Technology

I cut the cord from Sling TV and almost switched to YouTube TV – that’s why I didn’t

I hoped this day would never come: I’m wondering if I should trade Sling TV for YouTube TV. I spent so much time testing cord cutting services in 2021 using a strategy of twice (well, test all options) and cut (the cord) once, which I thought would leave me satisfied.

But then I watched my favorite TV show last week and was literally annoyed by what I saw. For a certain period, the image quality of the Sling just wasn’t up to par. And then there’s the question of wanting to watch the show, which is the best new sitcom, live with the rest of the world, since Sling doesn’t have ABC.

Luckily, as I’ll explain below, YouTube TV is another high-ranking service on our list of the best cable TV alternatives. The one that I think will treat me better in this aspect. But there was only one problem.

Why I wanted to leave Sling

When my wandering eyes first started itching to leave the Sling, it was all about image quality. As I have already noticed, I saw too many weak points. Here’s one example from February when “American Dragon” Bryan Danielson wrestled Lee Moriarty.

Pixel stream by Bryan Danielson and Lee Moriarty of AEW Dynamite.

(Image credit: Future)

Then, in May, I was actually pushed to try YouTube TV because the pixel problem turned into something worse: buffering. While I was watching Sling TV on an Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K Max, the shows I was watching started to pause when a spinning orange circle hit the screen.

I had no idea that Sling had a particularly tough week. The Sling customer support Twitter account Sling Answers addressed the issue, openly stating that they are working on a fix. Later that night, they stated that the problem had been fixed:

To learn more

Except that my Sling stream kept crashing. I couldn’t say why. That is, until I did the obvious thing and tried one of the other sticks in the review unit’s storage: the Roku Streaming Stick 4K, which is currently our pick for the best overall streaming device.

And then the problem disappeared. I’m not sure why my Fire TV Stick 4K Max was performing so poorly with my network. Tried fiddling with all the settings. But the cheaper $5 4K Roku Stick did the trick.

However, I didn’t want to leave YouTube TV, as Sling Blue’s $35/month price is much nicer than YouTube TV’s $65/month.

YouTube TV does two things better than Sling TV

YouTube TV open to channel grid overlaid on basketball game

(Image credit: Future)

That’s what’s special about YouTube TV: it has a much better interface and app than Sling TV. I love using it a lot more. Everything is faster, and it has one thing that Sling TV can really take advantage of: shorter latency. You see, even one of the best streaming services (which is Sling) isn’t really as “live” as cable TV.

And that’s a big deal for me. I write a lot about live events (maybe too often) and do it a few tens of seconds behind the people with cable TV? I always beat myself up for being spoiled by what’s about to happen. How bad? Sling TV was 70 seconds behind cable live, while YouTube TV had a much lower latency of 20 to 30 seconds.

But YouTube TV is still not enough (for me)

What did you say? In fact, using YouTube TV and Sling at the same time – or, well, browsing apps in between – I couldn’t find enough to really make the switch. Yes, YouTube TV has unlimited (9 months) cloud DVR, but I don’t actually use my DVR that much.

I checked the image quality while watching Breaking Bad Season 6. I switched apps over and over and soon forgot which app was which and couldn’t tell the difference between AMC’s YouTube TV and Sling TV channels. The same goes for my precious professional wrestling. So what if Sling is already doing a good job of helping me with my channel selection and YouTube TV can’t impress me anymore with the quality of the programs I need? The sling was already pulling me back.

YouTube TV main screen with graphics in front of CNN

(Image credit: Henry T. Casey/Tom’s Guide)

Then I started noticing the same annoying problem with YouTube TV that I sometimes see with Sling. Its main screen did not present options that were tailored to my most viewed channels. I don’t know why YouTube TV thinks I want ESPN, Nickelodeon or CNN when I watch six channels: AMC, local FOX affiliate, FX, USA, TBS and TNT.

Perhaps YouTube is promoting the most popular channels at the time in question, I’m not sure. But since the YouTube algorithm understands well what I want, I’m a little disappointed.

I stick with Sling even though I don’t like it.

Sling TV Channel Guide

(Image credit: Henry T. Casey/Tom’s Guide)

As much as I’d like to quit cable TV – and as happy as I am that this part of my life is over – I’m not exactly happy with where I am right now. Sling TV does “enough” and is much better priced than YouTube TV.

Last Thursday evening (July 21st) I had a buffering issue on my Sling TV on an Apple TV 4K (which has an ethernet connection) for the first time in a month. It lasted less than a minute, and no other bugs followed. If Sling continues at the same pace, I will consider him “good enough”. Which is annoying. I wish Sling had the shine and polish of YouTube TV, but it doesn’t. But YouTube TV isn’t nearly as good as the Sling to justify the $30 higher price tag.

Turns out channels, stability, and price are all that really matter (to me) when it comes to TV streaming.

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