As if there weren’t already enough ways to pay for linear television, T-Mobile is busting through the wall to join the party.
The latest service offering from the so-called “Un-Carrier” is TVision, a streaming linear TV alternative along the lines of YouTube TV, Hulu with Live TV, and Fubo. While those other services have arguably gone astray with incessant price hikes after lofty early promises, TVision’s channel packages are intended to be more competitively priced.
On top of that, T-Mobile is selling a $50 streaming device called the Hub. It’s supposed to be optimized for TVision, including a special remote with TVision-specific button shortcuts on it. This could be an enticing bundle of service and product for folks who want the benefits of cable without a hefty bill. So is TVision the next step for cable alternatives, or does it need some more time in the oven?
⚡ Mashable Score
The Good: Solid value compared to competition, snappy UI
No cable or cable-like service can provide enough extra bells and whistles to overcome unreasonable pricing or a crappy channel lineup, so we’ll start there. TVision customers can subscribe to one of four packages:
Live TV for $40 per month, which includes local ABC, NBC, and Fox affiliates, cable news channels, and other cable basics like TNT, ESPN, and FX
Live TV+ for $50 per month, which includes all of the above as well as additional sports options like NFL Network, ESPNU, and Big Ten Network
Live Zone for $60 per month, which includes all of the above as well as Boomerang, ESPN Deportes, and most notably, NFL RedZone
Vibe for $10 per month, which includes 30 cable networks like AMC, Comedy Central, MTV, and Discovery
T-Mobile is going all in on the idea that TVision beats out the competition on price and that’s not necessarily unfounded. YouTube TV‘s channel selection and stream quality may be excellent, but the service starts at $65 per month and add-ons like NFL RedZone bump that up past the $70 mark. Ditto for Hulu with Live TV and Fubo, the former of which starts at $55 per month, and the latter at $65.
Sling has a better case against TVision on these grounds alone than anyone else. Its Orange and Blue plans are $30 per month on their own, but you can combine the two for a $45 monthly fee and get north of 50 channels. As a sports fan, I can’t help but notice that I can get darn near everything I need (including NFL RedZone) for just $40 per month on Sling compared to the $60 fee the same thing would cost on TVision.
Having said that, TVision’s value proposition is a pretty decent one relative to most of the competition. YouTube TV’s pricing in particular has gotten so out of hand that you might as well just subscribe to cable. The Vibe service tier is an especially strong one, giving subscribers a pretty strong lineup of cable essentials for less than the price of Netflix.
The TVision experience lives entirely in a streaming app by the same name, which is available on devices like Apple TV and Amazon Fire Stick, as well as mobile devices and tablets. However, testing for this review was carried out on the $50 Hub device T-Mobile made specifically for TVision. It’s a pretty straightforward Android TV box that’s compatible with all the same apps as any other Android TV box, but one nice thing about it is that it can receive power from a TV’s USB port in case you don’t have any AC outlets available.
T-Mobile’s attempt at a cable interface lacks panache but makes up for it with a fervent dedication to pure functionality. In less pretentious terms, the interface is clean, easily digestible, and navigation is responsive all around. Pressing any of the magenta TVision buttons near the top of the remote will take you directly to the app regardless of what else you’re doing in an instant, too.
A home screen will show you which channels your subscription works with as well as horizontal rows for shows and movies that are available to you. There’s also a traditional channel guide that works exactly as it should. A Google Assistant button on the remote makes searching for things easy, too.
Oh, by the way, you get 100 hours of DVR space if you subscribe to any of the Live packages. Vibe customers can get the same thing for an additional $5 per month. DVR recording and playback are both simple and self-explanatory thanks to dedicated buttons on the remote. From the standpoints of value and usability, TVision is a worthy contender in an increasingly cramped corner of the television market. Unfortunately, there’s one major problem that sports fans in particular will notice.
The Bad: Mediocre stream quality, no CBS
During a testing period with TVision that lasted several days, I was never able to get it to stream at 60 frames per second. In layman’s terms, that means live programs like sports don’t look as smooth as they’re supposed to. Everything looks like the NFL’s official YouTube highlights instead, which is to say totally watchable but fundamentally wrong.
The TVision Hub device is fully capable of 4K and 60FPS streaming. I’ve gotten it to work in other apps! But T-Mobile said the TVision app itself doesn’t have any content in that format yet. It’s a serious disadvantage compared to every other linear TV streaming service I’ve compared it to today, as all of them can stream TV the way it’s meant to be seen.
I imagine plenty of folks out there won’t care about that and will simply be glad to have TV to watch in the first place, which is fine. One other thing that might bother them, however, is a lack of CBS affiliates in the current channel lineup. That’s a big deal for sports fans, given how many NFL and college football games air on CBS. That’s obviously subject to change, as is the entire rest of the TVision channel lineup. But for now, anyone who needs CBS might have to pay for CBS All Access instead.
T-Mobile’s stab at the linear TV market is an interesting move by the mobile carrier, even if it’s not a wholly successful one. The ideal TVision customer is probably someone who already has another streaming device and just wants to channel surf when they’re bored. That $10 monthly Vibe package is going to be very tempting, especially if you spend an extra $5 for DVR.
The problems arise when you spend more money because that only raises expectations. The channel lineup on the higher-priced tiers is solid enough, and $60 per month for a package featuring NFL RedZone is decent if you don’t want to use Sling for whatever reason. But a lack of CBS affiliates and streaming quality that lags behind the competition (at least in my time with TVision) holds it back from being an industry standard-bearer.
As it stands, T-Mobile’s TVision service is just alright. It does its job decently and could really sweeten the pot if T-Mobile decides to bundle it with mobile service. Still, there are better alternatives.