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Sling TV Review: So Close, But Yet So Far

Is Sling TV the answer for cord-cutters? Maybe. But probably not for sports fans...yet.

Yes, I am a sports fan.

I have also not subscribed to cable or satellite TV for 12 years.

We used to have satellite service, but after we moved out to our farm and had 160 acres, 70 cows, 30 chickens and 3 boys (and a partridge in a pear tree) to care for, it quickly became obvious that even cheap satellite packages were not a good use of our money. For twelve long years, I have been waiting for the market to catch up with options to satisfy my interest in sports versus my complete disinterest in paying for 300 channels I won't watch. To be candid, it is not even a money issue. We have room in the budget for satellite TV--we just prefer to spend that money on snooty cheese, wine, and craft beer instead. (Sorry Ty, but I went with the Empyrean Third Stone Brown when I typed this Saturday).

Day 1 impression

I signed up for the one week free trial as soon as I could. (The day it was released to the public and available outside of invitation). The flagship product, ESPN/ESPN2, was glitchy and I got a lot of error messages (content missing from the server). This didn't happen with any of the other channels, so I chalked it up to a problem at their end and not my connection.

I'm in rural Nebraska with a reasonably good connection, but it is susceptible to slowdowns when there is a lot of other activity by people on the system. (These damn kids and their video games need to get off my bandwidth!) I didn't get many "buffering" issues, but the quality definitely suffered at times when there was less available bandwidth.

I was streaming through a PC connected to a 60 inch TV. I was pleasantly surprised at the decent quality when the connection was "full-speed". However, I doubt that the 60-inch TV crowd is the target demographic.

One month later

I have watched Sling on a tablet (iPad2), PC, and iPod touch. I also read many glowing reviews from tech people on several sites. I call bullshit on all of them.

This service gets glitchier by the day. To Sling's credit, they are releasing updates and have excellent and attentive customer service, but the errors are growing more frequent and more frustrating. If you are glued to every second of your show (especially sports), you will wish you were back in cable/satellite land.

Since all of the tech gurus loved Sling and gave it good reviews, I figured I was doing something wrong. I do consider myself pretty tech-literate for my demographic, but I am not nearly as tech-savvy as the people that get paid to write articles like this. Hmmm.....maybe I should have asked Sling for sponsorship....

I also checked out the Sling app reviews in the iTunes store. Normal people like me are equally frustrated as it rates 2.5 out of 5 stars. Most of the time, I would never download an app with that rating. (Spoiler alert: the app will soon disappear from my computer/iPad).

I also wanted to compare Sling with other streaming options. When Sling gets particularly glitchy, I try to compare by shutting it down and switching to Hulu, or less-than-legal, malware-ridden, European, sports-streaming sites. Sigh. The performance on both is better than Sling during these instances.

Future Plans

I will be cancelling the service in the near future (very near). Our family watches little to no TV in the summer and Hulu (and iTunes) will be more than sufficient to provide screen time for us. I will probably give it another try when football season starts and/or they get the WatchESPN login included.

Who is the target demographic?

I hear this question over and over. I think we are it. Our family will go for several days at a time without even turning on the television, especially in warm-weather months. Between iTunes and Hulu, we have a big backlog of shows that will never get watched. The only thing missing for us, was the chance to watch live sports events. National surveys and trends back me up. People are watching less scheduled TV all the time and doing more streaming.

Bottom line

Die-hard sports fans who hang on every second of the game will not appreciate the glitches, stalls, and hangups. The better your Internet connection is, the less of these you will experience. For people like me, this is better than paying a bunch for service we won't use, and better than having to reformat your computer after picking up malware/viruses from illegal streaming sites (or, so I've heard...).

In a nutshell, I don't think Sling is ready for primetime just yet. I also get the impression from the releases and excellent customer service (you get to talk to a real person on a phone!)  that they are serious about getting it right.

I have gotten used to being on the cutting edge in technology in my paying job. Sling is slightly past that and probably qualifies as bleeding edge at this point. I'm not going to give up on them completely, but I also cannot give this service a ringing endorsement.

Sling in 3 words

Better than nothing.

Also of interest

(from Husker Mike) Sling TV subscribers capped at two million