Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Cutting the cord: Live TV

I've been a cord-cutter for nearly six years. I got a Roku and Apple TV in late 2010 and dropped cable in early 2011. Since then, I've streamed my TV content. But, if you've read this blog before, you probably know that. Unless you forgot. But now I've reminded you, so we're good to get to the point.

Well, in a minute. First, more backstory. Or information. Or something.

Once you drop cable, unless you put up an antenna, or don't really drop cable and get a cheap locals-only package, you can't watch any live TV. Services like Hulu let you watch stuff within hours of airing. Purchasing content from iTunes or Amazon or some such service does too. In fact, apart from live content like news/opinion programs and sports, just about everything you want to watch is available from Hulu, iTunes, Amazon, and the like. When I cut cable, I lost live sports and news/opinion shows, but nothing else.

For me, it was cheaper than paying for cable. It might be for you, and there are Websites that help you with that kind of research and decision. Rather than being rare behavior, cutting the cord, as it's called, is becoming more common. It's a new market for companies. So, what can they offer that Hulu, iTunes, and Amazon can't?

Live TV. For people that want to watch live sports -- me, for instance -- or people that can't wait a few hours to watch Game of Thrones, the live TV option has value. And more and more services are starting up. One of the first was Sling TV, which I've tried and like. There's PlayStation Vue, which I've tried, but don't like so much. And there's DirecTV Now, which I'm currently trying out.

The services are similar, but aren't exactly the same.

Sling TV


Sling TV, for instance, has two plans. Okay, three: the $20/month Orange plan, the $25/month Blue plan, and the $40/month all (combined Orange and Blue) plan. There are 25 channels that are in both plans:
  • A&E
  • AMC
  • AXS TV
  • BBC America
  • Bloomberg
  • Cartoon Network/Adult Swim
  • Cheddar
  • CNN
  • Comedy Central
  • El Ray
  • Fla Ma
  • Food
  • Galavision
  • HGTV
  • History
  • IFC
  • Lifetime
  • Local Now
  • Maker
  • Newsy
  • Polaris
  • TBS
  • TNT
  • Travel
  • Viceland
Five are unique to Orange:
  • Disney
  • ESPN
  • ESPN 2
  • ESPN 3
  • Freeform
Blue offers 19 channels that Orange doesn't have:
  • BET
  • Bravo
  • Fox
  • Fox Sports Networks
  • FS1
  • FS2
  • FX
  • FXX
  • Nat Geo Wild
  • National Georgraphic
  • NBC
  • NBCSN
  • NFL Network
  • SyFy
  • Tru TV
  • USA
Bottom line is, Blue plan gets you all of their basic channels apart from those five mentioned. Blue is probably the better deal. Unless you want ESPN. If ESPN is all you're after, Orange is the way to go. The better bargain depends on what's important to you.

There are also add-on services available with more sports, movie channels (HBO, Cinemax, STARZ, TCM, and others), news (BBC, HLN, and more), kids (Boomerang, NickToons, etc), and such.

What I like about Sling TV is that you can watch it away from home. I can take my iPad or other supported device with me and watch the content from another location. Not all services work that way.

PlayStation Vue


I'm talking about PlayStation Vue. I've tried it, but didn't keep it around because, while the content it offers is greater than Sling TV, you can't watch it away from home. You must be in the same general area, with the same IP address, as when you registered. If your ISP doesn't keep the same IP address for you (some don't) then it's a problem. For me, though, I want to watch my TV away from home. Like I could do if I had Comcast cable. But, PlayStation Vue doesn't allow that.

If that's not a problem, it's a good service. They have four basic plans, each build on the one before it.

Access ($30/month) includes 47 channels:
  • ABC
  • AMC
  • Animal Planet
  • BBC America
  • Bravo
  • Cartoon Network/Adult Swim
  • CNBC
  • CNN
  • Destination America
  • Discovery
  • Discovery Family
  • Disney
  • Disney Jr
  • Disney XD
  • DIY
  • E!
  • ESPN
  • ESPN 2
  • Esquire
  • Food
  • Fox
  • Fox Business
  • Fox News
  • Freeform
  • FS1
  • FS2
  • FX
  • FXX
  • HGTV
  • HLN
  • Investigation Discovery
  • MSNBC
  • National Georgraphic
  • NBC
  • NBCSN
  • OWN
  • Oxygen
  • Pop
  • Science
  • SyFy
  • TBS
  • TLC
  • TNT
  • Travel
  • Tru TV
  • USA
  • WE
For $5 more ($35/month) Core has those plus:
  • BE IN Sports
  • Big Ten Network
  • ESPNews
  • ESPNU
  • Fox Sports Networks
  • Golf
  • IFC
  • NBA TV
  • NFL Network
  • SEC Network
  • Sundance TV
  • TCM
Another $10 ($45/month) for Elite get you all those, plus:
  • American Heroes
  • BBC World News
  • Boomerang
  • Chiller
  • Cloo
  • CNBC World
  • Cooking
  • Discovery Life
  • EPIX
  • ESPN Deportes
  • Fox College Sports Atlantic
  • Fox College Sports Central
  • Fox College Sports Pacific
  • Fox Deportes
  • Fusion
  • FXM
  • Hi-Yah!
  • Impact
  • Machinima
  • MGM
  • Nat Geo Wild
  • One World Sports
  • Outside
  • Poker Central
  • Polaris
  • Sony
  • Sprout
  • Universal
  • Velocity
And, for another $10, ($55/month) the Ultra plans adds
  • HBO
  • Showtime
Like I said, a lot of content for the price. There are also additional add-ons for PlayStation Vue:
  • HBO
  • Showtime
  • Cinemax
  • Machinima
  • Fox Soccer Plus
  • Epix Hits
  • Polaris

DIRECTV NOW


The newest entry is the one I'm trying now: DIRECTV NOW. It offers four plans also, beginning with the $35/month Live A Little plan:
  • A&E
  • ABC
  • AMC
  • Animal Planet
  • Audience
  • AXS TV
  • Baby First
  • BBC America
  • BET
  • Bloomberg
  • Bravo
  • C-SPAN
  • C-SPAN2
  • Cartoon Network/Adult Swim
  • CMT
  • CNBC
  • CNN
  • Comedy Central
  • Discovery
  • Disney
  • Disney Jr
  • Disney XD
  • E!
  • ESPN
  • ESPN 2
  • Food
  • Fox
  • Fox Business
  • Fox News
  • Freeform
  • FS1
  • FX
  • FXX
  • Galavision
  • Hallmark
  • Hallmark Movies & Mysteries
  • HGTV
  • History
  • HLN
  • Investigation Discovery
  • Lifetime
  • MSNBC
  • MTV
  • MTV2
  • National Georgraphic
  • NBC
  • Nick Jr
  • Nickelodeon/Nick at Nite
  • RFD-TV
  • Spike
  • SyFy
  • TBS
  • TCM
  • TeenNick
  • Telemundo
  • TLC
  • TNT
  • Tru TV
  • TV Land
  • Univision
  • USA
  • Velocity
  • Viceland
  • WE
  • WeatherNation
The other plans build on this, except for the Hallmark Movies & Mysteries channel. That's only available in the Live A Little Plan for some reason. Anyway, the $50/month Just Right plan (an extra $15) adds:
  • Big Ten Network
  • CNBC World
  • Comedy TV
  • Cooking
  • ESPNews
  • ESPNU
  • Fuse
  • Fusion
  • GSN
  • IFC
  • Justice Central
  • Lifetime Movie Network
  • MLB Network
  • NBCSN
  • Nicktoons
  • OWN
  • Science
  • SEC Network
  • Sundance TV
  • Travel
  • Uni Mas
  • Weather Channel
Another $10 ($60/month, but currently being offered at $35/month) gets you the Go Big plan, which has those plus:
  • American Heroes
  • BBC World News
  • Centric
  • Destination America
  • Discovery Family
  • Discovery Life
  • DIY
  • FM
  • FS2
  • FXM
  • FYI
  • Golf
  • Logo
  • MTV Classic
  • Nat Geo Wild
  • NBA TV
  • NBC Universo
  • NHL Network
  • Oxygen
  • Revolt
  • Sprout
  • Tennis
  • TV Guide
The largest, most expensive plan, at $70/month, Gotta Have It, adds:
  • Boomerang
  • Chiller
  • Cloo
  • El Ray
  • STARZ ENCORE Action
  • STARZ ENCORE Black
  • STARZ ENCORE Classic
  • STARZ ENCORE East
  • STARZ ENCORE Family
  • STARZ ENCORE Suspense
  • STARZ ENCORE West
  • STARZ ENCORE Westerns
  • Univision Deportes
All plans let you add, for $5 each, one or both premium services:
  • HBO
  • Cinemax
The best deal is the Go Big plan, the one I'm trying, since it offers a large package for the price of their cheapest package. As long as I keep it, I'm guaranteed that price. Don't know how long they'll run this offer.

Deals


There are various deals offered by the services, apart from the DIRECTV NOW pricing on their second-largest plan, for devices. These plans will run on smartphones and tablets, of course, but for standard TV watching, you probably want a device connected to your TV. The best of those are Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV (and Fire TV Stick), Roku (various versions), and Chromecast.

Sling TV offers an Apple TV for $89 (regular $150) when you pay for 3 months, which a good deal. They also offer a free Roku Stick ($50 retail) with a one-month pre-payment, also a good deal. You can also get half off a Roku Premiere Plus (regular $100) with a three-month pre-payment. That's a decent deal, but not a great deal.

DIRECTV NOW will give you a free Amazon Fire TV Stick ($40) with pre-paying a month service. That's a very good deal.

The best deal right now, though, is the one offered by DIRECTV NOW: Get a free Apple TV ($150 model) free with a three-month pre-payment. I pre-paid $105 (3 x $35) and they're shipping me an Apple TV. The catch is, they promise delivery within 2-3 weeks (although mine has shipped and will arrive less than a week into the subscription). If you don't already have a device to watch it on, you're screwed out of up to 2-3 weeks of streaming you paid for. Only, not really, since you are getting a $150 Apple TV and 3 months of service for $105. That's a bargain any way you look at it.

If you're shopping for an Apple TV anyway, and can wait 2-3 weeks (or 5 days, in my instance), this is the best deal ever.

Update


I don't have an update yet. I will later, after I've had a chance to watch the service for a time, and tried out the service. So, we'll see if I keep the service after the middle of March. Either way, I'll let you know my overall impression of the service.

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