We cut cable television out of our lives years ago. It was just stupid to pay $50 per month for a “basic” cable package full of channels we never watched. Instead, we’ve put that money towards a Netflix subscription, Hulu subscription, Spotify subscriptions, an MLB TV subscription, and buying/renting shows on Amazon streaming (and we still come out ahead to the tune of $10 per month).
But there’s always been a small problem with this scheme: Sportball. Now, personally, I don’t watch Sportball myself. But my wife likes it, and frequently wants to have people over to watch the matches. But since we cut the cord, she’s been mostly out of luck, except for the games that are available on the local broadcast channels.
So I decided to try out Sling TV’s $20 per month streaming cable service for cord-cutters. It includes pretty much the best channels from basic cable, including ESPN, Cartoon Network, and Disney. It also has a handful of optional channel packages for kids, sports, and news.
The first snag I hit was that neither the XBox nor the Amazon Fire TV Stick that I use in the living room are currently supported. NOT COOL, SlingTV:
This was aggravating, and I was tempted to just give up. But in the end, I decided to go pull the Roku 3 from the upstairs bedroom and install it downstairs. First world problems, I know.
The app installed easily on the Roku and on my Windows laptop, and the experience was fairy similar in both (though a little more streamlined on the Roku). There’s a detailed channel guide and you can quickly click through the channels of live TV to see what’s on.
There is a slight delay when changing channels as the stream buffers. It totally ruins the illusion of this being cable TV and keeps you from channel surfing like you might on regular old cable. Still, the video quality is great and the menu is intuitive and easy to navigate. No real complaints.
I also installed the Android app on my phone. It’s not currently available via the Play store and requires side-loading an apk, but it’s straightforward enough. The Android app again has a similar interface to the Roku and Windows apps.
The problem with SlingTV is not the content. Though the real draw is ESPN, I would probably watch most of the channels. The problem is not the app; the design is good and consistent across all the devices I tried (and it’s pretty neat to be able to stream live TV to your phone). I don’t even really mind missing out on the “channel surfing” due to the streams buffering.
The problem is the price. This is not your normal chump change online streaming subscription. Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, even MLB TV all come in at less than $10 per month. But at a whopping $20 for the basic service, SlingTV clocks in at the price of Netflix and Hulu combined. Let’s be honest, I am not going to watch ESPN as much as I watch either Netflix OR Hulu, let alone both.
This high baseline price plus the temptation for additional optional packages, SlingTV starts feeling less like the targeted a la carte streaming service I want and more like the old-school cable bundling people are increasingly fleeing.