I tried cutting the cord with Sling TV for a month — here’s why I returned to cable

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Antonio Villas-Boas/Business Insider

After looking at my monthly cable TV bill one day, I thought: I’m paying $100 a month for cable TV, not including internet. $100 a month. And I watch about eight or so channels.

There must be another way to get TV without paying so much.

It was time to try out a live TV internet streaming service. Generally, services like these let you pick cheaper channel packages, which can give me greater control over what I pay for. And because I have a smart TV that’s powered by Roku, I could choose most any service I want and still watch it from the comfort of my couch.

My first pick was Sling TV. I picked the $30/month Orange and Blue package, which included the complete list of core channels offered by Sling TV. Then I added a few $5 packages, including cloud DVR and News Extra, which includes more news channels. My SlingTV package would come to a total of $40 a month – compared to my $100-a-month cable bill.

Unfortunately, Sling TV was missing a few channels and DVR features that I’ve become used to. But I wanted to see if I could live without them, considering the $60 a month I’d be saving by going with Sling TV.

After a month, I went back to cable TV. Check out why:


When I used Sling TV, it worked great.

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YouTube/Sling TV

My TV is powered by Roku software, so getting started was a cinch. I just had to download the Sling TV app, and I could watch it on my existing set with no extra hardware.

Live TV over the internet using Sling TV never had to buffer, and it never cut out for me, either.

The guides and menus took a little time to get used to. By default, Sling TV looks a little like Netflix, showing you a series of thumbnail icons to show you what’s available to watch. I prefer to channel-surf the old-fashioned way, though, so I switched that in the settings.


There were three clear benefits to using Sling TV. The best was that It would save me $60 a month, or $720 a year, from my regular cable bill.

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Scott Barbour/Getty Images

Secondly, I could stream live TV to three different media streaming devices, like a Roku, at the same time instead of renting a cable box from my cable company.

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Roku

Those cable boxes are bulky and cost you to rent them from your cable company. My particular cable company charges me an absurd $10 per month per cable box. Using a sleeker streaming device like a Roku or Chromecast that can hide behind your TV is great, and they can be had for as low as $20.


Thirdly, Sling TV is also one of the few live TV streaming services that offers a digital video recorder, or DVR, in the cloud, too. I couldn’t use a service without DVR.

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I rarely watch live cable TV: 90% of what I watch is recorded to my DVR, or paused and played on a delay so I can skip the ads. With that in mind, some kind of DVR functionality was a must for a live TV streaming service. After all, going with Sling TV meant giving up my TiVo.


So what went wrong?

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Wikimedia Commons

1. Sling TV was cheaper, but it was missing some of the channels I actually watch regularly.

With Sling TV, I was missing some of the channels I watch most often – most notably TLC, PBS, Discovery, the Smithsonian Channel – all while I was still paying for channels I never watch.

Even though I was paying less, it still didn’t feel right to continue paying for channels I don’t care about: I already did that with cable TV, but at least then, I got all the channels I do want, too.

And those channels I watch regularly weren’t available on any Sling TV package, either, so I couldn’t pay more even if I wanted them. Sure, Sling TV was cheaper than cable at the end of the day, but it didn’t have what I wanted, either.

That could be different for you, however. It all depends on what channels you want.


2. I couldn’t pause certain channels and shows, especially movies and sports events.

The company says you can’t use DVR recording for certain channels – mostly those owned (or partially owned) by Disney, including ABC, Freeform, most ESPN channels, and the SEC Network.

For me that was fine because I never watch those channels – but I was still paying for some of them!

The kicker came when I couldn’t pause certain shows or movies while they were airing live. The workaround is to record it with the DVR function and just watch it later. But that doesn’t work when you’re trying to watch something live.

But the whole experience wasn’t as simple as it is with my TiVo and cable TV, where I can easily pause and record anything to skip over the ads without thinking about it. I was unhappy giving up that ability.


All in all, it’s a personal thing. Sling TV didn’t work out for me, but it could work out for you.

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YouTube/Sling TV

As the saying goes, there’s no such thing as a free lunch. Either I’d pay less and get less, or I pay more and I get everything I want. The savings from using Sling TV were tempting, but I didn’t feel like the price was so much less that it was worth it.

With that said, Sling TV could offer you all the channels you want. You just have to check for yourself by searching for your desired channels on Sling’s website. And if you don’t mind using a somewhat restricted DVR, you’re a more patient person than I am.


But it’s still not really “a la carte,” as the company’s slogan says.

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Sling TV claims it offers “a la carte” TV, and that’s true to an extent. But it isn’t really. Just like cable, you pay more or less depending on how many channels you want, and you don’t really get a choice of what channels you want.

Beyond the core Orange and Blue plans, Sling TV lets you choose only “packages” where the channel I want is included among several others that I never watch.

By packing channels into category packages – like the Lifestyle Extra package, for example – I still ended up paying for channels I never watch. So, I’m not wholly convinced it’s that much different than cable TV, as I’d still be paying for channels I never watch. The main difference is that you get fewer channels and a lower monthly bill. It’s just luck if the channels you want are included in the Orange or Blue plans, and in the extra packages besides.


It’ll get better over time, and I’ll absolutely try it again.

Sling TV and other live streaming services like Hulu TV and YouTube TV are still pretty new, and they’re getting better all the time. They’re constantly adding new channels and features, like DVR and other feature improvements. Hopefully, there will be fewer restrictions on what you can record or pause in the future, too.

With the constant improvements, I’ll absolutely give Sling TV or another live TV streaming service another shot – just as long as it’s still cheaper than cable TV.