Cutting the Cable: PlayStation Vue

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Courtesy of Playstation

If you currently have Time Warner Cable there's also a good chance you hate it, that it is affecting your daily sanity, and that you often wonder how good it would feel to watch your cable box shatter on the sidewalk just outside your window. You are not alone. A 2014 report by the American Consumer Satisfaction Index explains that 44 percent of TWC customers are unhappy with their service, and Comcast isn't far behind at upwards of 40 percent. But we continue to scream at our TVs and angrily finger our way through robotic customer service menus because we know this is probably as good as it gets. Enter PlayStation, which hopes its new live-streaming client will "redefine" how we watch and enjoy television.

"We're aiming to be the most innovative and powerful TV service out there," says Amit Nag, head of business for PlayStation Vue. "We're continuing to work with content partners, so you'll see more stuff, more features, and more functionality."

The charm offensive of the PlayStation 4 launch spoke to gamers, but lately Sony has whispered to cord-cutters. They’ve gone from making TV with Powers, a full-on 10 episode drama exclusive to the PlayStation Network, to effectively turning your PS3 or PS4 – roughly 35 million in the U.S. – into a cable box … or a conduit, at least. PlayStation Vue is a monthly subscription video service with big network partners and popular channels. Competing console makers are already running scared. Will Sony do the same to our Cable Overlords?

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DAY 1: The $49.99 monthly price is more than twice the cost of Sling TV, but the options hit back. Fox, CBS, and NBC are all in. Vue is in beta, and restricted to New York, Chicago, and Philly for paying users, but it works for LA-based freeloaders (like me). Even in beta, navigation is crisp. Screen-filling guides and search results arrive instantly. For whatever we're watching, Vue has six more related recs in the pipe, easily sent to "My Shows," their soft sell term for the DVR abyss where you can save anything, as much as you want, for up to 28 days. It also includes a "Catch up" feature that allows you to go hours and even days back in time to view things you never knew you wanted to watch in the first place. We dump Archer, Top Gun, a haul of reality sleaze we won't name, and RuPaul’s Drag Race, which we are proud to name and can/will discuss at length. 

DAY 2: Combing the Vue FAQ yields the three-tiered truth: The whole channel roster only comes with "Elite" service at $69.99 per month, but it’s worth noting that PS Plus membership is not required. Surfing speed is respectable, but it's also the best that can be said for the stream quality, which seems to vary channel-to-channel, and tops out at 720p. CBS is muted. CNN is dim. Bravo is flawless. NBC seems very onboard, yet certain daytime programs are not "approved for streaming." Since it's still in Beta and the ink is still drying on these deals, perhaps it's too early to call. ABC and the CW are noticeably MIA.

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DAY 3: "My Shows" has accrued a week's worth of viewing in a few short hours with no limit in sight. It's glorious. It's terrifying. Everything loads up quickly. We pass the helm to a non-gamer and his attempt to make the television go with a Dualshock 4 is pure comedy (with no official PS4 media remote in sight… yet). The shouting starts. No, the visual quality isn't up to par. Yes, Masterpiece Theater-heads are out of luck unless they go with Roku. Yes, if PSN is hacked we're back to cave painting. Yes, when you add in the cost of the console and all the other services, like HBO Now and Hulu, cord-cutting is still a lifestyle choice, not a cost-saving one. Yes, a paltry 75 channels, but what's to lose? Obsolete SD options? MusicChoice? Interlaced feeds that will never improve? We turned on Scott Pilgrim and Vue told us Top Gun was on somewhere else. Cable doesn't care about us, but Vue does.

It's not a seamless merger of cable and streaming's best virtues… yet, but as a down payment on such a future, Vue can sign us up.

(PS Vue plans start $49.99 a month. Currently in limited markets. PlayStation 4 or PlayStation 3 hardware and broadband connection required.)

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