Comparing Sling vs. DirecTV Now with VPN

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Logos for Sling TV and DirecTV NowI’ve had a Sling TV account for a few months, and I signed up on Day One for DirecTV Now. After a week of playing around with both, I can say that which service you prefer will depend on what you want out of it.

The channel lists and prices have been hashed out elsewhere. My favorite set is Sling Blue ($25/month) with NFL Network though not ESPN. For a boatload of channels with everything but NFL, the $35 intro price for DirecTV Now also looks good. But there’s one feature of both services that I haven’t seen mentioned elsewhere – how well do they work with a virtual private network (VPN)? Can subscribers access out-of-market TV channels if they appear to be connecting away from home? The answer is often yes.

Sling appears to rely on IP location to qualify viewers. When I VPN into any market then launch Sling, I can see any local Fox and NBC channels it carries there, but not any regional sports networks. (ABC requires Sling Orange and a special request. Full list of available locals here.) As a test, I VPN’d into Dallas, used just a Zip Code and a Visa gift card, and was able to sign up for a Sling Blue account that includes Fox Sports Southwest. Of course all of that is only available if my IP address is in Dallas, and it only works on my tablet if location services are turned off. (Full list of available regional sports channels here.)

DirecTV Now uses browser-based streaming, so some browser-based recorders such as PlayOn might work with it. Sling uses a proprietary app even on the desktop, so third-party recording isn’t as practical. DirecTV Now includes ABC, Fox and NBC in some markets, and it includes regional sports from more markets than Sling. Since I have a legitimate Chicago mailing address (long story), I signed up for DirecTV Now in Chicago, and it includes Comcast SportsNet Chicago. But only with a VPN into Chicago, and only on the desktop. (Full list of DirecTV Now locals and regional sports networks here.)

When I launched the DirecTV Now app on my tablet, it refused to do anything until I turned on location services. Of course, with my location visible, the app offered only its cornucopia of national channels but nothing from Chicago.

You should keep this location-based limitation in mind if you’re hoping to watch local channels from the road. I imagine I’d have little recourse trying to watch Cartoon Network from Berlin or my local NBC station from another state. And if you want to sign up expecting to use VPN to watch your favorite locals, remember that these services might close that loophole any day now. (Come to think of it, using a VPN might violate your subscriber Terms of Service, so read that carefully.) Both services offer short-term free trials, so check ’em out. No matter what, it’s fun while it lasts.

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