For over a decade now, it’s been the dream of Sony and Microsoft to make their Playstation and XBox consoles viewed as more than just game-playing things. They want to be the all-in-one media hub of your entertainment center, and they’ve been fighting a vertically uphill battle to accomplish this against apathetic consumers that are just fine with using their console for games.
The recent movement of cord-cutting and migrating to streaming services instead of cable has to be a dream come true for Sony, who finally has a service outside of Playstation Plus to pitch that people will actually buy. It’s Playstation Vue, first revealed at last year’s E3, tested in a few major cities and expanded nationwide earlier this month.
The major, behemoth, too-big-to-fail cable companies (both of them) don’t seem to understand why the younger generation hates them so much that they’ll do anything to get out from under their thumb. It’s not hard to understand:
Cable bundle (after promotional period): $179.97/mo
1) The latter has no ads
2) Getting as many channels as possible made more sense back when the TV was the only device in your house that lit up and showed pictures. Our attention is now too divided between multiple media for expensive cable to be worth it
3) The more you get used to streaming, the less sense it makes to wait around for a network to air something. TNT airs Supernatural reruns in the mornings, but Netflix airs Supernatural reruns anytime
The reason Millennials don’t want to pay upwards of $150 for cable TV is because, to us, it is not WORTH that much.
There are two ways to fight this rising tide: one is to make quitting cable impossible by bundling it in with internet to make streaming channels more expensive than just letting Comcast/TWC deliver them. And they’ve certainly tried this. But companies that stream are now getting wise and offering services at prices that finally make streaming your cable cheaper. Sling TV, which was introduced by Dish Network one year ago, offers ESPN and over 20 other popular channels for just $20 per month.
I’ve been using Sling since its introduction, and it’s worked fine. But Playstation Vue has one big advantage over Sling: a cloud DVR. As soon as the free trial week was available in my area, I went for it to see if it was better than Sling or not.
My conclusion? It’s better than Sling in so many ways that it’s hardly even fair. The streaming quality is better, the menu is easier to navigate, and it overall feels much more like a cable service than Sling does. The two services have their advantages and disadvantages, though…
Playstation Vue comes in three tiers, though pricing will depend on where you live: Access Slim offers 55 channels plus extras for $29.99 a month, Core Slim offers 70 channels for $5 more, and Elite Slim tops things off at 100 channels for $44.99. However, if you live in one of the test markets, Sony decided to be a jerk and not lower your price. Testing started at $39.99 and remains that way.
Vue gets a number of channels Sling does not, and you get more of them for your money. However, there are a few channels Sling has in its package that Vue doesn’t: El Rey Network and the A&E Networks: A&E, Lifetime, History, Viceland (the latter just began a week ago, replacing H2). The A&E networks all suck and are no loss, but the lack of El Rey on Vue is mightily weird. It’s not even in the most expensive package.
There are differences depending on what you’re looking for. Sling includes IFC in its basic package, while it’s in the $5 extra tier on Vue. But Vue has Disney XD in basic, while it costs extra with Sling. CN’s Boomerang channel is in the $5 tier on Sling, but only in the most premium tier on Vue (you’re not missing much, just very old reruns and The Garfield Show). Sling offers HBO for an additional $15 and Vue does not. However, Vue has Showtime for around $11, while Sling doesn’t.
Neither service gets local stations. Living in a city, I keep forgetting the reason some people buy cable is because they can’t pick up any free TV at all. Sony has promised that they’re working on adding local affiliates to Vue, but in the meantime, they’ve put up ABC, NBC and FOX’s on demand services as a stopgap. It’s basically the content those same networks share with Hulu.
Weirdly, there are a handful of channels that have to be purchased separately like the Machinima Channel for $4 and Fox Soccer Plus for $15 (which I’m sure everyone will pay for).
But the cloud DVR is what kills the debate. While Sling can be viewed from a wider selection of devices, it has no DVR features to speak of. You have to be at home whenever your favorite shows come on, or else. Sony’s DVR functionality is worth the extra $10 alone, but it works differently than what you’d expect.
You bring up the schedule, find a show you don’t want to miss, highlight it and hit the right shoulder button on your controller. The show is added to your DVR. You don’t select specific times, you select specific shows. Then Vue records EVERY SINGLE TIME THAT SHOW COMES ON and keeps each recording for a month. Given what we all know about cable and how they firebomb their schedules with the same shows over and over, this adds up to a lot of footage. And storage space is unlimited.
So if all you’re trying to do is record the newest episode, how do you find it?
Simple. Vue tells you which of these shows has a new episode. Going into a show’s specific screen, new episodes will be highlighted with a yellow “NEW” box, so you know what to watch.
I tested the Vue app on both Playstation 3 and Playstation 4. The Playstation 3 version runs a bit slower than the PS4 version, but it’s not a problem that gets in the way too much…..unless you want to look at the TV schedule grid, which slows the app to a crawl on the PS3. Switching channels drops the resolution to 480 temporarily, but after around thirty seconds it’s back up to 1080 (where available). If I got this resolution using pathetic 7mbps DSL, you should have no buffering issues at all.
One of the more bizarre quirks of streaming cable happens with Disney-owned networks. I have no idea why this is, but on both Sling AND Playstation Vue, Freeform and Disney XD have no commercial breaks. On Sling, they’re replaced by an endless repetition of every house ad the network is currently running (which gets monotonous quick — I didn’t watch much of either channel because of this). On Vue, nothing appears at all except for a screensaver-like graphic:
That’s what you get for three minutes until the show comes back on. Clearly there is some legal weirdness that’s preventing Disney from running ads on streaming services. I have no idea what it is.
On Sling, the house ads could become a problem. Sometimes a glitch would cause Shadowhunters and Pretty Little Liars promos to play endlessly, and your show would never return. I’ll take the screensaver.
Speaking in terms of on-demand, Vue also beats Sling handily. Whether you have material DVR’d or not, most networks will include a bounty of instantly watchable episodes and sometimes even movies. Vue’s Adult Swim section contains multiple episodes of nearly every show the channel has ever run, including several episodes of Black Dynamite, which completely disappeared from the network after it was cancelled.
But not always. By contrast, Sling’s on-demand portion of Freeform gave you every episode of Bunheads, among other things…but if there is any on-demand content for Freeform on Vue, I have yet to find it.
If you’re really strapped for cash (or you need El Rey Network), Sling TV should fit your needs, but multiple advantages make it hard to recommend over Playstation Vue. You don’t even need a Playstation to use it — it’s currently streamable on Amazon Fire TV, iPad, iPhone and Chromecast. Sling, however, is available on those devices plus PC and Roku.
As a final note, you ARE allowed to stream Sling on an XBox One; there’s an official app available. There’s no such thing on PS4. Not hard to figure out why….