Life without cable
Just over a year ago, when my wife and I moved into our new apartment, we decided to forego cable TV and just cut the cord. Even before we moved, we found ourselves watching cable less and less after finally succumbing to Netflix and Hulu, which we found both inexpensive and favorable to our needs and lifestyle. With the convenience of Apple TV and other streaming options available to us, the cost of premium cable seemed an unnecessary burden.
Sure, the prospect of missing out on our favorite shows as they first aired was mildly distressing, but we soon realized how unnecessary these shows were to us. Programs like Boardwalk Empire, The Walking Dead, and Mad Men were no longer important. What was once “must see TV” was now just a cool story that we never got to finish. Yet, we felt no sense of remorse or regret or even guilt after abandoning our favorite shows, feelings that tend to overwhelm me when I stop reading a book half way through. In fact, we have yet to catch up on these shows since we first abandoned cable. Perhaps, some day I will go back to them.
As a cord cutter, the results were surprisingly immediate. In the absence of cable news and Food Network programming, my outlook on life has improved and I’ve lost weight. So far, life has been good without cable and we really don’t miss it. Even better, now that we’re free from the shackles of scheduled programming, we find ourselves watching TV when it is convenient for us, allowing us more time to read and pursue our personal projects and hobbies. The limited exposure to corporate advertising has been a plus as well.
Admittedly, now and then, I do find myself wanting cable again, but when I consider the price for even the most basic cable package the idea leaves my mind just as quickly as it enters. I then quietly retreat to a dark room and flagellate myself in front of a dimly lit photograph of Wolf Blitzer and an empty Pepsi can.
Dish Network’s Sling TV: invitation and temptation
When I woke up on a recent Monday morning, something changed. My email inbox contained an invitation from Dish Network to sign up for their fledgling Sling TV streaming service. As a tech writer and cord cutter, I felt obliged to test out the service and give you my impressions of the experience.
Sling costs twenty dollars a month after a one week trial period that is absolutely free. The service is contract free, allowing you to cancel at any time, a blessing for anyone used to the ordeal of cutting service from cable companies like Comcast.
From the beginning, I was tempted by the fact that Sling TV works on your PC, Mac, Android device, iOS device (not the Apple TV, but there is an easy work-around for this) and Roku, which has a dedicated app that you can use.
I decided to test Sling on my iPhone 6 Plus.
Sling TV: the experience
Signing up was no different than any online membership form. You have experienced this a hundred times before. It’s a breeze. Once you are logged in, the content quickly loads and you are ready to go.
I started out watching ESPN, a luxury I have missed after a year without cable. I was able to watch live scheduled content only and the commercial breaks were replaced with the usual fare of silly ESPN Network commercials or a static placement ad letting me know they would be right back. The stream was in high def as far as I could tell, the picture looked crisp and clean on my iPhone 6 Plus and I experienced no issues with buffering or syncing. I was impressed from the get-go.
After a while, I decided to check out the Food Network, one of my little guilty pleasures. Although much of the Food Network’s classic content has been added to Netflix in the past few months, I long for the opportunity to watch the latest episodes of some of my favorite shows.
Thus far, the experience of watching the Food Network on Sling TV has been a significant improvement over other means. Not only was I able to stream live content from The Food Network, I was also able to go back through several hours of programming and watch it again after they’d already aired. Once again, the stream was clean, buffering was non-existent and I did not experience any syncing issues during my test. Much to my chagrin, I found myself entertained by the commercial breaks, the same annoying commercials that I am exposed to when watching Hulu+. Once again, I retreated into a dark room and flagellation commenced.
I can’t attest to what the Roku experience is like, but I do have a few insights using an Apple TV with AirPlay. Although AirPlay is not perfect, the service does the job pretty well. When streaming Sling on my iPhone, and using AirPlay in mirror mode, I noticed the occasional stutter and lag with the picture and audio when I tried using the phone across the room. Next, I decided to plug-in the phone to charge and place it near the Apple TV box, uncertain if the closer proximity would help. I noticed that most of the issues that I was experiencing vanished, but I am not so sure if the placement of the phone had anything to do with the improvements. I should note that the picture still looked quite good, even on my 50″ 4K TV. However, the image did not entirely fill the screen, a known limitation of AirPlay, but most of the ultra high-def display was filled with a crystal clean picture from my phone.
If you choose to use your Sling service in this way, then I suggest turning your iPhone ringer off. I have a decent sound system as part of my home theater and when I received an unexpected phone call the ring tone was deafening. I rushed to answer the phone, hoping that my neighbors were not home to hear all of the racket coming from my apartment.
For now, Sling offers only a handful of channels. The lineup for the basic package is as follows: ABC Family, Adult Swim & Cartoon Network, CNN, Disney Channel, El Rey, ESPN, ESPN2, Food Network, Galavisión, HGTV, Maker, TBS, TNT, and Travel Network. For an extra five dollars per month, there are additional add-on packages that you can order. Visit their website to see the entire list of options that Sling has to offer.
Sling TV: final opinion
Sling TV is just starting out and I am confident that there will be more channels added to the basic package. For now, the service lacks channels from the major networks like NBC, CBS, ABC and Fox, but most of their content is available through the internet or on Hulu+. Sling TV shows promise, but I am afraid that this new service only offers the illusion of savings. By bundling the basic package with several channels that I have no interest in, I am less likely to use Sling TV. Many are hoping that someday we can pay for only the stations we want. I wouldn’t mind paying twenty dollars a month if I could get A&E, HBO, The Food Network and the History Channel, a la cart.
Currently, I pay seventy dollars a month to the local cable company for my internet service. I am getting 100Mbps, and that is more speed than is necessary to stream online TV. I pay eight dollars a month each for both Hulu+ and Netflix, and that’s a pretty darn good deal. Having access to all of these services alone, I find the need to spend more money for additional channels difficult to justify. As I stated in the beginning of this article, I am quite happy with the way things are.
Considering that I am getting my major network content from Hulu+, which is eight dollars a month, and the basic package for Sling (with its limited channel lineup) is twenty dollars, I wonder if I can do better by plugging in once more with regular cable service. After a quick call to my local cable provider, I discovered that they will offer me 155 channels for $39.00 extra a month (and likely for less if I bundle their offerings with a two year contract). I thought about all of those extra channels, and how they would add to my current line-up, which basically boils down to being up-to-date on all of the news, gossip, awards shows, and reality TV (read lots of drooling with mouth agape). The more I thought about this, the less it made sense for me to return to standard cable packages.
So, the question remains. Is Sling worth it?
No, not really. And neither is cable. Cord cutting is a life changing decision that limits your exposure to partisan politics, negative news stories, the stink of prime time desperation, and the monotony of commercial corporate bla-bla. I suppose, it all depends on what you feel will best serve your entertainment needs, and I have definitely found what works for me. Sling is now open to the public. Try it out. The first week is free, the service costs only twenty bucks a month and you can cancel any time. Who knows? You may like what you see.
I know what works for me and my household and you know what works for yours. I am a proud cord cutter and I do not intend to go back to how the way things were.
Sling is not perfect, but it is still in it's infancy. I suspect that it will be used to lure cord cutters back into the cable world with the illusion of savings. The lack of an a la carte option puts me on the fence with Sling TV's service. I want to pay for the channels that I want to watch only and not channels that they have piggy-backed onto the success of others. Cable is certainly more expensive and the cord-cutter's options are quite sufficient. Still, I suggest checking out Sling TV's free trial period to get a glimpse at the future of cable.
Ease of use9
Buffering and Lag7
Features and options5
Potential for improvement9