There has been a recent torrent of releases of streaming TV services by companies both expected and unexpected. Since they mostly provide a free 2-4 week trial, I've signed up for all of them! Here's what I found.
I've been signed up for Sling TV for a while now. Sling was a good service for getting me the channels that I could not get ofer-the-air. The antenna in my bedroom is connected to a device that can stream TV throughout my home network. Supplemented with Sling TV's live TV from a handful of channels, things didn't seem like I was missing cable TV so much.
Sling's major downside is that they are missing key local channels. For whatever reason, I can only receive 2 of the 3 major networks via Sling, and the one that's missing is the one that my antenna can't pick up due to this stupid Philadelphia-area VHF/UHF issue. I simply can't get channel 6 over the air. Nonetheless, since I primarily was using this to supplement my antenna, I most often use Sling to watch SyFy and CNN.
Sling also doesn't provide DVR functionality for TV shows that you want to "record" for later viewing. This is handy for when you don't really want to sit in front of the TV while the show is airing, something that I would do very rarely anyway.
Sling TV runs on my Apple TV, iPhone, Roku, and XBox One. There is no smart TV app for Sling on my LG TV. You can watch Sling TV on the computer pretty easily, which is good for travel.
YouTube TV was the first to market in the new "streaming local channels" marketplace. I signed up immediately.
YouTube TV has all of my local channels. It's possible to DVR any show, and YouTube TV surprisingly surfaced old airings of shows that I told it I like. For example, I told it that I wanted to "record" Elementary, and old episodes from the current season (those that have aired in teh past few months) appeared in my saved show list. Pretty neat.
YouTube TV wins the UI contest hands-down. When you navigate the interface, the live video from the channel highlighted in the listing appears behind the description of the show. The audio plays as well. This is pretty darn awesome. It is actually better than normal TV, because you get a preview of the actual thing you want to watch. For this reason alone YouTube TV stands out as one of the top contenders for best streaming service.
Channel availability is great on YouTube TV, and it seems like they intend to add new channels to the offering over time. While I was glad to have Fox News added to my list of available channels, YouTube TV curiously omits CNN, which I was relying on Sling heavily for.
YouTube TV has some weird device restrictions currently. It's very nice on the computer, but the only streaming device they support is Chromecast, which basically means I have to throw the TV to the Chromecast input, then use my phone to send the video to the TV. There is no app for my smart TV. I do not like this, and have never really liked that Chromecast ties up my phone while I watch TV. I can watch it on the iPhone and iPad, which is nice, and has the same clever interface as the computer.
I was surprised when Hulu added streaming live local TV to their offering. As an existing Hulu customer, primarily to fill in gaps that Netflix leaves with cable network shows, it was a pretty easy sell to add live TV to the plan.
Unfortunately, Hulu continues their complete disregard for sensible user experience when presenting their TV solution. It's nearly impossible to manipulate their TV interface. I found myself lost and frustrated several times while getting started, and this is simply not something you want when you're replacing a very simple TV experience. Compared to YouTube TV, Hulu looks like something a fledgeling web consultant would throw together in a weekend - full of glitzy gradients and blipping menus, but lacking completely in the ability to actually use the interface.
Hulu has a DVR feature that is available for extra cost. This strikes me as pretty weird, considering that all of the other services basically provide at least a limited version of this for free.
Hulu has all of the channel offerings of YouTube TV, plus CNN. And since that's primarily what I was using Sling for, this makes it attractive in one particular way over YouTube TV. Enough to overlook the poor interface? Well...
The nail in the Hulu TV coffin is their device availability. It initially looked attractive because my LG TV has a Hulu app built in. But not every Hulu app is being upgraded to support the streaming TV experience. To get Hulu TV in my livingroom, I'd have to use my XBox. This is not too bad except... There is no computer interface to Hulu TV. Yeah, what? Moving on...
You know, I want to hate Sony. I don't know why. I've resisted buying a PS4, and when I got one it was actually pretty slick. I've resisted signing up for the Playstation Network, but when I did, I got a lot of nice benefits. So why should I hate Playstation Vue, Sony's TV streaming service?
Vue is available on the PS4, the computer, iPhone, iPad, and Apple TV. There is no LG TV app for Vue, but that's ok, since it's pretty easy to get to from the PS4 menu.
Playstation Vue has all of the channels I want on their basic arrangement. They offer several enhanced packages that include movie and sports stations, which might eventually be interesting. But primarily, I get all of the local stations, plus SyFy, CNN, Fox News, AMC, TNT, and USA. This is a very good standard offering of channels, and covers everything that the other services provide.
The interface isn't as good as YouTube TV's but it is better (hard not to be) than Hulu. There are some clumsy menus for setting favorite channels, and Vue provides some DVR functionality, which is also nice.
I was pleasantly surprised by the feature offering for the price, and I'm very likely to stick with Playstation Vue for my live TV streaming needs.