Part of an occasional series of product reviews by staff at The Online Reporter – this week, Sling TV
By Kendra Chamberlain
I don’t watch linear TV.
In fact, I greatly dislike linear TV, not just the commercials but also the navigation, the fact that it operates on its own schedule and not my schedule, and that I can’t watch anything without being interrupted with a commercial break.
I am a Millennial.
That means I remember the time before Netflix and YouTube, when I had all my favorite channels memorized.
Needless to say, I don’t memorize any channels anymore, which makes finding something to watch on linear TV even more frustrating on those rare occasions that I have the opportunity to do so.
I don’t enjoy channel surfing. In fact, I find it stressful.
I am also a pay TV cord-never, and a broadband cord-lover.
I find browsing recommendations and genres rather relaxing, as long as I have all the info I want right up front. I launch Netflix when I am ready to settle in for the evening. I often go on campaigns, where I become obsessive over one TV show at a time, waiting patiently each day until the evening arrives and I can return to the world of “Broadchurch” or “Doctor Who,” or “Daredevil.”
And I watch YouTube casually, for example when I am bored, or when I want to learn about something, or watch a music video, or am killing time, or am not quite ready for bed…the list goes on.
Sling TV: service taken to task on this page
I tell you this to give you an idea of my approach to “TV” which is virtually synonymous with “Internet-delivered video” in my house. I have spent the past two weeks with Sling TV, Dish Network’s Internet TV service. I watch it through my Xbox One on the TV set.
Sling TV strikes me as something almost great, with emphasis on “almost.” Here are the Goods and Bads of the service that I’ve found:
Good: Very cheap, $20 per month plus $5 for add-on channel packs.
Bad: Only one account per subscription, with virtually zero personalization. It feels very one-way, like regular TV, and there’s no recommendations.
Good: Available on many devices.
Bad: Only one stream per account, so really only one device at a time; in a household of two, that’s a problem. Do we want really want to pay $40 so that we each can watch Sling? No of course not.
Good: Content add-on packages offer some degree of choice.
Bad: None. I don’t have any problems with this.
Good: No more TV channel numbers, but instead TV channel logos, and even genres to browse.
Bad: It still uses an EPG navigation. Why does the guide have time slots? Does anyone care what time something airs anymore? I don’t.
I find this navigation very annoying, and yes, stressful, because it replicates regular linear TV. I don’t care for the EPG at all. I don’t care what’s coming up on the TV guide in the next hour, or what played earlier in the day. I will never care about the time slots of TV shows. I only care about what I want to watch now, whether “now” refers to a weekday evening or 2 am on a Saturday or lunchtime.
Good: A small but growing on-demand catalog
Bad: On-demand titles are impossible to find. Sling TV’s on-demand library is spotty, with some channels offering catch-up TV features, and some channels not offering it all.
I don’t mind the inconsistency so much as the lay out. On-demand titles are peppered throughout the guide, which operates much like a traditional TV guide. It shows the viewer what’s currently playing, as well as what’s to come, and for those few channels that offer catch-up services, it shows you what played earlier in the day, as a sort of visual cue that these titles are available to watch on-demand.
I’d prefer to have a tab that let me browse all available on-demand titles at once, instead of tying on-demand titles to the EPG.
Good. Everything is in 1080p!
Bad: Sometimes the interface glitches out.
I’m not talking about the picture being pixelated because of bandwidth issues, I’m referring to glitches that run from changing the channel on its own to restarting an on-demand title randomly or freezing on a frame for minutes at a time – those type of glitches. I’m not sure if the issue is with Xbox, Sling, or the Sling app on Xbox. These have been very minor however.
Millennial Vs. Generation X Habits
I’ve meticulously observed my own habits as they’ve formed with Sling TV. After the initial exploratory period, I found myself drawn mostly to the channel H2, and then, mostly because it seems to be on a constant Alien or UFO-related marathon, which I love. Watching these programs put me in the mood for an alien-themed binge watching campaign. In the evenings, I would turn to Sling TV, to H2, and see if any alien shows were on. If they were, I would happily watch; if not, I would exit Sling TV and turn instead to Netflix to find something alien-related to watch. I don’t watch any of the other channels habitually.
After one week of the basic package, I added on the movie package that offers a number of EPIX channels. The EPIX films are great; they’re typically more recent than most of Netflix’s fare, and the on-demand library is fairly large for Sling TV standards. I’ve gotten some good use out of the add-on and am happy with it.
While I am squarely a Millennial, my housemate is a true-blood Gen Xer, and I have observed his viewing habits with great interest as they definitely differ from my own. In fact, the Gen Xer was the one to suggest a joint pay TV subscription for the house. I countered with Sling TV, knowing full well it was only $20 per month, and that I probably wasn’t going to watch much of it.
The Gen Xer is getting much more out of Sling TV than I am. I’ve noticed he likes to put CNN on the TV set, muted, and then spend all evening staring down at his laptop in front of the TV. I prefer to stare down at my laptop in the kitchen, personally.
The Gen Xer is also much more comfortable channel surfing than I am. He doesn’t mind scrolling through the list of channels, pausing at each one to see what’s on, and then scrolling back through the list once he’s made a decision.
We have similar content tastes, but we differ in the how; for him, Sling TV is a godsend: the cable channels that matter to him, and at a low price point to boot. For me, it’s more meh: sometimes I find something I want to watch, but mostly I scroll through the channels and then go back to Netflix, where I am in complete control and can watch whatever piece of content I see.
And this brings me to my conclusion. Sling TV won’t likely appeal to many viewers who prefer, like myself, to watch video on-demand; it absolutely appeals to viewers who enjoy the linear-ness of linear TV, but don’t want to spend a lot on a pay TV package, ie the cord-shavers, and perhaps even the cord-cutters. Cord nevers, I’d bet, won’t find much to interest them with Sling TV.
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