One day it seems very likely that younger generations will look upon a cable or satellite box in much the same way some of today’s youth view phone booths and typewriters, with a sense of wonder at what purpose these devices once served. That’s because more and more people are moving to consuming content over the Internet through a variety of services and sources. One of the last holdouts in terms of keeping people on those boxes has been the ability to watch live television. That’s changing with more pressure from cord cutters for a model that replicates cable television but over the Internet. Multiple services have stepped into that void, and more will surely join the fray in 2017.
Before jumping into some of the specifics of the PlayStation Vue service, a couple items should be addressed. The first of those is the question I get asked the most when sharing the fact that I use PlayStation Vue for my service, and that question is “don’t you need a PlayStation?” The answer to that is a simple “No.”
The second item to cover might really be the bottom line for me when I was making a selection between the big three for my cord cutting experiment and that is the existence of DVR capabilities. The ability to set shows to be DVR’d as part of the PlayStation Vue service was a big selling point for me as I’m rarely able to watch shows when they are airing. When I was looking for options right after DirecTV NOW came out, that was a glaring omission on their part, though it should be addressed if it hasn’t already. Sling TV does offer some DVR like capabilities, but my testing with the service during a free trial had been frustrating. Fortunately, PlayStation Vue ended up being able to tick all the boxes – multiple packages available to pick from, the content I was looking for, DVR capability, and access via a variety of platforms with the ability to cast to my televisions.
When it comes to plans, PlayStation Vue has four primary “Slim” options – Access Slim ($29.99/mo), Core Slim ($34.99/mo), Elite Slim ($44.99/mo), and Ultra Slim ($64.99/mo). Like other services, the different packages include a mix of channels with increasing variety as you move up in price point. The base package, Access Slim, comes with 45+ (a current count shows 47 channels) channels including sources like ESPN, AMC, several news channels, and TBS. A key thing to note is that with access to channels like ESPN or FS1, you effectively get access to some channel specific apps like WatchESPN or FoxSportsGo which require a provider login, a role that PlayStation Vue fills.
Elite Slim is ostensibly the highest package available as it comes with all 90 “standard” channels offered by PlayStation Vue although technically Ultra Slim is a step up. As I discovered being on this tier, you also get the Epix movie channel included. Moving up to the Ultra Slim level adds in HBO and Showtime which would normally cost an additional $26/mo as standalone add-ons, so you get a little bit of a discount by packaging them.
The big question that you may be wondering about is what to do about local channels. If you are in a market where Sony has negotiated with local providers, you will be in luck and can access them through the PlayStation Vue service. Note that access to local channels also gives you access to the major network shows for live television viewing purposes.
If you are not in a covered market though, things may get a bit challenging. PlayStation Vue offers access to OnDemand channels from the major networks with the exception of CBS which remains absent. In my testing, limited because I barely watch any network television, this was not the greatest solution since it means you cannot watch shows live, having to wait for them to show up on the OnDemand service instead, usually a day later. So if you are a heavy network television watching person who does not want to wait and not in a market where Sony has local stations available, this will definitely be something you need to consider.
Using the PlayStation Vue service means accessing through a device. Sony has done a good job of making support widespread with PlayStation Vue working through a web browser, Apple TV, Android TV, Amazon Fire TV, Roku devices, Google Chromecast, and on most iOS and Android devices. Of course, all of these join the PlayStation 4 or PlayStation 3 as supported devices.
One of the features you may like about PlayStation Vue is that they have implemented their own version of profiles similar to what Netflix has done. After launching the app on your device a few times, it will even ask if you want to set a given profile as the default for that device so you don’t have to keep selecting it each time. Like other services that use profiles, this means users can set up their own list of favorite shows and shows to be DVR’ed. PlayStation Vue allows up to five different profiles to be in use at any given time, although the mix of mobile devices and PlayStation devices do have some limitations.
One issue you may run into is access to channels when outside your “home network” which is the base network the service uses to set things up. This is not so much a PlayStation Vue problem in my opinion as it is the content providers. I’m not sure why they would necessarily care whether I am trying to watch their content from home or my office or while working out at the gym, but when I see the “mobile restricted” banner on a channel I just think to myself, “that content provider is losing a customer” by not letting me stream it.
On Android smartphones and tablets, you will use the PlayStation Vue Mobile app available through the Google Play Store. This app is one of the weaker points of the service. I found it is very slow to load pages, like the list of channels or the list of live television options. Even worse, if you do something like start streaming a channel and then go back to the list, you have to switch the sort order (e.g. switch from Popular to Channels) to get it to update or sometimes to even show anything.
Other annoyances include an odd behavior when you hit the “Close” button on a channel that is streaming. This does not appear to actually close the stream, it just hides it from view. This makes things confusing and seems to make the app subject to crashes, which I frequently experienced when using it away from home. On my home network though, it was always stable.
Another glitch I had to find a workaround for involved casting to my Chromecast devices. Starting a stream and then trying to cast crashes the app about 90% of the time after it fails to launch the stream on the Chromecast. Over time I have learned to hit the cast button first, then select the show that I want to watch. Related, I find that if I have something casting and I disconnect, say to switch to a Chromecast in another room, it actually shuts down the stream instead of switching it back to playing on the device.
Finally, this is probably more a function of me being older and grumpier about things, but I find the whole interface to just be rather clunky and very un-Material feeling. The good thing is you should not have to deal with the interface much, especially if casting to a device since you will likely set your device aside or switch to something else while your selected show is playing on your television.
Despite some of the challenges presented by the app, PlayStation Vue is definitely a solid contender for your dollars if you are looking to cut the cord, especially if you are in an area with local provider coverage. With the presence of DVR capabilities so you can go back and watch shows you missed and a decent list of channels included in the service, you should be able to cover most of your television watching needs.
Like the other services, PlayStation Vue offers a free trial period. In their case, it is for five days. You should definitely take advantage of that offer to see if the service is right for you and works as expected. That was how I ended up with PlayStation Vue after giving Sling TV a try and running into problems.
Buy it now: PlayStation Vue