A couple of nights with Playstation Vue

Earlier this week Sony opened up Playstation Vue, its streaming TV service, to everyone in the US. This isn’t quite the full bundle that they offer in a few select markets (where they offer live network TV) but it’s also cheaper, starting at $30/month for 55+ channels (there are also $35 & $45 plans offering 70+ and 100+ channels, respectively). You can access Playstation Vue through a PS3 or PS4, an iPad or iPhone, an Amazon Fire TV or Fire TV Stick, or through Chromecast from an iOS device. Sadly neglected are Android and Roku users, for now. Also it seems odd to support iPad and iPhone but not Apple TV. At least not yet.

In fact let’s keep on with the bad news first: what’s not offered on the service. Notable gaps include CBS, though I won’t blame Sony for this since CBS doesn’t seem to share their content anywhere except on their own CBS All Access service. ABC, NBC & FOX are available in “On Demand” form, meaning you can’t watch live. The CW seems to be missing, as is BBC America. Also at least some shows are held back from the big 3 On Demand channels. Notably I couldn’t find Marvel’s Agents of Shield on Vue.

Personally we were bummed about BBCA and the fact that Nat Geo Wild is only available on the most expensive tier, but otherwise we felt like the service covered most of what we watched. The mid-tier adds a ton of random sports channels that we’d never watch (ESPN and ESPN2 are included in the base $30 plan) while the highest price plan doesn’t add enough that we watch to make it worthwhile. You should definitely check the channel lineups for yourself though. (I found browsing the channels was much easier on my PS4 than on their kind of crummy website.)

When you first log into Vue you’ll be able to watch whatever is currently on across all of your channels (minus ABC, NBC and Fox), and on the PS4 at least you can pause live TV if you’re willing to devote a chunk of hard drive space to that feature. You’ll also have “On Demand” access to the most recent 5 or 6 episodes of many (possibly all) shows. It seems to offer whatever the last 5 aired episodes were, meaning you’ll get a random selection if a show is heavily repeated, like my Food Network favorite “Diners, Drive-thrus and Dives.” In most (possibly all) cases this On Demand content plays exactly as aired, complete with commercials that you can’t skip.

To be fair this is exactly the way On Demand works on my Time Warner Cable service. There too you can’t fast forward and there’s a limited number of episodes available for many shows. So it’s no worse than cable TV, but no better either.

Now here is where it gets strange. If you mark a show as something you like, it goes into a category called “My Shows.” These shows automatically get ‘recorded’ to a cloud DVR where they are kept for 28 days. When you watch a show from your ‘DVR’ you can fast-forward through ads. [I should emphasize that all these details can vary from channel to channel or even show to show; I’m just reporting what I’ve experienced in a few evenings.] In my opinion, this is the way to use Playstation Vue, with the caveat that the Fast Forward system isn’t as smooth as it is with a traditional DVR. For instance my TWC-provided DVR kind of ‘bounces back’ a few seconds when I stop fast forwarding. So I see the ads have ended, the show has resumed, I stop FFing and the DVR backs up a few seconds so I don’t miss any of the show. Vue’s Cloud DVR doesn’t have that kind of functionality and it feels a little laggy. Also the image is lower resolution for a couple of seconds when playback resumes.

I feel like I’m saying a lot of bad stuff about Vue but I’m fairly pleased with it, really. I’ve been talking about canceling cable for a long time, but was hesitant because we do enjoy watching TV and a lot of the shows we watch are on History, Discovery, Syfy, the Travel Channel and similar cable channels, all of which are on Vue. Network shows (barring CBS as always) we could catch on Hulu, particularly with its new “Ad Free” option which is SO worth the extra couple of bucks/month to me. I think a combination of Playstation Vue ($30) and Hulu w/o Ads ($12), coupled with an OTA antenna for football season, would pretty nicely replace cable TV, which is costing me something like $80/month for pretty no-frills service (and that price is only after calling them every year to bitch about pricing, which gets old). It’s hard to say exactly how much I pay for cable since it’s bundled with Internet service and the bill isn’t itemized, so I’m guessing a bit.

You can also stream Vue on several devices at once, so I could be upstairs watching one show and Angela could be downstairs watching another, without any additional cost (TWC charges per set-top box for anything but basic channels). And of course with both Vue and Hulu, it’s easy to stop/start the services anytime without any headaches. So maybe in summer when we’re outside all the time we could just cancel one or both for a few months. I hate the cable company almost as much for how hard they make doing anything as I do for their pricing.

You can get a 1 week trial to Playstation Vue, but it does require a credit card and if you forget to cancel they’ll bill you after that week. It won’t be right for everyone (we happen to own 2 PS3s, 1 PS4, 1 Fire TV, and 3 iPads so we have pretty good coverage for Vue!) but for us it seems like a pretty good fit and one more reason to cancel the cable TV service.