A month after cutting the cord, I’m not looking back
“Thank you for calling Verizon. My name is Dawn, how can I help you?”
“Hi Dawn, I currently subscribe to Verizon FiOS for internet and TV service. I’d like to keep the internet but cancel my television programming.”
“I can help you with that, Kevin. Can I ask why you’re removing our TV service?”
“Sure, Dawn. I’m using Sony PlayStation VUE for television content, which is much less expensive.”
“PlayStation VUE? I’ve never heard of that one. But I’ll be happy to cancel your FiOS TV.”
That’s the conversation I had with a Verizon customer service representative about four weeks ago. And she’s not the only one who hasn’t heard of PlayStation VUE or other similar cord-cutting options such as Sling TV, which I also tested alongside my then-current FiOS TV and PlayStation VUE services.
Before continuing, let me explain a few things:
- Although the TV content service I’m using suggests you need a Sony PlayStation, you don’t.
- I’m not suggesting you should run out and ditch your cable or satellite provider for PlayStation VUE, or any other over the top (OTT) content service. The shows you watch are likely very different than the shows me and my family watch. And OTT channel availability varies by location.
- Technically, we’re not completely “cutting the cord” but are instead using a different “cord” for television content. I do need to have fast internet service to route television content.
- PlayStation VUE launched in a limited beta late last year but went widely available nationwide in March.
Having said that, I’m convinced we’ve reached a bit of a turning point in the industry that makes “cord cutting” more feasible for a wider range of people. And it’s going to get even better quickly, if my observations are correct.
Note that I’m not new to the “cord cutting” phenomenon. I bought my first HDTV monitor — the device didn’t even have an HDTV tuner so I used an external unit — back in 2003; long before HDTV content was readily available. I plugged in traditional rabbit ears to the tuner and was able to watch 720p and 1080i broadcasts for free over the air (OTA). I also wrote several articles for Engadget — then on a sub-site called HD Beat — on how to pipe such free local content over Wi-Fi back in 2005.
But that was a different time. Now, OTA local channels are prevalent (and still free) while several startups have challenged the norms by offering old and new TV content over an internet connection: Think Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, Apple, etc….
More recently, a few new services such as PlayStation VUE and Sling TV have sprung up to challenge standard cable and satellite providers. I tried a one-week free trial of both and decided that Sony’s $39.95 a month service offered more of what we wanted and performed better than Sling TV’s $20 monthly service. It has essentially replaced our old Verizon FiOS TV service.
What’s the benefit? The big one is cost but not in the way most people think.
After programming and DVR fees, set-top box rentals and taxes, we were paying $211 a month to Verizon for our TV and 150 Mbps (up and down) internet service. Now, we pay just under $140 a month for the same internet service and PlayStation VUE.
It’s worth pausing to clarify something though. The real cost savings isn’t in the TV programming aspect; it’s in the set-top box rentals and DVR fees, which comprised $50 of our monthly bill. If you choose an OTT service, you’re using your own hardware so while there’s an up-front cost, there’s no ongoing hardware fees. (More on the hardware we’re using in a bit).
And PlayStation VUE takes a cloud DVR approach, providing unlimited storage with no DVR fees. Granted, recorded shows are only stored for 28 days, which is a limitation with VUE that some may not want to deal with. Recording shows is simple: You don’t set them up in a traditional guide with PlayStation VUE. Instead, you choose favorite shows and they’re automatically recorded for you. If you forget to favorite a show, many titles are available for “catch up” which is an on-demand implementation.
About the hardware. PlayStation VUE works on a PS3 or PS4, as you’d expect by the name. But the Amazon FireTV products are also supported as are iOS devices (iPhones and iPads) and Google’s Chromecast — solely from an iOS device at this time, unfortunately.
We already had the latest generation Amazon FireTV paired with a 4K set, so I did buy a second FireTV box. PlayStation VUE works with the FireTV Stick but I wouldn’t recommend it based on many reviews I’ve read; the meager hardware components (compared to the FireTV with 4K support) don’t offer a consistent viewing experience.
So for $40 a month, what do we get? The lowest-cost plan called Access provides a wide range of what we want to watch across more than 60 channels and includes our local broadcast networks.
The latter part is important because we can record shows from the major networks with VUE, just like we can record any other shows. Note that Sony is negotiating with local broadcast partners around the country, so based on your location, they many not (yet) offer ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, etc…. And if your local channels aren’t available through PlayStation VUE, you’ll pay less for a “slim” plan.
The Core plan jumps up to $45 a month and adds around 15 additional channels while Elite runs $55 a month for 100+ channels. We’re fine with Access but as previously noted, your viewing requirements are likely different than ours.
One concern I had before testing both PlayStation VUE and Sling TV was the lack of access to television apps. You know what I mean: The apps to watch content on a mobile device, which require you to sign in with credentials from a cable or satellite provider. That’s part of the TV Everywhere initiative and guess what: It’s changing in a big way for the better.
Until recently, only traditional television content providers would appear in mobile content apps for authentication. PlayStation VUE is one of the listed providers, meaning I haven’t lost mobile access to any content apps.
That’s particularly important to me because I’m a Premier League addict and NBCSN shows all matches either on TV or via their app / the web. Without a supported content provider, I’d have no way to watch my Liverpool team. This development is huge, in my opinion and I suspect you’ll see additional or future OTT providers become accepted via TV Everywhere.
In terms of the VUE service, it’s pretty solid for us. One account supports five simultaneous streams so we’ve had the two FireTVs “fired” up in the house alongside a third, different content stream on an iPad. Programming tops out at 720p resolution, which is a little disappointing but it looks fine on our 1080p sets and actually looks really good on my 4K TV, which upscales. You’ll only get 30fps on the FireTV with PlayStation VUE, however, which might hold some folks back. Frankly, I’m fine with it.
Obviously, you’ll need a fast home broadband connection, particularly if you’re using multiple devices for watching television or other activities. Ours is plenty fast enough and I haven’t seen much buffering or lag when watching TV.
I liked Sony’s user interface better than Sling’s as well. There is a traditional grid-like guide but also quick access to favorite shows and channels. If you have multiple people in the house, you can set up multiple sub-accounts or profiles as well. We did this so my wife wasn’t bombarded by my favorite shows or channels, for example.
Overall, I’m getting very nearly the same content experience that I used to get from Verizon FiOS TV; I’m simply not paying nearly as much. Frankly, I don’t see why I need to pay Verizon — or any other company — $600 a year to rent set-top boxes or have the ability to DVR content.
One last note on supplemental services. Yes, we do subscribe to Netflix — $12 a month because I want the 4K content — and Hulu for $8 a month. We’re also Amazon Prime subscribers, which provides additional streaming options. And we pay $15 a month for HBO Now some months of the year: (gotta keep with GoT, John Oliver and a few other solid programs). The fact is, we were paying for those even before we made the switch, so they’re not included in my cost analysis.
I also have an OTA tuner for my Xbox One, which not only pulls in free, local HDTV broadcast content but also allows me to pause that live content.
Microsoft is bringing full DVR capabilities to the Xbox One this year as well, providing me another option to watch recorded broadcasts with no DVR fee; at least I don’t think Microsoft plans to charge for it.
At the end of the day, PlayStation VUE (or Sling TV, for that matter) may not be for you. That’s fine. :)
The bigger point here is that we’re now beginning to see new OTT services treated like first class citizens, complete with TV Everywhere support. Even better are rumors of additional, similar services from Hulu and Google to name a few. And the best part is that consumers will have more choices as a result.
There’s no commitment fee with VUE or Sling TV, for example. It’s a recurring monthly payment unless you want to cancel at any time. That means consumers may get their content from Sony in one month but be able to switch to a similar but cheaper service the next month.
The choice will (hopefully!) be yours, in which case: You win thanks the internet disrupting yet another industry.