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First look: Dish's Sling TV Web-based television service

Even as Apple is reportedly struggling to put together its own long-rumored web television initiative, satellite provider Dish Network has begun to roll out its competing Sling TV over-the-top offering to a select group of early adopters. AppleInsider was given access to the invite-only beta and brings some first impressions of the impressive service.

Sling TV brings together live streams from a variety of channels in its base $20-per-month package —  ESPN, ESPN2, TNT, TBS, Food Network, HGTV, Travel Channel, El Rey, Maker, Adult Swim, Cartoon Network, Disney Channel, Galavision, CNN, and ABC Family. Those first four are vitally important for cord cutters, as they air a significant chunk of live sports broadcasts and can't be brought in via a digital antenna.

Once Sling launches, subscribers will also be able to choose from a variety of add-on packages that will each be available for an extra $5 per month. A News & Info tier will add HLN, Cooking Channel, DIY Network, and Bloomberg; the Kids Extra package will bring Disney Junior, Disney XD, Boomerang, BabyTV, and DuckTV; and the Sports Extra package will add some additional ESPN networks —  ESPNU, the SEC Network, ESPNEWS, ESPN Bases Loaded, ESN Buzzer Beater, and ESPN Goal Line —  along side beIN, Universal Sports, and Univision Sports.

Currently, the service is available to beta users on iOS and Android devices, desktop computers, and Roku's set-top boxes. Amazon's Fire TV, Microsoft's Xbox One, and Google's Nexus Player are set to follow soon, but the Apple TV is conspicuously absent —  earlier reports suggest that this is because Dish refuses to bend to Apple's design restrictions for Apple TV apps.

Regardless, we've found the service to work well so far. The user interface is the same across platforms; you can browse channels and see thumbnails of upcoming shows, but most of the content is live.

Sling does allow some limited DVR-like functionality as well, providing facilities for both rewinding and then skipping forward in streams. A few channels allow previously-aired shows to be replayed by scrolling back in the timeline.

Some channels —  like ESPN —  don't show commercials, instead inserting a generic slate during breaks. This could be down to the fact that ESPN has an existing web streaming infrastructure for its WatchESPN apps, while others are simply piping their broadcast stream into Dish's facilities.

Video quality is generally excellent. Streams begin with a low bitrate, but usually recover within a few seconds to high definition.

Aside from live television, Sling has a small catalog of movies available for streaming. At press time, titles included hits like Brad Pitt's Fury and Marvel superhero flick Guardians of the Galaxy alongside lesser-known offerings like Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig's The Skeleton Twins.

A minor nitpick: we wish we could stream from the Sling iOS app to our Apple TV, but that doesn't work just yet. Overall, though, we're impressed with Sling TV and will provide a more in-depth look at the service later on.