The Post-TV Age?

Streaming Cable: Sling TV

Sling TV has been around the longest and is owned by Blockbuster (yes, that Blockbuster!), who in turn is a subsidiary of Dish Network. It has a large lineup of cable stations and several tiers of options that include packages like premium cable channels. Depending on promotions and where you live, the packages range from $20–$40 per month. If you live in a big city, you also might get local broadcast stations (NBC, ABC, CBS, PBS, FOX), but for most of the country, you get those channels only "on demand", which means recordings of popular shows the next day.

Figure 1. Sling TV has been around a long time, but the lack of DVR and video glitches make it less than stellar in my experience.

The technology details of Sling TV are a little confusing. If you subscribe to the lowest tier, you can stream only one channel per account at a time. That means if you are watching TV in your living room, you can't watch something else on your phone. If you subscribe to a higher-priced tier, you can have up to three streams at once. Also, although the streams usually are good quality, my anecdotal experience shows that there are a few more artifacts and glitches with Sling TV than with the other options, but nothing that makes it a showstopper. (I get glitches with my cable television too, so nothing is perfect.)

There's a free trial with Sling TV, so it's worth checking out. Just be sure to cancel it before your credit card auto-renews at the end of the trial, unless you decide to keep it. Also, because it's been around for a long time, Sling TV has apps on multiple platforms. Xbox users can install Sling TV, along with Android TV and Roku users. Like most streaming services, Roku does a great job of staying vendor-neutral, which means it usually can provide services regardless of who is providing them.

PlayStation Vue

PlayStation Vue is a bit more of a surprise, since Sony PlayStation is synonymous with gaming rather than television. Its offerings are impressive, however. The lineups are similar to Sling TV, but the breakdowns are a little different. The lowest-price service is around $30 per month, with other tiers available that add more channels. Sony gives you a price break if you're not in one of the cities that has local channels available, so for me in rural Michigan, it's cheaper than if I lived in Chicago. (That means I don't get local channels though, which is frustrating.)

Figure 2. PlayStation Vue is remarkable, until it's not. The video quality is amazing, and the DVR is superb. The geolocation frustrations along with PS4 console problems make it difficult to love.

Although the slightly higher price seems frustrating, the technology included might make up for it. Not only can you stream to five devices simultaneously, but it also provides "Cloud DVR", which automatically stores recorded content for you. All you need to do is mark a program as a favorite, and all episodes are saved for 30 days. It's not possible to schedule a timed event, but the DVR feature is extremely nice, and it provides a far better experience than the live-only Sling TV.

The video quality with PlayStation Vue is shockingly good. Whether watching on a mobile device, a Roku or a PlayStation system, the video is far more reliable in my anecdotal trials. The five streams means people can watch TV in multiple rooms, and since Vue allows for individual profiles, different family members can have their own DVR'd shows. The only really big issue I've had with PlayStation Vue is that it's not possible to watch streams from the same account on two different PlayStation 4 consoles. I have a console in my office and a PlayStation Pro in the living room, and it's not possible to watch Vue on both devices. That is particularly frustrating, because watching on multiple Roku units works fine, but not on the actual Sony hardware! There's also some frustration with geolocation. Sony often thinks I'm not home, so it limits what I can watch. I would understand if my IP address changed, but I have a static IP address and I'm always connecting from home! (See the notice in Figure 2.)


Shawn Powers is a Linux Journal Associate Editor. You might find him on IRC, Twitter, or training IT pros at CBT Nuggets.