Sling TV is a service for live streaming of popular TV networks with no long-term commitment.
The Internet has become so dominant that it is quickly changing the way society consumes their media and is slowly driving traditional resources out of business. Newspapers and magazines were the first to fall victim to the Internet's reign, and now the cable industry is being overturned with the influx of online video streaming services.
Cable cutters are opting for cheaper, on-demand streaming options like Netflix, Hulu Plus or Amazon Instant Video, but where does it leave those who want to watch live TV content especially for sports games?
At this year's CES Press Day, DISH Network's presentation the world was introduced to a revolutionary new service called Sling TV. Unlike its competitors, Sling TV offers streaming of live channels in real-time thus providing a much closer experience to a traditional cable TV subscription yet it starts at only $20 per month with no commitment.
Channel Variety & Pricing
Since Sling TV is operated by DISH Network, they have plenty of connections with the major networks and have been able to include a decent selection of channels within the service.
At its base $20 per month tier, you get live access to the following networks:
- Food Network
- Disney Channel
- El Rey Network
- Travel Channel
- Adult Swim
- ABC Family
- Cartoon Network
Those who want access to additional sports-related channels can opt to add the ‘Sports Extra' package to their base plan:
- ESPN U
- ESPN News
- ESPN SEC Network
- ESPN Bases Loaded
- ESPN Buzzer Beater
- ESPN Goal Line
- BeIn Sports
- Universal Sports Network
- Univision Deportes
Film lovers can purchase the ‘Hollywood Extra' pack for an additional $5/month to receive access to the following movie channels:
- EPIX 2
- EPIX 3
- EPIX Drive-In
- Sundance TV
Parents will be happy to know that Sling TV can still satisfy their children's programming by way of the ‘Kids Extra' optional add-on which offers the following streamable channels:
- Disney Junior
- Disney XD
Grab the latest news and informational content by adding the ‘News & Info Extra' package:
- Cooking Channel
- DIY Channel
I signed up for the base plan and all the optional add-on packs for review purposes which brought the total monthly price for the evaluation package to $40 per month.
Sling TV is meant to replace your traditional cable box so you'll need to invest in some compatible hardware in order to actually access the service. Fortunately, many of you will already own at least one compatible device and those of you who do not can pick up one for under $40.
As of the time this article was written, the following platforms offer support for Sling TV:
- Amazon Fire TV & Fire TV Stick
- Roku LT & Higher (Including Roku Stick)
- iOS devices running iOS 7 or higher
- Android devices running 4.0.3 or higher
- Computers running Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard or higher
- Computers running Windows 7 or higher
In the coming months, Sling TV has also announced their plans to extend the service to run on the Nexus Player and Xbox gaming consoles (both Xbox 360 & Xbox One) although no official date is set for the launch of Sling TV on these platforms.
In my case, I already own an Android device (Nexus 5), two iOS devices (an iPhone 6 Plus and iPad Air) and have both the Amazon Fire TV Stick and Roku Stick installed on HDTVs in my home. The support for Microsoft's Xbox gaming platform is something I also anticipate as I have two Xbox 360s (being solely used for media streaming) and an Xbox One ready to start using the service.
Sling TV offers a free 7-day trial to anyone looking to test out the service before being charged, but this process does require you to put in an active credit card that will automatically bill you after the trial ends should you forget to cancel it. Interestingly enough, Amazon's hardware appears to offer an exclusive free trial that is bumped up to 14-days and is only able to be taken advantage of after opening the Amazon Fire TV app.
Furthermore, Sling has partnered with Amazon and Roku to offer your choice of a free Amazon Fire TV Stick, free Roku Streaming Stick, or 50% off an Amazon Fire TV or Roku 3 (both priced retail for $100) if you are willing to pre-pay for three months of the service in advance. This requires at $60 in up-front subscription fees plus the an additional $50 should you choose to go with a Roku 3 or Amazon Fire TV over the free streaming stick options.
I've tested the Sling TV service on each of my supported devices and have found the interface to be relatively uniform across all platforms. The heads-up display shows you which channel you are on at the bottom of the screen and gives you a brief rundown of the station's upcoming schedule for the next few hours.
Unlike a traditional cable box, you cannot input channel numbers so you'll need to scroll through the list of channels which is less convenient. I wouldn't say the interface is anything spectacular, but it gets the job done without too much of a hassle. I did experience a bug with the Amazon Fire TV Stick's guide as it kept repeating each channel for some reason, but little bugs like these are expected with the service being so new.
Amazon Fire TV Stick Interface
PC Client Interface
iOS App (iPhone 6 Plus)
Performance & Function
For the last week, I've been using the Sling TV service for most of my cable viewing and have been pleased with its performance thus far. The streaming quality from my experience has been consistent without any major hiccups although you will get the occasional buffering period on a slower or weak connection.
With a streaming service like this, your Internet plan will be the major determinant in the video performance. This means that my experience with the service may differ from someone else's since I pay extra for a top-tier Internet plan from Timer Warner Cable. In return, I am provided with plenty of bandwidth to stream in high definition. As a rule of thumb, your Internet should be adequate if it can already handle Netflix or Hulu Plus streaming.
With the ability to watch live TV from anywhere, I could see this platform being beneficial for a frequent traveler who wants to stream while on the go (given they have an adequate data plan) or a young adult who doesn't have enough disposable to afford a traditional, higher-priced cable subscription.
As much as I want to ditch my Time Warner Cable plan and go with a no-commitment, affordable option like Sling TV, I cannot at this point. Being an entrepreneur means I work long and odd hours so I really don't watch that much TV in comparison to most. However, when I do it is typically past 11PM, so I miss most of my favorite shows.
Due to this, a DVR box has become a necessity for my media consumption and I'd rather not go without that convenience even it if means paying a premium to get it. There is a feature which will let you replay select shows that aired within the past three days, but it is not supported on most networks and shows at this time so it doesn't really compare to a DVR.
I'm also not a huge sports fan so a lot of the channels within Sling TV's offering would not be appealing to me. I'd have to miss out on the majority of my favorite series as they almost all air on mainstream networks like CBS, ABC, Fox and NBC.
The Sling TV service offers a competitive business model that has the potential to revolutionize the media industry and become a serious threat to traditional cable providers. Given it has only been on the market for just over two months, the Sling TV platform is still a bit buggy, only has a limited channel selection and lacks any advanced features like a DVR.
Who would I recommend the Sling TV service to? Anyone who falls under the cord-cutting type that does not mind giving up access to some popular TV channels or advanced features in exchange for a hefty amount of savings on their monthly bill.
Am I going to make the switch from my Time Warner Cable subscription? No, at least not yet although I can easily see myself converting once the platform has had more time to grow and expand thus closing the gap between Sling TV and a cable subscription. I do expect the Sling TV to make a serious mark on the industry and remain relevant for many years to come.