Philo vs. Sling TV

Choosing the right OTT streaming service is a highly personal and subjective process.

In addition to the differences in price and channel offerings there also seem to be regional differences in performance. One service might work great in the southeast and yet buffer excessively in the midwest-- so bear that in mind when you read my thoughts on Philo vs. Sling TV.

There-- disclaimer done.

I love to watch TV and probably watch too much of it. I'm also a cheapskate who hates to pay more than I have to. Virtually all of our television watching takes place in our family room. Our TV has two Fire Sticks and an older model Roku 2 connected to it.

  1. Fire Stick #1 connects to the internet through a T-Mobile phone that's always in hotspot mode and is grandfathered into a cheap unlimited plan that includes unlimited Binge-On, via hotspot, and 14GB of non-Binge-On hotspot data. Fire Stick #1 only has apps loaded onto it that are on the Binge-On list. Even though there's a 50GB soft cap we've never noticed any changes in performance when we go over 50GB. Basically, for us, it's an unlimited high speed internet connection as long as we stick to Binge-On apps (Sling, Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, etc.)

  2. Fire Stick #2 connects to the internet through an unlimited Verizon 3g hotspot that we pay $5/month for. The bandwidth is typically between 2 and 2.4 Mbps (usually 2.2). That Fire Stick only has apps loaded on it that are not on the Binge-On list.

  3. The Roku 2 is rarely used, anymore, but we keep it on-hand for Roku-only apps like the Roku Channel and the USTVNow private channel. It's usually connected to the Verizon 3g hotspot.

Everything in our setup works great. There are no issues that we feel we have to "live with" using our current setup.

We share a Sling TV Blue package with two other households in our family. It's $25/month for 3 streams and we each pinky-swear to use only one. We also take advantage of the "4 add-on packages for $10" deal so we have a ton of channels and we split the $35 bill three ways.

Philo lets you try out their service, for two days, with nothing more than a phone number. They're very device limited, right now, but I decided to see what their current offering is. They offer 37 channels for $16 per month. No sports. No news. The channel list includes everything I watch, except Hallmark, so I consider it to be a potential backup plan to Sling.

What I like about Sling:
It's cheap, it works on virtually any device, it includes an easy to use TV guide, it almost never buffers, it works very well with minimal bandwidth, it's on the Binge-On list (which means we can watch unlimited amounts without worrying about data usage), and we can change the quality setting, if desired. That last point is a critical distinction that separates it from Philo. I'll explain why, momentarily.

What I don't like about Sling:
If you have an underpowered Roku, like our Roku 2, then navigating around the app and through the TV guide is pretty slow. (If you have one of the better, faster Rokus then it works as well as it does on the Fire Stick. The app is actually a little better on the Roku than it is on the Fire Stick, if you have a better Roku.) When you watch on-demand content the ads sometimes stumble over themselves. There's something about how they serve ads in their on-demand offerings that sometimes causes things to get messy.

Bottom line: We love Sling and are happy customers.

What I like about Philo:
It's dirt cheap and has an impressive list of channels for that cheap price. It has a ton of potential and could eventually give Sling a real run for the money as the best ultra-low price option.

What I don't like about Philo:
It pretty much only works on Roku and in Chrome-- and it doesn't even really work in the Chromebook version of Chrome (you can't scroll on most pages.) It buffers-- a lot-- on slower connections and doesn't offer the ability to change picture quality to minimize buffering. If you watch it on a Fire Stick using the Silk browser it works much better on slow connections but it drops frames (instead of buffering) and it suffers from the same inability to scroll, on most pages, that the Chromebook experiences.

Some observations:
It's reasonable to assume that people who are interested in a $16 television package might not have a $100/month high speed internet plan, so low-bandwidth performance will be important to many. Philo seems hellbent on providing a top quality HD picture, regardless of the connection that's available-- and that's its Achilles heel, in my opinion.

Sling TV lets you change bandwidth settings from low (unwatchable-- perhaps around 240p) which uses about 0.5 Mbps, to medium (probably just under 480p, which doesn't bother me a bit) which uses 1.0 to 1.2 Mbps, to high (seems to be around 720p) which uses 1.7 to 2.7 Mbps, and best (which doesn't look any better than high on our television) which uses about 3.7 Mbps.

When we use Sling through the T-Mobile connection we leave it on Best and T-Mobile massages it down to 480p.

When we run it through the Verizon 3g connection (when we're camping, for instance) we generally set it to High. If we see any buffering we back it down to medium and never have any problems after that.

Being able to change the quality setting gives us the ability to react to network conditions and get the best, uninterrupted stream that's available to us.

Yesterday I compared Sling to Philo using the same underpowered Roku 2 (it's on the "supported models list") and the same Verizon 3g connection. I was able to watch Sling on the high setting with no buffering. Philo buffered about once per minute.

I then compared them using the Roku 2 and the T-Mobile connection and there was very little difference. Both worked well, although Philo used up a good bit of my hotspot allotment, while Sling didn't (since it's on the Binge-On list).

If you have a low bandwidth internet connection (DSL, 3g cellular, satellite) you'll probably be a lot happier with Sling TV and its ability to adjust the quality setting to your network conditions.

If you stream through a T-Mobile phone's hotspot you'll prefer Sling TV since it won't use up your 14GB of hotspot data.

If your internet connection is a bit higher on the food chain and you have a Roku model that has some horsepower you'd probably be just as happy with Philo as you would with Sling TV.