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.
WOW! (short for Wide Open West) offers a compelling case for switching to internet-based TV. You get a solid channel lineup at a great rate, all using top-notch Wi-Fi gear from eero—provided you’re willing to have a chillier relationship with your DVR and you don’t mind beta-testing the WOW! tv+ app.
Sparklight has a decent channel lineup, and people who love watching the news or enjoying a wildlife documentary with the family will get most of what they want. Unfortunately, sports content is lacking, and so is Spanish-language content.
Sparklight does a good job of delivering local channels for most viewers, but it doesn’t provide any Spanish-language locals. So you’ll get ABC, The CW, NBC, PBS, CBS, FOX, and more, but don’t expect Telemundo, Univision, or Estrella.
Sparklight brings you a variety of sports staples like both ESPNs, Fox Sports 1, TBS, TNT, and USA. You’ll get a couple of sport-specific channels like Golf and Motor Trend, but you’ll have to do without MLB, NBA TV, and NFL Network. And since you won’t have Spanish-language channels, you’ll be missing some great international soccer coverage too.
Family and education: 3.5/5
Sparklight has something for the entire family, but there are a few odd choices in its lineup. Most providers offer at least one Nickelodeon channel, and Sparklight doesn’t. Instead, you’ll get both National Geographic channels, which is also uncommon. You’ll get most everything else you expect, like Disney, History, Discovery, Animal Planet, and Cartoon Network, but be ready to go without the Science and Smithsonian channels.
News and politics: 4/5
Sparklight has better news coverage than a lot of TV providers—at least, for English speakers. You’ll get lots of local news, CNN, Fox News, HLN, MSNBC, CNBC, C-SPAN, BBC America, and even the Weather Channel. However, you’ll miss out on Newsmax and any Spanish-language news sources.
Entertainment and lifestyle: 3/5
Sparklight has less variety than we’d like in its entertainment lineup. Your life will have fewer laughs and less music than you’re used to because it's missing Comedy Central, Laff, CMT, MTV, and VH1. You’ll have plenty of feel-good movies from all three Hallmark channels, Lifetime, OWN, and Oxygen, as well as action and westerns from FX, FXX, Grit, and INSP. And enjoy great tastes from both HGTV and the Food Network, but not the Cooking Channel.
WOW! doesn't have an incredible channel lineup, but it has a decent amount of content for just about everyone. That is, unless you want to watch in Spanish.
WOW! tv+ give you only about half the local channels you might expect. You get the big ones like NBC, ABC, FOX, CBA, and PBS, but you won’t get Ion, Cozi, or Comet. You won’t get a single Spanish-language local channel either. So if you want Telemundo, UniMas, Estrella, or Univision, you’re out of luck.
When it comes to sports channels, you win some and lose some. You get the Tennis Channel in a Medium plan, whereas some providers only include it in their top-tier plans or as an add-on. NFL Network and NFL RedZone are both included in the Large plan, which is hit or miss among competitors. However, WOW! tv+ strikes out completely when it comes to the MLB channel, and there’s no way to get NFL SUNDAY TICKET.
Family and education: 3/5
With WOW!, you’ll get a decent amount of family-friendly content, but we’d like to see more channels for toddlers and young kids. You’ll get Cartoon Network, Animal Planet, Discovery Channel, and the History Channel. But you’ll get only one Disney, Nickelodeon, and National Geographic channel. Disney Junior, Nick Junior, and Nat Geo Wild are all missing, leaving less content aimed at the youngest kids.
News and politics: 3.5/5
WOW! has enough news and political coverage for most English-speaking viewers. You can keep up with Congress on C-SPAN and world events with BBC America. You’ll also get the biggest news channels like CNN, CNBC, Fox News, and MSNBC, along with Newsmax, HLN, and The Weather Channel. The biggest hole in coverage is Spanish-language news, but you’ll also miss CNN International, Bloomberg, CBS News, and Fox Business News.
Entertainment and lifestyle: 3/5
WOW! tv+ gives you a wide variety of entertainment and lifestyle, with at least one channel in some of our favorite categories: comedy, westerns, feel-good movies, food, and travel. But you might find only one channel that delivers your favorite genres. You’ll get Grit but not INSP (westerns) and Food Network but not the Cooking channel. But you’ll get all the best music channels—CMT, VH1, and MTV—and the top DIY channels HGTV and TLC. WOW! tv+ doesn’t include premium channels in any of its plans. You can add them to a Medium or Large plan, but they’ll cost more than other providers charge.
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.
WOW! Has some great introductory prices, but we’ve seen longer channel lineups from other companies. Channel quality is decent, but nothing to write home about. The real bargain comes when you realize your plan price already includes regional sports and broadcast fees, which can add $20–$40 in monthly fees with other providers.
You’ll have to get a WOW! internet plan, since this TV service is internet-based, but that comes at an excellent price too. All things said, WOW! provides a ton of value, but if you want all the channels and premiums to boot, it’s probably not the company for you.
Sparklight won’t be winning any awards for equipment and features anytime soon, but you should be able to watch, record, and find your shows just fine.
Ability to watch: Fine
To get started with Sparklight, you’ll need at least $10 for a modem. You’ll also need at least one streaming device like a phone or tablet, smart TV, Apple TV, or Amazon Firestick. Unlike other TV providers, Sparklight leans on its TV Everywhere app to let you stream your shows on the internet instead of over cable or satellite.
Ability to record: Fine
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.
Ability to find: Good
While Sparklight's TV everywhere app lets you search live, recorded, and on-demand content all at the same time, how you’ll find your shows depends heavily on the streaming device you’re using. You’ll use the remote that comes with that device, so factor that into your choice when buying gear. We recommend using a device with a voice remote for the best experience.
In short, Sparklight doesn’t provide much of an experience, but you can choose your own adventure depending on the devices you use. While it does offer parental controls, you can block content only by rating, not by channel or individual show.
Because WOW! is internet-based TV, its equipment is makes it feel more like a streaming service than traditional TV. However, its features fall short of many streaming services when it comes to catching your shows where and when you want.
Ability to watch: Good
Since WOW! tv+ uses WOW! Internet, you need Wi-Fi gear. WOW!’s modem is free for your first year ($14/month after that), and its eero Wi-Fi system ($9.99 per month) is reasonably priced to rent. It’s also some of the best, most reliable Wi-Fi gear we’ve seen. WOW!’s TV boxes can get pricey if you want more than one ($10 per month), but since you can use WOW! tv+ with Amazon Firesticks, you shouldn’t need more than one box to get your shows on multiple TVs. You just need multiple Firesticks ($29.99 and up), but these will be one-time purchases instead of a monthly rental rate.
While you can use your phone to watch WOW! TV, its Android and iOS apps are in beta, which means they’re still working out some of the kinks. The apps have a pretty low rating on both Android and iOS (1, 2), which is a bummer. If you end up throwing your phone across the room in frustration, you can circumvent the app altogether by going to an individual channel’s website and logging in with your WOW! credentials. But you might still end up frustrated—and watching your shows through a cracked phone screen.
Ability to record: Fine
The WOW! tv+ box and remote are pretty standard, and you can find content and set up DVR recordings using voice commands or navigating through a guide. The downside is that all three of WOW!’s plans come with 50 hours of DVR cloud storage, which is pretty low. You can jump up to 100 (for about $20 per month) or 200 (for about $30 per month) hours, but that’s a steep charge when some competitors include 1,000 hours in their top-tier plans.
Ability to find: Good
WOW! doesn't have its own voice remote, but it's compatible with Google Voice. Without voice, it's still pretty easy to find channels in the guide, and parental controls make it easy to block the content you don't want your kids to see—or restrict TV time altogether. However, finding recorded shows can be challenging without sorting and filtering capabilities, even if you only get 50 hours of storage. That's still a lot of scrolling.
Getting started with Sparklight is a bit pricey. Professional installation is $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.
Sparklight relies on a cable-fiber hybrid infrastructure that makes it more reliable than satellite TV providers. However, Reddit is peppered with customers complaining about outages. Sparklight’s TV service uses Wi-Fi internet, which can sometimes slow your binge-watching due to interference from other devices, competing networks, and well, walls. That said, Sparklight promises great Wi-Fi (and a money-back guarantee).
WOW! is a decent experience, and most customers feel good about this provider. We love that you don't have to sign a contract. And although you have to get WOW! internet to get WOW!'s TV service, we like WOW! internet even more.
Self-installation is free and fairly easy, but you can hire a pro to come by and get you set up for $75. The website has plenty of self-help content if you run into trouble, or you can use its chat service to talk with a specialist.
What we don't like is WOW!'s lack of transparency. Prices aren't listed on its website, and you can't order TV without talking to a sales representative on the phone. That's not a great start.