Home to greats like The Office, Parks & Rec, Real Housewives, and Law & Order, Peacock has some great content at a price we loved. But our hands-on testing revealed that its channel lineup was disappointing and couldn’t fully replace a more expensive live TV streaming service like Fubo or YouTube TV.
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.
Peacock is a great deal, especially if you take advantage of its $1.99 per month offer. It’s one of the cheapest TV streaming apps, but if you want it to cover all your live TV needs, you’ll probably be disappointed. It’s great if you love international sports like rugby, soccer, and golf, or if you want live news from a few of the largest metro areas in the US (think Chicago, New York, Los Angeles). But you won’t have access to NBC/Universal’s live stations, CNBC, MSNBC, or, well, NBC. That means you can’t watch live episodes of The Voice with your friends. Instead, you can get them on Peacock the next day—after your co-workers passive-aggressively feed you spoilers. Womp-womp.
Still, Peacock gives you access to arguably some of the greatest shows on TV, like The Office, Parks and Rec, and all the Law & Order reruns you could ever want. It’s a ton of value, but we recommend considering it an addition to a more complete live streaming option like Philo, Sling, or Hulu + Live TV.
Peacock TV has three versions. The free version is kind of like a teaser for the paid versions. You get to watch a few new shows and a bunch of channels packed with syndicated reruns, all while drooling over all the shows you’d get if you coughed up the cash for the paid version. The next step up, Peacock Premium, is a great buy at $5 per month. You get all the content Peacock has to offer and commercials were surprisingly low-key. Finally, the premium tier is Peacock Premium Plus. It’s twice the price and, in our opinion, rarely worth the cost. You get the same content with fewer commercials and the ability to download shows to watch offline (but no ability to DVR live content). It’s pretty meh.
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.
While Peacock has limited value as your only live TV streaming service, the content it does have is great. You get live NBC news from several big cities. Plus, NBC has some award-winning shows, both new and old. From The Office, 30 Rock, and Parks and Rec to Blacklist, all the Saturday Night Live, and Real Housewives, there’s some great content to watch on Peacock. If you work your way through all the episodes of these shows before you’re done binging (though we’d be surprised if you did), you can pick from over 40 channels of various news shows, classics like Dennis the Menace, reruns of Jimmy Falon, and more.
Peacock Premium and Peacock Premium Plus have some great sports content too. You’ll get a bit of everything, from soccer to golf to cycling to NASCAR to Sunday Night Football—all live or on-demand, depending on when you log in to watch. You also get the Olympics, of course, but these won’t be live. So if you like to stay up til three in the morning to watch your favorite curling team sweep their hearts out, consider this your permission to sleep in and catch all the bonspiels (that’s curling-speak for games) during normal waking hours. Oh, and if classic WWF matches are your jam (wait, is that just us?), Peacock has a channel that plays them 24/7/365.
Finally, Peacock has some great movies. Create a kids profile, and it’ll be packed with Dreamworks movies like Turbo, Shrek, and Shark Tale alongside shows like Blippi, Strawberry Shortcake, and Trolls: The Beat Goes On. Plus, you can dress to the nines in your living room and join the Gentleminions movement without besmirching your polite theater-goer reputation. Meanwhile, an adult profile will get you Peacock originals/exclusives like Honk for Jesus, Meet Cute, and Jurrasic World Dominion, along with faves like The Bourne Trilogy and classics like The Godfather.
Now for what you won’t get with Peacock TV: just about everything else. If you’ve had cable TV or another live TV streaming service like Sling, YouTube TV, Hulu + Live TV, or fuboTV, you might see Peacock’s channel lineup and snort out loud. And you’d be totally within your rights. Most of Peacock’s “live” TV channels just play reruns of specific shows all day and night. You can’t control which episode you watch or when you start one, nor are you getting fresh content. It’s kind of the worst of both the live TV and on-demand worlds. Our advice? Get Peacock TV for the sports, day-old NBC shows, and movies—not for the channels.
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.
No matter which Peacock plan you get, you’ll never be able to record live shows. There’s no DVR capability, but we’re not sure you’d need it. Most of the content we wanted to record was available on-demand anyway (except for live sporting events). And if you spring for Peacock Premium Plus (the highest-cost plan), you can download on-demand shows to watch offline later. We’d probably skip the upgrade, though. We liked the idea for long flights or keeping the kiddos entertained at the car wash, but we didn’t find a ton more uses for this pared-back feature.
Speaking of the little ones, Peacock makes it super easy to find shows for your kids. Just create a kids profile for quick access to only childrens shows. You can also set up a PIN to keep the little ones restricted to these kid-friendly profiles. As a bonus, parents’ profiles won’t be bogged down with Curious George or Blippi episodes. (Although we’d probably keep a kids profile around just for all the Dreamworks movies.)
We confirmed that you can stream only three devices at once on Peacock. When you try to add the fourth, you’re alerted (by the adorable Puss in Boots from Shrek giving you those big, precious eyes in apology). You don’t have to worry about kicking anyone else off their show—but you can’t choose to either. You’ll have to kick them off the old-fashioned way, with a text, phone call, or shout down the hall. Unfortunately, we could not confirm that Peacock has 4K content. While Peacock says it has 4K content available and it’s labeled as such when you browse, we didn’t find any shows or events with that badge.
Beyond the basics, Peacock has some fun extras that delighted us. We loved picking profile avatars using headshots of our favorite NBC characters (we’re looking at you, Ron Swanson). We also enjoyed discovering the “Content curated by dinosaurs” section—spoiler alert, T. Rexes love Jurrasic Park and The Expendables, while dilophosauruses love The Real Housewives. Who knew?
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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Something Peacock TV does really well is let you jump between devices in the middle of watching a show. It easily picked up where we left off when we switched from computer to the phone app to TV and back again, whether we were watching live or on-demand content. For some streaming services, (we’re looking at you, Sling TV) switching devices mid-stream can get glitchy fast. So well done, Peacock!
In other ways, Peacock wasn’t as easy as some of the other live TV streaming services we tested, especially on our phones. We were bummed that we couldn’t multitask: there was no mini video we could watch while firing off an email or answering a text. And the Peacock app made us browse shows and channels in portrait mode, then flipped us to landscape mode to watch, which was annoying. Additionally, there’s no “back” button on the app, so if you get a few clicks into browsing for on-demand shows, you have to hit the Home button and start all over if you want to back out (If you’re using a browser, you can hit its back button). There’s a “back” button on the live TV side of things, but, oddly, it doesn’t take you back a step. Instead, it brings up the channel guide on the bottom half of the screen while your show keeps playing. We liked being able to browse while catching up on the news, but it was confusing at first.
The only real gripe we had about using Peacock TV on a browser was that a lot of the descriptive text (like the channel guide and show descriptions) disappeared faster than we could read it, which meant we had to keep moving the mouse to get it back. It was a minor annoyance, but we’d love to see this fixed in the future. We’re not all speed readers, Peacock.
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.