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Eye on Demand | April 25, 2017

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Sling TV Review

Sling TV Review

Review Overview

Quality of Video Stream
6.5
User Interface
7.5
Content on Offer
7.5
Device Availability
4.5
Value for Money
8
6.8

ESPN is the Trump Card!

Sling Television is America’s first official cord-cutting alternative to traditional cable, offering a low monthly contract-free fee of US$20 for a basic range of channels, but with one seriously attractive trump card, ESPN! Check out our review of this ground-breaking new American service from the company behind Dish Network!

Sling TV isn’t the first of its kind in the world, with the UK’s Sky just one of various global pay-TV operators offering contract-free versions of their product, complete with live and catch-up television over the Internet. But Sling TV is the first by a traditional pay-TV company in America to offer this – outside of 3rd party operators like Nimble TV which provided their own version until recently.

What Sling TV does is pretty simple. It offers a range of live American television channels that were traditionally only available via old-school cable or satellite broadcasters under expensive, long-term contracts, but now available anywhere in America via the Internet on a monthly fee of US$20 with no commitment. So why did it take so long?

To be honest, most of the channels offered (which only total around 16 in the basic plan) are a little meh to put it politely, and includes TNT, tbs, HGTV, Food network, travel channel, El Rey Network, Maker, CNN, Cartoon Network/Adult Swim, ABC family, Disney Channel and Galavision, which for the most part would remained hidden and seldom accessed high up on a cable TV’s channel list.

But amongst all the mediocrity, are three channels that shine rather brightly, AMC, ESPN 1 and ESPN 2. For many, ESPN will be the prime reason to subscribe to Sling TV, as at the time of publication, this was the only way to stream America’s premium sporting channels live without a longterm & binding pay-TV contract! AMC is also an especially good catch, as it includes many major shows such as The Walking DeadBetter Call Saul, and Mad Men.

Other channels are available via additional packs, and at the time of publication these included:

Sports Extra (Additional US$5 per month): SEC Network, ESPNU, ESPNEWS, ESPN Buzzer Beater, ESPN Goal Line, ESPN Bases Loaded, Univision Deportes, Universal Sports, and beIN Sports (US).

Kids Extra (Additional US$5 per month): Disney XD, Disney Junior, Boomerang, BabyTV and DuckTV.

World News Extra (Additional US5 per month): NDTV 24×7, HLN, News 18 India, Euronews, France24, RT.

Hollywood Extra (Additional US$5 per month): EPIX, EPIX2, EPIX3, epix DRIVE-IN, Sundance TV.

Lifestyle Extra (Additional US$5 per month): Cooking Channel, DIY Network, TruTV, Fyi, LMN, WEtv.

HBO (Additional US$15 per month): HBO (includes all HBO catch-up, on-demand and movies, plus one live channel).

Cinemax (Additional US$10 per month): Includes over 500 series and movies on-demand plus like stream.

Deportes Extra (Additional US$5 per month): Azteca, beIN Sports en Español, beIN Sports (English), Univision, Univision Deportes and UniMas.

Películas & Novelas Extra (Additional US$5 per month): Az Corazón, Cinelatino, De Película, De Película Clásico, Pasiones, Univision tlnovelas, Univision and UniMás.

It may come as a disappointment that none of the major broadcast networks are present, as in ABC, NBC, FOX, CBS and PBS, which could be a severe blow to many potential subscribers. After-all, these are traditionally free-to-air networks that our parents could watch with little more than a pair of rabbit ears, held in an awkward position above the TV by the youngest member of the family. But due to (once again) lawyers, licensing and old-school cable tie-ins, this may be something only our grandkids may enjoy in the far-distant future.

Over all platforms, the user interface retains an element of familiarity, with a nice touch of the app beginning automatically with live television either from the last channel watched, or the first on the list (which by default is ESPN) – just like a traditional television.

Outside of that, channel selecting is made by bringing up slider menu from the bottom of the screen. There is no quick channel hopping buttons on mobile devices, but the Roku app has an almost television-like method of flicking up and down the various channels.

There is a very basic EPG available along the bottom of the screen, but outside of the few channels which allows playback from the last three days, there is no real point outside of finding out what is currently playing. You can’t set reminders, add shows to a Favourites list, record any content, and for many channels even start a live stream from the beginning of the show. In fact, this hotchpotch access to PVR features is quite confusing and very annoying, but is most likely related to licensing headaches – that said, try to imagine the logic of the lawyers that put their foot down and denied even the ability to pause a show so their viewers can go to the toilet.

Quality ButtonVideo quality varies between mobile devices which offers a very average 1500kbps standard definition stream, to set-top-boxes & computers with a far more impressive 5000kbps* HD stream. At its best, it is quite difficult to pick holes in the HD feeds, which come across as some of the best we have seen in live online television.

Platform support is relatively average for a new service, with only PCs and laptops, iOS and Android or Roku devices supported. That said, Sling TV are already promising the Amazon Fire TV Box, Stick and Xbox One apps to arrive shortly, which will of course be very welcome.

Note: Before we get too deep into the review, it’s worth mentioning that Sling TV has no partnership to the hardware streaming platform known as the Slingbox or Sling Media, despite all of them being owned by EchoStar

 


  • Pretty much every other streaming service out there relies on a browser for their PC and Mac platform, which makes Sling TV such a refreshing change. Sling’s website is little more than a frontdoor for signing up, with the actual service accessed via a dedicated app that can be downloaded for either a PC or Mac.

    In my opinion, this is so much better than using a web browser. There is a reason why almost every IPTV service streams on a mobile device via an app instead of the device’s browser, and on the few occasions when it doesn’t, most of us hate it, so why is it the complete opposite for desktops?

    Once installed, the app acts pretty much like all the other platforms, although in this case, the only way to adjust the streaming bitrate manually is in the settings.

    Changing channels takes a minimum of three clicks, although channels further apart can be reached by swiping left and right if your mouse supports this.

    Like all the other platforms, a Watchlist exists, but it’s not used as Watchlists usually are; that is, as in a place to keep track of shows you would like to watch later, or at least some form of episode management. Instead, it is simply a place to keep track of additional movie purchases users may like to make above and beyond the monthly subscription – basically, Sling TV’s version of Vudu. That said, shows added to the movie rental Watchlist were cross-platform supported, meaning if I added a movie on one device, it appeared in my Watchlist on another.

    This is a real shame, as if there is one major feature missing from Sling TV, it would be the lack of any way to keep track of what shows viewers are following.

    Quality ButtonOn a positive side, video quality was exceptional when it reached the highest possible level. At least on my bandwidth, this was a very impressive 5020kbps*, which is certainly 1080p HD in the IPTV world.

    Platform Pros:

    • Excellent video quality exceeding 5000kbps.
    • Dedicated app instead of browser-based.
    • Cross platform support.

    Platform Cons:

    • Too many key presses for basic channel hopping.
    • Scrubbing bug breaks FFW & REW.

    (Accessing Sling TV outside of the United States may require a good VPN or Smart DNS service)

    Sport BUTTON CC BUTTON Catch-up BUTTON HD BUTTON PVR BUTTON Live TV BUTTON Cross Platform BUTTON

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    This service is geographically unblocked on this platform by the following Smart DNS providers:

    Ad GetflixAd SDNSP

  • Sling TV also provide a free iOS app that can be installed from the US iTunes store on an iPhone or iPad, with different versions for each. For the most part, there is very little difference between the iPad version, and that found on desktops or set-top-boxes. On the other hand, the iPhone app has been redesigned to make more efficient use of the smaller screen.

    Of course, being a mobile device, one of the more logical and practical uses would be to allow some form of offline downloads for the catch-up content. For obvious reasons, this is not possible for live channels, but sadly neither have Sling TV provided this for catch-up either. This means video quality is subject to WiFi and cellular fluctuations, a problem that could prove troublesome when using the mobile devices in less than ideal environments – where they are so often used.

    Quality SDNot that great bitrates are required here, as Sling TV offers nothing more than a very mediocre looking SD feed, where my tests indicated an average stream of 1390kbps*, slightly under the device’s maximum.  Even on the small iPad screen, pixelation and visual artifacts were clearly noticeable, but to also see them on an iPhone screen was very disappointing.

    Of course, this all becomes much worse when airplayed to the big-screen television. It seems Sling TV doesn’t officially support AirPlay, but they do allow an enhanced form of mirroring – in that a reasonable quality, full-screen stream can playback on the main TV. And while on that topic, in case anyone was wondering, there is currently no Chromecast support either.

    As for channel hopping, the quickest I could achieve was via four taps to the next available channel – quite long compared to what I could pull off in the 1980’s with a single key press on a remote.

    Sling TV’s PAYG movie service sort of exists on iOS, but requires selecting a film on the device, switching to a browser to collect the movie, then returning to the iOS device to begin playback. Pretty pointless really.

    FFW & REW should have technically worked well considering there was a scrubbing bar at the bottom of the playback window, but there seems to be a bug with it, as like the Android version, it done pretty much nothing, even with catch-up content.

    Platform Pros:

    • Dedicated iPhone and iPad apps.
    • Well laid out, and following similar principles of other platforms.

    Platform Cons:

    • Poor video quality.
    • No AirPlay support.
    • No Chromecast support.
    • Ridiculous method of acquiring PAYG titles.
    • No offline downloads for catch-up content.
    • Scrubbing bar didn’t work for FFW & REW,

    (Accessing Sling TV outside of the United States may require a good VPN service)

    Sport BUTTON CC BUTTON Catch-up BUTTON SD BUTTON Live TV BUTTON Cross Platform BUTTON PVR BUTTON

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    This service is geographically unblocked on this platform by the following Smart DNS providers:

    Ad GetflixAd SDNSP

     

  • Head on to the Google Play store to install the Android Sling TV app, or download directly from Sling TV’s website. Unlike some streaming services, Sling TV thankfully supply a separate version of the app for tablets and smart phones, so the tablet version makes good use of the available real estate..

    There is very little dissimilarity to the Android app from the iOS one, with the only two differences worth mentioning that I could see was that the video quality can be displayed directly from the playback screen, and PAYG movies don’t require the bizarre backwards & forwards shenanigans that Apple users are currently forced through.

    Quality SDVideo quality is still unfortunately stuck within the realms of standard definition, but oddly enough the overall picture seemed a tad better than my iPad tests, averaging 1560kbps*, and with a visually noticeable improvement. It’s still not great picture quality, especially on a tablet screen, but with the lack of Chromecast support complaining too loudly seems a little drastic.

    Offline downloads are also missing from this device, which would come in handy for catch-up material, especially when traveling or commuting which so often results in cellular fluctuations.

    Channel hopping also requires four taps, three more than should be necessary, but overall the Android version beats the iOS one for at least the above three reasons.

    FFW & REW should have technically worked well considering there was a scrubbing bar at the bottom of the playback window. But there seems to be a bug with it, as like the iOS version, it failed to operate, even with catch-up content.

    Platform Pros:

    • Dedicated tablet and smart phone apps.
    • Well laid out, and following similar principles of other platforms.
    • Allows direct access to PAYG purchasing.
    • Slightly better video quality than via iOS.
    • Video quality displayed on main playback window.

    Platform Cons:

    • No HD streams.
    • No Chromecast support.
    • No offline downloads for catch-up content.
    • Scrubbing bar for FFW & REW didn’t work.

    (Accessing Sling TV outside of the United States may require a good VPN or Smart DNS service)

    Sport BUTTON CC BUTTON Catch-up BUTTON SD BUTTON PVR BUTTON Live TV BUTTONCross Platform BUTTON

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    This service is geographically unblocked on this platform by the following Smart DNS providers:

    Ad GetflixAd SDNSP

  • Best 2At this stage at least, the Roku app is without any doubt my favourite platform for accessing Sling Television. While the mobile apps have very little purpose, since they lack AirPlay, Chromecast and offline downloads for catch-up content, the Roku app does exactly what we would hope for on a service like Sling TV – it acts almost like a normal television.

    Granted, if Sling TV’s catch-up content was better, for instance available on all channels and for a period of 30 days or more, it really would live up to their slogan Take Back TV. But even as it is, it works reasonably well.

    For a start, the up/down buttons will effortlessly channel hop, with only one key-press needed to jump to the next channel. Or alternatively, pressing the back button will flick between the last two viewed channels. There is unfortunately a delay that in my opinion is too long before the video actually appears, so perhaps some sort of tweaking here by Sling could improve this, even if the initial picture quality is lower.

    Pressing the asterisks button brings up additional menus as well, first for filtering channels, or press twice to bring up further options, including access to a channels catch-up material and EPG.

    FFW & REW also appears to be broken on the Roku app, so it does appear that there is an overall issue that will hopefully be resolved as soon as possible.

    Quality ButtonThe highest bitrates I could reach while testing Sling TV on the Roku box was 3640kbps*. This sits around the 1080p HD area, and when streaming at this level, video quality appeared extremely good. It is a pity that I couldn’t always sustain these impressive heights, as the bitrate did fluctuate quite a bit. When it did drop it was always noticeable, especially as the Roku connects to the largest screen in the building.

    Sling bitrate Roku 3640kbps

    Overall, the Roku app is the best way to access Sling TV right now, although it will be interesting once the Amazon Fire TV app is launched.

    Warning: As the Roku box doesn’t have an off-switch, merely switching off the TV may not be enough to stop the stream. If you do not exit the app, the stream may continue even when the television remains off, eating up bandwidth. This may be an issue for those on capped data.

    Platform Pros:

    • Best way to watch Sling TV.
    • Excellent quality 1080p HD streams averaging 4700kbps.
    • Ability to check bitrate in the settings area.
    • One-click channel hopping.
    • Well laid out, and following similar principles of other platforms.
    • Allows direct access to PAYG movies.

    Platform Cons:

    • FFW & REW broken.
    • A bit fiddly sometimes to bring up the EPG.
    • Live stream can continue when TV is switched off.

    (Accessing Sling TV outside of the United States may require a good VPN or Smart DNS service)

    Sport BUTTON CC BUTTON Catch-up BUTTON HD BUTTON PVR BUTTON Live TV BUTTON Cross Platform BUTTON

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    This service is geographically unblocked on this platform by the following Smart DNS providers:

    Ad GetflixAd SDNSP

  • Sling TV is also available via the Amazon Fire TV Box and Stick. Although the app is essentially the same, there is a remarkable difference in responsiveness between the two platforms. Sling TV on the AFTV Box is swift and fluid, whilst I found it rather sluggish on the AFTV Stick. This no doubt comes down to the much more powerful processor that is under the Box’s hood. Although generally speaking, it works on the AFTV Stick, I found it rather frustrating at times.

    None of this can be said for the AFTV Box version, which could very well share the best platform title with the Roku.

    Effectively the UI is pretty much the same as the other main set-top-boxes, so I’ll spare you any repetition here. Video quality is also as good as the other STBs, and this goes for both the AFTV Box and Stick. Our tests below were from the Amazon Fire TV Stick and averaged 3440kbps*. For the most part, this looked very impressive.

    Sling bitrate AFTV 3440kbpsIt’s worth noting that I still had problems with FFW and REW, so this doesn’t seem to be entirely resolved yet.

    Platform Pros:

    • Great way to watch Sling TV.
    • Excellent quality 1080p HD streams.
    • Ability to check bitrate in the settings area.
    • One-click channel hopping.
    • Well laid out, and following similar principles of other platforms.
    • Allows direct access to PAYG movies.

    Platform Cons:

    • FFW & REW broken.
    • A bit fiddly sometimes to bring up the EPG.
    • Live stream can continue when TV is switched off.
    • AFTV Stick a bit on the sluggish side.

    (Accessing Sling TV outside of the United States may require a good VPN or Smart DNS service)

    Sport BUTTON CC BUTTON Catch-up BUTTON HD BUTTON PVR BUTTON Live TV BUTTON Cross Platform BUTTON

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    This service is geographically unblocked on this platform by the following Smart DNS providers:

    Ad GetflixAd SDNSP

  • At the time of publication, the Xbox One app was not available, however this is listed by Sling TV as Coming Soon. We will update this review to include the Xbox One app as soon as possible.

    Keep Calm Samsung TV

  • Considering how new Sling TV is at the time of this publication, a 6.5 point score on its debut is not too shabby at all. Many people in America have been proclaiming Sling TV as the future of television, and in many ways it certainly is.

    Sling TV is not groundbreaking though, so the folks at Dish only had to look abroad to see how it is already done. But as a completely new service, a few oversights and bugs are forgiven for the time being.

    The limited platform support is about to improve, and hopefully a pile of additional channels will eventually appear on the standard US$20 base-package (AMC’s other channels; BBC America, BBC World News, IFC, Sundance TV, and We TV are slated to arrive soon). Bugs such as the FFW & REW issues should also be ironed out in due corse, but what could really grate a few customers for some time to come, is the limited PVR options and inconsistencies between channels. Pausing live television and fast forwarding or rewinding is not something we see today as anything but the standard, so it always comes as quite a disappointment to needlessly find these options missing.

    The biggest omission for others would also be the lack of free-to-air channels. Unfortunately, due to the way such things are handled in the world of American network television, this is probably not something we will see any time soon.

    All that said, there is still ESPN & AMC, which are huge assets for Sling TV to have caught. At the moment, this is the only way to access ESPN without a long-term pay-TV contract, and the two main channels come with the US$20 package, with additional channels for US$5 extra. Subscribers can even use their Sling TV login to activate the various Watch ESPN apps!

    Whether Sling TV really is the future of American television is up for debate, but in our opinion it is great value for money, especially for sports enthusiasts. Sling TV starts at US$20 per month, with the ability to opt out at any time. There is even a seven day trial, so unless you already have a full cable package and are happy, there is no reason to not give it a go.

    Still, there are huge gaps where the missing channels should be. Perhaps Sling supplemented by a Hulu Plus and Netflix sub will go some way to filling them in. But even then additional subs would be required for those wanting CBS, HBO and Showtime content.

    Naturally, Sling TV is restricted to residents of the United States. For those outside of the US, a good VPN or Smart DNS service will be required. It’s worth noting that Unblock-us unofficially support Sling TV over all the platforms tested here (except iOS), which considering they also offer a week’s free trial period, there is all the more reason to sign up and test it out, wherever you are in the world.

    10.02.2015: Disclaimer: I should point out that Unblock-us’ support of Sling TV is still in the development phase, which is why it is listed above as unofficial. This is due to the new launch of Sling TV, and Unblock-us hope to offer full support in the near future. Until then, it is possible some channels may not work correctly, or even may not be shown in the line-up.

    Pros:

    • Great value access to ESPN and a small selection of other channels.
    • Ability to filter channel listing by genre.
    • No contract or long-term commitment.
    • Great video quality on TV-based STBs.
    • Well thought-out UI.
    • Reasonable platform support for first launch.
    • Can log into Watch ESPN app with Sling TV credentials.
    • Can play ESPN channel on Watch ESPN at the same time as other channels on Sling TV.
    • No device limit.
    • Another way to watch HBO without a traditional cable TV contract.

    Cons:

    • Poor video quality on mobile devices.
    • No proper native AirPlay support.
    • No Chromecast support.
    • No easy way to keep track of favourite shows.
    • No recording options.
    • Catch-up (on-demand) is sporadic and poorly implemented.
    • Add-on packs don’t offer a great range of additional channels.
    • Add-on channel packs must include base package.
    • Only one concurrent stream possible (with exception of ESPN when shared with Watch ESPN app).
    • No free-to-air (OTA) channels (e.g. ABC, NBC, FOX, CBS, PBS etc)
    • Not all channels offer PVR features.
    • Catch-up only available for the last 3 days.
    • Delay of between 1 & 2 minutes from real live stream (keep in mind for Sport).
    • Can’t FFW or REW through commercials.
    • AFTV Stick is a tad sluggish.
    • HBO requires a base package as well.

     

    * video quality results are averaged from multiple tests and may be affected by geographic location as well as available bandwidth.

    Sport BUTTON CC BUTTON Catch-up BUTTON SD BUTTON Live TV BUTTON Cross Platform BUTTON PVR BUTTON

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Log:

    09.02.2015: Review published: Score 6.5 – ESPN is the Trump card.

    06.03.2015: AFTV Review added, score increased to 6.8 due to additional channels and platforms.

    13.04.2015: Updated channel listing + HBO.

    04.05.2015: Updated channel listing with Latino Channels.

    12.02.2016: Updated channel listing with Cinemax.

     

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