It’s still not possible, in 2015, to “cut the cord” and watch the same stuff you’d watch on cable television over the internet instead.
Google, Apple, Sony, and Microsoft have all tried, but no internet or electronics giant has been able to overtake the ageing, archaic, overpriced cable television industry.
The latest contenders are tied to video game consoles. Xbox One has Sling TV, a live television service from Dish that costs a minimum of $US20 per month and comes to you over the internet. PlayStation 4 has “PlayStation Vue” — also a live streaming television service, albeit one that has local channels and a much higher minimum payment plan at $US50/month.
Neither service offers a serious alternative to cable television.
Sling TV on Xbox One
I’ve been using Sling TV on Xbox One since it launched in mid-March of this year. Aside from reminding me how much I don’t like live television (so many commercials!), it hasn’t convinced me to subscribe. (I’m testing a Sling TV press account provided by Dish.)
It’s not just a measure of television being largely terrible, though it is. Navigating the app is like struggling through thick mud. Any misplaced action takes seconds to undo, like switching to a channel by accident. And that’s when the app allows you to launch a channel — sometimes it decides not to obey my commands.
Attempting to open the app while Hillary Clinton was announcing her bid for president, Sling TV repeatedly hung at launch for several minutes. After restarting the Xbox One a few times, and multiple subsequent attempts to launch Sling, the app finally opened into live television …a few minutes after I’d already watched Clinton’s announcement on my phone via Twitter.
Hours later, HBO’s Sunday night premeirefest was happening: “Game of Thrones” followed by “Silicon Valley”, “Veep”, and “Last Week Tonight.” Since Sling TV is based on choosing a specific time slot rather than a channel, the app hitches when programs end. Sometimes it outright switches to another channel, at random, when a show ends. Sometimes it crashes the app. Sometimes, if you’re lucky, it continues playing the channel’s live broadcast. This was the case on Sunday night with HBO, until halfway through “Last Week Tonight” when it crashed out of nowhere.
I asked Dish, Sling TV’s parent company, for a statement on the issues I encountered. Here’s what they told me:
We regularly implement updates across all our supported devices, including Xbox One, that continue to enhance the Sling TV experience. In fact, we are doing additional work on the backend this week [the week of April 15] to address some of the specific issues you outlined.
In our initial research, it appears that these issues affect a small fraction of our Xbox One customers. That being said, we are serious about getting this right. Our app has only been on the Xbox One for about a month, and we are working diligently toward ensuring a flawless entertainment experience for our Sling TV customers.
In fairness to Dish, my colleague Steve Kovach has been enjoying a slightly better experience using Sling TV on a Roku 3 set-top box.
PlayStation Vue on PlayStation 4
Sony’s PlayStation Vue, available on PlayStation 4 (and PlayStation 3), is far more akin to a standard cable TV subscription. It has local broadcast channels, premium cable networks, (some) sports and — crucially — the ability to save television shows for up to 30 days. A virtual DVR, essentially. Pretty great!
Better yet, using the service on PlayStation 4 is snappy and dependable — none of the issues I’ve experienced with Sling TV are mirrored on Vue. Changing channels is quick, as is loading the application and choosing to DVR shows. In short, PlayStation Vue delivers on what it promises: an alternative option to cable.
While its functionality is on par with standard cable, so is its price: The base level Vue package is $US50/month, and can be expanded to $US70/month with more channels. And this is where I found major issue with Vue.
As a “cord-cutter” — someone who doesn’t have cable TV — I’m not looking for a similarly priced alternative to cable TV. What I want out of PlayStation Vue, and really any service that’s supposedly catering to cord-cutters, is a flexible, lower-priced alternative to what cable offers. At $US50 for the base level of Vue, plus the cost of internet, there’s no price difference from standard cable. My provider, Time Warner, actually offers a less expensive option than $US50/month to add cable TV.
In short, Sling TV doesn’t function well enough to compete, and PlayStation Vue costs too much to compete. There’s still no solution for cord-cutters.