When WBZ went off the air this weekend, I figured I would trial Vue which includes WBZ in Boston. I sampled the Ultra Slim package which is $64.99 a month and includes HBO and SHOWTIME live and on demand, thousands of hours of movies from EPIX Hits, FXM, MGM and more, plus local sports and popular live TV channels — more than 100 channels (their description).
I’m using Vue on a first gen Fire TV stick which has the same interface as the PS4/3 and a Roku 2 XS which has a simplified tile interface.
I trialed Vue to watch an NFL game because my local broadcaster was having problems. I was disappointed to discover that Vue uses an over-the-air source. FiOS and Comcast were unaffected by the broadcast problem and are immune to weather issues, for the most part. On a couple occasions, I have had channels break up continuously — kind of a large block mosaic with chunks of the screen not updating properly — but, for the most part, stream quality has been excellent absent any kind of buffering or noticeable degradation. The Roku spontaneously rebooted on one occasion.
If you have not had cable for a while, it is surprisingly bad. At 6:00 am, AMC, Discovery, DIY, E!, Food Network, Esquire Network, truTV, HGTV, Comedy Central, National Geographic, FX, FXX, WEtv, POP, Travel Channel, TVLand, Spike, and NBC Sports Network are all running infomercials. NESN is off the air. 20% of the ‘dial’ has no programming! My local channels are limited to WBZ (CBS) — so no Fox Football or Sunday Night Football or Thursday Night Football. No local ABC, Fox, NBC, or PBS. No Bounce, Buzzer, Comet, Decades, Escape, GetTV, GRIT, Heroes & Icons, ION, Laff, MeTV, The Works, or ThisTV.
That’s the bad. There is plenty of good. At the Access level ($29.99/month), you get national sports, cable news plus, AMC, and nearly 50 other cable channels. For another $5/month, you get regional sports channels. For $65/month, you get the full cable experience including HBO and Showtime.
On both the Roku and Fire TV, the user interface is slow. There are a lot of programs to browse, but you can set up favorites. After a couple days, I found the ‘recent’ channels row pretty useful. I also found myself using the search function a lot.
The Roku experience is a very pretty and modern looking tiled interface. I hate it. The tiles contain too little information. Often, you get season, episode, and the first couple words of a title — not helpful if you are browsing Friends (The one…). There is no indication of start or stop time. You have to drill down using the suddenly very slow interface to see if a movie is just starting or ending.
On the Fire TV, things are much better. For starters, the tiles are bigger and contain more information. There is also a grid style guide (though the guide only seems to have a vague idea of what time it is). There is an Explorer mode which filters listings — Movies, PG, etc.
What’s the verdict? I think PS Vue is a pretty slick supplement to over-the-air programming. The Access level of service will satisfy cable news junkies. Sports enthusiasts will find Core gets the job done. Assuming $50/month for high speed internet, $90 to $115 per month for five concurrent streams is a lot less than many spend on cable. I recommend the Fire TV stick, but Vue works just fine on your Rokus — even the older models.