Sling ESPN

As most of you guys know, I’ve been a so-called “cord cutter” for going on three years now, and I haven’t looked back. Cord cutting has lots of pluses, but one of the big downsides to doing so is the lack of live content—namely sports.

As someone who loves watching sports, Dish Network’s Sling TV, which just officially launched in the US today, provides me with ESPN, ESPN 2, and a whole host of additional live sports content is very appealing to me. In this post, I’ll breakdown some of the pluses and minuses about Sling TV, and let you know if it’s worth trying at this early stage in its life.

Price

The first thing that most people will want to know about Sling TV is its price. The majority of the people that will use Sling TV are people who have abandoned cable and/or those who are thinking about abandoning cable.

Cable has garnered a bad rep due to its exuberant prices, and lack of à la carte pricing strategy. Many people loathe cable for charging so much even though they only watch a handful of channels. With this in mind, it’s obvious that pricing will play a big factor in Sling TV’s success.

Sling TV charges a base price of $20 (with 7-day free trial). That’s significantly more expensive than your typical Netflix or Hulu subscription, but it also yields the coveted ability to watch live programing, including sports.

For $20 you get the following channels:

  • ESPN
  • ESPN2
  • TNT
  • TBS
  • Food Network
  • HGTV
  • Travel Channel
  • Cartoon Network/Adult Swim
  • Disney Channel
  • ABC Family
  • CNN
  • El Rey
  • Galavision
  • Maker

That’s 14 channels for $20, or a $1.43 per channel. Obviously some of the included channels carry more weight than other channels, with ESPN and ESPN2 being the elephant in the room in this regard.

It was just announced today that AMC will eventually be included in the standard $20 lineup as well, which is a significant boost to TV watchers who aren’t big sports fans. There’s no word when AMC will launch, but it is expected to appear in the near future.

Sling TV Price

Pricing is fairly reasonable, especially with AMC being thrown in the mix

For an extra $5 (each), you can add the following extra packages, which help to flesh out Sling TV’s offerings:

Sports Extra

  • SEC Network
  • ESPNU
  • ESPNEWS
  • ESPN Buzzer Beater
  • ESPN Goal Line
  • ESPN Bases Loaded
  • Univision Deportes
  • Universal Sports
  • beIN Sports

News & Info Extra

  • HLN
  • Cooking Channel
  • DIY
  • Bloomberg TV

Kids Extra

  • Disney Junior
  • Disney XD
  • Boomerang
  • Baby TV
  • Duck TV

So for a total of $35, you get access to 32 different live TV channels, or $1.09 per channel. You can also rent movies directly from the Sling TV app as well, which isn’t a feature that’s expounded on by Dish.

If you’re a sports fan who’s cut cable, then Sling TV is a very tempting proposition. For $25 (the base package + Sports Extra) You get your hands on 11 sports channels, with three of them—ESPN, ESPN2, and ESPNU—being the source of live major sports events. Couple this with your standard OTA antenna channels (NBC, ABC, CBS, and FOX) and you have a fairly compelling sports solution that’s hard to beat at the price. That said, I do think there is some downward room for movement with regard to pricing, and that the $15-$20 range is the sweet impulse-purchase area that Dish should strive for.

For those of you who aren’t sports fans, Sling TV is decent, but not nearly as attractive in my opinion. There’s a lot of content that just isn’t here for the non-sports fan TV watcher. Of course, this will change significantly once AMC launches on the service in the future. As mentioned above, AMC will be included with the standard $20 package.

Initial setup

As of today, Sling TV is no longer invite only. To sign up, simply head over to Sling’s website and create an account. You can do so via a link directly from the app as well.

Sling TV Login

The Sling TV iPhone app

Signup is fairly painless, but if you’re considering adding any of the extra packages, you’ll need to call customer support (1-888-893-9069). One good thing I can report is that all of the extra packages can be added while you’re within your 7-day trial. In fact, I’ve added all of the packages to my account, so I have the full-featured Sling TV offering as I write this.

Apps

Once you have your account set up, you can access the Sling TV content via dedicated apps for your platform of choice. Unfortunately, there is no web version of Sling TV, so you’re forced to download an app if you want to tune in.

I’ve been able to test the Mac app (16MB download), the iOS app (12.6 MB), and the Roku app. Setup for all three apps was more or less straightforward and simple. Upon launching the app, you’re met with two sign-in boxes—one for your email address and one for your password, once you sign in, you can begin using the app immediately.

Navigation

Navigating through the Sling TV app on iOS is a mixed bag. The interface is just way too busy to be totally intuitive like it should be. There are tons of on screen UI elements, arrows, hamburger buttons, etc. On the iPhone, it’s easy to get lost on the interface, where you’ll hear the audio from a channel that’s currently playing, but don’t necessarily see anything.

Sling TV Navigation

Navigation can be confusing and clunky, especially on the iPhone

Navigation on the Mac is a little bit better just because there’s more room for all elements to be on screen without causing as much confusion. For me, the Roku ended up being the best experience navigation-wise, but it was hindered by slowness, which probably has more to do with the Roku hardware (it’s a streaming stick) than anything else.

Roku Sling TV 100 screen

Sling TV on my 100″ projector screen via Roku

One big navigation complaint that I have is with search. There is a big search button available on the interface, but I found it to be utterly worthless. Search results returned available movie rentals and current programing, but wouldn’t show any of the upcoming programing on the live channels.

Picture quality

On my iPhone 5s’ small screen, the picture quality looked excellent and on par with high definition offerings from popular video streaming apps.

Sling TV iPhone 5s

Streaming looks best on the small screen

On my Roku, which I have connected to a projector throwing to a 100″ screen, the quality was decent, but not exactly the high definition picture that other apps like Netflix and Hulu provide. Sling TV on the big screen, for the lack of a better description, looks more like medium definition.

One thing that doesn’t appear to be a problem with regard to picture quality is frame rate. For sports viewing, frame rate is very important, and I’m happy to report that Sling TV excels in this area. I noticed virtually no judder during my usage, which is something that a lot of other live streaming services have a hard time pulling off right.

DVR

One of the most obvious questions for any potential Sling TV user is whether or not DVR functionality is included. The answer to that question is yes, depending on the channel you’re watching. Some channels feature built in DVR functionality, but the majority of them do not.

Here is a list of the channels that include DVR functions:

  • Food Network
  • HGTV
  • Travel Channel
  • El Rey
  • Galavision
  • Maker

Sports Extra

  • Univision Deportes
  • Universal Sports
  • beIN Sports

News & Info Extra

  • Cooking Channel
  • DIY
  • Bloomberg TV

Kids Extra

  • Baby TV
  • Duck TV

DVR works a bit differently than your run of the mill cable box DVR. Actually, I think it’s much superior in some ways than the cable box solution, because all channels that feature DVR capabilities are automatically saved for later viewing. The saving is done on Dish’s servers, so there’s no need to have an external box, hard drive, etc. Best of all, you don’t have to remember to record your favorite program, because it does so automatically for all DVR-enabled channels.

Sling TV DVR

Basic DVR functionality allows you to skip, go back, and pause live TV

Channels with DVR functionality feature the ability to go back 10 seconds, skip 30 seconds, pause, and scrub to previous parts of a program. You can go back up to three days in the past to view a show that previously aired. Therein lies the biggest issue that I have with Sling TV’s DVR component. After that three day threshold has elapsed, the oldest shows automatically roll off. There should be some way to save your favorite programs indefinitely. Dish needs to give users a set amount of virtual disk space that they can use to save programs for longer than three days.

Sling TV DVR 2

DVR-enabled channels automatically give you access to previously aired shows

My biggest beef with the DVR component is the sheer lack of support from most of the premier channels. None of the ESPN network channels feature DVR, CNN lacks it, TNT lacks it, TBS lacks it. Most of the channels that I would be interested in recording don’t even support the feature. At the very least, users should be able to rewind and pause the currently playing show, even if full-fledged DVR support stays missing, but alas.

Overall value

If you’re a big sports fan, then there’s no question in my mind that Sling TV is an excellent value. The ability to watch sports from all of the major ESPN channels is a big win for cord cutters. Sling TV subscribers  gain access to ESPN’s WatchESPN app as well, which provides even more content to sports fans, including previously aired games, and ESPN3 streaming.

WatchESPN Sling TV

Logged in to the WatchESPN via my Sling account

While the quality of the shows was moderately good on the big screen, small screen streaming on the iPhone looks superb. Whatever the device, the frame rate of each channel is locked in, so you won’t experience that weird stutter effect like some live online streaming services experience.

The lack of DVR functionality for pretty much any channel that matters is a major bummer, but I’m hoping that Dish will fix this issue in the near future. When and if DVR functions do come to other channels, it’ll be a big improvement over what the cable companies offer in many regards.

Sling TV One Device

One big downside: you can only watch Sling TV on one device at a time

One of the biggest downsides of Sling TV is the inability to watch channels on more than one device at the same time. You can’t even watch two different channels at the same time without the prior feed cutting out. Dish needs to, at the very least, raise the device limit to 2 devices. Hopefully this isn’t a restriction enforced due to contractual obligations with the channels on board.

Sling TV has loads of potential, but still too many holes to wholeheartedly recommend to all users. If you’re not someone who watches tons of sports, then I recommend holding off while the service matures. But if you’re a die-hard sports fan who has cut cable and is in dire need of a sports fix, then there’s certainly worse ways to spend $20-$25 dollars a month.

Note that I wrote the above sentence before it was announced that AMC would be joining the lineup of standard channels. Once AMC boards, then the conversation gets a lot more interesting for non-sports fans.

Pluses

  • Tons of sports content
  • Decent video quality
  • No commitments
  • Cheaper than cable
  • AMC is coming soon

Minuses

  • Navigation is clunky, especially on iOS and searching is worthless
  • DVR functionality is missing on channels that actually matter
  • You can only watch on one device at a time
  • Video quality is lacking on screens larger than the iPhone
  • Even with AMC boarding, content is lacking for non-sports fans
  • Doesn’t run on jailbroken iPhones

Final verdict

Hold off, unless you’re a die-hard sports fan (though AMC’s arrival makes it a tougher decision). But even if you’re a sports fan, the service’s shortcomings may be enough to convince you to wait until Sling TV matures. I definitely think that Dish is on the right track with Sling TV, but it will take a little bit longer before the service becomes a no-brainer for cord cutters.

You can subscribe to Sling for $20/month at www.sling.com

What do you think about Sling TV?

  • Merman123

    Meh…I’ll wait for competition to rise.

    • Chris Buck

      Agreed and use Kodi in the meantime;-)

  • Fbyrd75

    Works on PC and Kindle Fire but not on iPhone or iPad mini. Email customer support three days ago and have gotten no response. Looks like I’ll have to cancel before the trial ends if not resolved.

    • Doesn’t work with jailbroken devices

      • Fbyrd75

        Ahh….that’s the problem then. Thanks Jeff.

      • Merman123

        Use tsProtector 8 to bypass detection.

      • iBanks

        Source?

      • Merman123

        Repo

      • Erny Carrillo

        Your saying it doesnt work on my iphone because my phone is jailbroken? No wonder i cant see anything on my phone.

      • DJMannyD

        On Flex 2 there will soon be a tweak that bypasses the jailbreak check. I just uploaded it a few mins ago. It works perfect btw. Thanks for the great post JEFF.

    • ak79

      It works fine on iPhone (6+) and iPad mini (2). I have only been able to get Airplay to my ATV working from my iPad though and even then I have to mirror. No true Airplay support yet.

      • Fbyrd75

        Thanks for the info…xcon did the job

    • Zain Elsell

      Contact customer support again they should resolve the issue

  • MacDevil

    I signed up as soon as I got my invitation. Yeah the price is perhaps a bit much for what you get. But I look at it as more of an investment in internet TV independent of a cable subscription. I WANT this concept to work and I’m more than happy to pay for Sling to stick it to my cable company. Even at $20 per month, Sling is still $30 cheaper than the cheapest cable package that includes ESPN where I live once you include the cost of the cable box. Worth it to me!

    • George

      I would agree if this service wasnt coming from a cable company.

  • Darren

    I’ll definitely be at least trying the 7 day trial as soon as AMC is available! It’s what I’ve been waiting and hoping for, I’m glad to see it’s coming.

    • aced411

      I’lll jump in only if AMC and a few other decent channels have DVR capability. I have gotten so accustomed to watching TV on my schedule that I just can’t go back to the old fashioned method.

  • Gucciipad

    No Ty. My hopper. I get more channels. Plus. I can watch it on my phone and iPad. Better price.

  • George

    The dumbest line up of channels I’ve ever seen.

  • George

    Give me the basic antenna channels so I don’t have to switch from my internet TV service to my TV.

  • Meh, this is just bringing the same cable TV and bandwidth-wasting ads to your PC via the internet. If all I wanted was to access them on my PC, Windows Media Center has been offering that for years with a little TV tuner USB adapter. I’ll only pay for it if all the ads are gone and I get just a continuous stream of TV shows, until then, XBMC + YouTube all the way…

  • Limin

    T-Mobile is not going to be happy when my data usage goes up this month because Sling TV does not need Wi-Fi to stream.

  • Martin

    The price you pay in US for cable is insane for the amount of ads you get.. I watch sometimes online US Tv and it’s disgusting.. Every 5 min ads.. You are not watching Tv with ads, you are watching Ads with Tv.. Here in my country Bulgaria we pay $3 for HD Cable with more than 150 Channels.. Biggest providers charge $8-$20 (For $20 you get HBO HBO Comedy HBO Go Cinemax and Cinemax 2).. And we don’t have as much ads like you. Maybe 5 min in every 45 min watching time. Feel sorry about you.

  • iPhoneWINS

    fail

  • Kenneth Merritt

    Very good review. Thank you. I’ve had Sling TV for about a week now, and use an Amazon Fire Stick to watch it in my living room. The picture quality is very good except there is an occasional hesitation or stutter or freeze in both the video and sound. It averages about twice a minute. It lasts about a half second, just a brief skip in the action. It’s enough to be disconcerting to me. I do not experience this on the same equipment with Hulu Plus or Netflix, only while watching Sling TV. I got a 14 day free trial of Sling TV thru the Amazon Fire Stick app. I like the service, but I might not keep it going if this issue persists.

  • jim

    It’s about time! now when they add specialty channels put them in another package and charge accordingly for those who actually watch that stuff. add to core A&E, USA, maybe Lifetime, Hallmark and call it a day. Pix quality very very good on 58″ Sammy. haven’t tried 110 inch PJ yet. Finally get sports at a descent price without all the garbage channels. I get about 30 channels OTA with this I’m set and good bye to cable and sat forever.

  • Gerald

    not working on my macbook since the SLINGTV software update. GREAT.