UPDATE: SlingTV has since bundled the channels mentioned here, into what they call their “Orange” package. They also offer a “Blue” package with an entirely different set of channels, but the same basic experience. You can read some of the details on these new package options in my guide to watching BYU Football through online streaming (2016 edition).
Many life-hacker types are also “cable-cutters.” Perhaps as LDS’s, with a desire to not be “of” the world, and leaders who teach us to live inexpensively while saving for the future, we’re even more prone to get rid of cable or satellite TV and the accompanying bill. Personally, my wife and I have only had cable once in our married life, and it was because it came with the apartment we were renting. We do have some shows we watch, and I follow BYU Football and some other sports, so we’ve found alternative, mostly streaming options.
Hulu or Plex’s “channels” works for some networks like NBC, ABC, and USA. However, they’re next-day or next-week available, so for sports, they just won’t cut it. We’ve also been Netflix subscribers for many years, and Amazon Prime members for a few. But if you want to watch a game live, or see a show when it first airs, there hasn’t been a lot of alternatives to actually having cable (or at least over-the-air). As I outlined in a previous post, there was 1 or 2 years when you could get WatchESPN by having the right ISP, but they quickly locked that down.
So I was stoked when I learned that DISH was using the Sling brand it had bought to launch “SlingTV”, a new streaming TV service. I tried it out with their 1-week trial a few months back and really liked the service. Rather than go on about it, here’s the pros and cons:
- Only $20/month for the basic package which includes ESPN, ESPN2, AMC, TNT, TVS, Disney, History, and a number of others.
- Some great addon packages for only $5/month. For example “Sports Extra” adds ESPNews, ESPN U, ESPN Buzzer Beater, ESPN Goal Line, Universal Sports, Bases Loaded, and a couple others.
- It works quickly, and feels a lot like flipping through channels on a normal cable/satellite box.
- It works with lots of devices like Roku, Nexus Player (both which are a great deal if you buy them with SlingTV), Chromecast, Apple TV, Amazon Fire Stick, Xbox One, etc.
- Great apps for Android and iOS as well as OSX and Windows.
- Good selection of popular channels.
- Pricing is simple and straightforward.
- No contracts, or raising your price after the 1st year or promotion period.
- Easy access to watch shows for at least 3 days after they have aired. Some are available weeks or months after they air, according to Sling’s deals with each network.
- Access to the WatchESPN app and website.
- No PlayStation support.
- Limited to 1 stream at a time.
- WatchESPN access is limited to 1 stream at a time (or so I’m told by support), and blocks Monday Night Football (though you should be able to watch that via SlingTV).
- No Chromecast or Chromebook support, though you can use the previous bullet point to get all ESPN to work via WatchESPN.
- It uses your internet bandwidth.
- Not true HD. They sacrificed quality for speed, in order to switch channels quickly, in a way that’s comparable to a cable box. Though for most programming, it looked really good from across the room on my 47″ TV.
- Not perfect quality: some programs did appear too dark or no detail in the dark areas, and such, as others have complained.
- I didn’t like the interface on Roku. It worked well, but wasn’t intuitive for me (someone who hasn’t had cable for many years).
- No local OTA networks: CBS, ABC, Fox and NBC, PBS (though an OTA Antenna can remedy that).
- Missing a lot of other sports channels like CBS Sports, Fox Sports, etc.
- No à la carte option. Wouldn’t it be great if you could pick (and pay for) just the channels you want?
I think it’s a really great option. Especially if you’re looking to save some money, and can live with the drawbacks of only one stream at a time, etc. Or if you (for example) just want ESPN channels for the college football season. More than that, it’s an important step in the right direction, even if it’s not an ideal solution for many of us, just yet. It is a great, no-contract way to watch a number of BYU Football games this season though.