A sneak peek at Sony’s PlayStation Vue internet TV service

Sony may have just shuttered its music service, but it’s getting ready to launch another media venture: PlayStation Vue, the company’s upcoming live TV service, is supposed to launch before the end of the quarter. Sony has been testing the service with a limited number of users in New York since late last year, but in recent days, the company has been inviting a number of new users to this beta test, suggesting that a launch may be coming soon.

Sony announced its intentions to start an internet TV service at CES 2014, and then officially unveiled its name and launch plans last November. At the time, the company also shared some highly polished screen shots to show off how Vue will look like. With new users getting added to the service, those pictures are being augmented by much-needed real-world experiences.

One user, who declined to be identified for this story, shared a few snapshots and first impressions with me that give us a better picture of Vue, and how it differs from the recently soft-launched Sling TV service. I asked Sony for comment, but haven’t heard back yet.

PlayStation Vue

The programming: Sony announced in recent months that it has struck agreements with CBS, NBC and Fox as well as Viacom, Scripps and Discovery for Vue. Asked which channels this has brought to the service, my source told me the following:

“Spike, CBS, NBC, Fox, My9, Telemundo, American Heroes, Animal Planet, BET, BET Gospel, Big Ten network, Bravo, CBS Plus, Centric, Chiller, Cloo, CMT Pure Country, CNBC, CNBC World, Comedy Central, Cooking Channel, Cozi TV, Destination America, Discovery Channel, Discovery Family, Discovery Life, DIY, E!, Esquire, Exits, Food Network, Fox College Sports (3), Fox Sports 1,2,3, FX, FXM, FXX, Golf Channel, HGTV, Investigation Discovery, LOGO, Movies TV, MSNBC, MTV (Hits, Jam, 2, U), Nat Geo, all the Nickelodeons, OWN, Oxygen, Palladia, Science, Sprout, SYFY, Teen Nick, Travel, TV Land, Universal, USA, Velocity, VH1, Vh1 Classic, Soul, YES Network.

No real big surprises on that list. Sports fans will appreciate the number of sports channels, but the one most sports fans really want to have — ESPN — is obviously missing. Also, it looks like Sony signed really big bundles with all of the programmers, forcing it to carry numerous channels with very small audiences. Seriously, I had to google a number of them to even figure out what they were.

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The UI: Sony has been previewing a very polished UI that combines content galleries with large cover art wallpaper. That’s definitely part of the UI, but Sony is also offering a much more traditional channel guide, with a twist: Instead of listing all channels in a left column, Vue is grouping them in a header row, and then listing shows by time in columns underneath. Kind of like a cable guide turned on its side, if you will.

Other than that, I’ve been told that the interface is “very snappy,” very easy to use and “very PlayStation 4 store-esque.”

The rights: One of the big issues that came up with the launch of Sling TV were the varying rights assigned to each channel. Some networks let users rewind and watch shows from the past 72 hours, but most didn’t. That doesn’t seem to be an issue with PlayStation Vue, at least from what I’m hearing so far. The service allows users to catch up on shows for up to three days, and also “record” episodes on its cloud DVR for up to 28 days. Users can add any show to their list of “my shows” and then access past episodes quickly, making them much less dependent on the channel grid, or schedule in general for that matter.

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The price: Sony hasn’t said how much Vue will cost, and it hasn’t given current beta testers any additional information about this either. Reports in the past have indicated that the company could charge between $60 and $80 for the bundle, at which point it wouldn’t be a whole lot cheaper than traditional cable. That’s largely due to those big bundles Sony is buying from programmers in order to get crown jewels like those broadcast channels and cable networks like Comedy Central.

The big question is whether that will fly with users, many of whom are looking for an alternative to cable exactly because it is a big, expensive bundle, forcing them to pay for many channels they don’t actually watch. Asked whether he’d pay for Vue, a beta tester told me: “I would pay for this service if they let you pick channels al a carte.”

My guess is that’s not the answer Sony was hoping for.