Cord Cutting Guides, News, and Reviews
Last modified: February 14, 2019
By Stephen Lovely
Skinny bundles have transformed the way in which we look at streaming video subscription services, and they've done so in a relatively short amount of time. A business space that didn't exist in 2015 is now crowded with competitors, many of which are less than a year or two old. They join an “old guard” that is still relatively young: PlayStation Vue was just the second major skinny bundle to become widely available when it rolled out on major platforms, and that was just 2015. Our first PlayStation Vue review was published in 2016.
That wasn't too long ago. But, like I said, things are changing fast. The PlayStation Vue review we published in 2016 is now surprisingly outdated. PlayStation Vue channels have come and gone, PlayStation Vue's price has changed, and new PlayStation Vue features have been rolled out. The streaming quality on the service has taken a leap forward, too. And, ultimately, it just not fair to read our old PlayStation Vue review side-by-side with, for instance, our Philo review, and judge PlayStation Vue for what it was as a 2016 pioneer against what Philo is doing now on a more well-worn path.
All of that is why we're here with a new PlayStation Vue review – one that will take into account all of the progress the service has made since we last took a close look, and one that will be more useful to contrast with our relatively recent reviews of competitor services. We're at it again, folks – enjoy our PlayStation Vue review!
The PlayStation Vue experience starts with signing up and activating devices. This isn't exactly a difficult process, but it's certainly tougher on first-timers than the same process is with most of the competition. The big reason for this seems to be the fact that signing up for PlayStation Vue involves creating a PlayStation account, which is a type of account that Sony uses for more than just this OTT service. (You can also attach other privileges to your PlayStation account, including Sony's premium online gaming subscription service, PlayStation Plus.)
At any rate, PlayStation wants you to confirm your email for your new PlayStation account, so you have to hop into your email and click that confirmation link before you do anything else. Once you have a verified PlayStation account with a PlayStation Vue subscription, you can give permissions to your various hardware devices. This works more or less like it does with other skinny bundles, but PlayStation Vue manages to make it a touch more annoying. Download and open the PlayStation Vue Roku channel, for instance, and you'll be told to go on a computer or mobile device, visit a URL, and punch in your credentials and a code number being displayed by the Roku. The annoying thing? That code number is not four or five digits long: it's twelve! They don't even add dashes or spaces to make it easier to read. It's a small thing, but that only makes it stranger that PlayStation Vue couldn't do better.
The problem would be more minor if not for a second quirk I encountered: after watching PlayStation Vue for a couple of hours, my Roku screen went black for a moment, and then I was redirected back to the login screen. Back to the URL I went, to enter another 12-digit code. I'm not sure what logged me out, and I only encountered this problem one time, but boy, was it annoying.
Once you're logged in (and assuming you stay that way), you'll find a pretty simple user interface. I liked that PlayStation Vue booted right up to a live stream on my Roku, which reminded me of turning on the cable box and immediately having something to consider.
You can select what to watch on PlayStation Vue's TV guide screen, which did a great job of replicating the standard TV guide menu you'd expect from a multichannel service. There are also content discovery features, of course. They seemed pretty typical to me.
One complaint: it is not as easy to hop between live channels on PlayStation Vue as it is on competitor services like Sling TV and YouTube TV. Longtime readers know that I put a premium on channel surfing features, so I was bummed out by my limited options here. The audio of whatever you're watching keeps playing as you retreat to the TV guide screen to pick something new, which is nice, but there's no simple way to quickly flip up a channel or down one (or return to a recently viewed one) without returning to that main menu.
One feature that has long set PlayStation Vue apart is its great cloud DVR. Some programming is exempted from this feature, but for the most part you can choose any show to record. You can save recordings for 28 days (it would be nice it were longer, but what can you do). It's included at no extra cost.
Other services have caught up a bit, but PlayStation Vue's DVR is still a standout. Sling TV has a cloud DVR, but it will cost you an extra $5 per month. Hulu with Live TV's cloud DVR hasn't rolled out on all devices yet. YouTube TV's cloud DVR hasn't rolled out nationwide yet, because YouTube TV itself hasn't rolled out nationwide yet. Only fuboTV and DIRECTV NOW offer no-extra-cost cloud DVRs that rival PlayStation Vue's. In short, this feature is a big plus.
You do have to limit your on-demand content to recordings, by the way: unlike many competitors, PlayStation Vue does not make recently aired TV available for your viewing on demand. So plan ahead!
PlayStation Vue was cutting deals with channels before many of its skinny bundle competitors existed. But that's not always a good thing in this business: witness Sling TV's still-confusing divisions between its base packages, which date back to the weird early days when deals between skinny bundles and networks had no precedents to rely on.
PlayStation Vue, though, seems to have dodged most of the weirdness. It has kept pace with competitors by adding local affiliates of the major networks: ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC are all here (in select markets, as is the case with those networks on all skinny bundles). Other regional broadcast channels and regional sports networks are available, too, and the usual suspects are all in place from the start: channels like AMC, Cartoon Network, ESPN, NBC Sports, and TBS are all available in PlayStation Vue's smallest and cheapest package, “Access” (more on pricing later).
PlayStation Vue is, however, one of several skinny bundles that is missing channels owned by Viacom. And that includes some big ones: Comedy Central and MTV, among others, are Viacom-owned.
Naturally, more channels become available the more you spend. That's a less versatile content organization method than, for instance, Sling TV's “Extras” system, but it's also a very simple one that's easy to understand. Access has a great selection, and most of the rest of the really good stuff mostly kicks in with “Core,” the second-cheapest option. “Elite” and “Ultra” are identical except for the fact that a couple of premium channels (including HBO) are included with Ultra; both of those include some pretty niche networks.
Premium channels like HBO and Showtime can also be added on to any base package individually. Also available as an add-on is the “Sports Pack,” which features NFL Red Zone and some regional sports networks not included in Core, among other channels.
Overall, I was pretty happy with what I got from PlayStation Vue. In my region (New York), I got all four major networks, plus two regional sports networks (SNY and YES, both of which became available with the second-tier package, Core – again, more on pricing in a bit).
Streaming quality on PlayStation Vue was strong, and that didn't surprise me – the service has long been one of the better ones in this department. Loading times were relatively short, and the stream was rarely interrupted once it got going.
With that said, the nature of a stuttering PlayStation Vue stream was annoying in the rare cases when it showed up. Rather than slowing down or growing pixelated, my PlayStation Vue stream quit entirely, went to a black screen, and then re-loaded. That seemed more frustrating to me, for some reason, than it would have had the image just frozen for a moment. Fortunately, the re-loading process was brief and the outages were infrequent. On a wired connection, I only saw this issue strike a couple of times during high-traffic events (pro sports playoff games). Other live content streamed well, and on-demand content was, as you'd expect, pretty good.
Things didn't go as well on a wireless connection, but I still felt that PlayStation Vue was pretty impressive on the streaming front. While I didn't find major issues on any sort of connection, I'd still recommend a beefier streaming device and an Ethernet connection for PlayStation Vue streaming – just as I would for streaming on any other skinny bundle service. Live TV (still) isn't easy to stream!
Ultimately, I was pretty happy with PlayStation Vue's streaming quality, which ranks among the best for nationally available skinny bundles. YouTube TV's quality on a limited rollout remains the ultimate standard (see our YouTube TV review for more on that), but PlayStation Vue is doing a great job considering their wide availability and the surges that kind of user base can generate on popular live broadcasts like playoff games.
PlayStation Vue is one of the original skinny bundles, and it has had plenty of time to roll out apps for major streaming platforms. It has used that time wisely. PlayStation Vue works on the Roku, Fire TV, Apple TV, Chromecast, and Android TV platforms. It has apps for iOS and Android, and it has a browser app for your computer. And, of course, PlayStation Vue still works great on the platform it was first rolled out on: Sony's PlayStation 4 video game console.
For this review, I tested PlayStation Vue primarily on iOS and Roku.
PlayStation Vue's pricing structure is pretty straightforward. As is the case with a few different skinny bundles, PlayStation Vue offers a range of bundles that start small and grow larger as you climb the price ladder.
Access is first, at $39.99 per month. Core follows at $44.99 per month, and then comes Elite at $54.99 per month. Things top out with Ultra, which is $79.99 per month.
Like many other skinny bundles, PlayStation Vue offers some add-ons separately. The Sports Pack mentioned in the Content section of this PlayStation Vue review costs an additional $10.00-per-month.
Premium channels like HBO ($15.00 per month) are available as add-ons at pretty typical prices, as is the case with many competitors. (Note that the Ultra base package is just Elite with HBO and Showtime thrown in for less than they'd cost at the standard add-on price.)
One more thing (this is the last pricing detail, I promise): PlayStation Vue discounts some of their add-ons for PlayStation Plus subscribers. Their Spanish-language add-on bundle, Showtime, and Fox Soccer Plus, among other offerings, are cheaper for PlayStation Plus members. PlayStation Plus is Sony's online gaming subscription service. (If you're not a PlayStation console owner, don't worry about this – it doesn't make sense to become a PlayStation Plus subscriber just for this discount.)
Taken as a whole, these prices put PlayStation Vue right where we'd expect it to be as a skinny bundle. The $40-per-month price is where most skinny bundles start their pricing (Sling TV is the major exception, but their cheaper bundles are also notably smaller, and their more comparable deal costs – you guessed it – $40 per month). The service with a most similar pricing system to PlayStation Vue is DIRECTV NOW, and their four tiers, priced at $35, $50, $60, and $70 per month, match up quite closely to PlayStation Vue's (note that the last of DIRECTV NOW's four does not include HBO or Showtime, which more than accounts for the $10 gap).
The only place where PlayStation Vue lags is their free trial: at five days, it's two days shorter than the ones offered by each of its major competitors.
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I don't know if PlayStation Vue's branding helps or hurts its financial bottom line, but I think it's quite clear that it hurts the service's perception as a leader in this space. PlayStation Vue has quietly been breaking new ground among skinny bundles, and things like its DVR feature and its lowest price points have emerged as industry standards since the service first debuted. Wither other services on its tail, PlayStation Vue has kept up the pace: it remains one of the very strongest skinny bundle options on the market, without question.
PlayStation Vue has its quirks, to be sure. And the fact that it is missing Viacom channels will no doubt be a dealbreaker to some. But PlayStation Vue has more in common with the elites of this business space – services like YouTube TV and DIRECTV NOW – than with the rest. This is one of your top-tier options for skinny bundle services.