Cutting the Cord Revisited

We recently conducted a home test of Sling TV and DirecTV Now, two of the latest cord-cutting technologies.  Both Sling TV and DirecTV Now are strictly on-line offerings, using Internet access to stream video content.  If you are considering one of these services, make sure that your Internet connection has sufficient bandwidth.  If you are currently streaming video from sources like Hulu, Netflix or Amazon, you most likely have enough bandwidth.

Activation: The sign-up process was easy for both services.  When you go to their websites, (which are listed below), you are taken through a few straight-forward sign-up screens. You will also need to enter a credit card, but each service is currently offering a free-trial period. Remember to check the current terms of their respective deals. One of the real attractions are that there are no contracts, so you can disconnect at any time.

Streaming: Once you are set up on either service, you will need to decide what device you want to watch TV on. These include: phones, laptops, tablets, the Xbox One and of course, your television.  We found that the services worked equally well on mobile devices, however, when it came to connecting to the TV Sling, television had an advantage. Both services work with Amazon Fire TV and Fire Stick, Apple TV, Google TV and Chromecast, but Sling TV also worked with Roku devices (Roku LT and above) and the Xbox One.  Given how many Roku devices are being used, this was a distinct advantage. DirecTV states that a Roku and Xbox One App will be out in 2017. An updated list of devices can be found on each provider’s website listed below.

Quality and Experience: While we could not find an advertised screen resolution for Sling TV, DirecTV Now streams at 1080p.  Anecdotally, both products performed well, but the device used to stream plays a role as well.  We ran the DirecTV Now through a laptop via an HDMI cable and the quality was impressive.  Our test of the Sling TV service was through a Roku 1 box. This was not a true comparison, but as mentioned, both performed very well.  DirecTV Now states that 4k service is on their horizon.

Other viewing considerations were the number of connected devices available to stream at the same time, the ability to pause/forward/rewind and if there was some form of DVR.  Sling TV has an advantage here as well; offering pause/forward/rewind while DirecTV Now offers only a short-term pause.  Currently neither service offers a DVR, but Sling TV is in the process of Beta testing Cloud-based DVR capabilities with Roku devices. DirecTV Now has not yet made a statement about a DVR solution. We can only hope that it will be available as part of their Roku device App when that becomes available. Regarding the number of streams, in the Sling TV Orange package you get 1 stream and in their Blue package you get 3 streams.  With DirecTV Now, you get 2 streams, if you need more streams than this, you will need additional subscriptions.

Content: While content offering is subjective, we thought that DirecTV Now has a slightly better lineup.  We also noticed that no local, live network programming was available for either service.  Sling TV does offer a headline/local weather channel that updates and repeats every few minutes.  According to their websites, local programming is in select areas.  Therefore, off-air channels may be your best option for local news.  Comparing both services’ programming guides, we thought that the DirecTV Now guide was more similar to cable or satellite, as it has a familiar look. Sling TV’s programming guide was similar to a Roku style guide.

Cost: Sling TV has the lowest cost packages.  The Orange package price is $20/month, but you can only stream one device at a time. With their Blue package, you stream up to three devices at once for $25/month. DirecTV Now has multiple packages at a slightly higher cost than Sling TV.  Their packages range from $35/month to $70/month. Each service has various add-on subscriptions such as HBO and Cinemax, but Sling TV also offers many more add-on’s such as international programming, sports and news. To be fair, many of these stations are included in DirecTV Now’s lineup, but not all, and some of Sling TV offerings are very unique.

Conclusion: Cord cutting technologies have come a long way and these services may meet the needs of many people.  However, one should not think that using one of these services is going to be just like your cable or satellite service.  Nevertheless, if you are looking for a streamlined channel selection for less money, and you don’t want to pay for both broadband Internet and television service, this might be worth a look.