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Sling TV review: Television's future is still in development

Jared Newman | Feb. 2, 2015
Sling TV changed my TV-viewing habits in less than a week.

The problem is that out of the 11 channels in Sling TV's basic lineup, only three (Food Network, Travel Channel and HGTV) offer Replay. The channels that choose not to support this feature won't let even let you pause or rewind the current show, and they don't offer any programs on demand. This just illustrates how skittish some networks are about disrupting the cable-TV experience.

As for app support, Sling TV ran on Roku, Android, and iOS during my testing. Apps for Xbox, Amazon Fire TV, Android TV, select smart TVs, and desktop web browsers are on the way, but there's no official word on Chromecast or Apple TV support.

Not your mom's channel guide

The traditional cable guide makes sense when you have hundreds of channels to sift through, but Sling TV only has 11 channels in its base package, so it rightfully strives for something simpler. When you launch the app, the video takes up the full screen, with a translucent channel guide overlaid on the bottom half. Scrolling left or right cycles through each channel, showing the current show, the upcoming schedule and previous shows (if Replay is supported). You can also flip through channels in full screen mode by pressing up or down on the remote--just like the old days.

It's not as efficient as a standard cable guide's dense grid, but it doesn't have to be, and it's nice to have the video stay in full screen as you browse. My only gripe is that the text descriptions for each show were too hard to read, even on a 50-inch TV from 10 feet away.

From the guide, you can scroll up to see more from the current channel, shrinking the video down to thumbnail-size and letting you browse through on-demand and upcoming shows. This part of the interface could use refinement, as you can't view an on-demand episode's description without selecting it. Those details should just pop up as you scroll through.

I also wish there was a way to control Sling TV from a phone or tablet. Given that the service has nearly the same interface on mobile devices as it does on the television, it seems like an obvious feature to add down the road.

Glorious live programming; issues with on-demand

When you think of Internet TV, you might imagine a nightmare scenario of buffering, choppiness, and resolution drops. Fortunately, that wasn't my experience with most of Sling TV's live channels.

Each channel only took a few seconds to load, and would begin playing at a high resolution with only rare exceptions. ESPN was particularly impressive, delivering the same smoothness of motion that you'd get from cable. (Be warned, however, that ESPN's feed has no commercials, which sounds like a blessing until you've heard the cheesy "commercial break" groove for the 20th time in a day.) The only channel that wasn't up to par was HGTV, whose audio was noticeably out of sync with the video.

 

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