Cable networks know they’re in trouble. After years of resistance, content providers are striking deals that break such coveted channels like HBO, AMC, and ESPN free from the bonds of cable, so they can be streamed right over the Internet.
Dish Network made the first great stride in this direction with the introduction of Sling TV, which offers a handful of popular channels and video on demand over the ‘net. And now Sony has come along with its own take, called PlayStation Vue.
Available only through a PlayStation 3 or PlayStation 4 console (for now, anyway) Vue offers a mind-boggling array of cable channels, bundled up in packages that start at $50 and go up to $70. If that sounds a lot like the cable TV service you pay for now, that’s because it is.
Vue does come with a few advantages over traditional cable and satellite services: There are no contracts to sign, no limited-time promotional pricing schemes, no equipment to rent, no hidden fees, and no insulting customer service reps to deal with. But is that enough to convince cable-weary TV fans to cut the cord for good? Having used PlayStation Vue for ourselves over the past few days, we’ve come to the conclusion that the answer is: no.
The biggest problem is that PlayStation Vue simply feels far too much like cable for its own good. The bundles it offers includes a bunch of “filler” channels that make the package look big, but serve no practical value — there are at least a dozen stations we’d just as soon do without … and avoid paying for.
That’s another big problem: Vue is just as expensive as cable. That wouldn’t be such a big deal if Sony provided a user experience that vastly improved on what’s available from cable today, but unfortunately, Vue falls flat there, too.
We appreciate the fact that Sony is offering a sort of cloud-based DVR with its service — you can store any program for up to 28 days — but it doesn’t offer the sort of freedom allowed by conventional DVR systems, and we consider that a barrier to entry.
In the end, we prefer Sling TV for its slimmed-down channel bundles and lower prices, even if it does come with its own list of caveats, and we look forward to seeing what Apple has to unveil in the near future. If Sony wants to be competitive in this new world order of TV delivery, it’s going to have to take a harder look at what’s driving users away from cable to begin with, and do a better job of fixing it.