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Friday
Mar102017

Podcast #782: Live TV Streaming Options

We have friends, and you probably do as well, who are constantly asking about options for cutting the cord or otherwise reducing their high monthly cable or satellite bill. We have experience with a couple of the options, but not all of them. In an effort to better serve those friends of ours that need our help, we decided to compile a “compare and contrast” on the three main options available today: SlingTV, Sony Playstation Vue and DirecTV Now.

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Live TV Streaming Options

We have friends, and you probably do as well, who are constantly asking about options for cutting the cord or otherwise reducing their high monthly cable or satellite bill. We have experience with a couple of the options, but not all of them. In an effort to better serve those friends of ours that need our help, we decided to compile a “compare and contrast” on the three main options available today: SlingTV, Sony Playstation Vue and DirecTV Now.

 

Feature Comparison


SlingTV

Playstation Vue

DirecTV Now

Starting Cost

$20

$40

$35

Channels

30+

45+

60+

iOS

yes

yes

yes

Android

yes

yes

yes

AppleTV

yes

yes

yes

Roku

yes

yes

no

FireTV

yes

yes

yes

Chromecast

yes

yes

yes

PlayStation

no

yes

no

Simultaneous Streams

1 (3 at higher tier)

5

2

Local channels

yes*

yes*

yes*

Cloud DVR

beta

yes

no

* not in all markets. Some markets may get a national feed or only on-demand content.


Sling.TV

When SlingTV hit the market, it was revolution. The first of its kind. Since then many more very similar offerings have followed, but there’s something to be said for being the first to market. Dish has more experience than any of their competitors. May not matter too much anymore, but in a brand new market, the spoils often go to the player who works out all the kinks the fastest. Sling TV has just added a beta of a cloud based DVR option, making the service a bit more compelling. Sling's DVR only gives you 100 hours of total recording time. Better than nothing, and similar to what you get from many cable and satellite DVRs, but being a cloud service, we’d expect a bit more storage.

 

PlayStation Vue

Sony jumped into the fray with a very compelling offering right out of the gate. The were the first to offer a cloud based DVR to augment the service. SlingTV’s answer to the cloud DVR at the time was to just store all the shows for a short time after they aired. If you missed an episode, you could still catch it the next day. If you missed it the next day, sorry. Hopefully Hulu’s got it. PlayStation Vue’s cloud-based DVR will store your shows for up to 28 days. You can record as much as you want, but if you don’t watch in 28 days, you’ll be off to Hulu or buying episodes at Apple, Amazon, or waiting for the full season to hit somewhere like Netflix. Better than one day, but again, being a cloud based service, you should be able to get more storage than that.

 

DirecTV Now

Not to be outdone by their longtime rival Dish Network, DirecTV came to the table with DirecTV Now. Also a very compelling offering right out of the gate, DirecTV has a couple of unique twists that may set it apart for some of the audience. For example, if you have AT&T for cell phone service, you can stream DirecTV Now to your mobile devices without it counting against your bandwidth limits. If you have AT&T and watch a lot of TV on the go, that could save considerable amounts of money on your monthly bill. Unfortunately DirecTV Now still doesn’t have a DVR option, putting it way behind the others in that area.

 

But wait, there’s more…

While there are three options available today, there are many more coming very soon. So far two have been announced as official offerings: one from YouTube and one from Hulu. We can see some compelling features to both of those. Hulu, for one, with their giant catalog of TV content, could build a very interesting offering when combined with live TV and a cloud DVR. Beyond those two, rumors abound that companies like Apple, Amazon, Netflix and Walmart/Vudu are working on live TV streaming services as well. This market could be very crowded by the end of 2017.

Of those “rumored” to be working on a Live TV service, Amazon seems like they’re quite close. If you sign into Amazon Prime Video, you already see a listing of available “channels” you can watch right there from within your Amazon account. They are mostly premium channels you can subscribe to like Starz and HBO, but extending this concept to include live channels if you subscribe to them shouldn’t be too much of a stretch. Amazon already has the full array of new and catalog content, like a mashup of Netflix and Vudu. And Amazon has storage figured out (the recent S3 outage aside), so a cloud-based DVR should be a no-brainer.

 

Compare and Contrast

One of the most important factors for deciding which service is right for is what channels you get for the money. Ideally you get the most channels for the least money, but you also need to make sure you’re getting the right channels - the ones you actually watch. Playstation Vue and DirecTV Now offer over 40 channels with their base subscription tier. Sling TV only has 30 channels in the base tier, but it costs significantly less at only $20 per month. If you’re a CBS fan, you’ll need to augment any of the services with the CBS All Access service since neither DirecTV Now nor Sling carry CBS at all and PlayStation Vue has some local CBS news feeds across the country, but coverage is spotty and not the full CBS network.

As an aside, for those in need of CBS content the CBS All Access service comes in two flavors. There’s a $6 per month option that gives you access to live streams of your local CBS affiliate and on-demand access to over 8,500 catalog episodes with limited commercials. When you watch the live stream, of course you watch the same commercials as everyone else. There’s also an upgraded $10 per month option that provides the same live content but removes commercials from the catalog episodes. None of the streaming services in our round-up offer any commercial free content options.

Channel availability is where waiting a little while could pay off. YouTube TV will be the only one to include all of the major broadcast networks, ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, and even the CW. DirecTV Now and PlayStation Vue have ABC, NBC, and Fox, but Sling's $20 entry level plan doesn't offer any of them. None of them have the CW. If you step up to the $25 plan with SlingTV, they throw in Fox and NBC for you, and you’re still paying at least $5 less than the others. YouTube TV will also one of the few services to stream CBS, removing the need to add the additional CBS All Access service, saving you $6-$10 per month if you’re a big CBS fan.

Device support is another big consideration. If you’re all-in on Roku, that removes DirecTV as an option for you since they don’t currently support Roku devices, while SlingTV and Playstation Vue do. Likewise if you want to use your Playstation 3 or 4 console as a set-top box for watching TV, the Playstation Vue service is your only option right now. All of them will run on your phone or tablet - unless you have a really obscure phone or tablet, like an old blackberry or w Windows phone. They’ll run on your computer, AppleTV or FireTV. We don’t know if that will always be true if Apple or Amazon add competing offerings, but it's true right now.

The last big deal that many don’t think about before signing up is how many streams you can have going at once. With SlingTV at $20, you can only watch 1 thing across all your devices. If you’re single, live alone, are at college, etc, that may work out fine. If you have multiple people who want to watch TV at home (or on the road) you may run into problems. Dish can be upgraded to 3 simultaneous streams if you’re willing to pay for it. DirecTV Now gives you 2 simultaneous streams, regardless of what subscription tier you pay for and Playstation Vue allows 5 devices, all of them can get their own stream. But if you have more devices, you’re out of luck.

Another YouTube differentiator is their take on the cloud DVR capability. YouTube lets you record as many shows as you want, simultaneously. No limits. That’s not only better than all the other streaming services, it’s better than any satellite, cable or IPTV provider as well. Everything  gets saved to your cloud DVR and they’ll let it sit there for up to nine months do you have plenty of time to binge those episodes over the summer. There are no storage limits so if you even think you might have a vague interest in something at some point later, just record it. It won’t hurt you.

 

Conclusion

Device support, channels available, cost, simultaneous streams, there are so many factors in choosing which service is right for you, it’s nearly impossible to pick a single offering as the best one in all circumstances. And with so many more options on the horizon, the right one for you may not even be available yet. We recommend you take a look at: what devices you have that you’ll want to watch TV on, what channels you want to watch, and how many different people will be watching at once. Take that combo to each service and see if it matches. If you get one match, you’re done. If you get multiple matches, pick the least expensive option and you’re done. If none of them match you can either change your expectations or wait a while to see if any of the newer offerings do match what you need.

The great news is that none of the services require any form of contract, so there’s no risk of lock-in. You sign up whenever you want and are free to quit the service whenever you want as well, without any penalties. That means you can try one, see if you like it, and if not, quit that service and switch to another. In most cases, you won’t need to change hardware or anything major. You just delete one app, install a different one, and you’re ready to go. In fact, they all offer free trial periods, you could run a trial of all three simultaneously and keep the one you like the best. When Hulu or YouTube come out, try them out and switch if you prefer the newer offering. Freedom and flexibility like that is pretty refreshing considering the lock-in issues we’ve always had to deal with in the past.


 

 

 

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Reader Comments (3)

Pat (Sugar Hill, GA) talked about his integrated system that consists of a Soundbar (Samsung) that supports Audio Return Channel (ARC), TV (Sony 850D) with ARC, a Blu-Ray player and other streaming components.

The sound issue is not with CEC or ARC. It's actually with the soundbar and the Blu-Ray discs. Specifically most sub $1000 soundbars are unable to process lossless audio (Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio). I have struggled to find a solution for a friend with a simillar setup.

The solution we used is not ideal for most, but provided the most convenience: Instead of using ARC, use the headphone jack on the TV to the soundbar. The downside is moderate quality and a total loss of surround sound / center channel features.

Other things you can do include:
- If your Blu-Ray player supports conversion of audio to a Stereo PCM or better a lossy format (DTS or Dolby Digital) you may be able to enable that in the Blu-Ray player's settings
- On a few players (like Oppos) you may have analog outputs (RCA jacks) that could be routed directly to the soudbar. Unfortunately, you would need to change the input on the soundbar each time you switch sources.

Bottom line, I have not found any great solution, and I'm trying to encourage my friend to upgrade to a AV Receiver that will process the sound. The problem there is that you also need speakers.

In summary watching Blu-Rays with a soudbar is difficult at best.

As for CEC, that leads to all kinds of inconveniences. The perfect example is if you're watching a Blu-Ray, then switch to another device and turn off the player it will shut down your whole system.

- Miles

March 10, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterMiles W

I just listened to your podcast on streaming options and found it very interesting. It seems that you are overlooking a major problem with the whole idea. Doesn't the streaming of all those shows work against the data caps on your home internet and wireless services. There are still services that do not include unlimited usage. I have a 50 megabit home service that has cap. Also on the Plex cloud, I have almost 5 terabytes stored on my always on NAS Plex server. That would be crazy for me to use it!

March 10, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterTed

www.DoItForMe.Solutions

Plex Cloud is an incremental good feature. The primary uses:

1. Anyone without a dedicated computer that wants a Plex server. Ideal for students or younger people where their primary computing devices are mobile phones, tablets, and laptops, but they do not have any desktop computers and/or cannot leave their laptop on and at home all day long

2. Travelers - Family vacations or business trips where you want effortless access to part of your video library without the hassle of keeping a server running at home and without the bandwidth constraints. Remember, with remote access from your Plex server in your home all video has to travel twice across the public Internet and the downstream bandwidth to your viewing device (phone, tablet, etc.) is actually the UPSTREAM bandwidth from your at home ISP. That bandwidth is still often very low. (I only have 4 Mb upstream although my downstream is 60 Mb.;)

3. Sharing video with family/friends - It is an excellent way to share videos by putting them on your Plex cloud server and adding selective people as "users". This lets them watch at their leisure without having any effect on your home Plex server (bandwidth, throughput, availability, security). If you don't make, or do not want to make, your Plex server available publicly on the Internet, this is a great alternative. Now, instead trying to email multi-kbyte files of your vacation or family event video, or trying to share secret links to Dropbox or other cloud folder "shares", just put them up on your personal Plex cloud server. This will be great for grandparents. Just upload new footage of their grandkids and they can watch when they desire. (Sort of a video version of those Wi-Fi connected "picture frames" that were popular for a while.)

March 10, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterRobert Spivack

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