Cutting the Cable: Sling TV

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 Courtesy DISH

What It Is: A $20-per-month subscription video service featuring live sports and entertainment channels you’d ordinarily be able to watch only with a pricier cable subscription. Live programming can be watched on any iOS, Android, Mac, or PC device, or alternatively on television sets equipped with Roku or Amazon Fire TV. A handful of extra packages — sports, kids, news, etc. — let you expand your channel lineup for an additional $5 per month each.

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Why We Like It: Aside from the obvious reduction in our monthly television bill, we like the flexibility of devices and channel lineup it offers. For example, of the 20 channels currently included, we can watch the final season of Mad Men on AMC, as well as all of the NBA coverage carried regularly on ESPN and TNT — we’re no longer limited to just the national games broadcast over the air on Sunday afternoons. Plus, we can tune in while traveling for work or vacation, though you can only watch on one device at a time. The video is, for the most part, clear and buffers quickly on a high-speed internet connection; it was equally sharp in the New York City area on Verizon FiOS with a 50 Mbps download speed as it was in rural upstate New York on a far slower connection — measured at just 4.13 Mbps on a speed test.

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Nitpick: The service currently isn’t available for Apple TV nor as a built-in app on many smart TVs like the Sony we tested it on. (The company says it’s coming soon to Samsung and LG smart TVs.) So, you do need another device like Xbox One, Roku, or Amazon Fire TV — each company’s “stick” works, though. Plus, the video isn’t as crisp as broadcast signals picked up with an antenna, especially for hoops: The image is darker and contrasty, while the players’ fast-paced motions just seem a little more jarring and unnatural. That same effect will give you a headache if you try to read the scrolling ticker at the bottom of a news or sports channel. Neither annoyance, however, was enough to dissuade us from shelling out the monthly fee.

[From $20 per month; sling.com]