I’ve had a few weeks to play with Sling TV, the new streaming service from Dish Network, not to be confused with the Slingbox hardware device of the same name. Sling TV, the Best in Show winner at the International CES 2015, has been touted as the answer for cord-cutters who still want ESPN and a few other pay-TV channels. It might be exactly that, but for me, I don’t know whether it’s worth the $20 or more monthly subscription fee.
First, the good news. Sling TV performed flawlessly every time I used it. That’s not very surprising since it’s based on the mature streaming technology of DishWorld, which has been running since 2012. (DishWorld will soon change its name to Sling International, but I digress.) Through announcements with AMC and Epix, Dish has indicated that it will add programming to Sling TV’s already decent lineup. As with DishWorld, Sling TV is already available on Roku, iOS, Android, Mac, and Windows, and Sling TV is also promoting its new Amazon Fire TV app. The same pay-per-view movies are listed on Sling TV as DishWorld, including (surprisingly) free Bollywood movies.
One improvement that Sling TV offers over DishWorld is an intermediate viewing Window in its Windows app. The DishWorld app’s only options are a small monitor area in its menu window (see below) or full screen. The really big advantage is ESPN; for most households, Sling TV is the least expensive option for watching ESPN.
In fact, Sling TV only really suffers in comparison with other viewing options. Its worst problem is its lack of DVR; most Sling TV channels don’t even include the “last week on-demand” option present with every DishWorld channel. So I can watch ESPN or TBS live, but I can’t pause the stream, record it, or watch shows from earlier today. That’s standard behavior for watching TV in a hotel room, but most of us viewers have recorders, and we’re pretty used to them. (My family refers to live, unpauseable TV as “hotel mode” TV. But I digress again.)
DishWorld recently began offering a Sports TV package with 21 channels for a measly $10 a month. That includes Universal Sports and beIN Sports, both part of Sling TV’s Sports Extra package, plus One World Sports, Willow Cricket, Trace Sport Stars, beIN Sports en Español, Nautical Channel, and 14 non-sports channels, including personal favorites FashionTV, Baby TV and more. If you want Sling TV for Monday Night Football, then DishWorld can’t help you. But if you just want to watch something and you’ve got an open mind, it’s a pretty good deal. I sometimes watch 21st-century Doctor Who episodes on demand from Ebru TV, and I’ll tune in to DishWorld’s news channels for a different perspective on events.
Here’s a chunk of perspective that you won’t find anywhere else: Sling TV isn’t as good as NimbleTV was before it had to shut down. By working as a streaming adjunct to a separate Dish subscription, NimbleTV provided more channels and a full DVR. NimbleTV’s iOS app was as good as Sling TV’s, and NimbleTV was working on adding other platforms. Its tier with ESPN cost a whole lot more than Sling TV, so I’d like to have seen those two products compete in the marketplace – the inexpensive, well-promoted Sling TV and the little-known, pricey NimbleTV.
Another option is to effectively host your own NimbleTV – spring for a full Dish Network subscription at home, then use Dish Anywhere apps for streaming on the go. If you can mount a dish and don’t mind spending over $70 per month, that provides a lot of advantages over Sling TV. But I think I’m still sidestepping the point: If you’re a cord-cutter who really wants to watch ESPN and can handle it live-only, Sling TV is your solution. For the rest of us, I’m not so sure Sling TV is worth buying.