Review: Sling TV—the future of television, with some of its annoying bugs

Sling TV.

Sling TV.

On Black Friday, I finally got myself an Apple TV. I’ve got to admit, it was long one of my most-desired items and frankly the only Apple gadget we didn’t have in our household (well, I still don’t have Airpods, because Apple hasn’t yet made them available).

The Apple TV is a great gadget, though. Not only can you purchase movies and TV shows from iTunes and watch them on a big screen, but you can stream pretty much anything to the TV from your computer. You have access to tons of TV channels’ on-demand apps; there are even apps that allow you to copy content from your computer to the Apple TV box and store it there; and, of course, there are apps designed to watch live TV that is streamed via the internet. Truly, the future of television.

So, that meant I had to find the service that best covers my live TV needs. At the time I got the Apple TV, there were two—Sling TV (owned by Dish) and Playstation Vue (owned by Sony). A third one—DirecTV Now (owned by AT&T)—appeared a few days later. Each of them offer seven days free at the start, so it was free and easy to compare them all.

Each of those services offer different plans at different prices. The biggest downside to all of them is that one can’t still only pick the channels one wants, even though they sometimes appear to be advertising exactly that. So far, it doesn’t work like that.

Playstation Vue is the only streaming live TV provider that allows you to record shows, and the only one who has CBS. DirecTV Now has said recording will come some time next year, and I don’t know about Sling. But that was pretty much the only upside to Vue.

The main downside to it was that if I select a plan that has all the channels I want, in addition I get a load of useless channels I never watch and never will. Why have so many channels if you don’t need them in the first place? That’s where, again, comes to play the need for a service that lets you pick and choose exactly the channels you need and not have to go through the mess of a TV guide to finally find something I want to watch. Also, the TV guide on Playstation Vue was poorly designed and difficult to maneuver.

DirecTV Now had only just come out and I had to try it out, too. As a brand new service, you can expect it to be buggy—and buggy it was. Even though the service had the best price for the plan that had most of the channels I need, the level of its rawness was the most annoying thing. They should’ve tested it longer and come out with a product that was even remotely ready to presented to a wider audience.

So no, I can’t handle buggy software, and there was no telling of when they would actually fix all their issues, so—disregarded.

And so it happened that I became a paid subscriber of Sling TV. I returned my Xfinity box to Comcast, will save about a 60 dollars a month on my cable bill now, and have access to all the channels I need (apart from CBS, which I buy directly from it via their CBS All Access app), and I am relatively happy.

Why relatively? We’ll get to that.

Most of the time, Sling works like a charm. It, too, has some channels that I never watch, but creating a favorite channels’ list was easy and maneuvering through the TV guide is a pleasure. I get all the channels I need in 1080p resolution, even Sundance TV which, on Xfinity for example, comes in SD. I have HBO; I can add Showtime from its own Showtime Anytime app when Homeland and Ray Donovan start; I have news channels, sports channels, movie channels and regular network TV channels.

The stream is almost always flawless and I experience very few, very minor issues, that usually can be solved by just choosing the channel again from the guide, and everything goes back to normal. It also has TV channels’ on-demand included (but it doesn’t record, so if you miss a show, you depend on when the network decides to put it on on-demand. Also, it has a list of programs you’ve have watched recently and if you stopped watching midway, you can continue just by picking the show from your “most recently watched” list. Extremely convenient.

Danny Trejo is the official face of Sling TV.

Danny Trejo is the official face of Sling TV.

Now to the downsides.

Occasionally the sound and the picture are out of sync, i.e. the sound comes a second later than the person on the screen moved their lips. This is one of my pet peeves when watching something—I like everything to be in sync. Usually choosing the channel again from the guide helps, but sometimes the problem will reoccur after a while. The other day, I was watching USA Network and the issue kept on for the whole day. Really frustrating.

Also, the picture on some channels sometimes freeze and that makes it impossible to watch. It hasn’t occurred in a while now, maybe they’ve fixed the issue permanently. The good thing with Sling TV is that you can choose your own max bandwidth the stream is allowed to use, so if I set it to “High Quality – 3.2Mb/sec,” it seems to be working without freezing. And I still get 1080p picture, which is nice.

A major downside, however, is that I can’t pause live TV. This day and age, I find the lack of this option outrageous. People’s bladders aren’t programmed to the commercial breaks, unfortunately, and thus I do occasionally need to pause a live program I am watching. And asking for help from Sling TV’s support people in Twitter led me to believe they don’t even understand this is a major flaw in their service. On Xfinity or AT&T you can pause and rewind any live show you’re watching, how can Sling thing it’s normal that you can’t?

I’m not a moron, guys, I understand you can’t fast-forward live TV. But the tone in this tweet seriously implied that you don’t understand how modern TV should work.

Speaking of their support on Twitter, though, at first, I was positively surprised. I got replies to my questions within minutes and the help was great. But right after the seven-day trial ended and I started paying for the service, the quality of customer support went from 100 to 0 on turbo speed. Do they really think that now that they’ve hooked me on their service (let me remind you, I can cancel any time!), they no longer need to pay attention to me?

Or, if they bother to reply, they make snarky remarks that have no place in customer support or marketing. Like this one:

This is what can be called retarded marketing. In what world do you tell your customer who voices a genuine concern that other clients are happy and imply there must be something wrong with me?

Or course, the quality of help from Sling’s support on Twitter depends hugely on who is on duty. At least two of the support people have been tremendously helpful and nice. They should just get rid of the bad apples who know nothing about how client communication works.

So, to recap:

Upsides:

  • Works great most of the time
  • A really easily maneuverable menu and TV guide
  • I get all the channels I want, and can simply hide the ones I don’t watch
  • Cheaper than competitors or cable, depending on the plan you take
  • The ability to resume watching a show even if it’s not live any more

Downsides:

  • The occasional freezing and sound being out of sync
  • The lack of the ability to pause or rewind live TV
  • The lack of recording (but I knew that when I signed up, so that’s on me—hopefully it’ll come soon though)
  • Some customer support people on Twitter who need to find a new career immediately

All in all, for now I’m staying with Sling. But at one point I will check back to DirecTV Now to see if and how they’ve evolved and whether they’ve got rid of all their bugs. Playstation Vue doesn’t interest me anymore. But what does interest me, though, is the rumor that Hulu might be coming out with its own live TV service next year. I’ll be sure to check this out, too.

 

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