For a lot of people desperately trying to get away from the cable cabal, Sling TV might just prove to be the silver bullet they’ve been looking for. The new service promises to stream some of the most popular cable network channels live over a Wi-Fi or data connection to smart TVs and set top boxes, allowing you to circumvent your cable provider while paying a lot less.
The new service is leading with the big guns, too. Their core service brings ESPN, ESPN2, TNT, TBS, Food Network, HGTV, Travel Channel, Adult Swim, Cartoon Network, Disney Channel, ABC Family and CNN to smart TVs, set top boxes, PCs, Macs, and Android and iOS smartphones and tablets. That means live sports from ESPN can be streamed over a Wi-Fi connection, and that alone is probably good enough to convince a huge number of cable subscribers to jump ship. If that wasn’t enough, the price should do it—$20 monthly for those 12 channels. That $20 also includes Maker Studios and any on-demand offerings those individual networks offer.
Sling TV will also offer $5 Extra packs tailored to kids, news and info junkies, and, eventually, sports fans. The Kids Extra pack includes Disney Junior, Disney XD, Boomerang, Baby TV and Duck TV, while the News & Info Extra pack includes HLN, Cooking Channel, DIY and Bloomberg TV. Even if you get both add-on packs plus the upcoming sports pack, you’re still looking at a monthly bill far slimmer than what you’d be paying a cable subscriber. Sling TV will also soon offer a ”Sports Extra” add-on pack to feature additional ESPN networks and access to ESPN’s WatchESPN app. In addition to TV channels, Sling TV also offers video on demand titles for rent. This means that Sling TV can potentially become your one stop-shop for video entertainment.
The service also provides DVR-like functionality, allowing you to pause and rewind live TV and fast-forward up the live point, but it stops short of letting you record. To watch anything you missed, you’ll have to hope that your channel of choice decides to offer on-demand content through Sling TV. According to Sling TV, some channels will let you watch anything that aired during the previous three days – this feature is so far available with the following channels – HGTV, Food Network, Travel Channel, Bloomberg, DIY, Cooking Channel, Duck and Baby.
If you want to ditch cable, the only thing missing here is network television, but if you’re committed, you can always try to use an antenna to grab those for free. A standard cable subscription is still arguably more convenient, but that argument is rapidly being eroded. Sling TV might not be the final nail in the coffin, but it’s probably one of the last.
If you’re wondering where these guys came from, Sling TV is a subsidiary of Dish Network, whose executives are no doubt beyond thrilled at the possibility of undercutting cable providers hard. Even better, Sling TV is being operated independently of Dish, so you won’t need a subscription from them to use Sling TV. You’ll just need to pay the Sling TV monthly rates and set up an account (like you would with Netflix or Hulu). Compatibility shouldn’t be an issue, either—Sling TV can work with Amazon Fire TV, Amazon Fire TV Stick, Google Nexus Player, some LG Smart TVs, Roku players, Roku TV models, some Samsung Smart TVs, Xbox One, iOS, Android, Mac and PC. As long as you have an account set up, you can even watch those networks when you’re traveling – well, as long as you’re traveling within the U.S.A.
There are some downsides. Besides not including network television, the biggest one is that only one device can access a Sling TV account at any one time, so it isn’t the most family-friendly service. That’s a bummer, because it’s probably going to end up being a deal-killer for a lot of people that would otherwise jump on Sling TV without a second thought.
We have been testing the service out on iPhone 6 and Roku 3, and so far – color us impressed. While streaming over a 50Mbps wi-fi connection, the quality of the channels has been absolutely beautiful in HD. The app is also easy to use, with an intuitive interface. Unfortunately, the time shifting / DVR function is often a bit jumpy and unreliable – and definitely not as reliable as a dedicated cable DVR box. Hopefully, updates to the Sling TV app will address this.
We’re also hoping that Sling TV adds more channels soon. If they can do that, then the cable companies should really start getting nervous. Until then, Sling TV’s lineup, although solid, is not enough to sway most people away from just getting a basic cable package. That said, the convenience of Sling TV knocks the socks off of most cable providers – and that is because it’s already available for most popular TV streaming devices and mobile platforms.
Want to try Sling TV for yourself?
As of Tuesday, Jan. 27 at 12 a.m. ET, the first batch of invites to sign up for Sling TV will begin rolling out to people who pre-registered on Sling.com. The invites will continue rolling out until the general market launch. Fortunately, you shouldn’t have to wait too long for that launch—Sling TV should be widely available sometime before spring.
Update 3/26/15: A&E, HISTORY, H2 and Lifetime are now include in the “Best of Live TV” core package that remains priced at $20 per month. With the arrival of these four channels, Sling TV’s core pack offers 20 networks for $20 per month. Also, LMN has been added to the “Lifestyle Extra” add-on pack. This pack costs an additional $5 per month and already includes truTV, Cooking Channel, DIY and WE tv.