For those fed up with their cable or satellite TV company, there has never been a better time to cut the cord.
Streaming video services are giving traditional pay TV stiff competition by delivering live sports and other programming online, often for a serious drop in price, while premium channels like HBO and Showtime are available as separate streaming services or add-on bundles. In addition, there’s no hidden charges with streaming TV, and if you ever decide to cancel, it’s easy and painless — a refreshing change from the woes of dealing with cable and satellite call centers.
PlayStation Vue, Sling TV, and the recently introduced DirecTV Now have emerged as major competition to traditional pay TV offering both live and on-demand programming, and in some cases, cloud-based DVRs, making them capable cable alternatives. But which service is best? In order to help you find the best replacement for your cable or satellite subscription, we’ve put together this handy guide detailing each service’s features and content offerings and how they compare to each other.
|PlayStation Vue||Sling TV||DirecTV Now|
|Pricing||Access Slim: $30/month for 45+ channels* |
Core Slim: $35/month for 60+ channels*
Elite Slim: $45/month for 90+ channels*
Ultra Slim: $65/month for 90 channels, plus HBO and Showtime*
|Sling Orange: $20/month 20+ channels; |
Sling Blue: $25/month 40+ channels;
Orange + Blue: $40/month 45+ channels;
additional channel add-on packs from $5-$15
|Live a Little: $35 for 60+ channels; |
Just Right: $50 for $80+ channels;
Go Big: $60 for $100+ channels;
Gotta Have It: $70 for $120+ channels;
add-on packs available for $5
|Major Networks||ABC, NBC, FOX (Major networks live in select cities; on-demand all other locations)||ABC, FOX, NBC (live in select cities**; no on demand)||ABC, Fox, NBC***|
|Subscription Type||Monthly, no contract, cancel anytime||Monthly, no contract, cancel anytime||Monthly, no contract, cancel anytime|
|DVR||Cloud DVR (keep titles up to 28 days)||In Beta||No|
|Video On Demand||Yes(on select channels, shows,including local channels where available*)||Yes (on select channels, shows)||Yes (on select channels, shows)|
|Pause, Rewind, Fast Forward||All channels||Only select channels||VOD only|
|Replay/Catch-up||Select channels and shows||Select channels and shows||Yes (72 hours after recording)|
|Number of streams per account||5||1 or 3, depending on subscription||2|
|Audio||2-channel stereo||2-channel stereo||2-channel stereo, 5.1 for some on-demand content on supported devices|
* PlayStation Vue local live programming will add on $5 per month, available in these cities: New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, Dallas, San Francisco and Miami.
**Sling TV local ABC available in these cities: New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Houston, Raleigh-Durham and Fresno-Visalia.
***Live NBC is only available on web browsers with DirecTV Now.
Channel offerings differ quite a bit between the three services and the multiple packages they offer. Here’s what each service offers.
Set at the middle of the pack for a base package, PlayStation Vue’s Access Slim is $30 per month and grants you access to 45 live channels, including ESPN, CNN, AMC and more, along with on-demand access to programming from the major networks ABC, NBC, and FOX. (Note: in select cities, the base package is $35 per month, but includes live ABC, NBC, and Fox, including local programming.)
Beyond Access Slim, Vue has three more subscription tiers. Core Slim, which offers 60 channels at $35 per month, adding channels like CSN, ESPNEWS, and ESPN U, as well as Turner Classic Movies to the previous tier’s list. Up next is Elite Slim, which provides 90 channels at $45 per month, adding EPIX Hits, Machinima, and many others to the list.
The top tier package for PlayStation Vue is Ultra Slim, which includes the full suite of 90-plus channels, plus HBO and Showtime bundled in.
There aren’t many options when it comes to a la carte choices, however. Standalone subscriptions are available for the aforementioned Showtime and HBO, as well as Machinima, Fox Soccer Plus, and EPIX Hits at varying prices. Bear in mind that most or all of these add-ons appear in the Elite and Ultra packages.
Recently, Vue removed Viacom-owned channels from its service — MTV, MTV2, VH1, Spike, and Comedy Central all got the ax. Conversely, several previously unavailable channels were added, including ESPN, BBC America, VICE, NBC Sports, and more. You can view PlayStation Vue’s full channel lineup on the service’s homepage.
Sling TV offers two different channel packages, Sling Orange ($20/month) and Sling Blue ($25/month), but they aren’t as straightforward as Vue’s options. Instead of simply adding more channels to a base selection like Vue does, Sling’s two packages vary quite a bit from one another. With Sling Orange you’ll get 20 channels, including several ESPN properties. Sling Blue ditches the Disney-owned channels — including Disney Channel, Freeform, and most importantly, ESPN’s channels — but bumps the total number of channels to over 40 for just a $5 increase, adding in Fox sports channels.
Those who wish to have the broader channel offerings of both packages can get both Sling Orange and Sling Blue for $40 per month.
From there, Sling offers a number of add-on channel packages at varying prices, including broadcast networks like ABC, favorites like MTV and Spike, or premium cable options like HBO. Depending on your base package, though, some channels may not be available. For a detailed breakdown of Sling TV’s numerous offerings, add-ons, and limitations (especially important when it comes to sports packages), check out our Sling TV guide which covers everything you need to know about the service.
It’s important to note that, between add-on packages and other streaming services (like Hulu or Netflix), at a certain point the money saved by cutting cable begins to dwindle. Even in those cases, these services do have advantages over cable. Tthey can easily be canceled at any time, and more importantly, they won’t skewer you with hidden charges or fees and don’t involve rental equipment. Still, it’s important to keep costs in mind when deciding whether to ditch a cable or satellite subscription.
DirecTV Now’s content offerings are the most straightforward of the bunch. There are four packages, each building upon the previous one. The cheapest is Live a Little, which provides 60 plus channels for just $35. This tier offers most of the obvious choices, including broadcast networks ABC, FOX, and NBC (as with Vue and Sling, CBS is not included in the service) and plenty of favorites like Cartoon Network, ESPN, and FX. The package also has Viacom channels — MTV, Comedy Central, Spike, etc. — which are no longer available on PlayStation Vue.
Next is the Just Right plan, which bumps up the channel count to over 80 for $50 per month, followed by Go Big, which boasts 100 channels. While Go Big normally costs $60, DirecTV is offering the package for a scant $35 during the first few months of the service’s launch (see below for details). The final package tier is called Gotta Have It, and tops the channel count to over 120.
Most of DirecTV Now’s packages, while offering more channels, are a little pricier than what its competitors offer. However, AT&T/DirecTV is aggressively seeking new customers, offering some serious deals in the process. The $35 promotional price for the 100-channel Go Big package (which the company claims will last for as long as you’re subscribed) is a huge incentive while it lasts. DirecTV Now also offers HBO and Showtime for just $5, which is a fraction of the price charged by Sling or Vue, and well below the standalone cost. Finally, At&T/DirecTV is offering free streaming devices for new subscribers: one month of prepaid subscriptions nets you an Amazon fire TV Strick, while prepaying for three months up front will get you an Apple TV.
We do feel it’s necessary to point out that, at a certain point, the high prices and glut of unnecessary channels you’ll get with either DirecTV Now or PlayStation Vue are exactly the reasons most people quit cable in the first place. However, based purely on content-to-price ratio, DirecTV Now is the victor here. The service provides more channels than its competitors at similar prices. Pile on the bevy of promotional offers, and it’s an easy win.
Winner: DirecTV Now
There are are some major differences between the devices supported by each of the three services, broken down in the chart below.
|Device||PlayStation Vue||Sling TV||DirecTV Now|
|Amazon Fire TV||X||X||X|
|Amazon Fire TV Stick||X||X||X|
|Android TV Devices||X||X|
|Apple TV (4th Gen)||X||X||X|
|Chromecast, Chromecast Ultra||X||X||X (Android-only at launch, iOS in 2017)|
|Channel Master DVR+||X|
|Select LG Smart TVs||X|
|Roku Players||X||X||(coming 2017)|
|Roku TV Models||X||X||(coming 2017)|
|Select Samsung Smart TVs||X|
|Windows (7, 8, 8.1, 10)||X||X||X|
|Xiaomi Mi Box||X|
A quick glance at the above chart makes it clear that PlayStation Vue and DirecTV Now support fewer devices than the longer-running Sling TV, but it’s not a landslide victory. It’s also worth pointing out that Sling TV has been in existence longer than both, and the number of devices that DirecTV Now will support is set to increase steadily into 2017. We’ll add the caveat that owners of a Playstation 3 or PS4 console may want to consider Vue more seriously, as there are certain stand alone channels only available to Playstation Plus subscribers. Still, even with those prospective additions, Sling TV is the most widely supported service at present.
In addition, SlingTV users also have access to the same content across all supported devices. The same goes for DirecTV Now’s service packages. In contrast, using PlayStation Vue on a TV or set-top device is a very different experience than using it on a mobile device, as some channels will be inaccessible on the go due to licensing restrictions. Further, you will not be able to access any of your recorded content on a mobile device.
While Sling TV supports a wider swath of devices and doesn’t have any mobile restrictions, it does have tighter restrictions on the number of streams an account can run at a given time. The standard Orange subscription allows only one simultaneous stream per account, while the pricier Sling Blue and combined packages will allow up to three users to stream at once. PlayStation Vue will allow up to five simultaneous streams on separate devices per account. Vue also allows users to make five different profiles per account, something Sling TV lacks entirely. DirecTV Now sits somewhere in the middle, with two simultaneous streams allowed for all packages, but only a single profile per account.
Though PlayStation Vue offers more available simultaneous streams, Sling TV is still supported on a wider range of devices than either of its competitors, and is devoid of any device-specific restrictions. That’s enough to land Sling TV the win for this category.
Winner: Sling TV
In terms of extras and features, PlayStation Vue has more, and its user experience is more flexible.
Like Netflix and Hulu, PlayStation Vue curates your programming guide, offering suggestions based upon your watching preferences and habits. Best of all, Vue has several features that mirror cable boxes, including the ability to fast forward/rewind on all channels, and a cloud DVR — though it’s limited to 28 days. (Note that these features may be limited or absent if using the mobile version of the service.)
In contrast, Sling TV uses a simple guide without any curation or recommendations, lacks a DVR (for now), and only allows to pause/fast forward/rewind on a select number of shows and channels. DirecTV Now also lacks DVR and has a severely limited amount of content which can be paused, fast forwarded, or rewound. One feature Sling TV offers over Vue or DirecTV Now is a bandwidth limiter, which will keep your data usage from spiking. Still, Vue’s robust feature set puts it on top.
Winner: PlayStation Vue
All services offer passable video quality, though it often falls just short of what you get from cable, satellite, and streaming services like Netflix and Amazon. You often won’t get HD quality video, and content is heavily compressed to reduce bandwidth consumption. Since none of these services have particularly stand-out picture performance, we’re calling this one a draw.
Sorry to say it, but for now it’s a draw — each service has its pros and cons, so picking a winner is tough. Each of the offerings won a category, and none has really stepped ahead of the pack in dramatic fashion. That said, consider a few important distinctions before making your choice:
PlayStation Vue offers a great user experience, and extra features like a DVR. As mentioned above, there are also extra incentives for PlayStation console owners. However, the service does have restrictions when it comes to mobile viewing.
Upstart DirecTV Now has some impressive promotional deals and a long list of included channels that make it an enticing offer for new subscribers (at least for now), or those looking for a package more inline with traditional cable or satellite subscriptions.
Finally, Sling TV is the most versatile, the most affordable, and offers the kind of lean channel packages that many cable cutters long for — on more devices, to boot. But it won’t give you the robust channel offerings of its bulkier competitors, and its available channel selection can be confusing.
Now that you’ve got the tools you need to make an informed decision, all that’s left to do is make a choice and start streaming!