Of all the things to come out of the Consumer Electronics Show this year, Sling TV was arguably one of the most significant. For those of you out of the loop, Sling TV is a subsidiary of DISH Network that, when launched, will offer live and on-demand streaming television for $20 a month (US only).
Some are calling the service a cord cutters dream, and others are calling it a reasonable response to growing consumer demand. Sling TV is currently invite only and not available to the wider public. While we don’t have a complete picture of everything about Sling TV, there are some details available; and today we’re going over what we know.
For $20 a month, you get something called the “Best of Live TV” package; which includes the following channels: ESPN, ESPN2, TNT, TBS, Food Network, HGTV, Travel Channel, Adult Swim, Cartoon Network, Disney Channel, ABC Family, CNN, El Rey Network, Galavisión, Maker, and coming-soon AMC.
ESPN and ESPN2 will perhaps offer the biggest draw to Sling TV users since it has been nearly impossible to watch the sports network without having to pay for a cable subscription. Likewise, basketball fans will no doubt rejoice at the sight of TNT and TBS being added to the subscription package.
Everything else is really just icing on the cake as most of the programs on the other networks are available through other streaming options.
In addition to the “Best of Live TV” package, there are also two optional add-on packages you can get for an extra $5 a month each. Those packages are the Kids Extra and the New & Info Extra.
Initially compatible devices include:
There’s also talk of additional devices coming later: Amazon Fire TV, Amazon Fire TV Stick, Xbox One, Google Nexus Player, Chromecast, select 2015 Sony & Sharp Android TV models, Samsung & LG Smart TVs.
Although Sling TV is not yet on the market, some journalists were allowed an early invite to review Sling TV. Benny Evangelista of the San Francisco Gate remarks that:
Setting up the service was simple — just download the app, register an account and shows begin streaming in high-definition.
A simple set up is good to hear; but unfortunately Raymond Wong over at Mashable reports that the HD streaming is inconsistent.
“Stream quality at the Mashable office was excellent, but then again we have 80 Mbps downloads and 104 Mbps uploads here” said Wong. “A more realistic representation is at my own apartment where I… regularly get somewhere closer to 20 Mbps down and 3 Mbps up… I had the quality set to Best at the office and at home, but it only ever averaged around 1.3 Mbps, meaning a lot of videos looked like standard-definition, with plenty of muddled, blocky pixelation in details.”
One of the key features that is conspicuously absent from Sling TV is the ability to pick up Over-the-Air channels, i.e. local broadcast networks. That means no ABC, NBC, CBS, FOX, CW, PBS or Telemundo. With no OTA support, you’re still missing out on most of the television shows you love. Interestingly though, Sling TV recently announced that it struck a deal with Spanish-language broadcast network Univision (available OTA in some markets). The deal will include access to Univision, UniMás, Univision Deportes, Galavisión, El Rey Network, Bandamax, De Película, De Película Clásico, Telehit, Tlnovelas and FOROtv. It’s unclear if it will be included with the standard subscription package or if it will be an add-on (our bets are on the latter).
Perhaps the biggest limitation on Sling TV is the fact that you can only use your Sling account on one device at a time. That means if you want to watch the Discovery channel but your spouse wants to watch ESPN, someone is going to be out of luck.
In a market where competitors like Netflix offer the ability to stream on multiple screens simultaneously for incremental price increases (and sometimes even enable, if not encourage, account sharing), it’s unfortunate that Sling TV does not yet offer something comparable.
From the looks of things, it seems like Sling TV gets the job done, but it isn’t entirely seamless nor does it appear to be a true cable TV replacement as some may have anticipated (although Sling TV claims it has no intention of replacing the traditional pay TV model…). While it affords greater access to sporting events and live television, its lack of OTA support, unreliable picture quality, and its one device limit leaves a bit to be desired. We’ll watch and see how it progresses.
Dave Kennedy is a long time cord cutter who became increasingly frustrated with the high cost of Cable TV and decided to make a stance. In 2011 he launched KilltheCableBill.com, a site dedicated to helping people save money through providing simple, cost-effective cable TV alternatives. Since then, David has helped 1,000s of people cancel their cable subscription while keeping the shows they love.
This week's latest in cordcutting news and trends: New OTA stations, why it might be time to rescan your antenna, a look at Pay TV's sneaky hidden fees, Mohu's Independence Day sale and more.
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A new report found that there are over 100 available over-the-air stations you can watch for free with an antenna.