I hoped this day would never happen: I'm wondering if I should swap out Sling TV for YouTube TV. I spent so much time testing cord-cutter services in 2021, with a measure twice (well, test all the options) and cut (the cord) once strategy that I thought would keep me satisfied.
But then I was watching my favorite TV show last week, and I was annoyed by what I saw — literally. Over a particular period, Sling's image quality just wasn't up to par. And then there's the matter of wanting to watch the series that is the best new sitcom live with the rest of the world, as Sling doesn't have ABC.
Fortunately, as I'll explain below, YouTube TV is right there as another high-scoring service in our best cable TV alternatives list. One that I think would treat me better in this aspect. But there was just one problem.
Why I wanted to leave Sling
When my wandering eyes first started itching to leave Sling, it was all about picture quality. As I noted, I saw a bit too many low-fi moments. Here's one example from February, when "The American Dragon" Bryan Danielson was wrestling Lee Moriarty.
Then, in May, I was actually pushed to try YouTube TV because that pixelated problem devolved into something worse: buffering. While I was watching Sling TV on the Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K Max, the shows I was watching started pausing, as a spinning orange circle hit the screen.
Little did I know that Sling was having a particularly rough week. Sling's Twitter customer service account Sling Answers addressed this issue, openly stating they were working on a fix. Later that night, they claimed the problem was fixed:
UPDATE: We know how frustrating tonight was. Our teams worked urgently to get your service back and we are happy to say they have resolved the issue. We appreciate your patience.May 21, 2022
Except, well, my Sling streaming kept hitting hiccups. I couldn't tell why. That is, until, I did the obvious thing and tried one of the other sticks in the review unit vault: the Roku Streaming Stick 4K, which is currently our pick for the best streaming device overall.
And then, just like that, the problem disappeared. I'm not sure why my Fire TV Stick 4K Max was so disagreeable with my network. I tried fiddling with all the settings. But the $5 cheaper 4K Roku stick did the trick.
That said, I didn't want to leave for YouTube TV, as Sling Blue's $35 per month price is much nicer than YouTube TV's $65 per month bill (and I imagine it'd be nicer still if I'd used a Sling TV promo code).
YouTube TV does two things much better than Sling TV
Here's the thing about YouTube TV: it's got a much better interface and app than Sling TV. I love using it a lot more. Things are snappier, and it has the one thing Sling TV could really use: a shorter delay time. You see, even one of the best streaming services (which Sling is) aren't actually as "live" as cable is.
And that's a huge deal for me. I live-tweet events a lot (arguably too often), and doing so a few dozen seconds behind people with cable? I always put myself up for getting spoiled on what's just about to happen. How bad is it? Sling TV was up to 70 seconds behind live TV on cable, while YouTube TV had a much smaller 20 to 30-second delay.
But YouTube TV still doesn't do enough (for me)
That said? Actually using YouTube TV and Sling at the same time — or, well, app-surfing between them — I couldn't really find enough to really get me to switch. Yes, YouTube TV has an unlimited (9 month cap) cloud DVR, but I don't actually use my DVR that much. (You can check out how my colleague can't live without the YouTube TV key plays feature).
I tested picture quality out while watching Breaking Bad season 6. I switched between the apps over and over again, and soon forgot which app was which, and I was unable to tell the difference between the AMC feeds on YouTube TV and Sling TV. Same goes for my precious professional wrestling. So, if Sling was already doing things well for me on my channel assortment, and YouTube TV couldn't impress me much more on the quality of the programming I needed? Sling was already pulling me back in.
Then, I started noticing the same annoying problem in YouTube TV that I sometimes see in Sling. Its home screen failed to present options that felt tailored to my most-watched channels. I don't know why YouTube TV thinks I want ESPN, Nickelodeon or CNN, when the six channels I watch are AMC, the local FOX affiliate, FX, USA, TBS and TNT.
Maybe YouTube is promoting the most popular channels at the times in question, I'm not sure. But since YouTube's algorithm is decent at figuring out what I want, I'm a little disappointed.
I'm sticking with Sling, even though I don't "love" it
As eager as I was to leave cable — and as happy as I am to have that part of my life over — I'm not exactly happy about where I am now. Sling TV does "enough," and at a price that's much better than YouTube TV's.
This past Thursday night (July 21), I had my first buffering issue on Sling TV in more than a month, on the Apple TV 4K (which has an Ethernet connection). It lasted less than a minute, and it wasn't followed by any other bugs. If Sling continues at this pace, I'll see it as "good enough." Which is annoying. I wish Sling had the sheen and polish of YouTube TV, but it doesn't. But YouTube TV doesn't do enough better than Sling to justify its $30 higher price.
It turns out that channels, stability and price are all that really matter (for me) when it comes to streaming live TV.
Next: The impending Harley Quinn season 3 release date means HBO Max's best comic book show is back.
Sling was one of the few that gave me persistent streaming issues, from "splats" to pixilation to the dreaded swirl.
I have an opinion that it tends to lock you into one of their servers and even if the server or network load is unusable, it doesn't switch. I'm not sure WHAT triggers a server change, but certainly going from one streaming device (fire tv to roku) should have done that.
The problem is entirely on their end, because I can stream 4k/60 on 750Mb/s download speeds without batting an eye, and yet Sling and their 720p picture quality couldn't manage it?
That's why it's only $35, but really if you like sports or have kids, it's $50+.
Youtube tv is SO close to being good. It fails in two odd areas. One as the article notes is the "recommendations" seem to lean hard into high cost channels (add on or part of the package), and things that involve you giving google money.
That's something new, that seems to be pervading google culture over the past 2 years...creeping profit grabs.
The other problem is why I don't use it at all, and probably won't ever, and it's the dumbest thing. I fall asleep watching tv all the time. It sooths me. When your show is over, youtube tv will play another show seemingly at random, because sometimes its a show in your dvr, sometimes it isn't.
And it keeps on going. So shows you haven't actually watched will be marked as watched in the dvr, leading to some interesting times where you try to figure out why you don't remember it, and I have a data cap with comcast, and youtube tv streaming on at 1080/60 for hours while I'm snoozing runs me over my data cap and costs $30-50 extra on my internet fees.
People have asked for this to either not be done at all or to make it an option, pretty much since it launched. Nope.
Sling TV at least stops at the end of your show and waits for you to tell it what to play next. Most of the streaming services do. Even regular youtube lets you shut off autoplay.
As of this year, I haven't had a streaming live tv service of any kind since the end of last years NFL season. And I don't think that I'm going to.
It seems like most of the "live" content that I want to watch is available on other streaming services that I already have, like peacock, paramount+ and hulu. The NFL seems headed in that direction as well, with the imminent news of sunday ticket on something other than satellite.
Looks like ESPN monday night games remain elusive. But I'm not paying $65/mo to watch four games, at least two of which will stink.
Reelz (On Patrol: Live)
I am a big fan of Live PD
YTTV doesn't have Reelz
OTA channels are really not a problem. They all offer current episodes the next day or a few days later On Demand. I record from On Demand using PlayOn TV which automatically skips commercials. PBS streams live from their website as well as On Demand. Also, Live Local News is available using News On or/and you can use an antenna. There is a device that integrates Sling with antenna channels in one box
In addition to the small number of channels you watch in different Sling packages, it doesn't solve the problem because the Broadcast channels are holding back their good shows and putting them on Peacock Premium, Paramount Plus, or direct to Prime or HBO Max.
Not useful to me. Spectrum is not available in my city because the local powers that be gave Comcast an exclusive license to operate a cable TV system here. The only other choice for internet is CenturyLink which doesn't offer fibre at my address so they're slow as snail poop over phone lines.