Sling TV is an ambitious new service from DISH that has plans to one day to kill cable off completely.
How's it going to do it?
Well, it wants to offer you everything you liked about cable – you probably enjoyed surfing the channels, watching the shows people were talking about when they aired instead of months after and, if you were lucky enough to own boxes of a certain caliber, pausing and rewinding said TV shows in real time – without everything you hated – the costly bill at the end of the month, the bulky, expensive equipment that marred the side of your house and living room. Not to mention the service contract that never seemed to end.
It's live TV streaming whenever and wherever. No contracts, no equipment and no costly statement.
Sling TV? Is it the same thing as a Slingbox?
While there are some concepts borrowed from Slingbox, Sling TV is in a different league when it comes to cutting the cord.
Sling TV is a US-only service offered from DISH that allows you to watch the channels you'd typically find on basic cable for $20 a month without a contract, subscription to DISH or any pesky cable equipment on your roof or in your living room.
What devices can I use to watch it?
Create an account on DISH's website and use that info to login to the app on iOS, Android, Amazon Fire TV and Amazon Fire TV Stick, Google's Nexus Player, Xbox One, the new Chromecast via the Sling TV app and Roku TV. The service will also work on select LG and Samsung smart TVs, and on Macs and PCs via a website portal.
The system is more eloquent than apps like TWC TV or Xfinity, and while the latter is almost universally available, trying to remember whose name and email you use to login can ruin a session before it even starts.
It's also worth noting that Sling TV has partnered up with T-Mobile to offer subscribers unlimited streaming video on their T-Mobile smartphones and tablets without eating into their LTE data.
What channels are included?
So far, channels on the basic, $20-per-month plan (now called Sling Orange) include ESPN, ESPN2, ESPN3, TNT, TBS, HGTV, DIY Network, Food Network, Travel Channel, CNN, Cartoon Network, ABC Family, Disney Channel, AMC, IFC and, most recently, A&E, History, H2, Lifetime, Bloomberg, Polaris+ and most recently, Newsy and Flama.
Sling Blue shares many of the same channels, but allows more than one person to be watching at a time.
If you're looking to tack on some of the premium channels, Sling TV offers both HBO and Cinemax for $15 and $10 a month, respectively, however they require a subscription to the "Best of Live TV" package. Also new is the addition of DishWorld multi-lingual content to Sling TV.
In addition to the base subscription, seven add-on packages are available for $5 apiece each month:
- Kids Extra, with Disney Jr, Disney XD, Boomerang, Duck TV, and Baby TV.
- Sports Extra, which includes the SEC Network, ESPNEWS, ESPNU, Universal Sports, Univision Deportes, beIN Sports, ESPN Buzzer Beater, ESPN Bases Loaded, ESPN Goal Line, Campus Insiders and Outside Television.
- Lifestyle extra, with Cooking Channel, DIY, truTV, WE tv, FYI, and LMN.
- Hollywood Extra, which includes live and video-on-demand content from EPIX, EPIX2, EPIX3, EPIX Drive-In, Sundance TV and Turner Classic Movies (TCM)
- World News Extra, with HLN, News 18 India, Euronews, NDTV 24x7, France24 and RT.
- Deportes Extra includes Azteca, beIN Español, beIN HD (English), Univison, Univision Deportes and UniMás.
- Películas & Novelas Extra includes Azteca Corazon, Cinelatino, De Película, De Película Clasico, Pasiones, Univision tlnovelas, Univision and UniMás.
- Broadcast Extra (only available in select cities) includes ABC, Univision and UniMas.
And the list keeps getting longer. In August, Sling TV announced that it would partner with the NFL Network to offer live games on NFL Network and NFL RedZone through the Sling TV app. NFL Network will be offered starting on August 10 for $5 extra per month and will offer games through the regular season.
Now, remember when you asked about Slingbox? Well, it's true, Sling TV and Slingbox share a few similarities beyond the first syllable.
Sling TV allows you to pause, rewind and fast-forward live TV on some channels (note the word "some" there), and grants you the ability to watch shows a few days after they've aired.
Also similar to Slingbox, Sling TV lets you watch its service on most mobile devices anywhere in the world. That is, as long as you can establish and maintain a bitrate of about 1.5 Mbps for high-quality streams, 0.8Mbps for medium resolution, and 0.5 Mbps for low-quality.
Sling TV Orange? Is that some sort of fruit drink?
Nope! (Well ... not yet anyway.)
One of Sling TV's biggest challenges has been that two viewers in the same family couldn't watch a stream at the same time – at least that's the way it was when the service started last year.
But Sling TV now comes in two forms: Sling Orange, which follows the old model's service by only allowing one person to watch a stream at a time, and Sling Blue, which allows many people in the same family stream at the same time. Sling Orange will cost the same as the original service ($20 per month) while Sling Blue will be slightly more at $25 per month.
Sling TV on Roku
TechRadar was given two platforms to test Sling TV. One was Roku (specifically on a Roku 3) and the other was iOS, which we'll get to in a minute.
By and large, the experience on Roku was everything I've come to love about a cable box: simple functionality, clean layout and crisp picture. Installing the app was as easy as going to Roku channel store, finding the Sling TV app and pushing it to my Roku 3.
Coming from the home screen, Sling TV's interface loads up In a matter of seconds. The time it takes to get from home screen to live TV is astonishing - it's leagues faster than the time it takes my DirecTV cable box to boot up.
Once loaded, the stream was crisp and clear. (This obviously is a YMMV situation, as my home setup isn't identical - or even necessarily in the same ballpark - as everyone else.) A quick test of my network showed I was pulling around 26Mbps over Wi-Fi, which worked fairly well at high-quality 1080p 99% of the time.
The only stark contrast to traditional cable, at this point at least, is the amount of content available on Sling TV.
Comparatively, the 40-or-so channels offered on Sling TV are just a drop in the bucket compared to the over-800 I have available on DirecTV. And because you aren't able to record a show like you can on TiVo, you're limited to watching whatever's on or whatever's been on in the past few days.
Sling TV on iOS
Sling TV on iOS is a vastly different experience. Not only are you trading down to a smaller screen size, but you're also losing connection stability and clean interface of the set-top app.
Using an iPhone 5S for testing, I took Sling TV with me for a gauntlet of daily errands. As you might expect, over LTE the stream was nearly flawless. Dropping down to 3G, however, presented real problems as seconds slipped away to buffering screens.
Problematically, when you return home, continuing what you were watching on your phone isn't as simple as starting up your Roku. You'll need to go into the menu, find the show you were watching and rewind it manually.
Trying to use both a phone and a Roku at the same time won't work either. DISH is clearly (and rightfully) afraid of the account-sharing trap that has befallen HBO Go and Netflix, and doesn't allow two devices using the same account to run the service simultaneously.
Overall, I found the iOS experience less enjoyable than the set-top app, but still impressive. Being able to take TV figuratively anywhere is an appealing, practical proposition for morning commuters or long-distance travelers.
Sling TV on Amazon Fire TV
Sling TV made a splash this week by offering a a free Fire TV Stick to new subscribers. To activate your subscription on your new device, check out Sling TV on the "featured app" section of the storefront, start the download, enter in your account info and soon you'll have live TV on your favorite Amazon device.
The interface on Amazon Fire TV looks almost identical to the service on Roku, which is to say clean and convenient. Pressing the "list" button on Fire TV remotes brings up a channel listing while the three media control buttons do their things on playback-enabled channels.
The service looks a little clearer than it did on Roku - Sling probably set the highest visual quality as a default on Amazon devices - but it does seem to hit a few more snags. The system was stuck in buffering for such a long time at one point that it completely shutoff. Whether this was a one-time fluke or a persistent problem remains to be seen...
Sling TV on Xbox One
When I heard Sling was shooting for five platforms in five months, I had my doubts it could keep up with the development pace. Yet here we are just two months later talking about the fourth version of the system, Xbox One.
If you've used the service on any of the set-top boxes so far, you'll probably know what to expect here.
The channel interface is brought up with a flick of the stick in any direction, while the menu button (formerly known as start) opens up a menu for video-on-demand movies. Last but not least is the share button (again, formerly known as back) that brings up a menu that filters channels by category.
One major change worth noting is that Sling - unlike some apps on Xbox One - actually utilizes the Kinect to take in voice commands and allows you to pin both video-on-demand and specific channels to your home screen.
During testing I noticed a fair bit of latency (38ms compared to 30 on my tablet), which caused the service to stop and stutter multiple times. This occurred with a 4.24Mbps download speed and could be a worrying sign for potential Xbox One users.
Overall the service looks great and is functionally stable on Xbox One, but its performance - as users have noted in the comments - will definitely vary depending on your connection speed.
[Editor's Note: We haven't tried the service on a web browser and Android TV, however we will update the review with that section when it becomes available.]