Made up of brands Wave, RCN, Grande, and enTouch, Astound offers internet-based entertainment that uses TiVo, Sling TV, and the Google Play store. Fabulous first-year pricing includes internet, but if you want premium perks or a provider you can grow old with, swipe left on this one.
You can get your minimalist, cord-cutting groove on with Sparklight’s no-frills plans, but you’ll pay for the privilege. You’re probably better off with a simple HD antenna, a live TV streaming service, or a traditional cable TV company.
Astound’s base plans are pretty standard compared to competitors, and initial costs are low. However, if you start adding custom channels, costs quickly add up. Plus, after a year-long honeymoon with great introductory rates, Astound turns up the heat and quickly drains your bank account. Although Astound leans on Sling TV to deliver its live TV channels, it offers a better experience and more channels than just Sling alone.
Astound sells its TV and internet plans together. First, you’ll pick your internet plan, then you can add a TV plan. Whichever TV plan you choose, you’ll stream all your shows over your Astound internet connection, so getting the right internet plan is critical. If you’re a small household that doesn’t stream a ton of HD content, a 110 Mbps internet plan could be plenty. But if you want to take full advantage of Astound’s 4k streaming capabilities, we recommend at least the 400 Mbps plan.
Sparklight sounds like a company for cord-cutters—people who don’t want a traditional cable TV service at traditional cable TV prices. But when it comes down to it, you probably won’t save with Sparklight. If you want the same level of entertainment as a traditional cable company, you’ll pay more for it. If you want a minimal, no-frills plan, you’d be better off with a live TV streaming service like Sling or fuboTV.
Sparklight has just two plan levels. Economy Cable is barebones, giving you just 20 channels, while Standard Cable gives you 100—around what most competitors’ low-tier plans deliver. Unfortunately, you’ll pay mid-tier prices for low-tier service with Sparklight. While Sparklight has a decent (albeit short) channel lineup, many of the top-tier sports channels, like NFL Network and NFL Red Zone, are add-ons—at an additional cost.
Astound leans on TiVo’s Stream 4k device to combine the capabilities of a DVR, live TV (via Sling), and streaming services (via Android apps). If that sounds like a lot of stuff to try to sort through while your popcorn gets cold, you can use the voice button on the remote to tell your TiVo what you’re looking for—or ask it to give you a few curated options.
If you ever want to leave your couch (like, say, to run out and get more popcorn), you can use the Astound TV+ app to watch shows in line at the quickie mart, tap into a respectable 125 included hours of Cloud DVR storage, or schedule a future recording. Register up to 12 devices, and watch on up to five at a time.
Sparklight doesn’t have its own TV box or DVR gear (but you have to rent its modem if you don’t already have Sparklight internet service). Instead, it pairs its TV Everywhere streaming app with the features of your devices, like a phone or tablet, smart TV, or Amazon Firestick. So you use the remote that comes with that device. In short, Sparklight doesn’t provide much of an experience, but you can choose your own adventure depending on the devices you use.
Unfortunately, Sparklight doesn’t come with DVR service either—unless you add TV Plus to your Economy or Standard plan for around $12 per month. If you do cough up the extra cash for this service (which is typically free with other providers), you’ll get a decent 200 hours of cloud storage and the TiVo app.
Astound uses a mix of cable, DSL, and fiber infrastructure, so depending on where you live, performance could vary widely. Your Wi-Fi router is your new best friend because you’ll be streaming everything, even live TV (Astound uses Sling for this). You aren’t required to run wires from a modem to your Stream 4k box, but you might experience more interference or have a harder time troubleshooting if you don’t. Because Wi-Fi.
Equipment costs with Astound vary based on where you live, and therefore whether you’re using Astound powered by Wave, RCN, Grande, or enTouch. Generally, equipment rental costs are low—just remember you’ll need to budget for both internet gear (like a modem and Wi-Fi router) and TV gear (like a DVR player).
Astound has a free self-setup option and often runs promotions for free professional installation (otherwise around $80). If your house already has working coax outlets, you’ll probably get off scot-free with no installation costs.
Sparklight relies on a cable-fiber hybrid infrastructure that makes it more reliable than satellite TV providers. Its TV service uses Wi-Fi internet, however, which can sometimes slow your binging due to interference from other devices, competing networks, and well, walls. That said, Sparklight promises great Wi-Fi (and a money-back guarantee). You’ll need your own smart TV or a device like an Apple TV or Amazon Firestick. And if you don’t have Sparklight internet, you’ll have to rent a special Sparklight TV modem ($10.50/month).
Getting started with Sparklight is a bit pricey. Professional installation is a steep $90. You can opt for self-setup, but that’ll cost you $30 (free with most providers). But professional installation might be the better choice. If you end up wanting a refund later, a technician will have to come out and attempt a professional installation or troubleshooting anyway. If the problem isn’t Sparklight’s fault (or your home isn’t wired properly), you’ll be out $90 for the visit and you won’t get your refund.
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Overall, Astound’s Basic and Signature plan channel lineups are about average. The Premier plan has a few premiums included, but you’ll have to add most of these a-la-carte ($15–$19/month), for an additional fee. The upside is you can pick and choose a little more, but you won’t save much, so we’re not that into it.
Unlike many competitors, Astound’s lowest-tier plan (Basic) includes Fox Sports. Its mid-level plan (Signature) is pretty standard and includes sports like ESPN, Fox Sports, TNT, and the Golf and Tennis Channels. A top-tier plan (Premier) adds more music (CMT and MTV) and cartoon channels (like all the Nickelodeons). (1)
Not surprisingly, Sparklight’s no-frills plans don’t include any premium channels. You can add them, of course, but they’re on the expensive side. Most packages are $19/month each, but you get a discount if you buy more than one. Your options include HBO (11 channels), Cinemax (9 channels), and STARZ (9 channels). A SHOWTIME/TMC combo (5 channels) is $10.99/month, which isn’t too bad. (1)
If you’re any kind of sports fan at all, you won’t be satisfied with the Economy Cable plan. Just skip it. A Standard Cable plan gives you two ESPNs, Fox Sports, the Golf Channel, and the Tennis Channel, to name a few. However, anything NFL is an add-on. And you’ll have to enjoy your crackerjacks with another provider, because MLB isn’t an option with Sparklight, even if you’re willing to pay for it separately.