Sling TV is the newest effort by Dish Network to capture subscriptions from the ever-growing pool of TV viewers cutting the cord for online-only TV options such as Netflix and Hulu Plus. The goal of the product is to allow its viewers to watch TV networks such as ESPN and the Disney Channel without a traditional cable or satellite TV subscription. For $20 per month you get the entire channel lineup which includes ESPN, ESPN2, TNT, TBS, Food Network, HGTV, Travel Channel, Adult Swim, Cartoon Network, Disney Channel, ABC Family and CNN. You can optionally subscribe to the Kids Extra package including Disney Junior, Disney XD, Boomerang, Baby TV and Duck TV. The “News & Info Extra” package includes HLN, Cooking Channel, DIY, and Bloomberg TV. Both “Extra” packages cost $5 per month. Dish Network announced Sling TV last month and now Sling TV has started offering a seven-day trial of an early release of the product. You can sign up to be added to the wait list directly on sling.com.
Sling is rolling out in true iterative fashion. Once invited, you can only join by calling a toll-free number. The sign-up form is not available online yet but it should be coming soon. Since I didn’t want to wait to sign-up, I called the phone number where an agent answered the phone immediately. I gave the agent my invitation code and he then requested some additional information from me including my name, phone number, address and of course a credit card number. The whole call only took seven minutes and I was up and running quickly. Once you subscribe, you will receive one e-mail confirming your subscription and another one with a password reset link. Once you reset your password you can login and try out everything Sling TV has to offer.
While the service is free for the first seven days, it’s up to you to cancel before they charge your card automatically. You will need to call them to cancel your service since the account management pieces are not working yet on the website. All services are pre-paid at the beginning of your billing cycle and include sales tax. Sling TV also offers a kids package and a news package, each for $5 per month. You can get these included in your seven-day trial for free as well.
To understand Sling TV, you first need to understand DishWorld, which is Dish Network’s delivery medium for online TV. It has actually existed since 2012 but only for international markets. For those of us in the United States, you have probably never heard of it. Sling TV is leveraging this existing infrastructure to stream TV in the United States. During this early release phase, you will see the DishWorld branding everywhere. I don’t know if this is permanent, but it does create a bit of a disconnect because you don’t see the Sling TV brand anywhere in the apps or on the website.
Once you login to the DishWorld website, you are shown a page with your account details. If you are familiar with sites from streaming providers such as Netflix or Hulu, this will be a bit different for you. The website itself does not actually offer any way to view live TV in the browser. Instead, you have to download an application. You can find these on the Apps & Devices link in the navigation. The site will automatically detect what type of device you are using. Currently supported devices include Android, iOS devices, Mac OS, all Roku players, and Roku TV models. Support for the Xbox One, Amazon Fire TV, and the Google Nexus Player are coming.
Watching TV on Windows
Since I signed up on my Surface Pro 3, I started with the PC app. PC wasn’t supported when I first got access to the service but it is now. The DishWorld site gives you the ability to download apps for most platforms already (even if they are not currently supported). You might expect this to be a nice Windows Store app for Windows 8.1. It’s not though. It’s actually an app that runs on Windows XP and above. It even requires you to install it before you get started.
After I installed the application, I launched it and provided my credentials. Windows Firewall will prompt you to let the application connect. Click Allow access to grant access. When you start the app, it starts playing a live stream of ESPN with a channel listing on the right side.
However, after playing for about five seconds, the stream stops. You can see that it is listed as “STALLED” underneath the title of the program in the previous figure. After changing to any other channel, the app crashes.
Since I live on the cutting edge, I thought that this issue might be attributed to the fact that I run Windows 10 Build 9926 on my Surface Pro 3. I then installed the application on my Windows 8.1 desktop and unfortunately the issue occurred there as well. To date, I haven’t been able to successfully watch TV at all on a Windows PC. That’s a bit disappointing since I might want to watch TV while I am in my office. Although Sling TV just announced PC support, the service still does not work for me at this time.
Watching TV on Android
Since watching TV on my PC was a bust, I tried the DishWorld app on my Android device. Installing the app from the Google Play store was easy. Once installed, I entered my credentials, but it gave me the message, “You are not subscribed to any channels…”
I tried the app several times but I was never able to watch TV on Android either.
Watching TV on Roku 3
Luckily, I was able to get Sling TV (DishWorld) to work on my Roku 3. After installing the app, I had to manually key in my username and password using the remote. Once I logged in, the first channel I saw was ESPN and it streamed successfully. The picture quality looked good and I haven’t noticed any streaming issues. Pressing the (*) button on the remote brings up the menu where you can find the program guide.
Most channels worked great, however, I did get an error on some of them such as Disney and Cartoon Network saying “The content was not authorized for playback.” I suspect this is a pre-release issue.
Some channels and show combinations offer the ability to watch the show from the beginning when you select it. So far I found this available on the Food Network and the Travel Channel. This is a nice feature because it will allow customers to watch all of a show if it has already started.
As far as the interface goes, I found that using the Guide took a lot of button presses. You had to open the menu with the (*) button, select guide, pick the channel, and then confirm to “Watch Live.” You can flip channels using the Up and Down keys on the remote. However, only the show title was displayed on the screen. It lacked the network information. When you do flip channels, it takes a few seconds for it to start the stream. This is pretty comparable to a digital cable converter box to switch channels. You can also press the back button on the remote to switch to the previous channel. I think DishWorld did a pretty good job with the way they set up the remote. It makes it feel similar to a traditional TV viewing experience.
The feature I found lacking the most from the DishWorld app was 5.1 / Dolby Digital support. Audio was only broadcast in stereo. While this might not be a deal breaker for some, it is huge for me. Most programming in HD offers multichannel audio streams now. Netflix, Xbox Video and many of the other streaming services support this so I am surprised to see it missing from the app. Admittedly, a lot of apps also don’t support it, but maybe this is something Sling TV subscribers will get at a later point. People will want to use Sling TV in their home theaters so I think this feature will have to get added.
You’ll be able to rent movies on demand from Sling TV as well. The movie rates seem comparable to any of the other movie rental services out there.
Is Sling TV ready for me?
Since this is an early release, we should expect issues. However, I was a little surprised by the number of issues I ran into since I wasn’t able to get the service to work on two different platforms. Luckily it worked well on the Roku. I understand this is a preview release of the product so I’m ok with everything not being “fully baked” yet. Right now they have a lot of work to do before this product is ready for consumers at large. Dish Network is going to start charging me in less than a week and it’s definitely not a service I am willing to pay for yet. I suspect service will improve soon before they open it up to the general public.
I predict that Dish Network will change the branding in the apps to Sling TV instead of DishWorld. I think it would be a bad move to leave it as is. Sling TV should maintain the same brand throughout the user experience.
Another issue I have with the service is that your monthly subscription only includes streaming on one device at a time. It looks like you will be able to add more for a fee at some point, but you can’t do so yet online. These are the kind of fees that add up on traditional cable TV packages. I find this rather disappointing as most services offer streaming on multiple screens at a time. At $20 per month, Sling TV is already at the top of monthly fees people pay for streaming services. At that cost, I think it is going to be hard to justify for a lot of cord cutters.
As an alternative, if you have an Xbox One, consider the Hauppauge Digital TV Tuner.
I like that there are now online options to view hard-to-get channels such as ESPN now. However, I still think the direction is wrong. In essence, Dish Network is just taking the same broken model with bundled packages and brining it online rather than letting consumers pick and choose the channels we want. I am not saying that I will never subscribe to the service though. For me, it may be something that I subscribe to seasonally for ESPN coverage.