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The Pros and Cons of Amazon’s Fire TV Stick

If you’re looking to stream video content directly to your TV, one of the most affordable options out there is the brand-new Amazon Fire TV Stick, which retails for about $39.99. As an update to the first Amazon Fire TV Stick that debuted in 2014, the new Amazon Fire TV Stick now boasts Alexa voice integration. Here’s a brief overview of all the pros and cons of the Amazon Fire TV Stick.

PRO #1: Lightweight, flexible and affordable

It’s hard to get past the affordable price tag of the Amazon Fire TV Stick ($39.99), which represents a significant savings from the fully-featured Amazon Fire TV ($89.99). In terms of price and design, the Fire TV Stick is most similar to the Google Chromecast. Both “sticks” enable users to plug directly into a HDTV’s HDMI slot to start streaming content within minutes.

PRO #2: Powerful new voice features

The one major upgrade between the original Amazon Fire TV Stick (circa 2014) and the new one (released at the end of 2016) involves Alexa voice integration. If you’ve experienced Amazon Echo (which uses Alexa), then you know how powerful voice features can be. You can use your voice to do things like “Play Game of Thrones” or “Launch Netflix” or even “Find me a good romantic comedy.”

And, best of all, you don’t have to hunt for a way to use the voice controls. Right on the remote device that’s provided with the Alexa Fire TV stick, there’s a prominent button at the very top. This comes in handy because Alexa also comes with certain features (what Amazon calls “skills”), like the ability to place an order for pizza delivery with your voice.

PRO #3: Unlimited access to the best streaming content

The main reason people buy the Amazon Fire TV Stick, of course, is to get access to the best streaming content. The concept is so simple that it seems like it can’t really be true, but here it is: take the Fire TV Stick, plug it into your TV, and connect to Wi-Fi. Boom, you’re done. From there, you can access any of the major streaming services, like Hulu or Netflix or (of course) Amazon Instant Video.

What’s great about the Amazon Fire TV Stick is that you’re not forced to watch only Amazon content, though, – you can watch from any streaming service. For example, say you want to watch a new movie. You could stream from Netflix. Say you want to watch a new TV show. You could stream from Hulu. Say you wanted to watch a game on ESPN. You could stream from Sling TV.

Plus, there’s a “universal search” function so that you can find all the various competing services that offer a particular title, and determine the best way to get access to it. Maybe it’s cheaper to buy on Amazon than it is to rent on Netflix. Or, maybe not. But you have a lot of flexibility here. All told, you get access to more than 300,000 TV episodes and movies ready to stream. So there’s always something on.

PRO #4: Great integration with Amazon Prime

Every major tech company wants you to play in their ecosystem, and Amazon is no different. You may not have a Kindle Fire, but chances are, you have an Amazon.com account. If you have Amazon Prime, then you get unlimited access to Amazon Prime Instant Video. That means access to thousands of movies and TV episodes.

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PRO #5: Fast and furious streaming content (music, not just video!)

The new upgraded Amazon Fire TV Stick comes with streaming speeds that are 30% faster than in the previous version. A lot of this has to do with the way the Fire TV Stick connects to Wi-Fi, but the point is, you get a lot smoother streaming experience. In addition, you’re not limited to just streaming TV and film content – you can also stream music content.

Amazon refers to this in its marketing materials as “Entertain Your Way” – you can use the Fire TV Stick to stream music for guests during parties or on family night. Using Alexa voice integration, you can even do something like “play music for a dinner party,” and the Amazon Fire TV Stick will go to work, finding the right music to set the mood.

CON #1: Not as powerful as other set-top boxes

It might be obvious, but you’re not going to get the same type of functionality in a stick as you are going to get with a full set-top box like Apple TV or even the Amazon Fire TV. Thus, if you’re a hard-core gamer or a film purist, you might look at what the Amazon Fire TV delivers in terms of a higher-performance streaming experience. Moreover, the Amazon Fire TV comes with the ability to plug into the Ethernet, giving it a big leg up on the Amazon Fire TV Stick, which is still restricted to Wi-Fi access.

CON #2: No support for 4K televisions

If you’ve recently shopped for an HDTV, you know that not all TVs are created alike. There are SD (720p), HD (1080p) and 4K (nearly 4000p) pixel sizes. Well, the Amazon Fire TV Stick only supports SD and HD, so if you’re planning on buying a 4K TV anytime soon, then you need to upgrade to the Amazon Fire TV.

That being said, Amazon has done a wonderful job of listening to customers. One of the major complaints of the old Amazon Fire TV Stick was that it didn’t include voice search. Well, now it does. So if you were originally tempted to get a super-cheap Google Chromecast, it’s no longer a case of comparing two relatively similar devices. For the same price, you can get voice search and all the power of Alexa – so why wouldn’t you take it? Go with Amazon.

There’s a lot of innovation happening in the streaming video space, and it looks like Amazon is taking a lot of steps to increase its footprint in the industry. In addition to all the great original content Amazon is now producing (can someone say Manchester By the Sea?), the company is now finding clever ways – such as integrating the Alexa voice technology – to get people to switch to the Amazon ecosystem.

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Netflix and Amazon: Oscar Winners

The 2017 Oscars marked a coming out party for the top two streaming services, Amazon and Netflix. At the awards show, Amazon picked up 3 Oscars – two for “Manchester By The Sea” and one for the Iranian foreign language film “The Salesman,” while Netflix won an Oscar for its documentary short, “The White Helmets.”

“Manchester By the Sea”

One of the most talked about films of 2016 was “Manchester By the Sea,” starring Casey Affleck in the role of a man battling his own personal demons while also dealing with becoming the guardian of his deceased brother’s son. Affleck picked up a Best Actor award for his role, writer Kenneth Lonergan won for “Best Original Screenplay,” and the film actually picked up four other nominations — including a surprising nomination for newcomer Lucas Hedges for “Best Supporting Actor” and a well-deserved nomination for “Best Picture.”

At the Oscars, host Jimmy Kimmel joked about any awards that “Manchester By the Sea” might win that night: “If you win tonight, you can expect your Oscar to arrive in 2-5 business days, possibly stolen by a GrubHub delivery man.” Jeff Bezos, watching live during the event, didn’t lose a beat — he tweeted out via Twitter that the Oscar would arrive within one hour.

“The Salesman”

Even though most moviegoers probably had probably never heard of “The Salesman” before Oscars night, it actually led to one of the most talked-about award presentations for the night – mostly for who didn’t show up to accept the award. The film won for “Best Foreign Language Film” — but the film’s Iranian director (Asghar Farhadi) had skipped the Oscars in protest of President Donald Trump’s travel ban, which specifically targeted immigrants and visa holders from Iran. In fact, the cinematographer for the film was barred from entering the country, and couldn’t attend, either.

“The Salesman” tells the story of an Iranian married couple that faces incredible strain on their marriage as they prepare for a presentation of Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman.” The film was entirely shot in Teheran. Going into the Oscars, Amazon knew it had a potential hit on its hands – Asghar Farhadi’s previous film, “A Separation,” also won Oscar and Golden Globes acclaim.

“The White Helmets”

Finally, Netflix had a winner on its hands with “The White Helmets,” which tells the story of civilian first responders in Syria. It shows how volunteers from the Syrian Civil Defense risk their lives to save victims in their war-torn country. The director of “The White Helmets,” which won for “Best Documentary Short,” was Orlando von Einsiedel.

The first Oscar awards of many to come

The strong presence by both Amazon and Netflix at the awards show is further proof of how streaming services are completely changing the game when it comes to how films are produced, distributed and viewed. And it means that, at independent movie festivals around the nation, two of the most active buyers are now Netflix and Amazon — not the major indie Hollywood studios.

Case in point: look at what has happened at the Sundance Film Festival over the past two years. 2016 was a tune-up of sorts for Amazon, as it acquired the rights to “Manchester By the Sea” for $10 million. Amazon was looking for the type of quality film that might be Oscar-worthy, and “Manchester By the Sea” delivered completely in 2017.

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And then this year, Amazon and Netflix both made a big splash at Sundance. Netflix paid $12.5 million for “Mudbound,” the Dee Rees civil rights epic starring Carey Mulligan. Look for this film to become an Oscar contender in 2018. And then Amazon paid $12 million for the comedy-romance “The Big Sick,” which it also views as Oscar bait (it stars Holly Hunter and Zoe Kazan). All told, Netflix was the biggest buyer at Sundance this year, scooping up 9 different films, while Amazon bought 4 films.

That’s just mounting evidence for the way that streaming services are opening up their wallets in order to get the best film content. It’s not just Amazon and Netflix, it’s also Hulu. That’s leading to a situation where streaming services are bidding upwards of $10 million per film. That’s good news for filmmakers everywhere.

The new model for distribution

The fact that streaming services are becoming such active players in the film market is going to have important implications. Take the example of “Manchester By the Sea.” Amazon snatched the film away from Fox Searchlight, which wanted to buy it back in 2016. If Fox Searchlight had won the bidding war, the film would have had a conventional theatrical release and then would have made its way onto the streaming services about six months after the theatrical run was completed.

But check out what happened with “Manchester By the Sea” – it had a run in the theaters, where it picked up nearly $50 million at the box office. But on Oscar night, it was already possible to stream the movie on Apple iTunes and Google Play, even though Amazon Now didn’t plan to start streaming the film until May.

And that’s the exact opposite approach of Netflix, which has embraced the concept of “day-and-date’ — films are released into cinemas and on streaming service simultaneously. Thus, “The White Helmets” is already available to stream on Netflix. That model might make sense for consumers, but theaters are not fond of the concept of “day-and-date” — their concern is that people won’t drop $15 to watch a movie at the cinema if they can stream it for free on Netflix the same day.

What can we expect at Oscars 2018?

Not every film that picks up a prize at a major film festival like Sundance is guaranteed to become an Oscar nominee, but it looks like Netflix has a major winner on its hands with “I Don’t Feel At Home In This World Anymore.” The film was pitched to Netflix at Sundance 2016, received funding, and then opened the Sundance festival in 2017, appearing as the first movie in the U.S. Dramatic Competition. The writing and acting debut of Macon Blair went on to win the Sundance Grand Jury Prize. And, don’t forget, people are already talking up “Mudbound” as an Oscar nominee for next year. So Netflix could have a huge Oscars celebration in 2018.

Conclusions

Think of the 2017 Oscars as a sneak peek of what’s to come. The streaming services have been actively buying up films, so this year’s Oscars wins are not a fluke. And, flush with money from all their new subscribers, they have deep pockets to snatch big-name films away from some of the biggest Hollywood independent studios. So keep an eye on Amazon and Netflix — they are not only making cinema history, they are changing the history of cinema.

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Is PlayStation VR Successful?

When Sony launched the new PlayStation VR in October 2016, it was a welcome addition to the fast-growing virtual reality (VR) space. In contrast to the high-end VR headsets like Oculus Rift and HTC Vive, both of them selling for $599 or higher, the PlayStation VR offered a slightly more affordable option, priced at just $399. But even that price was nearly four times what you’d expect to pay for the Samsung Gear VR, easily the most popular VR headset on the market today.

Since the PlayStation VR launched in time for the all-important 2016 holiday buying season, the thought was that Sony would just sit back and watch all the sales roll in. To a great extent, though, the highly optimistic sales estimates have not materialized. The original estimate was for the PlayStation VR to sell 2.5 million headsets in 2016 alone. It turns out that the real figure was closer to 750,000 headsets. As of February 2017, according to the New York Times, the PlayStation VR has sold 915,000 units total — just south of 1 million headsets in about a single quarter. Not bad, but still not quite as many as Sony had originally projected.

Sony looks for first-mover advantage in the VR space

However, you can’t base success on sales alone. In general, the entire VR space has been undergoing a re-think over the past six months. In early 2016, VR was one of the hottest new areas of technology, as consumers eagerly awaited the arrival of the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive — the first two high-end devices on the market. In contrast to the Samsung Gear VR, which only functions by putting your Samsung Galaxy phone inside, the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive were self-contained headsets meant to be tethered to a high-powered PC capable of rendering virtual worlds in glorious color and crispness.

In that regard, you can start to see the creation of a two-tiered market emerging for virtual reality. On one side, you have Oculus (owned by Facebook), HTC and Sony — they have essentially placed a bet that the future of VR will involve motion controllers, tracking cameras and high-powered PCs or gaming consoles. On the other side, you have Samsung and Google, both of which have opted for VR headsets that work with powerful mobile phones. (But in the case of the Google Daydream VR headset, it only works with a small number of compatible phones, like the Google Pixel.)

You’ll notice that a few big-name competitors aren’t represented here – Microsoft, Apple or Nintendo. That being said, Microsoft is said to be working on a combination AR/VR experience called the HoloLens and Apple is purportedly readying an augmented reality (AR) experience for the iPhone in either 2017 or early 2018. And Nintendo appears to be working on a VR headset for its upcoming gaming console.

So you can see the genius of the Sony move with PlayStation VR – it established itself as an early mover in a potentially lucrative marketplace. And Sony has opened up a big lead on its long-time rival, Nintendo. So, while Nintendo is busy creating augmented reality experiences for the smart phone (like Pokemon!), Sony is busy creating VR experiences for the PlayStation console.

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What needs to happen next for PlayStation VR

Four months after the launch of PlayStation VR, we now have a much better idea of where Sony needs to go with its new VR headset. One major complaint, voiced by many VR gamers, is that there simply wasn’t a must-have gaming title for the PlayStation VR. Without the one game or one experience that everyone wants to buy, it makes it very difficult to attract casual gamers or people who may be new to virtual reality. So if Sony is able to create the “Pokemon of VR,” it’s safe to say that the sales figures are going to look very impressive for the PlayStation VR in 2017.

The other major factor mentioned by gamers is that, while the headset itself was stylish and very futuristic-looking, you really needed to get the PSVR bundle (including gaming controllers and tracking camera) in order to have the full VR experience. That PSVR bundle is $499, a hefty increase from the $399 that you’d pay for the headset alone. As Sony explains, the company thought the major buyers of the headset would be gamers who already owned the console and one or more controllers, so they wanted to make it possible for them to just buy the headset.

But, in many ways, that also speaks to one other drawback – a sometimes mixed message when it came to the PSVR. For example, Sony told gamers that the VR experiences would work best for the PS4 Pro, and that confused many gamers – they interpreted that to mean that they should upgrade their console from the PS4 to the PS4 Pro BEFORE buying the VR headset. And then there’s the matter of what to do with all the controllers and cameras – as some gamers pointed out, it looked like Sony simply gathered together a lot of existing technologies and cobbled them together for VR. So there’s not one amazing technical breakthrough that people can point to and say – “Sony really nailed it.”

In fact, that seemed to be why there was a mixed response in the marketplace to the new Sony PSVR — the new VR headset seemed to work “just good enough,” the new games for VR seemed to work “just good enough” and the overall design and functionality of every VR experience was “just good enough.” But there wasn’t anything truly disruptive about the new Sony VR headset.

Bringing VR to the mass market

The one advantage that Sony has today is the ability to make VR a truly mass-market phenomenon, and not just a hobby for hard-core gamers. Sony has a lot of marketing muscle and it has a dedicated core of fans who already love the PS4. Plus, Sony has plenty of deals and agreements in place with gaming studios and film development companies – it seems like it’s just a matter of time before Sony is able to attract the casual fan to VR.

So, if you’re willing to judge success on not just sales and technological breakthroughs, but also on the ability to bring a new technology to the mainstream, then Sony most definitely has a success on its hands with the PlayStation VR. In 2017, look for the company to move even more aggressively into the mainstream consumer tech market. Just as Oculus briefly experimented with setting up demo lounges at Best Buy in order to win over casual tech buyers for its VR headset, it’s easy to see Sony embracing the same type of marketing move. Releasing the PS4 at the end of 2016 was a signal to the market and to the company’s fans: we’re committed to virtual reality for the long haul, so join us for the ride.

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The Coolest Gadgets at CES 2017

Every year, the world’s biggest tech trade show, CES, features the most promising and upcoming hi-tech gadgets that push the boundaries of technology and imagination. Thousands of startups and multi-national corporations alike showcase their latest products. A large number of these products are truly extraordinary and any single list like this one can never do justice to them all. It is simply not possible to include all of them, because of space constraints. That said, we have rounded up some of the gadgets that truly blew our minds. Hope they blow yours too.

Razer Project Valerie

This one sounds right out of a sci-fi spy movie. The Project Valerie, pictured above, is a giant freaking computer from Razer. It is a single computer with three 4K displays. But, here is the most unbelievable aspect about it – it’s a laptop. For many of us, this 17.3-inch notebook is too big to carry around. Not for the hardcore gamers though. It has a combined resolution of 11,520 x 2160, which guarantees an immersive experience unlike anything ever seen before. This baby packs an overabundance of juice, thanks to the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1080 graphics card powering it. If Razer decides to take this concept laptop to the market, it will rule the personal gaming stations across the world.

Kuri, the Digital Personal Assistant

Brace yourselves. Robots are here, and they are invading your …err…living rooms? Kuri is probably the first ‘intelligent’ robot that you might end up buying for yourself at just under $700. Kuri is smart enough to understand your voice commands. It can understand context and surroundings, and recognize different people as well. Kuri can make use of a range of expressions like head movements, lights, and sounds to interact with humans. It rolls on 3 wheels, which can spin in any direction. An HD camera on its head helps it navigate its surroundings, while 4 microphones enable it to listen to humans from any direction.

Robird, the Robotic Bird

Clear Flight Solutions has developed a robotic drone that is eerily similar to real birds. It even behaves like one. In fact, it flies by flapping its giant wings and steers using its tail fins. These remote controlled robotic birds are designed to scare the bejesus out of the other living birds. Why would someone go to this length to just scare a couple of innocent birds? Well, the answer is to keep aviation around airports safe. Birds are a common and serious problem for flights that are taking off and landing at airports. Robirds will man the airspace of the airports like giant birds of prey, and scare the living birds away from the vicinity, before they become a serious issue to aircrafts.

Motiv’s Fitness Tracking Ring

Save for the engagement or wedding rings, the rings are not a fashion statement that they used to be in the medieval periods. Now, they will be making a comeback, and for a reason that has nothing to do with fashion, thanks to Motiv. They have managed to do something the likes of which have not been seen since Apple released its first iPhone. Motiv has squeezed in an entire fitness band’s worth of functionality into one ring. This titanium-encased device can track a host of things such as your sleep, steps, calories burnt, distance, and heart rate. For a small ring packed with so much functionality, it lasts an unbelievable 3 – 5 days on a single charge. That’s innovation at its best.

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Underwater Drone For Fishing Hacks

The next time you go fishing with your buddies, you will have a secret underwater spy to help you increase the size of your catch. PowerRay is an aquatic drone that can dive up to 30 meters deep into the water. It is fitted with a sonar and an HD camera that can transmit data to an iOS or Android app installed on your phone. PowerRay can detect fish up to 70 meters away. It even comes with a secret weapon – a lure. It features a blue light that it uses as a lure to bring fish near you.

Smart Bed

Have trouble sleeping at night? Don’t worry. Your bed will now help you enjoy a more wholesome sleep experience. The smart bed, Sleep Number 360, is a self-adjusting, intelligent bed. It can adjust the various settings for your maximum comfort. It has a foot-warming feature, and an automatic snore detection and adjustment mechanism as well. Rest assured, as soon as you are in the bed, sweet dreams will envelop you. Once it has grown acquainted with your sleep routine, it will wake you up at the optimal moment. They certainly reinvented sleep with this one.

Polaroid

Did you ever wonder what happened to those photo-printing cameras that we saw as kids? Wouldn’t it be awesome to own one now and instant-print photos wherever we go? Well, your wish has just come true. Well, sort of. Polaroids are making a comeback, and in a big way. At CES, Polaroid showcased the all new Polaroid Pop, which features an impressive 20megapixel camera that captures stunning quality pictures. Most importantly, it can print instant photos that do look nice. It even sports a 3.97-inch LCD touchscreen for navigating the device controls as well as viewing the digital photo before printing it. In addition to the physical copies, you can save the digital copies as well.

LeEco’s Smart Bikes

LeEco is revolutionizing the experience of biking. It featured two smart bikes at CES 2017 – a road bike and a mountain bike. The bike is fitted with a 4-inch touchscreen that runs a customized Android Nougat OS and a quad-core Snapdragon 410 processor. It is powered by a massive 6000mAh battery, which has more than enough juice needed for the multitude of fitness oriented sensors installed on the bikes. Get turn by turn navigation, and a bevy of fitness data on the screen all the time you are riding.

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How TV Will Change Within a Trump Presidency

The television industry, at present, is bigger than it has ever been. There are more channels than you can watch, more streaming services than you can remember, and more TV shows than it is humanly possible to enjoy. If anything has been able to occupy the mental space of our collective minds more than the television entertainment, it is Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and his eventual election as the President of the United States. They are not necessarily independent of each other. TV has played a major part in his meteoric rise in the campaign. Everything that aired on television, both good and bad, worked in Trump’s favor. Trump too made it a point to occupy maximum screen time. In essence, the 2016 presidential campaign was one big reality TV show. And, that was only the season 1. So, brace yourself America. Season 2 is due in 2020.

While the effect of television on Trump’s campaign is quite clear, it takes a nuanced approach to see his effect on television so far, and going forward. Whether you like it or not, the 2016 Presidential Election was the most engaging topic of the year. And, Trump has managed to keep alive that energy since he has taken office by signing a series of controversial executive orders. The television industry, which is fueled by the creators and the demand of the viewers, never was and will never be immune to his antics.

There Will Be Friction

For one, the present day America finds itself in a precarious situation. The investor confidence has taken a serious hit. Large corporations are not confident that their President will be taking decisions that will be favorable to them. Naturally, money follows their confidence. Where there is no confidence, there will be no money either. In a nutshell, the drop in investor confidence means that there is less room for risk-taking behavior. This applies to TV networks as well. The American TV industry owes its high quality TV programming to the producers’ appetite for taking risks. Now, the producers will be predisposed to take lesser and lesser risks. So, they will be following tried and tested TV formulae, and we all know that makes for a bland TV experience.

There is a flip side here too. The political atmosphere is so charged and the show creators are bound to be affected by it. Their views about the present state of things will undoubtedly make way into their creative works. A lot of them might even try to passionately express a particular opinion, which will not go well with the risk-weary producers. Sparks of friction will fly everywhere. Jane The Virgin’s showmakers have already indicated that the show will be taking up the issue of immigration and the repeal of Obamacare in the future episodes.

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Escapism Will Turn Viewers into False Heroes

The political situation in the US is a mess. Some people are taking it to the streets to express their displeasure; some people have turned their social media space into virtual battleground of words; and some people are spending their time and money to come to the aid of the distressed like the stranded immigrants in airports. Then there are also a lot of people who have resigned to the situation. Now, what better way to escape from reality than tuning in to their TV sets!

In the entertainment industry, there is a sort of consensus building that the astounding rise of a reality star, Trump, into the highest position in the country will spawn a series of shows that feature larger-than-life characters. The television will soon be inundated with ‘House of Cards-style’ shows, which will demand the audience’s attention. It is very difficult to capture the audience’s attention with the usual storytelling. A strong and big personality not only grabs, but forces people to pay attention to it. In Trump’s America, everything will be big, especially television.

Don’t Expect TV Networks to Always Take a Stand

Over the past year, Trump-bashing had become a favorite pastime for many TV channels who were aching for viewers. Since the announcement of the election results, Americans on the other side of the fence are slowly coming to terms with the fact that Trump is here to stay, and “is their President”. TV networks constantly reminding of Trump’s latest blunders is certainly not helping them escape the reality either. So, they are tuning into channels that are not focusing too much on him. Streaming services are a great option for them. If the networks keep on obsessing about Trump, they will lose a bulk of their audience with time. For better or for worse, TV networks are slowly realizing this too.

There is another part of this puzzle. While Trump-haters are tired of hearing bad things about him, the Trump supporters never wanted to hear anything bad about him in the first place at all. So far, the networks were playing a huge gamble by either supporting Trump or by criticizing him. Now, they cannot afford to take sides and ignore the other half of the population. Not to mention the powerful Republican lawmakers, especially when there is a Republican president at the helm of affairs. The survival instincts will kick in, and this combined with an audience that no more wants anything political, the networks will eventually give up their Trump-bashing, if not change sides altogether.

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How The Future Will Look

Many showmakers have expressed their plans to incorporate the issues of immigration, racism, and fear in their shows. They feel that their audience will relate and empathize with these issues better when they see them on the screen. While it is a great initiative on their part to combat fear, racism, and repression by using entertainment, only time will tell how much effect they will have on a typical American’s psyche. Because, make no mistake season 2 of Trump’s presidential campaign will be with us sooner than you think.

The Scoop on AirTV

In the middle of December of 2016, DISH Network leaked a few details about its latest offering to the cord-cutters – AirTV. But, we had to wait until CES 2017 to finally get a good look at the product. And from the looks of it, it can be a game-changer in the industry. For one thing, it has combined streaming service, cable programming, and Over-the-air (OTA) local channels into one irresistible package that is sure to revolutionize the television entertainment experience for viewers.

DISH Network brought a paradigm shift to the streaming industry when it launched its Sling TV service. At the time of its launch, it was the first of its kind to offer live television for streaming. It was now finally feasible for the cord-cutters to completely give up their cable connections. They could enjoy cable programming on the Sling TV app, and tune in to on-demand services like Netflix or Hulu, when they felt like it. It really was a huge step for the industry as a whole. Now, AirTV is taking this game to another level altogether.

At its core, AirTV is a streaming media player that runs Sling TV. But, calling it just a streaming media player is a gross understatement. In addition to running Sling TV, the streaming player from DISH brings you on-demand services like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Instant Video, and so on. But, that is not where its awesomeness ends. It does something that no other streaming service has been able to do before – offer local channels.

AirTV combines the live TV of Sling TV, on-demand services of streaming services, and the highly desirable local programming.

AirTV runs on Android TV. This means that it is capable of running all the streaming services that are available in the Google Play Store. Whether it is Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, HBO Now, or something else, if it is there in Google Play Store, then AirTV will run it for you.

The device itself is compact and occupies as much space as an Amazon Fire TV. It comes with a remote control that features a good selection of buttons on it. It even has dedicated buttons for Netflix, and Sling TV. Switching between cable programming, OTA channels (local), and streaming services is a seamless experience and not distinguishable at all.

If you get OTA channels like NBC, ABC, CBS, FOX, CW, and others in your location, then AirTV will enable you to tune in to them using an add-on device. AirTV comes with an optional OTA USB adapter, which is fitted with an antenna. Once you plug in the adapter, the local channels broadcasted in your area will immediately appear in the Sling TV guide. You can select the channel you want to enjoy right there, be it broadcast channels or cable channels. Even the movie catalogue of Netflix appears right in the Sling TV app, making AirTV the most convenient all-in-one solution for TV viewers.

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AirTV is presently available at a starting price of $100, including the remote. If you want to buy the optional USB antenna separately, it will set you back by another $40. But, the AirTV + USB Antenna combo is available at a discounted rate of $130. When you buy the device, you get a $50 credit toward Sling TV. Although the device comes with Sling TV and Netflix pre-installed, and it is not mandatory for you to subscribe to either of the services. In fact, if you want to catch the local channels with AirTV, then all you need is the USB antenna. That being said, you are buying AirTV to enjoy the best of what cable, streaming services and OTA channels all have to offer. So, it would be a waste of money if you only use it to enjoy local channels.

Subscribing to Sling TV, or the streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, and others will cost extra, as per the standard plans offered by those services. To recap, AirTV is not a bundled service, but an integrator that has managed to bring three different TV entertainment media sources on a single platform. And it does a masterful job at it.

AirTV will be directly competing against some other products that will be looking to make it big this year. Mohu AirWave, Tablo Droid, and Tablo Live will all be integrating antenna-based local channels with streaming. AirTV enjoys a unique position as a service from the satellite TV provider Sling TV. Whether that position will help it in any way against the competition, only time will tell.

It should be noted that AirTV is not the first device which combines live TV with streaming. In fact, we can already enjoy this on most of our smartphones. We can install a streaming service like Netflix, and a TV service like Sling TV, and enjoy what both have to offer. But, AirTV differs in one crucial aspect – ease of use. AirTV is designed for the not-so-tech-savvy among us. There are a lot of people who want to cut the cord, but are not comfortable using smart devices. For them, AirTV is a game-changer. Its simple design and easy to use remote allows such users to enjoy the very best of television entertainment, without having to master any smart devices. To make things easier for them, DISH is even offering them an installation service. At this very moment, AirTV is an unbeatable deal.

Although there is no doubt that AirTV is a great substitute for a cable connection, it is bereft of some crucial features, just like the streaming service Sling TV. DISH has yet again failed to introduce the much-awaited DVR capabilities. Some of you might know that DISH is experimenting with cloud DVR service, which is still in beta phase. Ergo, AirTV features neither the local nor the cloud DVR capabilities. Note, however, that it is still a great offering, despite the absence of a DVR feature.

air-tv-box

How to Enjoy the Super Bowl Without Cable TV

It’s that time of the year again. The time when 2017’s biggest (arguably) extravaganza will be happening this Sunday. It is the time when cable subscribers feel vindicated and cord-cutters curse themselves for ditching their cable connection. Their plight is only understandable, because IT’S SUPER BOWL TIME!
This year’s Super Bowl, the Super Bowl LI, is pitting Atlanta Falcons against the New England Patriots. As thrilling as the game is bound to be, the half-time performance will be no less amazing either. In case you are wondering, it will be performed by Lady Gaga this time. Not to mention the phenomenal Super Bowl commercials, which have become a tradition of sorts. Yeah, no. We are not rubbing your nose in it, cord-cutters. On the contrary, we bring you today some simple solutions to address your present problem – how to watch the Super Bowl without a cable connection? Check out which of these methods work best for you.

 

Digital Antenna

When everything else fails, go back to the basics. We live in the era of 4K content streaming over the internet; we enjoy the DVR feature that enables us to never miss a show; we are able to enjoy television anywhere and everywhere. But, we are yet to get sports entertainment on more than a few streaming services. So, what is the solution? Take the old-fashioned option. Purchase a digital antenna from your local electronics store. It will allow you to catch a whole range of broadcast networks without paying a single penny to the cable operators. More importantly, you will be able to tune in to your local Fox affiliate, and enjoy the Super Bowl in all its glory. By the way, the type of antenna that you should buy depends on your geographical location. So, do some research and pick the right one.

 

Chromecast

A representative of Fox Sports recently made an announcement that the Super Bowl will be streamed live on the channel’s official website. Clearly, all you need is a smart device and an internet connection to enjoy the most awaited sports event of the year. Smartphone, tablet, laptop, desktop, or any other similar device will do. But, if you want to enjoy the event on your HDTV, then you will need a Chromecast. This device will allow you to stream the event on your device, and then cast it onto the TV. If you have a high speed internet connection, then you can enjoy it in high definition as well.

 

What About Overseas Audiences?

If you are an American who is travelling overseas, then it becomes even more difficult to find a source that streams Super Bowl there. Even Fox Sports has stated that only limited sports programming will be available in the overseas markets. It is reasonable to assume that wherever you are staying, the chances of Super Bowl being broadcasted live are slim. Be that as it may, there is a clever trick to not miss the game. Of course, you will need the usual items – an internet connection, and a smart device. Now, all you need to add to the mix is a US-based Virtual Private Network. There are dozens of good VPNs operating out of the US. Sign up for an account with a suitable pricing. It will allow you to mask your device’s IP address, and fake it. The VPN fakes your location within the US, and you will now be able to enjoy Super Bowl online on the Fox Sports website, as if you are at home

 

Fox Sports Go App

The Fox Sports Go app usually requires you to login using your cable subscription credentials, which you obviously do not have or else you wouldn’t be here. But, the network is disabling the authentication for the game. The app itself is compatible with a host of devices and platforms, making is easy for almost everyone to enjoy the game on their device.

Fox Sports Go is supported on iOS, Android, Windows, and Amazon tablet platforms. Apart from the smart devices, the following devices support the app as well – Apple TV, Roku, Xbox One, Amazon Fire, Chromecast, and Android TV.

 

Sling TV

Sling TV is the streaming service from Dish Network which brings cable programming for cord-cutters. The service offers live TV that includes more than a hundred channels via competitively priced packages. But, guess what? You don’t have to sign up for the service yet. You can start by signing up for a trial run of the service. Dish Network offers a 7-day trial of Sling TV for new users. Once you sign up, you can go right away to Fox Access, which is where the Super Bowl will be featured. To its credit, Sling TV is a cool service. But, if you do not wish to continue with it, remember to disconnect the service before the trial period expires.

 

PlayStation Vue

Simply put, PlayStation Vue, is Sony’s answer to Sling TV. It is slightly pricier than Sling TV. But, you need not worry about that, as Vue also comes with a 7-day trial offer for new users. Create an account with Vue, and start enjoying the service right away. Here too, you need to go to Fox Access to watch the Super Bowl. However, before you sign up for the service, check out whether PlayStation Vue is compatible with at least one of your devices, on the official PlayStation website. At the moment, the service is available on a limited set of devices only. Needless to say, deactivate the account before the trial period is over, if you do not intend to continue with the service.

Verizon Users

Verizon users have won a jackpot this time. All of them will be able to enjoy Super Bowl on their smartphone or tablet for absolutely free of cost on the NFL Mobile app. Alternatively, if you have Chromecast, you can cast the live event onto your TV at home and enjoy it on the big screen.

Finally, if everything fails, just hit a sports bar, or plan the weekend at your friend’s. Make sure that they either have a cable connection, or some other way of watching the sporting event.

FuboTV Review – Live Soccer for Cord Cutters

FuboTV launched as a live streaming TV service in January 2015 primarily for soccer fans, offering viewers the chance to watch soccer matches and other live sports on 10 different channels for a low monthly price of $9.99 (with a chance to upgrade with “add-on” packages).

Image result for FuboTVAt the end of December 2016, though, the company announced that it had signed major partnership deals with Fox Networks, NBC Universal, A+E Networks, Crown Media Family Networks, Fuse Media, NBA TV and The Weather Channel. Starting in early 2017, fuboTV plans to offer 70+ premium sports and entertainment channels for an introductory, discounted price of $34.99 per month (which will increase later to $49.99 per month).

As a result, fuboTV viewers will be able to watch live sports events from all major U.S. professional and college sports, as well as international leagues and tournaments. For sports fans looking for a live streaming TV service, fuboTV has suddenly become a very attractive option, especially because the network also plans to bundle in some major entertainment channels as well.

With the huge boost in the number of channels that fuboTV will offer, the streaming TV service is transitioning from being a niche sports streaming service into being a major sports-centric live streaming TV service that can compete with the likes of DirecTV Now, Playstation Vue, Hulu Live and Sling TV.


CONTENT

Image result for FuboTVAs noted above, fuboTV now plans to offer 70+ channels. Full beta launch is coming in February 2017, although the current website for fuboTV still describes the $9.99 package for 10 channels.  So let’s take a closer look at the core 10 channels still being offered, and then consider the remaining channels.

Here are the 10 channels offered in 2016:

  • BeIN Sports
  • FuboTV Network
  • El Rey Network
  • Univision
  • Univision TDN (Televisa Deportes Network)
  • BeIN Sports En Vivo
  • Football Report TV
  • Revolt
  • UniMas
  • One World Sports

New sports channels coming in 2017

  • FOX
  • NBC
  • Regional sports networks from FOX Sports and NBC Sports
  • Big Ten Network (BTN)
  • FS1
  • FS2
  • FOX College Sports
  • FOX Soccer Plus
  • FOX Deportes
  • Golf Channel
  • NBA TV
  • NBCSN

New entertainment channels coming in 2017

  • A+E Networks (A&E, History, Lifetime)
  • Hallmark Channel
  • National Geographic
  • Fuse
  • FM
  • NBC Universal (Bravo, CNBC, E!, Oxygen, USA Network)
  • The Weather Channel

It remains to be seen how fuboTV will adjust the composition of its special “add-on” packages for viewers. Currently, fuboTV offers four major add-on packages:

  • Entertainment (4 channels, $2.99/month)
  • Lifestyle (6 channels, $2.99/month)
  • Portuguese (3 channels, $19.99/month)
  • Spanish (7 channels, $3.99/month)

PRICING

What we know now is that fuboTV plans to price its new basic package at a special discounted rate of $34.99 per month, and eventually raise that to $49.99 per month. That puts this live streaming TV service almost directly in line with the pricing offered by DirecTV Now, which also started its promotional pricing at $35 per month. In contrast, current fuboTV pricing for 10 channels is $9.99 per month.

PROS

Ever since its launch in early 2015, fuboTV has attracted a diehard audience of soccer fans, who used the service to watch soccer matches from around the world, including the Premier League, the Brazilian League and MLS. There’s no other streaming service that can offer this type of live soccer programming. And, with the new content from the likes of Fox and NBC, it’s clear that fuboTV is trying to become the streaming service of choice for sports fans in the United States beyond just soccer, to include basketball, golf and other major sports.

Image result for FuboTVBut the advantages are more than just all the great new content. Just like the other streaming TV services, fuboTV is playing up all the differences with cable TV. For example, you can cancel online anytime without having to deal with the customer service department.

And, you can watch fuboTV anywhere on any device. The service is currently supported by iOS, Android, Apple TV, Android TV, Roku, Fire TV, and Chromecast. Once you’ve downloaded the fuboTV app, it’s possible to watch it on your TV, your tablet, your smartphone or your laptop computer. All you need is the Internet.

And, as part of its expansion, fuboTV plans to offer several more extras: programming look back (in which you can watch previously aired content), video on-demand, digital TV guide navigation and a cloud DVR service. As it stands now, users will be able to watch shows they’ve recorded on the cloud DVR within a period of 3 days of recording. So, for example, if you missed the NBA basketball game last night, you could record it and then watch it the next day for no extra charge.

Finally, fuboTV offers a very crisp 1080p HD quality live stream, so all of the matches and games look spectacular on your viewing device.

CONS

With any new service, there are always growing pains, and for fuboTV to make such a drastic change in its strategy could impact its core viewers. If you look at what fuboTV plans to offer (lots of American sports, plus entertainment) and compare it to what fuboTV has been offering for the past two years (lots of Spanish- and Portuguese-language soccer games), it’s clear that the service is going to have two very different types of audiences.

And it will have to be careful that it doesn’t alienate these diehard sports fans with a sudden burst in pricing and streaming content options. In short, will people who are paying $9.99 now still want to pay $34.99 in the future for content they may not want to watch?

If you’re a current subscriber, it’s time to ask a lot of questions about what will or won’t be included in the new programming lineup. For example, will the old Entertainment add-on package of 4 channels (Antena 3, TeleHit, Bandamax, Ritmoson) now be included in the core offering of 70+ channels? What happens to all the live soccer online content? And what happens if you want to watch ESPN, which doesn’t seem to be included in the list of new channels?

CONCLUSION

FuboTV has the potential to become the leading sports-centric live streaming service. For anyone thinking of signing up for a live streaming TV service, it will be almost impossible to beat fuboTV’s wide offering of both national and international sports programming.

The service just has to make sure that it clearly states what’s going to happen in 2017. It’s now been a month since the company announced the major programming change, for example, and the fuboTV website still doesn’t even have something like a “Coming Soon” announcement on its homepage. The service is currently offering a free 24-hour trial, so that might be one way to sample it to see if it’s right for you.

Roku Review – What You Need To Know

The Roku streaming media player  which now comes in six different versions, is an easy and convenient way to stream content from the Internet to your TV. The company announced its latest fifth generation products in October 2016, each of them geared to a slightly different type of streaming media user. When you combine the Roku streaming media player with a Roku HDTV or Roku 4K TV, you get a powerful way to watch all of your entertainment options.

Image result for rokuIn terms of similar products, the Roku is most similar to other set-top boxes, such as Apple TV. Once you connect your Roku to the same Internet connection as your TV, you can unlock over 3,500 free and paid channels as well as 350,000 movies or TV episodes. Some Roku users have compared it to being in a “multimedia candy store,” and for good reason – you’re literally getting access to just about every type of streaming content that exists.

However, it should be pointed out here that, just because you can access Netflix content doesn’t mean that it’s all free. If you want to stream Netflix content, for example, then you have to have a Netflix account. And the same is true for any of the other streaming services, such as Hulu or HBO Go. Think of Roku as the gateway to this content, not as the provider of this content.

Image result for rokuThe Six Different Roku Players

So, if you think you might be interested in getting a Roku player, you then need to figure out which one is right for you. There are six different options, ranging in price from $29.99 for the Roku Express to $119 for the Roku Ultra. And, if you’d prefer to use a USB stick, you can get the Roku Streaming Stick. As Roku likes to say, there’s a Roku product for everyone and every budget.

  1. Roku Express ($29.99) – This is the entry-level version of the streaming media player, and gives you full access to the same amount of streaming content as the more advanced versions. In addition, you can stream content in 720p or 1080p (but not 4K). You won’t get all the extra features that are found in other versions, but this is a popular option for people new to streaming content.
  2. Roku Express+ ($39.99) – The primary difference between this version and the regular Roku Express is the ability to use it with non-HDTVs. This might not sound like a big deal, but it’s a capability that’s lacking in the Apple TV, Fire TV, or Chromecast. So, even if you have an older type of TV, you can still use Roku!
  3. Roku Premiere ($79.99) – At this price point, you get the advantage of streaming content in full, glorious 4K. However, of course, you need to have a TV screen or mobile device that’s also capable of playing 4K content, which is why some people prefer to add in a Roku 4K TV.  And there are a few other goodies here – like screen mirroring capabilities (if you want to send content from a mobile device or laptop to the TV) and Night Listening Mode (which helps to regulate between the very loud and the very soft sounds that might be in a movie, so you don’t have to keep turning up/turning down the volume).
  4. Roku Premiere+ ($89.99) – This is almost completely the same as the Roku Premiere, only it comes with headphone jacks and the ability to listen to streaming TV or music content with headphones.
  5. Roku Ultra ($119) – At this price point, you really have to be an entertainment fan to appreciate all the perks. In addition to all the features included in the other models, you also get voice search, special gaming buttons on the remote and a USB port for adding your own personal media files.
  6. Roku Streaming Stick ($48.49) – If you’d rather use a USB stick that plugs into the side of your TV, this is a great option. It’s similar to the Roku Premiere, but lacks the ability to play content in 4K.

Roku TV

Where you can really create a world-class entertainment experience is by combining a Roku smart TV with a Roku streaming device. Unlike TVs that you might buy for cable or satellite TV, these TVs are intended to be streaming-friendly. That means you can use the same remote for the Roku and the Roku TV. In terms of pricing, these TV sets are meant to be more affordable than those you’d buy from a company like Samsung or LG. Thus, you can get a 55-inch 4K Ultra Roku Smart TV on Amazon for less than $500. But be forewarned – you don’t need a Roku TV to enjoy a Roku. Any HD television works, so if you already have an HDTV, then you probably won’t buy a Roku TV.

Image result for rokuSo many great features

One great feature of the Roku is the ability to search across multiple content platforms for the same movie or show. This helps you find options that are cheapest for you. For example, you might see that a certain movie is free if you have Hulu  Or you can compare the cost of renting or buying the movie from several different streaming content providers. That’s a great option, especially when you compare it to an Apple TV, where you have a single price – the cost of the item in the iTunes Store. Once you have a Roku account set up, it’s very easy to rent, buy or subscribe across different platforms.

Roku also plays nice with mobile devices. Users can “cast” their content from mobile devices to the TV as long as they have the Roku app installed.

Once you’ve paid for your Roku streaming player, there are no monthly equipment fees and no rental fees. You only pay for the content that you consume and you don’t have to worry about hidden fees or any kinds of data limits.

In many ways, Roku empowers users to find the very best content. To make that possible, the remote has shortcut buttons for popular services like Netflix. And more advanced versions – like the Roku Ultra – now have voice search.

Conclusion

For anyone thinking of cutting the cord from cable, Roku makes it very easy to access the very best streaming media content. The selection of content – 350,000 movies and TV shows and 3,5000 channels – can seem overwhelming at first, but once you get used to the idea of a la carte consumption, it becomes very intuitive. At a time when the latest generation Apple TV can cost $149, you can get a very similar type of streaming player for less than half the cost. This is definitely an option to consider if you’re looking for a great way to stream content like movies and TV shows.

Sling TV Review – Everything You Need to Know

When Dish Network officially unveiled Sling TV in January 2015, executives knew that they had a winner on their hands. With the tagline of “Take Back TV,” Sling TV was positioned as a hip, savvy way to “cut the cord” with cable TV companies, but still have access to lots of premium live content at a more affordable price point. And now, only a few months after launching, the service has picked up more than 1 million subscribers, including many in the very desirable 18-to-35 demographic.

The best live programming

The fundamental appeal of Sling TV is that it gives you access to the best live programming, including live sports, hit TV shows and breaking news. And you don’t get burdened with a lot of channels that you don’t want.

As part of the Sling Orange package, subscribers get access to 30+ channels, including ESPN and CNN, for the low monthly price of just $20. As part of the Sling Blue package, subscribers get access to 40+ channels, including FOX and NBC (but not ESPN) for just $25 per month. And as part of the Sling Orange + Blue package, you get access to all the channels for just $40 per month.

Sling TV touts the Orange + Blue package as the best overall value, and it’s easy to see why — if you get the Blue package, you get access to live sports via ESPN but don’t get access to hit broadcast TV shows from FOX and NBC. And if you get the Orange package, you get access to the hit broadcast TV shows from FOX and NBC, but you don’t get ESPN. So, if you’re like most people, you probably watch a little of both entertainment and sports, so you’d want to get the blended Orange + Blue package.

But think of how brilliant that is from a marketing perspective — Sling TV can claim to offer live streaming TV for just $20 a month, even if most people will eventually upgrade to a package that is twice as expensive! The important point, though, is that Sling TV was the first live streaming service to offer ESPN (although now PlayStation Vue and DirecTV Now offer it), and also the first live streaming service to give users the option of bundling in HBO without having a cable TV subscription.

In fact, Sling TV has a number of important content “add-on” packages that can easily raise the price of your monthly bill. These are just some of the options available to Sling TV subscribers:

  • HBO – $15
  • Cinemax – $10
  • Starz – $9
  • Kids Extra package – $5
  • Sports Extra package – $5 and $10
  • Lifestyle Extra package – $5

So, in many ways, Sling TV customers can personalize their channel lineup to fit their tastes. For example, NFL football fans can order the NFL Red Zone network, Spanish-language viewers can order the Spanish TV package, and movie fans can bundle in services like EPIX and HBO.


Live TV on-the-go

One of the reasons why tech-savvy millennials have embraced Sling TV is because it appears to be tailored to their mobile, on-the-go lifestyles. Young millennials don’t watch TV from a couch — they watch from their tablets and smartphones and laptops, wherever they might be. That’s why Sling TV constantly emphasizes that you can watch “at home or on the go.” You can watch on literally any digital device.

And, best of all, there’s no pricey equipment to order, and no installation. All you need to do is to go online, sign up, and download the Sling TV app. From there, you just sign in, and you can start watching instantly from any device. Except your TV, that is. To watch Sling TV on your home TV, you’ll need a set-top box. Supported devices currently include the following:

  • Apple TV
  • Roku
  • Amazon Fire TV
  • Chromecast
  • XBox One

No annoying cable experience

And, as part of the overall branding of Sling TV, the service does everything possible to eliminate every annoying aspect of the cable TV experience. Sling TV encourages you to “watch what you love, without the cable experience you hate.” (It has to be pointed out here that, since Sling TV is a subsidiary of Dish Network, there’s not a word about the “satellite experience you hate.”)

As part of delivering this optimal experience, Sling TV makes it very easy for people to sign up and also to cancel. You can just cancel online, for example, without having to get into a debate with a customer service representative. And there are no cancellation fees, as well as no annual contracts and no credit checks. This makes Sling TV much more like a traditional service you’d order over the Internet, and not at all like a traditional cable TV provider.

Drawbacks to Sling TV

Ok, so Sling TV sounds absolutely amazing, what doesn’t it offer? Well, you’ve probably noticed that there hasn’t been any mention of an “on demand library.” That’s because, well, there isn’t one to mention. Subscribers are essentially limited to “catch up” programming from the TV networks that are part of the service. You’re not going to be binge-watching a full series of TV shows or streaming movies from a vast archive.

This is probably a major drawback for many people. However, even Sling TV admits that it’s meant to be a “complement” to services like Netflix. In other words, if you want live streaming TV AND you want live streaming movies, you’re probably best off combining Sling TV and a service like Netflix.

And that has opened the door to competing services like AT&T’s DirecTV Now, which offers both a full channel lineup of live streaming TV, in addition to a massive, on-demand archive of 10,000+ movies and TV shows. DirecTV Now, of course, is the creation of DirecTV, the primary satellite TV competitor to Dish Network (which created Sling TV). So, DirecTV Now and Dish Network are essentially fighting a new war now, this time over content streaming over the Internet.

Conclusions

Sling TV stands out as the first real streaming TV service to take on the major cable networks. It’s relatively cheap (with prices starting at $20 per month) and offers a robust lineup of channels that can be customized to specific tastes. Moreover, it’s perfectly tailored to the on-the-go lifestyle of young millennials. Perhaps the only thing it’s missing is a comprehensive video on-demand service for people who enjoy movies along with their live streaming TV.

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