September 2015

Sling TV: Not Bad.

Sling TV logo

A review of Sling TV. Executive summary: not bad at all, hope the 2.0 version of this idea is better.

In case you haven't heard of Sling TV before, let me explain. The service is a product of Dish TV, but it comes over the Internet, not through a dish. For $20 a month, you get a little over twenty channels—not nearly as many as a dish or cable subscription, but many of the most popular channels are there, including ESPN. Note that it does not include major networks, which is not a problem for me because I can get local channels over the air. Also, there are specialized add-on packages of extra channels for $5 extra each. For example, there are sports and children's packages.

Sling TV can be watched on PCs, Macs, iPhones and Android phones, most television stream hardware, and the XBox One (but not any other gaming consoles). The quality of the images is nice most of the time but there are definite quality hiccups. It's a little disappointing that live streaming, in general, still has these problems when I rarely have any problems with Netflix streaming.

I've watched Sling TV on my PC and through an Amazon Fire TV stick. The PC app, unfortunately, is useless. In many video playback applications, when you are playing fullscreen and move the mouse or otherwise interact with the device you are using, video controls come up on the bottom, like we see here:

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The problem is that on the Sling TV app on the PC, these controls keep reappearing, every ten seconds or so, even though you aren't doing anything to cause that. It's very distracting and annoying. Although this doesn't happen to every Sling TV customer, it is, apparently, a widespread problem withthe PC app, a problem that that has been happening since the service was introduced.

The Sling TV app on the Amazon Fire Stick works much better.

But let me back up. The reason I got rid of cable television was that between Netflix discs & rentals, we just weren't watching that much. I've been happy with this decision, but I have really missed one thing: live TV. And by live TV, I mean sports. Actually, I mean football. Really, I just mean college football. In prior seasons, to watch college football I would take whatever ESPN would offer to non-ESPN subscribers on their WatchESPN app. For most games, the best I could do was watch the game the next day, which wasn't great. In other cases, WatchESPN would have the live game, but only the Skycam view available, with no commentary, just crowd noise, which was kind of fun. Sometimes, for bigger games, they would have the regular game footage but with Spanish commentary.

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The best part of Sling TV for me, then, is full access to ESPN content on the WatchESPN app, which is available on even more platforms than Sling TV itself. The ESPN app runs great on my XBox 360 and has some nice features like split screen watching. For anything on ESPN channels, I would recommend the WatchESPN app and not Sling TV. I should point out that you need the Sling TV "sports" tier to get channels like ESPNU and the SEC network, which includes access to that content on the WatchESPN app. All this suggests that I am paying $25 a month mainly for access to sports content, which seems a bit much when I put it to myself that way. However, Sling TV has no contracts, which means that in theory I can drop it after football season and pick up again next fall.

So that's Sling TV for me. Some additional info that may be helpful for others: you can only play one stream at a time. If two people in your family want to be able to watch two different streams on two devices at once, you'd need two subscriptions. Also, I should mention that HBO is also available as a $15 surcharge. Since I am apparently the last holdout in the nation not following Game of Thrones in any way, I don't care about HBO, but it does suggest that perhaps we are finally moving away from the old cable mega-bundle-plus-premium model of television, which I think is a good thing.

In short, Sling TV is not great, but for many customers in situations like mine, I think it provides a useful and fairly-priced service. If you sign up thinking you are getting cable, but cheaper, and no contract, you'll be disappointed, but if you go in knowing you are getting a weaker product, you may find it covers almost all everything you would really want.

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