Based on early-access impressions
Earlier this year at the Consumer Electronics Show, Dish announced a rather interesting prospect called Sling TV. As one of the first companies to embrace Internet TV, its new subscription-based service will stream live television to a number of devices for $20 a month — with no need for traditional cable.
So how does this relate to videogames? Well, Sling TV is coming to the Xbox One in the coming weeks, and I know a lot of people are curious about it.
Although it’s not quite ready for launch just yet, I had a chance to test out Sling TV on both the iOS and Roku 3 platforms, as the Amazon and Xbox apps aren’t currently available. The idea is to help facilitate cord-cutting from the antiquated cable model, where you’re paying upwards of $100 or more for hundreds of channels you don’t need. When coupled with a few extra services like Hulu, Netflix, or Amazon Prime, the concept gets even sweeter.
So what does it offer for your 20 bucks? ESPN, ESPN 2, TBS, TNT, HGTV, Food Network, the Travel Channel, CNN, the Disney Channel, Cartoon Network, and ABC Family are included in the base package, with a two extra add-on tiers (Kids and News) available on the side for $5 each. ESPN is likely going to be the crux of this campaign, particularly given that subscribers will gain access to the Watch ESPN app. With more sports options, this service will have a gigantic impact on the market.
The prospect of ESPN alone is enticing for a lot of millennials and stalwart non-cable owners, but I can see many folks enjoying at least one or two of the other channels consistently. For instance, Regular Showor Adventure Timefans will be able to catch those shows on Cartoon Network — which is a good thing given how terrible and limited the network’s official app is. But without a heavy-hitting drama network like FX, HBO (set to launch its own service this year), or Showtime, it’s going to be a hard sell for some — TBS is no FX.
There’s another potential holdup for prospective buyers, which is the entire “live TV” aspect. The reason so many people have cut the cord is the immediacy of the Internet. Binge-watching entire seasons of Breaking Bador House of Cardsin one or two days is now the norm. A lot of you out there are not going to watch certain shows at certain times when on-demand is available elsewhere.
Sling TV also comes with an option to watch on-demand films though, including some new releases. It’s not as amazing as a standard cable setup or even Amazon’s Instant Video section, but it has a good deal of new releases on-hand, with more to come after the full service rolls out. Once you rent something you have 30 days to watch it, and 24 hours to finish it once started. In other words, it’s a standard on-demand service, which is a nice thing to have packed in the box. Dish has also announced that it has a partnership with the Maker network to provide a host of online videos, but that content isn’t live yet.
Performance-wise, Sling TV is near-flawless, and I was legitimately surprised at how well it worked out of the box, even in its preview state. It’s the same quality as any 1080p cable box would provide, and even on LTE it’s still crystal clear on my iPhone 6 (you can even adjust the picture performance to help ease the data-cap pain). Mobile support is a big differentiator from some of its competition, which don’t even function without WiFi.
All in all I only had a few drops with roughly 20 hours of TV watching, and those were mainly the fault of the Roku 3 itself. After booting the app again I was back to where I was in seconds. Sadly, only select stations have full “live TV” options at this time, like fast-forwarding and such, and there’s no real way to DVR anything. So if you’re a TV junkie and record 5-10 shows per day, you may not be ready to shed your service just yet.
Sling TV is in its early phases with exclusive preview access, but is fully expected to launch in roughly two weeks, and over the next month or so Dish will roll out the apps for the Amazon Fire TV and Xbox One. At this point I can heartily recommend giving it a try if you don’t already subscribe to a cable service, as $20 for the first month isn’t a huge pill to swallow on top of a free trial week. Microsoft even has a deal with the company that allows Xbox One owners to get an entire month free. Maybe you’ll end up cutting the cord, maybe you won’t.
Check back later for a look at the full launch and Xbox One impressions.
[These impressions are based on a trial subscription of the service provided by Dish.]