Streaming services are everywhere in 2020, and unless something significant happens to shake things up, that won't be changing any time soon. Everyone from Google, Apple, Disney, and others are heavily invested in the streaming landscape, and now T-Mobile is putting itself in the fight in a big way.
"TVision" is the name of T-Mobile's new live television streaming service, and it's entering the arena with plenty of channels, cloud DVR support, and highly-competitive prices. I've been using it for the past few days on a variety of devices, and while there are a lot of good things on offer, the service isn't without a few setbacks along the way.
Is it the live TV service you've been waiting for? Let's take a closer look.
At a glance
Bottom line: TVision is T-Mobile's big push into the live TV streaming landscape, and the Un-Carrier did a lot right with it. The big draw to TVision is its wide variety of plan options, which start at just $10/month for over 30 channels. More expensive plans come with additional channel offerings and cloud DVR, and all of this is offered through TV, desktop, and mobile apps that work quite well. That said, there are a few nagging limitations that hold TVision back from being a home run.
- Plans start at just $10/month
- 100 hours of cloud DVR
- Up to three simultaneous streams
- Parental controls
- Easy-to-navigate software
- Horribly confusing branding
- Currently exclusive to T-Mobile customers
- Access limited to one household
- Doesn't work on Roku
- Missing CBS and popular sports channels
Alongside its TVision service, T-Mobile also launched the TVision Hub — an Android TV streaming device designed with TVision in mind. It offers 4K and HDR streaming for just $50, but there's nothing about it that's special. It's plagued by a heavily-customized UI and unreliable CEC controls, along with fierce competition from TiVo and Google.
TVision Price and availability
When it comes to streaming services, one of the biggest questions revolves around price. With so many options to choose from, having a competitive monthly rate is a must. Thankfully, this is something TVision does quite well.
You have a total of four plans to choose from, with the pricing working out as follows:
- TVision Vibe — $10/month for 30+ channels
- TVision Live TV — $40/month for 30+ channels
- TVision Live TV+ — $50/month for 40+ channels
- TVision Live Zone — $60/month for 50+ channels
We'll dive more into the differences between these plans below, but right off the bat, these are lower monthly costs than what you'll find from a lot of other similar services. YouTube TV's one and only plan is $65/month and the $55/month Hulu + Live TV only comes with 50 hours of cloud DVR and two simultaneous streams — two areas where TVision offers more for less money with its Live TV and Live TV+ plans.
Don't have T-Mobile or Sprint? You can't use TVision right now.
While T-Mobile knocked it out of the park with its low pricing, actually signing up for TVision is a bit of a hassle right now. It's currently only available for T-Mobile postpaid customers, and later in November, legacy Sprint customers will be able to sign up. T-Mobile prepaid customers will get their chance to join in 2021, with TVision then rolling out to everyone else "eventually." In other words, if you don't subscribe to T-Mobile, you'll be waiting a while before you can use TVision.
There's another bump in the road in regards to TVision's app availability. The launch list is quite strong, with TVision supporting Android and iOS on the mobile side, along with Android TV, Apple TV, and Amazon Fire TV for smart televisions. The glaring omission, of course, is Roku.
Roku is the largest smart TV streaming platform in the country, and not having support for it right out of the gate is a real bummer. It's possible that changes once TVision exits its exclusivity to T-Mobile subscribers, but those two limitations put a big damper on potential TVision users.
Last but not least, it's worth pointing out that TVision only allows for "one household with TV-connected devices per account." Similar to what we've seen from YouTube TV and Hulu, this means you won't be able to have TVision running on multiple TVs in different homes. That's not a big deal if you plan on being the only one to use TVision, but if you were hoping to share your account access with friends or family, that isn't something you'll be able to do.
TVision Plans and channels
Just as important as pricing — if not more so — is the channel lineup you get with each plan. Rather than go the route of something like YouTube TV and bundle as many channels as possible into a single subscription, T-Mobile divides its channel library between the four options listed above.
Here's the full breakdown for each one:
TVision Vibe channels
- Animal Planet
- BBC America
- BBC World News
- BET Her
- Comedy Central
- Food Network
- Hallmark Channel
- Hallmark Drama
- Hallmark Movies & Mysteries
- Investigation Discovery
- MTV Classic
- Nick Jr.
- Paramount Network
- Teen Nick
- Travel Channel
- TV Land
TVision Live TV channels
- ABC News Live
- Cartoon Network / Adult Swim
- Cozi TV
- Disney Channel
- Disney Jr.
- Disney XD
- Fox Business Network
- Fox News Channel
- National Geographic
- NBC News Now
- NBC Sports Network
TVision Live TV+ channels
All channels from TVision Live TV, plus the following:
- ACC Network
- Big Ten Network
- ESPN College Extra
- Longhorn Network (only certain markets)
- Nat Geo Wild
- NBC Regional Sports Networks (only certain markets)
- NECN (only certain markets)
- NFL Network
- Olympic Channel
- SEC Network
- SNY (only certain markets)
- The Golf Channel
TVision Live Zone channels
All channels from TVision Live TV and Live TV+, plus the following:
- CNBC World
- ESPN Deportes
- Fox Deportes
- Longhorn Network (only certain markets)
- NFL RedZone
- Universal Kids
Looking through these packages, the one that stands out as something special is TVision Vibe. You won't find any sports or local channels, but if all you're after are popular entertainment/lifestyle networks, it's an excellent deal. $10/month is one of the lowest prices out there for live television access, and with Vibe offering things like AMC, Discovery, Food Network, HGTV, and others, there are a lot of big names on offer. The biggest downside is that Vibe doesn't come with cloud DVR access unless you spend another $5/month, not to mention you're limited to two simultaneous streams.
TVision Vibe is easily the most exciting thing about the service.
Here's where things get even messier. If you want access to a wider variety of channels, you'll want to sign up for one of the TVision Live plans. These are the ones that give you local channels, sports networks like ESPN, and various news options such as CNN and Fox News. While that's great, all of the TVision Live plans are missing many of the lifestyle channels found in TVision Vibe. So, if you watch a lot of Animal Planet and Comedy Central but also want to tune into CNN and ESPN, you'll need to sign up for both TVision Vibe and TVision Live TV — bringing your total monthly cost up to at least $50/month or as much as $70/month.
That's still a good deal for a total of 60+ channels with Vibe and Live TV, and if you have any TVision Live plan, you also get upgraded to 100 hours of cloud DVR and support for three simultaneous streams. When you look at TVision Vibe and the base TVision Live plans as one combined package, you end up with a really solid alternative to something like YouTube TV, Hulu + Live TV, and Sling's Orange + Blue plan.
With that said, there are a few notable channel ommissions you won't find anywhere with TVision — regardless if you have Vibe and Live plans together.
First and foremost, local channels are limited to ABC, FOX, NBC, and Telemundo. TVision doesn't currently offer CBS or PBS at all, with the former of those two being especially damning. There's also a notable lack of popular sports options, namely NBA TV, MLB Network, NHL Network, and any of the Fox Regional Sports channels. TVision is far from the only streaming service with content gaps, but compared to some of its competitors, it does feel a bit more restrictive.
For example, if you love old cartoons and really want to watch Boomerang, the only way to get it with TVision is by getting the $60/month Live Zone plan. With Sling TV, you can just add on the Kids Extra package for $5/month to get Boomerang and a few other channels. If you're an old-timey movie buff and want to get your TCM fix, TVision blocks that channel behind the $50/month Live TV+ package. Once again looking at Sling, you can get TCM and other related channels as part of a $5/month add-on on top of the $30/month base plan.
Those are the fundamentals of TVision, but what is it like to actually use the service? Whether you're accessing the TVision mobile app, smart TV app, or on your desktop, the interface is virtually identical across every device — allowing for a cohesive and familiar experience no matter where you watch.
TVision is broken up into five main pages, including Home, Guide, Shows, Movies, and DVR. There's a search icon at the top of your screen for finding a specific title or channel, and you can hop into the settings to manage your parental controls (requiring a four-digit PIN to play content that's rated TV-MA, R, or NC-17). You also have the ability to create up to 10 user profiles, helping to keep your watched content separate from the rest of the family.
Home shows a banner of recommended shows that you can cycle through, and below that, you'll see a list of all the services you subscribe to within TVision. Selecting any of these takes you to a home page for those specific plans/apps — allowing you to browse through all of the TV shows, movies, and channels included with them. If you keep scrolling down on the main Home page, you'll see other sections for On Now, Popular Shows, Your Recordings, Continue Watching, and more.
The Guide page is, well, a guide. It has a traditional layout that you've likely seen with your cable TV — right down to having channel numbers for each channel (something we don't usually see for these streaming-based services). You can play a show instantly from the guide, or learn more about the title and add it to your DVR if you're so inclined.
The TVision apps are clean, simple, and get the job done.
You can continue finding stuff to watch through the Shows and Movies tabs, with the DVR page showing everything that's been recorded and what's scheduled (along with a counter showing how much of your 100 hours of space you've used).
The interface isn't anything special, but there's also nothing bad about it either. I tend to prefer this ultra-simplified design to something like Sling's apps, but it's also a far cry from the YouTube TV interface. A lot of this comes down to personal preference, and seeing as how T-Mobile wanted to design TVision to be accessible to people that are used to and comfortable with their cable TV, I think the company did a nice job overall.
TVision Hub The new Android TV streamer
The TVision service is the main focus of this review, but in addition to it, T-Mobile also launched its TVision Hub streaming device. It's an Android TV-powered dongle that offers 4K HDR streaming for $50, and while it's fine for anyone that wants to go all-in with TVision, there are much better options out there for the same exact price.
As for what the Hub does right, it's perfectly fast and handles 4K streams just fine. Apps are responsive and snappy, I never ran into any connection issues, and it does everything you ask of it without a hitch. The included remote isn't the most stylish I've ever seen, but the custom DVR and Guide buttons for TVision do help to tie the whole experience together. And, since TVision's channels are tied to numbers like you'd find on cable, the number pad makes it easy to switch to a specific one without digging through the entire guide.
Unfortunately, the TVision Hub ultimately gets held back by hardware and software limitations.
No matter how much you plan on using TVision, the Hub isn't worth it.
I use a Sonos Beam as my television's soundbar, and whenever I have the TVision Hub plugged into my TV, it causes the Beam to stop working within a couple of minutes. Once I unplug the Hub, the Beam starts working again just fine. This is due to the TVision Hub causing HDMI interference with the Beam, and even after disabling all HDMI CEC controls on the Hub, the issue persists. Seeing as how I've also reviewed the TiVo Stream 4K and Chromecast with Google TV without this problem at all, it definitely seems to be the fault of the TVision Hub and not the Sonos Beam.
Then there's the TVision Hub's software, which is a heavily customized version of Android TV (based on Android 9). It works mostly the same as any other Android TV device, with a banner of advertised shows at the top, your row of favorite apps below that, and then a collection of "channels" showing recommended content from your installed apps.
Not only does the general design of everything look less polished than what you'd find on a regular Android TV setup, but there's also no way to rearrange the position of those app channels. You can enable and disable them as you please, but it's impossible to move them around.
The TVision Hub isn't terrible, but when things like the TiVo Stream 4K and the new Chromecast exist, I don't know why you'd choose to buy it over those other options. And if you have a Sonos Beam or any other HDMI-connected sound system, I'd be very hesitant about recommending the Hub in any manner. There are a lot of great Android TV devices out there, but this isn't one of them.
TVision The Competition
I've already compared TVision to its competition quite a bit throughout this review, but there are a few final points I want to make to really put things in perspective. T-Mobile directly called out YouTube TV as being too expensive and too bloated during its TVision unveiling, but if you ask me, it's a perfectly viable alternative to TVision.
YouTube TV's one and only $65/month plan does make it more inaccessible to folks with tight budgets, but if you're looking for one of the best live TV experiences out there, it's really hard to argue with. You're getting over 85 channels, more local and sports networks, unlimited cloud DVR, and three simultaneous streams with six accounts. You have the same household limitation as TVision, but between the larger channel availability and unlimited DVR compared to just 100 hours, it could be a much better fit for a lot of people.
On the other end of the spectrum, we have Philo. Philo is the closest competitor to the TVision Vibe offering, going the same route of focusing on lifestyle and entertainment channels at the expense of news and sports. It's more expensive at $20/month, but you're also getting a lot more for your money. Philo gives you 63 channels compared to the 34 you get with Vibe, allows for three simultaneous streams and 10 user profiles, and touts unlimited cloud DVR with shows being saved for up to 30 days. Even better, Philo isn't location-restricted and can be used on any device anywhere you are.
And, right in the middle, there's Sling. You can get started with Sling Orange or Sling Blue for $30/month each, or combine the two and pay $45/month for over 50 channels — offering a good mix of lifestyle, news, and sports options. That base offering is pretty strong, especially since Sling doesn't impose any sort of location restriction to use the service. You can further expand your channel library with a variety of add-ons that range from $5 - $10/month, in addition to a $5/month cloud DVR upgrade that boosts you from 10 hours up to 50 hours.
TVision Should you subscribe?
You should subscribe if ...
You want to watch a wide variety of channels
If you sign up for TVision Vibe and Live TV, you're getting access to a huge selection of varied channels for $50/month. Whether you want to watch Hallmark, TLC, ESPN, or catch up with your local ABC affiliate, you can do it all.
You have a super tight budget
Don't care about sports and news? The $10/month TVision Vibe plan is one of the cheapest ways to get live TV in your home right now. So long as you're OK with only two simultaneous streams and not having cloud DVR by default, it's a killer deal.
You want something that feels like cable
Unlike some streaming apps that try to create their own unique user interface, TVision looks and feels a lot like the cable experience you're probably used to. It's not the flashiest or most eye-catching setup we've ever seen, but it's simple, functional, and gets the job done.
You should not subscribe if ...
You aren't a T-Mobile customer
This one's pretty simple. Seeing as how TVision is only available for T-Mobile customers, you have no reason to even consider signing up if you aren't one.
You use Roku to watch TV
As of right now, there is no TVision app for Roku. If that's the platform you use for watching TV at home, you'll want to look into something else.
You want the most sports/local channels possible
TVision has a good selection of channels to choose from, but compared to some of its competitors, it's trailing behind in a few key areas. If you're looking to get the most sports, local channels, and more, you'll be better suited elsewhere.
T-Mobile's big push for TVision is that it's the answer to the "Cableopoly" we've all been waiting for. Cable TV isn't great, there are a lot of ways it could be improved, and T-Mobile thinks it's done just that. In a lot of ways, it has. TVision is way more affordable than most cable TV packages, you don't have to sign a contract, and it's relatively easy to get set up. That said, T-Mobile is far from the first company to offer something like this.
TVision is off to a good start, but there's plenty of room for improvement.
Whether it be YouTube TV, Hulu, Sling, Philo, or Fubo, there are tons of other ways to stream live TV in a cheaper and easier manner than cable. TVision stands out in a couple of key areas above these players — namely its $10/month Vibe plan and 100 hours of cloud DVR — but it's not without its own set of rules and restrictions that end up hampering down the experience. You have to pay an extra fee to get DVR with the Vibe plan, the Live TV packages are missing a lot of big channels present in Vibe, and TVision can only be used in one household at a time.
Not to mention, you have to first make sure you're a T-Mobile customer and don't use Roku before agreeing to those limitations. Assuming you're OK with all of that, the fact remains that plans from other companies offer more channels, better DVR features, and fewer restrictions for about the same amount of money.
There are aspects of TVision that are really appealing, and for the right customer, this could be the perfect fit — especially for T-Mobile subscribers that want to keep their wireless and TV bill in one place. But again, by greatly limiting its potential customers and not quite dethroning its many competitors from a value perspective, TVision ends up feeling like something we've already seen many times before. More competition is never a bad thing, but TVision feels more like a small ripple in the pond rather than the big splash T-Mobile needed.
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