Live TV Streaming Showdown: Sling vs. Playstation Vue vs. DirecTV Now


Services like Sling, Playstation Vue, and DirecTV Now let you watch live TV over the internet without getting a complicated bundle from your cable company. We took a look at these three services to see how they stack up to each other.

The Contenders

Unlike services like Netflix or Hulu, live TV streaming services bring you the cable TV experience without being forced into a bundle with your internet and phone service. You just pay a monthly fee and stream live TV to your web browser, phones, tablets, or set top boxes. For streamers, this is one of the best ways to watch live sports and you even get a selection of on demand content. Here are the services we’re looking at today:

  • Sling TV: Sling kicked off the live internet TV trend back in 2015. The company’s base plans are among the cheapest, starting at $20/month for a selection of basic channels. You can then choose from a selection of optional packages to add extra channels, such as a group of Kids-themed or comedy channels for $5/month.
  • Playstation Vue: At $30, Playstation Vue’s cheapest plan is a bit more expensive than Sling, but you get one huge advantage: DVR. With Vue, you can record your favorite shows and movies when they air and come back to watch them later.
  • DirecTV Now: The AT&T-owned DirecTV Now is the newest TV service on the scene, so it’s a little unrefined. Like Sling, it lacks DVR, but on the upside you can get HBO and Cinemax as $5 add-ons on top of the cheapest $35/month plan, so that’s pretty cool.

Each service has its own strengths and weaknesses, but keep in mind they’re all still live TV packages. All the channels in each company’s packages have commercial breaks and advertisements. If you’re looking for a replacement for your existing cable package, you won’t notice a difference, but if you’re used to the relatively ad-free experiences from Netflix or HBO, you should know what you’re getting into.

I also noticed all three had dips in streaming quality due to factors that are likely far outside the service’s control. In one instance, an episode of the Simpsons on Sling looked garbled and had framerate issues, so I checked it out on Playstation Vue. Sure enough, it had the same issue. This makes sense, since they’re both rebroadcasting the same channel. Overall, each service seemed to offer comparable video quality, but your experience can vary depending on your local television stations, a network’s broadcast capabilities, and your internet connection.

Sling Lets You Build the Cable Package You Want, the Others Use Cable-Style Tiers

Each higher tier fills in the grid just a little bit more.

Everyone wants to pay for just the cable channels they want, but that doesn’t always make it cheaper to watch everything. Playstation Vue and DirecTV Now take an approach to bundling reminiscent of traditional cable packages. You start with a basic package that comes with a few channels, and you can pay a higher monthly price to access more.

You can compare Playstation Vue’s plans here, which range from $30/month to $65/month. The basic plan includes channels like ESPN, Disney, ABC, and Fox, while the higher end tiers include premium channels like HBO and Showtime. Similarly, you can browse DirecTV Now’s packages here (account required), which range from $35/month up to $70/month. Unlike Playstation Vue, HBO and Cinemax are an extra $5/month add-on.

Both of these models have one major drawback: if you want even one of the channels in a higher tier, you have to pay a big fee to upgrade. DirecTV Now conveniently lets you pay for HBO separately—and for $10 less than you’d pay for HBO Now on its own. However, say you want the basic package plus Boomerang because you’re really into Scooby-Doo and Looney Tunes. On Playstation Vue, you have to go up to the $45/month tier. On DirecTV Now, you can only get Boomerang on the highest tier which costs twice as much as the basic package. This doesn’t do much to help you feel like you’re only paying for the stuff you want.

Sling, on the other hand, takes a different approach. You can explore Sling’s plans here. On the basic plan level, you can choose between two packages: Sling Orange ($20), or Sling Blue ($25). Each one gives you a different selection of channels, with some significant overlap between them. If you want channels from both, you can get Orange + Blue for $40. Notably, the Orange package only allows you to stream to one device at a time, while Blue lets you stream to three devices. If you go for the combo package, you can stream to four different places at once.

On top of the basic plans, Sling offers “Extras” which are collections of related channels for small fees per month. For example, the Kids Extras includes Nicktoons, TeenNick, and Boomerang for $5/month. Comedy Extras gives you MTV, Spike, and TV Land for $5/month. You can also add premium channels like HBO ($15/month) or Cinemax ($10/month) separately.

This model gives Sling a lot more flexibility than Playstation Vue or DirecTV Now. If you want a basic TV package plus a few sports channels, and a couple channels for the kids you can get it for as little as $30/month. With the other services, you’ll have to accept whatever tier they offer that includes the channels you want. You can’t mix and match. The flipside, however, is that Sling’s prices can add up. If you want access to every channel under the sun without spending a ton of money, a premium package from DirecTV Now or Playstation Vue might suit your needs better.

Each Service Focuses On a Different Aspect of Traditional Cable-Watching

Once you find the stuff you actually care about watching, Sling puts it all in once place.

Once you’ve finally sifted through all of the available plans, you’ll need an app to start watching. On this front, Sling and Playstation Vue lead the pack. You can download apps for both services on Android, iOS, Roku, Apple TV, Android TV, Amazon Fire TV, and both offer Chromecast support inside their mobile apps. Additionally, Sling has an Xbox app while Playstation Vue naturally has a Playstation app. You can find links to Sling’s apps here and most of Playstation Vue’s apps here. DirecTV Now, on the other hand, only offers mobile apps for Android and iOS, plus Apple TV and Chromecast support. If you want it on your game console or non-Apple set top box, you’re going to have to wait. I tried out all three services on the Android mobile app and Android TV on an NVIDIA SHIELD to see what it was like to actually use them.

Sling focused heavily on helping you find shows that you want to watch, but it could be a little confusing. A section called On Now showed what’s playing on various channels and you could tap a show you want to watch. A separate section labeled The Guide lets you channel surf, jumping from one channel to the next, regardless of what’s on. However, if you wanted to add a few channels to your favorites list, and just browse those, you have to go to the section called My TV and add them manually. It was a little counterintuitive to figure this out, but once I did the My TV section became the most helpful. Here I could browse just the channels and shows I actually care about in one place without digging through tons of irrelevant content.

Swiping between channels brought me back to my old couch potato days.

DirecTV Now was a little more direct in helping me find what I was looking for. The app has buttons for Shows, Movies, and Networks. If you tap on Shows, you can browse or search for TV shows, whether they’re playing on live TV now or On Demand. A convenient “Add to Watchlist” button will save your selection for later. Under the Networks tab, you can scroll through an alphabetical list of channels. Simply tap one to start playing it. While you’re watching, you can swipe left and right to flip through channels. Of all the apps, this felt the closest to old-school style channel surfing. Frustratingly, I couldn’t find a way to add channels to a favorites list, or see everything on my watch list at once.

Everything you like and everything that’s on are all in one place. At least on the phone.

Playstation Vue’s home screen on the mobile app shows a selection of shows and channels that are live right now, but if you have added favorite channels and shows, these will appear at the top. A separate Channels section lets you scroll through every channel you’re subscribed to. Tap one and you can either add it to your favorites or start watching live. Frustratingly, the Android TV app was pretty different. On the home screen, you could see a Channels section, but if you’d added any favorite channels, you’d see those instead. I eventually figured out that I could use the Guide tab to flip through every channel that was on, but the inconsistency was confusing.

After taking a while to get acclimated to each service’s apps, Sling felt the most comfortable to me, but all of them required a bit of work to get there. DirecTV Now was most friendly to couchsurfers who want to flip through channels until they find something they like. Playstation Vue was best at finding something to put on without much thought, and it helpfully pushes the shows you like to the top if they’re available. Sling’s goal seems to be to help you find the channels and shows you care about and tune out the rest, though the app isn’t always clear on how to do that. Which service feels most comfortable to you will depend heavily on how you watch TV, so it’s worth trying them out before you buy in. Fortunately, right now, all three of these services offer 7-day free trials, so give them a shot to see which one fits your needs best.

Playstation Vue Is the Only One With DVR Right Now, But the Others Are Coming Soon

Every episode of my show is listed in release order, and I can see which ones are On Demand, and which ones I recorded.

If you’re looking for a TV service with the ability to record live shows for later, Playstation Vue is your only option right now. When you add a show to your watch list, it doesn’t just bookmark it for later. It will record every new episode of that show that comes out. You can keep the recordings for up to 28 days after their original air date. Some shows and channels don’t allow DVR, but fortunately most do.

On top of that, Playstation Vue will compare your recordings to On Demand offerings. If you missed some recent episodes or if they’re not available for DVR, the app will fill in the gaps if an On Demand version of the episode is available. All the episodes you have available are listed on the show page in chronological order, so you can browse them all in one place.

As for Sling and DirecTV Now, both promise that DVR is coming, but neither are available yet. Sling started offering an invite-only beta, but there’s no guarantee you’ll get in. Sling also offers a three-day “Replay” feature that lets you watch an episode you missed up to three days after a show airs, but it’s not available for all shows. Meanwhile, DirecTV Now’s DVR should be out sometime this year, but there’s no word yet on a specific release date.

The Verdict: Playstation Vue Is the Most Powerful, But Sling Offers Pricing Flexibility

Live TV subscriptions are a strange type of service that aims to replicate the old style of watching television through a cable package while updating it for the internet age. At times, it feels like these two goals are at odds with each other and none of the three contenders we looked at came out feeling clearly superior.

That being said, Playstation Vue gets full marks for including DVR support. On that basis alone, it already stands out from the pack. If you want to be able to record shows for later and watch them on your own time, you pretty much have to go with Playstation Vue right now. Sling and DirecTV Now say that they’ll get on the DVR train this year, but for now Sony’s got your back.

On the other hand, Sling’s best asset is its pricing. If you’re looking at live TV packages because you want to cut the cord, Sling gives you a lot of flexibility to get just the channels you want without paying a fortune for a bunch of garbage you don’t care about. It will get expensive if you care about a lot of channels, but for the minimalist, it’s a solid service that doesn’t cost too much money.

DirecTV Now is harder to recommend, but it may come down to your preference. It’s slightly more expensive than Playstation Vue and it doesn’t have DVR. However, it was easy to open up the app and jump straight to the channel I was looking for. I also appreciated the ability to flip through channels like I was tapping a button on a remote. DirecTV Now is the newest kid on the block, so naturally it has some room to grow. Hopefully as it grows, it will offer a bit more, but right now it’s slightly too expensive and missing a couple key features to recommend over Playstation Vue or Sling. It may also face a challenge when Hulu releases its own streaming service later this year.



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