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Sling TV Review: It's Only a Bargain if You Like the Content

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The good news about Sling TV is that 13 channels is definitely enough to replace a bloated cable package. The bad news is that they aren't the same 13 channels for every viewer.

Created by Dish Network, Sling TV is the first over-the-top (OTT) bundle, offering an assortment of basic cable channels for a fair price ($20 per month, with no commitment). While the offering received huge coverage when it was announced at International CES last month, the results are less than satisfying.

Sling TV is aimed at young adults—millennials—who don't want a pricey cable or satellite subscription, but would go for a smaller online-only bundle. Judging by the channels in the basic package, it's hard to see what young adults are supposed to watch. The bundle includes TNT, TBS, the Food Network, HGTV, CNN, and ABC Family. The only option that really seems focused on young adults is Cartoon Network's Adult Swim and that only broadcasts overnight. A better sampling would include E!, MTV, Comedy Central, AMC, and FX. A better option still would let viewers choose their own channels. (AMC will be added "soon," Dish says.)

With the selection offered, we often couldn't find anything worth watching. It was either cartoon reruns on TBS or home remodeling reality shows on HGTV. Anyone considering signing up should be sure they really love this selection. All the channels carry standard commercial loads, and that's a lot of commercials. For someone used to DVRs, the breaks felt endless.

The lack of a cloud DVR and of local broadcast channels often made us feel trapped by low-rent reruns. Some of the channels offer modest video-on-demand libraries, but it's more of the same. Viewers won't find the more popular cable shows that are attracting buzz, because they aren't on these networks.

The other big knock on Sling TV is that the interface is one of the most confusing you'll find. Whether viewed on a Roku, a mobile device, or with a desktop application (Sling TV doesn't work through a browser), the interface is needlessly challenging, with options hidden above below and to the side of the video. Locating the VOD library or the small selection of movies available for rent is a chore. The people at Sling TV should have learned from Roku and created a simple side-scrolling menu with all options in one place.

We were prepared to love Sling TV, the first service that lets people untether from big cable, but the selections here just aren't strong enough. There's definitely a place for a low-priced streaming bundle, but subscribers will need more choice over what they view.

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