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soothsayer
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PostSubject: Streaming Services   Mon Feb 27, 2017 9:36 am

Disclaimer: For the sake of this review and post, I will be discussing Sling TV and why I went with that, in comparison to other services. My needs or wants might differ from yours. Feel free to add your thoughts or opinions!

...

Over the course of a week, I was testing an on air antenna, to judge reception quality throughout the day to see if making the switch from the cable company's local package ($25) to free digital reception was worth it, as we would like to have local news / weather for such things as school cancellations. During this time, I was also reviewing or researching a few different streaming services, as we missed the channels that we were getting through cable (they bleed through, even though we weren't paying for them); channels like Nat Geo, Syfy, and so on.

While we already have Netflix, I wanted something involving channels, and so I looked towards Amazon, Hulu, Playstation Vue, and Sling TV. I immediately scratched Amazon from my list, as I did not like the cost of things, plus it seemed more in line with Netflix; it's monthly cost was was not an option.

I liked Hulu, as it is to television as Netflix is to movies, but the downside was, while it played shows, I didn't know what channels Hulu served. Would I be able to get Life Below Zero? What about Face/Off? While I liked the $12 a month fee, I didn't like not knowing if what I wanted was there, or if it was going to be removed a month or two down the road; I also didn't want to binge watch. So really, the choice came down to Sling and Playstation.

I've read the reviews of both. Both provide live streaming of cable channels, both have different tiers with add on packages, but what struck me was that Sling's costs was considerably cheaper.

With Sling, there are two tiers, Orange and Blue; Orange provides 30+ channels, including ESPN, for $20 a month, while Blue gives you 40+ channels, minus ESPN, for $25. There are some channels both have in common, but the biggest differences would be that Orange caters to Disney (you'll get Disney lineup channels) while Blue skips over Disney to service the FOX channels. Also, Blue has the likes of History, Syfy, and many other channels my family watches. For an extra $5, that wasn't too bad, and would match in cost what cable was charging us for local channels. In comparing Blue with cable, that same channel line-up would run an extra $80 a month.

With Vue, the Access Slim line-up, the sheapest one at $30, closely matches a combination of Orange and Blue... but there is no History, TNT, TBS, and so on. And while the line-up is impressive, to be more in line with what Sling offers, we'd have to go to the Core Slim, which runs $35. Oddly enough, it seems that both services are essentially equal when combining the best of both: Orange and Blue costs $40, while Elite Slim runs $45. I am not looking at Ultra Slim, as that only includes HBO and Showtime, making the price jump to $65.

Additionally, Sling TV offers more packages that Vue. Kids Extra (the Nick channels), Comedy Plus, News Extra, Lifestyle, Sports, Hollywood, Hbo, Cinemax, Starz... each group costing $5 (except for the movie deals, which is between $10 and $15). Note that while the first four packages I mentioned are $5 apiece, for can get all four combined for only $10.

Sling, to me, just offers more of what we watch in their base tiers, and offers more as far as expansions go, for far less. Plus, as Sling is on the Roku box, I already have that option of checking out other streaming services to see if there is a better deal. I do wish that the Sling app was on my smart TV, but that's neither here nor there. Note that both services do not carry local channels.

After a couple days of comparing and researching, I went with Sling. What follows is what I've learned.

It seems a lot of people are not happy with Sling. Far more are happy with it, but chances are you'll see more negative reviews than positive. People complaining about the playback features, or the play on demand, or the cloud DVR... those services are still being worked on and are not the finished product. Also, those services are not part of my consideration as I wasn't looking to streaming for that. Another big complaint is spotty service, signal loss, app reboots, etcetera. From what I have read, most of those complaints come from X Box or Chromecast users, where Sling has announced that yes, there does seem to be issues on those p[articular apps. Again, not too important to me as I'd be using a Roku box.

The one complaint I paid attention to was signal loss or failing picture quality. While I couldn't find any recommended internet speed (all anything said was stable connection / broadband), I reasoned that I should be fine: I have 10Mbs, and since Netflix recommends 3Mbs for high def quality, I'd be fine. One thing I did note about people complaining about this though were those who were sending the stream from their phone to their TV, or people who stated they were watching on their phones, and so on. A few made comments about upgrading their internet services and the problems went away, so I was feeling pretty good. I set up the free trial of Sling this past weekend (seven day).

Before I go into the positives, let me discuss the bad.

There were a couple times where the picture did not match up with the sound (sound coming first). To me, from my experiences with streaming, it seemed as if the picture was just trying to play catch up, that the video was processing so much it couldn't stay level with the sound. This almost smacks of the complaint of too much buffering, but at no time did my signal buffer. At commercial, I simply backed out of the stream and clicked on "watch live"; there is an option for you to "continue watching", where it paused the show where you backed off (like a DVR), but as it was commercial, who cared... doing that solved the problem. And really, the delay in picture / sound wasn't too bad. Noticeable, but not anger inducing.

Only once during the weekend was there a noticeable drop in picture quality, which lasted for a couple seconds, so that could have been due to the broadcast itself.

Here's something I found that was never mentioned in any review: Sling TV has speed / quality settings! I', certain that if people knew of this (or bothered to check things out), it would alleviate a lot of their personal issues. There are four settings, listed below.

The slowest or lowest was 0.8 Mbs. I checked this out, and while the picture was still obviously high def, there was some shadowing, and appeared as if we were watching TV back in McAllister. I also compared it to watching Youtube on dial-up. It wasn't a bad signal, quality was okay, but it wasn't anything to be amazed over.

Next up we had 1.2 Mbs. Again, high def, nice crisp pictures and images, but... you know how you can tell you are watching high def on a standard TV? It may not be high def, but the image just looks clean? That's what this was. A marked improvement over the 0.8. Definitely DVD quality.

Then we have 2.8 Mbs. Note that Netflix recommends 3Mbs. Clear, crisp, high def, and it is what I've come to expect from streaming. This is what I have my settings, erm, set at.

At the highest we have "no limits". I honestly couldn't tell the difference between this and 2.8... though it did seem as if the video / sound mismatch was more prone to occur at this level. I found that dropping to the 2.8 solved a lot of the minor issues of video/sound mismatch that I had.

I believe that while these speeds could be based off your internet connection, it could also be how much of your bandwidth you are allowing Sling to use, which would also explain why people are having issues. I've you haven't played with the settings, using another device is going to bump into or steal some of that signal... like when we were running Netflix, a laptop or two, and a smartphone on Centurylink's "fast" speed of 1Mbs; we got a lot of disconnects and buffers.

One thing I like about Sling is their menu. It groups the channels to orientation (family, news, etc); there's also a "what's playing now" button that lists what's playing now (duh) on all the channels; and the basic scroll through the listings. And remember, Sling allows you to watch every show from the beginning (thanks to their cloud DVR function), or even watch shows that have aired a couple days ago... for free. I'm sure Vue offers this as well, but as I haven't tested that, I cannot comment.

So as of right now, I would highly recommend Sling.
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