforementioned technical issues, I came to like DirecTV Now and it worked reasonably well for me.
Streaming was generally reliable, though with occasional stuttering and cryptic “trouble loading” messages.
The video quality usually looked decent, though hardly spectacular. It’s largely dependent on the source material, naturally, but it was invariably inferior to high-definition Comcast streaming and DVD videos.
Upshot -- DirecTV Now’s ease of use and compatibility with iOS and Apple TV could well merit the attention of Apple users, particularly AT&T subscribers who like streaming video over cellular connections.
But DirecTV Now is by no means a cord-cutter slam dunk. It has stiff competition from the likes of Sling TV and PlayStation Vue. What’s more, traditional TV providers have made great strides in usability to compete. Comcast is my cable provider, and its recent upgrades, such as cloud access to my DVR recordings, have kept me from jumping ship — at least thus far.
The bottom line is that there is a battle for your TV-watching eyeballs going on right now, but none of the competitors has a clear edge. So if you’re thinking about dropping traditional cable for an Internet-based service, or you’re unhappy with your current service, compare prices and channel offerings carefully.
Article 4 of 5 in series
by Josh Centers
iOS and tvOS now host three services for live content without a traditional cable or satellite package: Sling TV, DirecTV Now, and PlayStation Vue. Josh Centers explains why PlayStation Vue is the superior choice for news and sports fans.Show full article
Now is an exciting time in the world of television. We’re seeing ever more options for cord cutters who want to watch live TV, such as Sling TV (see “Sling TV, a Cord Cutter’s Delight, Arrives on Apple TV,” 6 July 2016) and the new DirecTV Now (see “DirecTV Now Joins the Scrum of Cord-Cutting TV Services,” 9 December 2016). But at the moment, there’s a third service I prefer over both: Sony’s PlayStation Vue.
PlayStation Vue has improved rapidly since its debut in March 2015. Initially limited to just a few cities and even then only to those with PlayStation game consoles, the service is now nearly as ubiquitous as Sling TV, with clients for the Apple TV and iOS, plus Android, Android TV, Amazon Fire TV, Roku, and the Web (where it sadly requires Adobe Flash).
Ten Things I Love About PlayStation Vue -- I’ll share a few of PlayStation Vue’s details below, but let me start off with a list of what I like about PlayStation Vue.
For my needs (news and sports), PlayStation Vue is about $10 per month cheaper than Sling TV. The PlayStation Vue packages are also simpler than Sling TV’s. Instead of Sling TV’s confusing Blue and Orange levels with different restrictions, PlayStation Vue offers the usual package tiers seen with cable and satellite providers and DirecTV Now.
You can stream content on up to five devices at once, so everyone in the house can watch their favorite shows. Or, if you’re like me, you don’t have to miss any football when you’re away from the couch. Sling Orange is limited to one stream, while Sling Blue is limited to three streams. DirecTV is a bit simpler than that, but is limited to only one stream.
I prefer PlayStation Vue’s channel selection, especially for news and sports. For instance, MSNBC is a $5-per-month add-on with Sling TV but is included in my PlayStation Vue package for no extra charge.
PlayStation Vue has a cloud DVR feature that works with most channels, as well as better support for on-demand content than Sling TV. (Sling TV just launched a DVR feature, but it’s a limited beta.)
You can pause, rewind, and fast forward almost all channels, unlike Sling TV, which offers those features only for a handful of channels.
PlayStation Vue lets you set up multiple profiles, so you can share an account with others while maintaining your own favorite channel and show lists.
I prefer the PlayStation Vue interface, which is consistent across platforms and mostly limited to a single screen, unlike Sling TV, which is spread out over several screens.
PlayStation Vue will activate almost all apps that require TV provider authentication, so in that sense, it integrates with the Apple TV better than Sling TV or DirecTV Now does. However, unlike Sling TV, it doesn’t yet support the new Single Sign-on feature in tvOS 10.
If you subscribe to HBO via PlayStation Vue, it activates with the independent HBO NOW instead of the TV-provider-required HBO GO. If you cancel PlayStation Vue later, it’s easy to keep your HBO NOW subscription, since it’s a separate account. And this way, if HBO NOW goes down during a big event (like an episode of “Game of Thrones”), you can still watch your shows with PlayStation Vue.
In some markets, though not mine, PlayStation Vue offers local broadcast content, which is essential for sports and local news. Sling TV offers few local broadcast options, and DirecTV Now’s local broadcast offerings are even more limited than PlayStation Vue’s.
Seven Problems with PlayStation Vue -- All that said, PlayStation Vue is far from perfect. Here are some concerns that I either have with the service or could imagine others having:
Since PlayStation Vue doesn’t support broadcast channels in my market, it isn’t a complete cable replacement for me yet. (However, it does offer on-demand content from the big four networks: ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC.)
PlayStation Vue’s DVR feature stores programs for only 28 days, so you can’t save anything for posterity.
PlayStation Vue recently lost the rights to Viacom channels like Comedy Central and MTV. For me, this is no great loss, but you may feel differently.
NFL RedZone requires a single seasonal $39.99 fee instead of the $5-per-month that Sling TV charges. So I’m effectively locked in to PlayStation Vue until the end of the season. However, at least PlayStation Vue offers NFL RedZone, unlike DirecTV Now.
While I prefer PlayStation Vue’s interface to Sling TV’s, it’s still not great. To be fair, I’m not sure anyone offers a terrific TV interface.
Some channels won’t play outside of your home Wi-Fi network. I’ve never experienced this problem, but it’s a common complaint.
Unlike Sling TV, PlayStation Vue doesn’t offer any way to reduce video quality to preserve bandwidth. And unlike DirecTV Now when combined with AT&T cellular service, video played on PlayStation Vue will count against your mobile bandwidth cap.
With those pros and cons established, let’s look at PlayStation Vue’s packages and interface.
PlayStation Vue Packages -- I pay for live TV because of news and sports. Your needs may differ, but my rationale is simple: I can catch up with other shows at any time with a variety of services, such as Hulu, HBO NOW, and Netflix, but there’s an immediacy to news and sports that make them unique. For that reason, I focus mostly on news and sports when discussing packages.
I don’t have room to list every channel in every package here, so I encourage you to explore the options on the PlayStation Vue Web site. Standbys like AMC, Cartoon Network, Disney Channel, Food Network, FX, FXX, SyFy, TBS, TNT, and USA are all included in every package.
PlayStation Vue is split into four oddly named plans, each of which is available with the 7-day free trial:
Access Slim: $29.99 per month, which includes CNBC, CNN, ESPN, ESPN 2, Fox Business, Fox News, FS1, FS2, and MSNBC. You can also add on Epix for $2.99 per month and the Español Pack for $4.99 per month. However, you cannot have NFL RedZone on this package.
Core Slim: This $34.99-per-month package adds Bein Sports, Big Ten Network, ESPN News, ESPN U, Fox Sports, the Golf Channel, NBA TV, NBCSN, NFL Network, and SEC Network. This is the package I subscribe to, along with NFL RedZone for $39.99 per season.
If you’re an NFL fan, I highly recommend NFL RedZone, which jumps between all the Sunday games, focusing on the games where a touchdown is imminent, with no local blackout restrictions. Some fans feel it swaps between games too frequently, but I love it because it cuts out the boring parts, especially the excessive commercials. I have a hard time watching a regular football game now.
Elite Slim: This $44.99-per-month package adds some obscure channels to Core Slim, such as Chiller, CNBC World, the Cooking Channel, ESPN in Spanish, a number of Fox college sports channels, and Fox Sports in Spanish.
Ultra Slim: For $64.99 per month, Ultra Slim offers all 90 channels, as well as HBO and Showtime.
Note that if PlayStation Vue offers broadcast channels in your area, you have to pay an additional $10 per month for any package, as the broadcast channels are mandatory if available.
How does the PlayStation Vue lineup compare to those of DirecTV Now and Sling TV? CNET has the 169-channel chart you need.
One last note on programming: since PlayStation Vue includes FXX and it activates the FXNOW app for various platforms, that means you gain access to Simpsons World inside FXNOW, which lets you watch every single episode of “The Simpsons!”
PlayStation Vue’s Interface -- I’ll focus on the Apple TV app here, but the interface is largely the same on other platforms. (That said, Sony tweaked the Web interface after I initially drafted this article, breaking PlayStation Vue up into genre-themed sections, so bigger interface changes may be coming to all platforms.)
PlayStation Vue’s interface is split into four screens: Home, Guide, Search, and Settings. The last two are what you’d expect, while Guide presents a somewhat traditional grid-based guide. However, it’s flipped from the standard setup, with the columns being channels and the rows being showtimes. I don’t understand why Sony laid things out this way — it’s just confusing.
But the main screen you’ll interact with is Home, which has six sections:
You’re Watching: This keeps track of what you’re currently watching. Click the listing to go back to your show.
Recently Watched: Here you can keep track of which shows you’ve watched recently. If the show isn’t on at the moment, it lists any available DVR and on-demand episodes so you can catch up.
My Shows: Shows you’ve favorited appear here. Click a show to see a combination of cloud DVR recordings and on-demand episodes. To see a full list of shows, scroll all the way to the right and click More.
Live TV: Here you can scroll through live TV shows. To see the full list, scroll all the way to the right and click More.
Favorite Channels: Channels you’ve marked as favorites appear here. To view all channels — you guessed it — scroll all the way to the right and click More.
Featured: This is a random assortment of featured content.
Different platforms sometimes offer additional choices. For example, the iOS app has a Recommended for You screen, as well as an Explore screen to browse content.
While watching a program, you can access a menu with more options. To do that on the Apple TV, swipe down on the Siri Remote’s touchpad. In iOS, tap in the viewing area. In the Web client, move your cursor into the viewing area.
There are a few things going on here, but I’ll focus on just one. Tap or click the little plus button to add the current program to your My Shows list. For shows in your My Shows list, PlayStation Vue will record them in the cloud DVR and will add all available on-demand shows to your My Shows list.
People seem to either love or hate PlayStation Vue’s interface, but the DVR functionality is spectacular. You don’t have to worry about managing space or picking which episodes to keep. Just add it to the list and every episode is saved for up to 28 days.
A Living Room with a Vue -- I’m a fan of PlayStation Vue. The interface isn’t bad (better than Comcast’s, in my opinion), it’s reliable, and the quality and price are good. Unfortunately, since broadcast channels aren’t yet available in my area, it can’t totally replace cable for me, because those are essential for local news and sports. But PlayStation Vue could replace cable for you if you don’t need broadcast channels or live close enough to the broadcast area that you can use a cheap indoor antenna.
We live in a golden era for TV choice. You’re no longer limited to broadcast, cable, or satellite, and there are now three of these Internet TV services to choose from: Sling TV, PlayStation Vue, and the new DirecTV Now. It’ll be fascinating to see how each of these players responds to an increasingly competitive market.
The catch for many people will be bandwidth caps. Most Comcast customers now have a 1 TB monthly bandwidth cap that limits how much video they can stream (see “Comcast Raises Monthly Data Cap to a Less Insulting 1 TB,” 29 April 2016). That’s not even considering mobile bandwidth caps, which are far more restrictive.
The other issue is that these services still have to adhere to the terms set by the content owners, most of which have been shaped by the cable companies. Those terms account for some of the odd restrictions you see with streaming TV services.
It will undoubtedly take a long time for the market to sort itself out, but these new services are a step in the right direction for giving us all more choice at lower prices.
Article 5 of 5 in series
by Josh Centers
Google will soon be competing with the likes of Sling TV, PlayStation Vue, and DirecTV Now. Set to debut within a few months in a new standalone app, the $35-per-month YouTube TV service will feature about three dozen channels, including ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox, as well as cable stalwarts like ESPN and Fox News. Google says the service will be designed primarily for mobile but will also work with computers and its Chromecast streaming devices. It’s slated to have a cloud-based DVR with unlimited storage and a Google AI-powered recommendation system. We’re guessing YouTube TV will be limited to U.S. viewers, but no details on international possibilities were mentioned.Show full article