You want to cut the cord. You hate your cable company. You hate their calls, their promotional offers, their bills, their service reps. And the option to get away from them, in the form of the future: Streaming . A little digital river for you to dip into, and find yourself, outside of the traditional means of getting you’re favorite TV and movies. You’re on your own. Your in the wild. The future is yours, and it’s cordless. Except for one, single problem: The fact remains that in 2016, cable remains a far better, more stable experience than any streaming service out there.
With Monday’s announcement ofAT&T’s new DirecTV streaming service, there are now even more chances to cut the damn cord already and embrace a streaming-only future. DirecTV’s new service joins SlingTV and Playstation VUE on the market, with more (like one from Hulu) still to come.
Despite the growing number of options, I’m still clinging to my old school, cable box ways. None of the options are perfect, but cable is the devil I know, the consistent option I’ve lived with all my life. You’ll have to pry my remote from my cold, dead hands.
The streaming experience
My excitement for SlingTV was deflated almost immediately upon logging on and fighting through a clunky, confusing interface. There’s an awful lot of left and right scrolling, just to find the channel I want, with no way to directly input channel numbers. (To its credit, Playstation Vue offers a channel grid that resembles standard cable guide menus.)
Then there’s the question of viewing quality. Your quality from the cable box depends, of course, on the signal output from your cable carrier; there’s no guarantee you’re going to get a signal strong enough to exploit the crispness of that fancy 4k television. But at least you’ll get a signal.
With the streaming services, your quality is only as good as your internet. Want to stream Monday Night Football or The Bachelor while working? Depending on your internet speed, you may need to pick and choose.
Cable signals aren’t perfect, and have their fair share of outages, but there’s so much more potential for things to go awry when modems and wifi signals are involved. Nothing kills the experience of a Westworld or Game of Thrones reveal quite like the Buffering Circle of Frustration.
— MizzRiaCena4Lyf (@MizzRiaCena4Lyf) January 19, 2016
The streaming cost
The biggest argument in favor of the streaming options over cable is the cost. After all, subscribing to cable comes with some hefty fees and price increases after an initial introductory period, issues absent from the streaming services.
The exception is AT&T’s "Go Big" tier, which will increase from $35 a month to $60 after an undetermined length of time, though a spokesperson from AT&T confirmed to Mashable that early adopters will be grandfathered in to the lower price as long as they keep service.
But there are downsides to streaming service pricing plans—namely, the continued existence of priced tiers, and additional add-ons to get everything you want. Granted, your mileage and cost-per-package may vary based on what your preferences are.
For example, SlingTV offers their base tier at $20. Not bad. But there are exclusions, such as the Fox networks. To get those, you’ll need the next tier up, which is $25 and doesn’t carry the ESPN channels. So if you want both the ESPN and Fox channels, you’ll need to get the top—and most expensive—tier, currently listed at $40.
Then there are the missing channels. Have Playstation Vue but want Comedy Central? Then you’ll need to pony up for an additional Hulu subscription.
It’s not too difficult to creep north of $60-$70 a month with some of the middle tiers, especially when adding premium channels like HBO and Cinemax or adding extra services, like SlingTV’s sports and comedy packages to get channels like NFL RedZone or MTV.
When you add that to the necessary cost of internet fast enough to support your streams, it’s no cheaper than many bundles cable companies offer. Your cost will vary (depending on your location, and thus, cable provider options), but I found plenty of affordable packages, including one at $50 a month featuring over 130 channels and high-speed internet up to 100 Mbps, and another at 280 channels with 150 Mbps internet at $110.
While those prices often increase after the first year, there are ways to keep prices down, from switching tiers to the old "threaten to leave the service" song-and-dance. It’s not as convenient as switching between tiers of streaming options, but it’s not impossible.
What streamers miss out on
Aside from sports, it’s rare I get a chance to watch anything when it originally airs, making DVR something I rely on, rather than an added amenity.
SlingTV announced it’s finally adding this functionality in 2017 but it won’t be available on all channels (no word yet on which channels will be included). AT&T’s service will launch with DVR but that functionality will reportedly be added in 207. Playstation Vue is a bit better, in that it offers DVR functionality with only a few limitations.
DirecTV Now holes: No DVR yet, no NFL on phone, no local station feed where ABC/NBC/Fox don’t own the station, no NFL Sunday Ticket, no CBS
— Shalini Ramachandran (@shalini) November 28, 2016
While a certain number of episodes are available on-demand from many shows on these streaming options, there are still limitations to those services that reliable DVR renders moot.
And speaking of "on-demand," some of the channels offered on streaming services are "on-demand only," meaning you get a smattering of options but no "live" feed. In other words: No Simpsons marathon on FXX for you, SlingTV users.
— Every.Simpsons.Ever (@EverySimpsons) November 29, 2016
Same with the other major networks. While some of the streaming services are starting to roll out access to your local NBC or CBS station, those are limited, based on market and many are simply "on demand." If you want to watch the local NFL broadcast or keep track of your favorite local weatherman, you’ll need to add a digital antenna to your arsenal.
What streaming could be
The streaming era just started. SlingTV was the first major service to come along, and there’s a certain curse in going first; you’ll be nitpicked, maybe to the end. Subsequent services are learning from those mistakes, and trying to make the experience far better—less technically wonky, with better pricing, and sharper user experience. Streaming can be the future.
And eventually, we’ll get there. But we’re not there yet, and there’s plenty of time to figure it out. And maybe there’s a service that already fits you! That’s great!
But, for now, it’s hard for me to take the plunge when cable’s reliability remains intact.