I spent months testing the best cable TV alternatives, to make sure I cut the cord for the right streaming service. In the end, I chose Sling TV. But after I handed my cable box to the folks at Spectrum, I thought to myself, "this better work." As confident as I was about my decision, I still didn't know what it would be like to not have cable there as a safety net.
In the two weeks that followed, I immediately gained a new reason to think I'd picked the right service. All the while, I enjoyed Sling for what it was — and how great it is to untether myself from cable. So, to encourage more to make the leap, I thought I'd explain why I like Sling TV so much.
- The best streaming devices are much better than a cable box
- And the best streaming services have all the shows and movies
- Plus: Google Assistant could inspire the next woman to change the world
Sling TV: It just works (everywhere)
Reliability is, first and foremost, one of the biggest concerns when you switch sides on any tech. And since I'd tested Sling TV out a bit over the summer, I'd had a good idea that it would be a suitable replacement (that's when I learned about Hulu with Live TV's stability issues).
But after I removed the cable box from my life, I was relying on Sling for my nearly-daily doses of broadcast and cable television. And that's the thing I truly appreciate about Sling: even with its low price, it streamed the stuff I wanted to stream, when I wanted to.
Stream Time is where Tom's Guide senior editor Henry T. Casey dives into the big choices we make about streaming media. We tackle it all, from the best and worst streaming services and devices, to the never-ending list of shows to watch.
So last Friday night, when I was waiting for my friends to show up (NYC traffic had them running late) at dinner, I was able to pull out my phone and just watch the episode of WWE Friday Night SmackDown on FOX that I'd expected to miss altogether. And later that night, after we all enjoyed Venom 2, I didn't have to wait until I got home to continue that episode.
That's because Sling's DVR is also accessible anywhere. For ages I knew that the best cable TV alternatives were calling their DVR's "cloud DVRs," but I didn't really know how important that was. So, from that subway platform, I was able to hit "resume" and pick up the WWE Draft where I left it off. I couldn't do that with my Spectrum cable box, which has its recordings stuck inside its plastic shell and hard drive.
YouTube TV seems a bit of a risk right now
Sling wasn't the only streaming service I was enamored with. YouTube TV was my runner-up, and it only lost out because of my interest in watching the Vice channel, which it doesn't offer. But while YouTube TV has the nicer interface and an unlimited DVR capacity, it also has a bit of baggage at the moment.
On Saturday, September 26, two days after I'd made my decision, NBCUniversal started warning YouTube TV customers that its 14+ channels could leave YouTube. The sides, apparently, were having trouble coming to terms on a new contract. NBCU claimed it just wanted fair pay for its channels, while Variety reported that YouTube TV was also being asked to bundle Peacock into its services. Things were so grim, in fact, that YouTube TV already advanced to the "bargaining with the public" stage, telling customers it would cut their bills by $10 per month if the breakup happened.
I was both worried for anyone who had YouTube TV, and relieved I didn't pick it. Then, we all woke up on Oct. 1 with NBCU channels still on YouTube TV. The two parties brokered an extension, by not resolving, but delaying, the breakup. Then, the next day, on Oct. 2, peace was actually brokered.
All the while I'm sitting there, whistling as Sling doesn't give me any drama to worry about. It could happen, sure, but YouTube TV's had another bit of platform instability as of late. Its app is missing from the Roku channel due to a dispute between it and Roku, so YouTube had to bury its live TV functionality inside of its normal YouTube app, which is confusing. This happened back in May, and it hasn't been resolved five months later.
Sling TV's got the right price for me
The more I use Sling, the more I realize that I'm happy with the bare minimum (as depressing as that is to say). At least at this price.
Yes, YouTube TV has more channels than Sling (though it has all the channels that I need. Yes, Sling TV's 50 hours of DVR storage is nothing compared to YouTube's unlimited cap. But those things matter more on paper (for me) than they do in practice. It's nice to have that spacious DVR, to pull up an older show, but I haven't needed it yet, nor do I think I will.
What does matter more, though, is the $30 I'm saving by picking the $35 per month Sling Blue over the $65 per month YouTube TV. And, sure, I might switch to the $50 per month Sling Orange + Blue combo if I ever need to watch ESPN (if the New York Knicks can fare well this upcoming season, that is). But even then, I could turn that extra $25 add-on on and off as I see fit.
I don't need to tell you how much $30 is worth, but knowing that I don't miss the nicer waters of YouTube TV is also neat.
A life without cable is truly freeing
Getting rid of my cable box meant gaining space by my TV. So I was finally able to have my Xbox One X hooked up full time next to my PS5 — and not off to the side where it is hard to get at.
Getting rid of my cable box meant that TV is everywhere, not just at home.
Getting rid of my cable box means no more waiting and waiting for it to boot up, or watching it crawl to do anything. Doing a favor for my roommates, to set up a DVR recording for a show they were interested in, showed me what I'm not missing anymore. Just clicking "Big Sky" into the cable box took far more time than it should have, and made me feel like I was in quicksand, watching the each letter register.
In short: getting rid of my cable box is saving me time and money, and I'm glad I chose Sling for this ride.
With YouTube, we get all local telecasts (AirTV was ok for local news and Survivor on Sling, but we were nearly at the range of our antenna, so reliability was low), and we pay $10 less due to being a T-mobile subscriber. Overall, the move from Sling to YouTube TV has been exactly what we needed. We also can watch shows wherever we are. I do miss NHL TV, though.
In the end, it's essential to figure out what you want to watch, pick the appropriate carrier, and balance what you are willing to pay.
The other thing is the issue Youtube is having with NBC will happen to all streaming services eventually.
Cord cutting is great but make sure that you don't get trapped into paying for a bunch of apps to enjoy it. That'll add up to what you were paying already with TV+Net and then you might as well stay with that.