Sling TV streaming: The good, the bad, and the ugly

Sling TV logoI’m not much of a television watcher, but recently I thought that I would check out Sling TV for streaming live television stations. Seeing as I also have an Amazon FireTV, the choice seemed to be an easy one, and since they were offering a 7-day free trial, I had nothing to lose. After my free trial, though, I decided that Sling is not quite ready for the prime time (at least in my opinion). Here are some bullet points about my overall experience (some good, some not-so-good, and some downright ugly). I hope that these points will give you a quick overview of Sling so that you can decide if it is right for you. After the list of points, I will discuss some of the more important concerns in greater detail.

  • The Good:
  • The Bad:
    • Quality is not as high as watching over regular co-ax cable or satellite
    • Customer service was not very helpful in any regard
    • Pausing/fast-forwarding/rewinding doesn’t work well, or on many channels. It doesn’t work at all on 3-day replay streams.
    • No Linux support for the Sling App
    • The Windows app doesn’t work in anything below Windows 7, and then won’t uninstall
    • Video quality is forced to a VERY low level inside a virtual machine
    • In a Windows 7 VM (running inside VirtualBox), the app uncleanly closes every time
    • 3-day replay streams don’t ever start in the Windows app
  • The Ugly:
    • Limited to one concurrent stream per account
    • No in-browser streaming

Now that there’s a list of some of my bigger points, I’d like to go into further detail about some of the key factors that determined my stance on the current state of Sling (e.g. it not yet being ready for prime time). All of the good points are self-explanatory, and more information can be found on Sling’s website.

For some of the bad aspects, the quality really wasn’t as good as standard cable or satellite. I found the picture to be very soft by comparison, and the sound quality was lacking, especially on a nicer 5.x audio system. I also experienced several glitches in the video streams, and popping sounds in the audio streams (despite a fibre internet connection). When I emailed customer service about my concerns, I only received canned responses that weren’t very helpful. Further, they would close the ticket immediately, which gives the impression that they don’t care about keeping my business, but rather just want to close support cases as quickly as possible.

With regard to the applications that can be used on Windows and Mac, I didn’t have much luck. As a Linux user, I had no option except to try to install the Windows app inside of a Windows virtual machine (VM). I firstly tried it in an old Windows XP VM. Though it installed, it didn’t actually run, and then refused to fully uninstall. I put it in a Windows 7 VM, and at least it ran. However, any time I would start a stream (live or 3-day replay), an error message popped up stating that the “quality was reduced to a minimum” because my “video card was not supported,” and to “update my video drivers or upgrade my video card.” Basically, it seemed like the application didn’t function much at all inside of a VM.

Now for the ugly parts. 🙁 Though I can deal with the lack of streaming within an internet browser, it is still a huge oversight on Sling’s part. In-browser streaming works on most platforms these days (e.g. Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, et cetera). If Sling provided in-browser streaming, it would eliminate the problem with the apps only being available for Windows and Mac. It would also negate the issues that I had with the Windows app inside a virtual machine.

The biggest problem with Sling is the limitation of one stream per account. To put that in perspective, let’s say that you have a few televisions in your home, and a couple tablets (iPads or Android-based). If you wanted to watch a particular TV channel via Sling on the TV in your bedroom, and one of your kids wanted to watch his favourite show on his tablet or phone in his room, you would need two separate Sling accounts in order to do that. With only one Sling account, your stream would stop when he started streaming his show. This is a complete deal-breaker for many people, and by today’s standards, it’s really unacceptable from a service provider. I can understand that they don’t want people pirating out the service, but what about checking for the connections coming from the same external IP? That wouldn’t be ideal either, considering you could be out of the home and using your mobile device, but at least it would allow for all devices in the same home (and tied to the same network) to stream concurrently.

Overall, I think Sling is a great idea in that it will allow people like me to have television service. I think that they currently fall short in several areas, though, and for those reasons, I won’t continue to subscribe. Hopefully in the months and years to come, they will rectify these problems (especially the ones in the “ugly” category). If they do, it would be a service that I could stand behind.

Cheers,
Zach

2 comments

    • Al on Tuesday, 6 December 2016 at 22:31
    • Reply

    Thanks, Zach for summing up what might take me 2 hours to find out from the Sling site. I’ve already spent about 20 min there and have more questions than answers. Not supporting Linux is almost a deal breaker except that I also have a Win machine. But there appears to be no way to replace the convenience of my DVR on DISH (they are trying some cloud beta thing for “select” customers soon). 3-day replay for a few channels is no replacement. I also don’t see CBS, ABC or Fox News channels. My wife would kill me if I replaced DISH with something that didn’t show Survivor.

    I think I’ll give it a year and then check back to see who and what they’re willing to support.

      • Zach on Tuesday, 6 December 2016 at 22:33
        Author
      • Reply

      You’re very welcome! I’m glad that you found the article informative. Personally, I like your decision to wait about a year and check again. I just got something from them in the mail, and it looks like they are trying to make some good changes. However, the deal-breakers that I mentioned here are still present. Until those are resolved, I won’t be able to give my business to them. Ultimately, it’s about what you need from a provider. I don’t watch very much television at all, but if I’m going to pay for a service, it should meet my needs/wants. 🙂

      Cheers,
      Zach

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