Feature

PlayStation Vue Isn't A Cable Killer, But It Could Cut Your Bill In Half

by Matthew Kato on Mar 28, 2016 at 12:45 PM

Update: PlayStation Vue is a robust service, and I've uncovered even more features at our fingertips.

A reader, Mr. De Lena, has pointed out that you can indeed watch Vue programming via the iOS app when away from your home (as long as you use the Vue account you've signed up with back on your main platform). While I couldn't do this when I wrote up the article below, I've re-tested it out (now sitting about 10 miles from my home PS4), and I can indeed watch live TV and even saved My Shows. So perhaps your experience will very with this feature.

 

Original Story: Sony's PlayStation Vue streaming TV service has rolled out nationwide, and it presents the exciting possibility of canceling your cable subscription and still retaining a range of channels and even cloud-based DVR functionality. What is PS Vue, and is it worth it? I tested out the service via the free seven-day trial (later deciding to pay for the month) and took a look at its particulars.

What You Need

Vue requires a PlayStation account (but you don't need PlayStation Plus); a PS4, PS3, Chromecast*, or Amazon Fire TV device; a TV; and an Internet connection. On this last point, Sony suggests a minimum connection of 10mbps, plus 5mbps for every additional stream (more on that later).

I tested the service on connections significantly above 10mbps, so you'll have to take your connection in consideration. Even with a good Internet connection, when I switched to a channel, the picture appears at a lower resolution for up to 20 seconds before stream's true HD resolution "pops" in. The service uses adaptive bitrate streaming, so there are times the picture quality dips even though it doesn't stutter. In my time with Vue I only encountered one time when the picture stuttered occasionally.

Finally in terms of requirements, be aware that Vue will use more data than just surfing the net, so double check if you have a data cap and any resultant penalties for going over it.

Pick A Plan

There are three plans to choose from, none of which require any kind of monthly or yearly subscription or commitment. Despite this, if you cancel during the month (the service auto-renews unless you disable this in your PS4 account settings) you will not receive a partial refund for the rest of the month.

  • Access Slim – $29.99 (55+ channels)
  • Core Slim – $34.99 (70+ channels)
  • Elite Slim – $44.99 (100+ channels)

The vast majority of Vue's 210 markets across all 50 states do not have access to their local channels, although the service does offer on-demand content for Fox, ABC, and NBC. If you're in the New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, Dallas, San Francisco, or Miami markets you will get your local channels, but packages in those markets start at $39.99. However, if you don't live in one of those big seven areas, you can always pull down your local channels with an HD antenna (Vue will not record over-the-air content).

The lineup of Vue channels throughout all the packages is surprisingly adequate, even at the lower Access tier, which includes channels such as AMC, Comedy Central, two ESPN channels, three Disney channels, FX, NBC Sports Network, and more.

The Core package adds more niche networks such as IFC and Sundance, and layers on sports content – including regional sports channels. The latter is significant for sports fans who want to see their local sports teams (league blackouts still may apply) that wouldn't otherwise be shown on the local channels or on a national broadcast such as ESPN.

Finally, the Elite package adds even more niche channels as well as a few "premium" offerings such as Epix Hits. The latter – as well as Showtime and Fox Soccer Plus – are available to anyone as add ons.

*Users must sign up for Vue on a PS4/PS3 or Fire TV device, while after that an iOS device and/or Chromecast device can be used to watch it thereafter.

Getting Around

Making your way around the service is pretty easy, featuring categories you scroll through vertically and which when highlighted expand horizontally. Ignoring the repetitive categories designed merely to surface content for you such as Timeline, Recommended, and Featured, getting at your content is easy. My Shows (more on scheduling show recordings and Vue's cloud-based DVR function later) and Favorite Channels naturally contain any content you've marked as such.

Vue's interface also features a normal search bar you type into (with the PlayStation Store's as-you-go predictive interface) as well as an Explore feature that lets you peruse by selecting more general perimeters such as genre, age rating, popularity, etc. You can set up to five different profiles on one account, each with their own favorite shows and channels, but there are no parental controls or ways to restrict access to someone else's profile.

The best part of Vue's user experience/interface is the channel guide. Not only does it show five channels at once and what's on in any given four-hour timespan, but you can scroll into the past and future and set up recordings. The guide is easy to look at and understand, and it gives episode titles for most shows, which is handy when wondering if an episode is new or not.

Vue's Difference Maker – DVR Functionality

One of the things that makes Vue different than other ways to view content on your home console is its cloud-based DVR functionality. Unlike the paid and free apps you can download on the system that feature culled content, the Vue lets you add any shows (up to 500) to the cloud DVR from the guide to your My Shows category. By way of comparison, the Xbox One has a DVR tuner, but it only records over-the-air content regardless of that unit's ability to show cable content via a pass-through connection.

Furthermore, the guide features Catch Up shows, which you can watch from up to three days in the past. By my unofficial tally, I'd say about 30 percent of the channels in my Core package offered Catch Up shows. Furthermore, when you mark content for My Shows, not only does Vue's DVR set up a schedule of future recordings, it also gives you any of that show's Catch Up content. The limitations to Catch Up shows are that you can't fast-forward through them, and only some of them let you rewind. The lack of the ability to fast-foward through Catch Up programs not only means you can't skip commercials, but if for some reason you have to leave a Catch Up show and return to it later, you'll have to re-watch from the beginning.

While Vue's DVR functionality is an asset for the service, it doesn't offer the functionality of some other DVRs on the market. You cannot ask for custom show schedules such as only recording new episodes, arranging manual recordings according to a specific times, or setting up pre- and post-time slot buffer zones (helpful for sporting events in the case of overtime, for example). Given that it's cloud-based and not a physical hard drive, shows can only be stored for 28 days, and the pause buffer is 30 minutes. It will be interesting to see if Sony starts selling cloud storage for Vue users who want to keep shows for longer periods.

And That's Not All...

Vue also adds extra features like supporting authentication for 60 remote apps, which lets you use your Vue membership info to access specific channel apps for viewing on other devices. Similarly, there is a Vue iOS app that lets you watch Vue content as long as you're inside your home location (the IP address when you first sign up). Thus, this isn't a true remote-access feature like a Slingbox. Apart from your iOS device, you can set up to five TVs with a single Vue account in your house. The caveat here is it can't be across two of the same platforms. For instance, you could use a PS4 and PS3, but it won't work with two PS3s.

The Verdict

Depending on your Internet connection and preferred channels, PlayStation Vue could be a very attractive service if you're looking to lower your monthly content bill and cancel your subscription to expensive carriers such as Comcast, Dish, or DirecTV. Not only do Vue's robust-yet-pared-down channel selection prevent you from paying for lots of content you do not want, but the cloud-DVR functionality doesn't come with a monthly DVR rental fee. Moreover, the lack of a contract means you could come and go from the service as you like (useful around specific events or times such as sports season).

In my personal case, I will benefit greatly from Vue. I currently pay over $130 dollars a month just for satellite service and a DVR rental, but because Vue has local sports channels, I'm making the switch. Even after factoring in having to get a subscription to HBO Now to cover losing that channel, I'll still cut my bill in more than half once I switch over to Vue with minimal sacrifice in functionality. And should I become dissatisfied with Vue for some reason or should the service drop channels, thanks to Vue's lack of a contract, I can always go crawling back to satellite. That dish on my roof isn't going anywhere in the meantime.