I am an incredibly indecisive person. I have a very difficult time just picking one thing because I’ll almost immediately have buyer’s remorse, even if I’m just trying to pick a show to watch on Hulu, which makes it even harder as a cord cutter. It’s where cable TV shines to allow you to, if you wanted to, watch a show on-demand, or a live channel that picks the show for you. I wish Hulu and Netflix had that feature, to allow you to pick if you want to marathon a show, or arrange a schedule of shows to just auto-play for you. Until then, regular cable channels will do. But what if you’re a cord cutter who misses your favorite channel, or maybe you don’t want to cut the cord, but the cable bill is simply too high? That’s where Sling TV and other competitors come in.
Before I decided to go with Sling, I wanted to see what the other services had to offer. The first place I looked was, believe it or not, the cable company. I wanted to see if the services online I was looking at would cost around the same for the channel package I wanted. Not looking for anything fancy, I wanted to see how much it would cost to add two cable boxes, not necessarily DVRs, and the package that would give me channels like IFC, GSN, and MTV Classic, so I could get all the extra channels no one watches. Boy howdy, was I way off about the price. I thought they’d at least be similar, but the cable company was only interested in offering me a whole-home DVR, where the equipment and DVR charge alone was more than some of the packages for the online streaming services. Plus, I want to own my devices that run the cable TV. So tradition cable was out. Then I started looking at PlayStation Vue, and DirecTV Now. Because PlayStation Vue had recently gotten rid of all the Viacom Networks, which I wanted, and because of the price of the package I wanted, I decided to look elsewhere to compare. What I liked about PlayStation Vue was the DVR across all channels, but price was certainly an issue. Then I looked into DirecTV Now, and wow, the website is just a mess. The DirecTV Now website is merely one big video player with information at the bottom of the screen. Nothing about pricing, nothing about packages, just a button to sign up. Why would I sign up for something if I don’t even know what I’m getting? So I eventually researched the packages, and again, I was discouraged by the price. It had all the channels I wanted that I would never watch, like Chiller, and the Esquire Network, but I couldn’t get over the price, or the fact that it didn’t support the Roku, which is my preferred streaming box of choice. Now, if I wanted to pay near $45 a month, you might as well just pony up some extra cash and go with the cable provider’s service. Then I looked into Sling.
Sling is designed more à la carte than the competition. PS Vue and DTVNow are structured more as traditional cable providers, where as Sling gives you the base package with the standard lineup of big name channels, but then if you want the extra comedy channels like Spike, or GSN, you can pay $5 for that package to get just that, and then you don’t have to pay for lifestyle channels you won’t watch, or sports channels. You get a nice feeling of choice, which is the whole idea of cord cutting. There’s two big packages to choose from with Sling: Sling Orange at $20 and Sling Blue at $25. The big part about Sling Orange is it gives you the Disney-owned channels, like the Disney Channel, ABC, ESPN, and Freeform. The downside is the Sling Orange plan only gives you access to one stream, meaning only one device can watch Sling at a time. The competitors offer at least three streams with the base package, but not Sling Orange. Sling Blue on the other hand can do three streams at once, but you lose the Disney channels. You do get the Fox-owned channels, like Fox, FX, FXX, National Geographic, and the Fox Sports channels, so you have to know where you get your sports from. Or just get the Sling Orange and Blue package for $40 and get four streams at once. Unlike the competitors where you have to sequentially add channels to get the higher channel you want, Sling has category packages called Extras which allow you to pay $5 extra to get the channels you actually want. Categories include Kids, Comedy, News, Lifestyle, Sports, Broadcast, and Movie channels, including Epix, HDNet Movies, TCM, and premium movie channels like HBO, Cinemax, and Starz for higher than $5. There’s also free preview weeks for the movie channels, which so far I’ve gotten previews for Epix, Starz, and HBO. Please note that you only get access to just HBO and not the other HBO channels, and the same goes for Cinemax. You get the other Starz and Epix channels, however. Every channel gets an on-demand section, just like regular cable does. Also, Sling offers the most flexibility for device support, including the ability to be added to a Channel Master DVR, to provide seamless integration with over-the-air antenna channels, and Sling TV, which is very nice for cord cutters.
For me, Sling was a good choice, so I signed up for a trial, and noticed that if I prepaid two months, I could get a free Roku Express, which is a nice incentive. The interface across the devices is mostly the same, although I wasn’t a fan of the way it works on the Chromecast. In my experience on my first generation Chromecast, the stream would delay, freeze, and lose connection. Otherwise, it works well on my Windows 10 PC, Roku, and Android devices. The layout is a little unintuitive, and confusing. I’m used to a TV Guide grid layout, where Sling tries a more Netflix route by giving you squares of pictures to choose from. It seems like a good idea, but the text is too big for the square, so information like the show title, episode, and scheduled time all require a click to open the “more info” panel. It’s also a pain in the ass to just search by channel when you get the large packages, because scrolling right-to-left as opposed to bottom-to-top gets very confusing because it’s easy to lose track of where you were due to the large logo sizes, and the small space given to scroll through. The experience in a live channel works well, but the ability to pause and rewind live TV is only available on some channels, so when I come across a channel that actually supports this feature, I forget it exists. Cloud DVR is also not available yet, where it is on the competitor’s apps. Also, audio quality on certain channels, like Comedy Central, and other channels is a bit compressed-sounding. I don’t know if this is because Dish owns Sling, and the same channels don’t sound great on Dish Network, or what the case is, but that’s a thing to be aware of. On the Roku, clicking up and down on the remote opens the guide, however, one opens a panel on the bottom of the screen to choose a different channel, and the other takes you back to the main screen, but I can never remember which is which, and get frustrated every time, so a handy tip would be lovely on the banner when you first visit the channel, like back in the day with Time Warner Cable’s digital settop box interface. As for channel packages, I have Sling Blue, for the extra streams, and the “4 Extras Deal” giving me the Kids, Comedy, News, and Lifestyle extras for $10, where it would normally be $20 for them separately. For what I watch, the way Sling has categorized the channel lineup works very well for me. However, it’s worth noting that if you bought Sling Blue to watch the live feed of FXX and/or Nat Geo Wild, you can’t, you only get access to the on-demand portion. I found this out after trying to watch the channel, only to find out through a support call that those are the only two channels that are on-demand only, which should really be stated in the channel package description.
Sling may not be the best choice in terms of features, due to the missing, but upcoming, Cloud DVR, and not all channels allowing pause and rewind, but the price is where it attracts a lot of people. My plan costs just $35 a month for channels I want to watch. Sure, the competitors have similarly priced plans, but Sling offers the best flexibility, and transparency. If you value price and a la carte-style packages, Sling is a great option. However, if you want a Cloud DVR right now, PlayStation Vue is a good option too. And I guess get DirecTV Now for HBO add-on for just $5, because I don’t know what DirecTV Now is better at than the others, besides being the only online service to offer MTV Classic.
I originally posted this on my website GeekOnIn.