Ditching your cable TV subscription just got easier, no matter where you live in the United States.
PlayStation Vue, a service that streams live and on-demand TV over the Internet, is now available everywhere in the country, and for a lower price than ever. Starting today in 203 US TV markets, you can subscribe to the service for as little as $30 per month.
Vue is designed as an alternative to a traditional pay TV package from a satellite or cable TV provider. It delivers numerous live TV channels and on-demand programming, just like cable TV, and also lets you record shows to a "cloud DVR" and watch multiple TVs around the house from one account.
New 'Slim' packages lose local channels
Until today Vue was only available in seven major metropolitan areas: New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, Dallas, San Francisco and Miami. Packages in those cities start at $40 per month and include local broadcast TV channels, namely ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC (but not PBS).
If you live in one of the 203 other TV markets newly served by Vue -- places like Atlanta, Detroit, Houston, Phoenix, Portland, and St. Louis, as well as smaller cities and towns in all 50 states -- you'll only be able to subscribe to what Vue is calling "Slim" versions of its channel packages, starting at $30 per month.
The difference is that Slim packages don't have access to live local channels via Vue. According to Sony's press release, "Content from ABC, FOX and NBC will be available only as on-demand content in the Slim multi-channel plans. Most on-demand content will be available within 24 hours after airing. CBS live and on-demand programming will be added to select TV markets at a later date."
I spoke with Dan Myers, head of product for PlayStation Vue, and was given some additional details. If you live in one of the original seven markets you will not be able to subscribe to a Slim package that lacks local channels -- in other words, pricing in those seven markets will not change as a result of Vue's nationwide expansion, and starts at $40.
Sony will continue to add local channel access to additional markets in the future. I asked Myers whether that meant, for example, that a Vue subscriber in Atlanta might suddenly have to start paying $40 per month instead of $30 once those channels were available, but he said he didn't have any additional pricing tiers to announce.
Beyond pricing, regional availability and the absence of local channels, Vue's Slim packages are identical to their non-slim counterparts. The cheapest $30 Access Slim package has 55 or so channels; the $35 Core Slim package has 70-odd with the addition of live national and select regional sports networks; and the $45 Elite Slim package has more than 100 channels.
To use Vue you'll need an active subscription, a stable broadband Internet connection and a compatible device. Currently they include PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 4 game consoles, as well as Amazon Fire TV boxes and Fire TV Stick devices (if you have a Fire TV device, you don't need a PlayStation to use Vue). There's also a Vue iOS app for iPad and iPhone, which can Cast to TV devices like Chromecast -- but you can't use Vue if don't own at least one PlayStation console or Fire TV.
Vue vs. Sling TV vs. traditional cable and satellite
This nationwide rollout and price drop brings Vue into even more direct competition with Sling TV, another Internet-delivered live TV service that competes against cable.
Unlike a typical traditional TV subscription, both Sling and Vue offer free trial periods and the ability to cancel service anytime, and don't charge equipment rental or other miscellaneous fees.
Sling TV is cheaper, starting at $20 per month, and available on many more devices than Vue, including Roku, Fire TV, Chromecast, iPhones and iPads, Android phones and tablets, Android TV devices, Xbox One, and PC and Mac computers.
In pretty much every other way, however, Vue is superior on paper. It offers significantly more channels than Sling TV, particularly since the recent addition of ABC, ESPN and Disney channels. Step-up Vue packages even offer select (but not all) regional sports networks, the crown jewels of cable TV.
Very few Sling TV channels offer the ability to pause or rewind live TV, and there's no DVR functionality, whereas Vue's cloud DVR is basically a full-function recorder, just like you get from a cable company. Sling TV can only stream to one device at a time, while Vue offers up to five simultaneous streams -- so you can watch different TVs around the house at the same time, or even on the go with the iOS app. Vue supports multiple profiles for different family members (much like Netflix), has access to more "TV everywhere" apps, and has an intuitive interface that prioritizes shows over channels.
For more details check out our in-depth comparison PlayStation Vue vs. Sling TV: Streaming Live TV compared.
Of course, with Vue's steeper monthly fees compared to Sling, the main goal of cord cutting -- saving money compared with a traditional cable subscription -- is a bit more difficult to achieve. Whether you do so depends largely on what channels you need, what your local providers offer, and how much broadband Internet costs in your area.
Stay tuned for CNET's full review of PlayStation Vue, coming soon.