Cutting The Cord: Thoughts On Playstation Vue

I still have faint memories from around age six of the day we first got cable. Mostly because I refused to go outside, watching every game show I could that afternoon on USA network, to the point where I got my television privileges removed for a week.

For about thirty years, I’ve had fairly consistent access to cable TV, even though I tend to not binge watch much of anything, and the onslaught of technological advancements over the last decade (everything from iTunes selling TV shows to streaming solutions like Netflix) have made it easier and easier to just not utilize it.

Three months ago, triggered by the sweet combination of “needing to get rid of the phone line we never use” and “Comcast jerking us around about previous item”, we decided to cut the cable, and try and make due with just streaming solutions. Front and center in this plan was Playstation Vue, Sony’s internet television service. (We already had heavily used Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime accounts.)

Three months later, I have no regrets, and only minor quibbles.

All Great Stories Start With A Requirements List

Before I get started, it’s worth documenting the television needs of Katie and I, as everyone’s needs are a little different. So to that end:

  • My primary television need is soccer. On Xfinity, because of the sports package we added, I had the ESPN family, Fox Sports 1 (but not 2), NBC Sports, and beIN Sports, as well as YES and MSG for local MLS games.
  • My secondary television needs are random: Adult Swim programming, the occasional Comedy Central series, and maybe whatever is on IFC. Network channels in rare occasions. Cable news for the once a month world event that needs live coverage.
  • Katie’s needs run the gamut between broadcast channels and cable channels. Any reasonably well received show is possibly on her watch list.
  • DVR functions are a must, including recording shows and fast forward/rewind.
  • Because we tend to be device heavy, being able to enable TV Anywhere apps was a strong need, unless there is a general mobile streaming solution for the platform. (Xfinity provided both, and their general streaming was pretty solid.)

Channel Selection: A

PlayStation Vue comes in three different packages, with some additional channels available as a la carte add-ons. We went for the middle-of-the-road “Core” pack, which got us:

  • Three of the four major broadcast channels: FOX, NBC, and CBS. (More on ABC below.)
  • A pretty good blend of the “good” cable channels: AMC, Cartoon Network, Comedy Central, FX/FXX, IFC, and USA.
  • Most of the sports channels I had previously: NBCSN, FS1, FS2, beIN, and YES. There’s also a mess of college sports channels I don’t have much use for. (More on ESPN below.)
  • The major cable news networks: CNN, MSNBC, HLN, and (ugh) Fox News.
  • The usual blend of cable channels one might hate watch: E!, Bravo, MTV, TLC.

Out of our needs, that’s pretty much on the target. There was even a few pleasant surprises in here: Fox Sports 2, in HD, was something Xfinity seemed years away from offering.

There is a noticeable gap in the current channels list, in that the ABC/ESPN/Disney family isn’t available. But that’s temporary, as Sony has announced they are coming.

The one other gap is in offering HBO as part of the a la carte packages, but that was solvable with an HBO Now subscription through our Apple devices.

Performance: A

In three months of use, I can’t recall any incidents where the network quality was degraded in any observable way. (There’s some level of irony that this is probably helped by our incredible cable modem, which is still from Xfinity.)

I’ve tested the Vue streaming on four different devices:

  1. Our PlayStation 4, in the living room, both wired and wireless
  2. Our PlayStation 3, in the bedroom, wireless
  3. An Amazon Fire Stick, in the bedroom, wireless
  4. My iPad Air, wireless

Of those four devices, the only one that’s had any issues of note was the Playstation 3 – something about the app there just made it chug in a fairly awful way. But all the other devices were fine, particularly the PlayStation 4.

Functionality & User Interface: B

The Vue interface isn’t perfect, but it’s a significant jump ahead of the Xfinity box I was used to. There’s a traditional programming grid view, but you can also mark channels and shows as favorites. Favorite channels display earlier in various channel listings, and favorite shows get highlighted as well as flagged for the DVR functionality.

That DVR functionality works just fine. There’s no local storage being used – Sony’s maintaining copies of everything on their end and so long as you flagged the show before it aired, you’ll have access to play it back whenever. Note that italicized text: you might be out of luck if you neglect to flag those favorite shows, unless the show’s been marked for “Catch Up” capabilities. While watching, fast forwarding and rewinding works better than my experiences on Xfinity.

One very smart addition to Vue is user profiles. These aren’t tied to PlayStation-level accounts, but just exist within your Vue settings, and allow people to have different favorite channel/show lists, which is sorely needed on these sorts of services. (I still remember the TiVo fights in college, and the fact that Amazon Prime and Hulu don’t allow families to have separate profiles is bordering on insane in this day and age.)

I certainly hope it can keep improving, as there’s a fair amount of scrolling and jumping to find what you want in some cases. But generally, it’s good enough.

Mobility & TV Anywhere: B+

So there’s a very weird restriction in the official Vue mobile app: for those channels that are allowed for mobile viewing (which is most but not all), practically all require you to be on your home network. I’m hoping this changes soon, because it makes having the app on my smartphone basically worthless. (A little less so on the iPad, which I tend to use regularly at home.)

But this isn’t a major hurdle, because TV Anywhere works for the spread of non-broadcast channels. So all the official apps that allow live streaming, whether they’re on mobile or on alternate platforms like the Apple TV, work just as well as they did when I really had cable.

Price: A

I don’t want to acknowledge exactly how much we were paying for our Xfinity Triple Play With Too Many Premium Channels, but let’s just say it was absurd.

Our PlayStation Vue plan costs $55/mo. When combined with our cable modem costs and the HBO NOW subscription, we’re still saving 40% of what we were paying before cutting the cord.

Oh, right, and we don’t have a land line now. Damn.

Miscellany

Vue is currently only available in seven markets: Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, Miami, NYC, Philly, and San Francisco Bay Area. But these are not strict geographic barriers; I’ve heard reports that people who are upwards of 50 miles away but still in the media market can get in on the service.

There’s also a minor technical issue that sprung me not long after I started the service. When we got an upgraded cable modem from Xfinity (while we were returning the cable box, no less!), the data center our home was connected to changed, changing our geolocation from Jersey City to Mount Holly. The issue was not that Mount Holly was outside the coverage zone, but that the service was seeing me as no longer being “home”. I had to explain this to a few chat-based service agents before I found one that could reset my account so that the home IP address could re-associate. (Keep this in mind if you ever move.)

Final Grade: A-

Having lived through so many misfiring Sony products over the last two decades, I was happily surprised at how mature PlayStation Vue was from the moment I started my trial period. The performance is strong, the channel selection is more than enough, the interface is good, and I still have the flexibility I did about viewing platforms.

And if I ever decide to turn the service off for a few months, I can just unsubscribe directly. Easy on, easy off.

Strongly recommended.