RTÉ Player Review
Quality of Video Stream4
Content on Offer5
Airplay and iOS7
With a million Irish born citizens living abroad, and a further potential 3million passport holders living outside of Ireland, not to mention the Republic own 4½ million, it’s no wonder the nations public television service is frequently sought after.
Many Irish citizens would be well aware of RTÉ’s web based service, RTÉ Player, which offers over 200 hours of programming from its recent lineup, along with live feeds.
The website itself is functional and easy to navigate, sporting an almost acceptable if not sub–SD (standard definition) quality stream, but RTÉ are also available on many other devices, something not found with every on-demand streaming service.
Content is always subjective to personal taste, as such, it would be inappropriate for me to comment here in this review. Suffice to say, RTÉ offers a broad range of locally produced show’s, additional UK content, much of which comes from the BBC, and a selection from the wider world. For many though, it would be its local productions which would set it apart from the competition, and in this respect, RTÉ does a commendable job.
Even if you prefer to watch TV on an actual television, it is hard to deny the practical advantages browser viewing offers. Although this generally applies to PCs and Macs, any device with the latest Flash capable browser should suffice.
Picture quality at 1024k may not be ideal, but it is generally acceptable for computers except those with the largest of monitors. Where it may let you down is during sports or action sequences, where pixelation and artifacts become seriously evident. The web version of RTÉ allows you to set the video quality either at 512k, 1024k or automatically to select the best for your bandwidth. The ability to choose is welcomed by this reviewer as I prefer to make my own choices regarding how my bandwidth is used.
Categories are all to be expected; Latest, Most Popular and Favourites, where the RTÉ player will remember these settings even between devices, as long as you are logged in. A somewhat odd category is the classics, offering single or limited episodes for a long duration of time. In a way, this is an an unusual back catalogue, because only partial seasons or series are on offer and is derived from RTÉs TV50 celebrations; 50 years since the launch of RTÉ television.
When a broadcaster includes live television as part of their on-demand services, it is always a pleasant feature. Unexpectedly, this is less common than would be surmised. Television, in its most fundamental element, is after all live TV. But licensing and legal contracts can be a complicated and messy affair, and nothing demonstrates this better than RTÉ’s live feed. If you were ever to find a less coherent live service, it would indeed be a difficult task. Whereas the iOS and smart TV apps schedules are filled with more holes than a block of Swiss cheese, RTÉ’s browser feed at least streams most shows on their schedule. What leaves viewers scratching their heads, are commercial breaks where the screen turns blank and silent, but for a simple message for the duration. If this were terrestrial television, I may be left thinking a hawk has landed on my antenna.
Odd live streaming behaviour and sub–SD quality feeds aside, the RTÉ Player on web browsers is overall a pleasant experience. Future improvements I would like to see would be an increase in video quality. The ability to stream in standard definition should be considered, as the name suggests, standard. High definition would of course be the current goal. If anything else, improved live streaming so that all devices eventually can broadcast all shows; viewers just don’t need this added confusion.
- Manual video quality selection possible.
- Greatest range of RTÉ content available.
- Not the most sofa-friendly of environments.
As with many national broadcasters, RTÉ have had an early presence on iOS devices, covering the bases with availability for the iPad, iPod Touch and iPhone. Overall, the RTÉ app is a pleasant experience, especially on the larger iPad screen, though fully accessible on the smaller iPhone and iPod touch screen as well, if not a little cramp. Material can be found through the usual category selection, as well as by date or searching, with the latter being far more pleasant than on the Samsung TV due to the virtual keyboard. Favourites shows can be chosen and like their other platforms, you have the ability to resume from your last position or start from the beginning if you are returning to a show.
The iPhone or iPad versions also have the opportunity to stream via 3G, presuming you have service and a 3G capable iPad. This could be especially handy when traveling, as unlike the BBC iPlayer, the RTÉ mobile player does not permit any form of downloads for offline viewing. As with the Samsung TV app, there is a patchy live streaming service. Due to licensing agreements, a great deal of shows are not broadcasted and when they are, advertisements are still blanked out in a rather bizarre fashion.
Finally, one of the best features is the ability to Airplay, presuming you also own an Apple TV2 or above. And here is where RTÉ actually does this better than most other broadcasters. RTÉ appear to be using the standard Apple video player, which allows selecting Airplay from the video screen and does not require mirroring. This translates to a very pleasant Airplay performance, with full-screen output to your television. If only RTÉ had enabled multitasking in their app (and higher quality streams) it would be perfect. Without multitasking, it means your iOS device must dedicate its service to playing RTÉ shows, something not so handy if you are streaming from your phone and it rings or someone else also wants to read the news.
Viewing quality appears to be the same as on RTÉ’s other platforms, sub–SD. This is certainly fine on the iPhone, good enough on the iPad, but when sent to your television via Airplay you will notice the artifacts.
- Excellent AirPlay support.
- 3G streaming possible.
- Limited live television streaming.
- No offline downloads.
- Live television streams are very patchy.
At the time of Press, RTÉ was the only major free to air broadcaster on the Samsung Smart Hub platform. But if there is only going to be one major service, it is fitting that it is the largest. Whether Ireland’s second largest broadcaster, TV3 follows suit soon is a matter of conjecture, but as they are already on some Sony models many believe it is only a matter of time.
RTÉ’s app, which installs automatically on first access to the Smart Hub, covers most of the expected features. TV shows can be found either by scrolling through categories such as Latest, Featured and Most Popular or by genre itself. Although a search feature is available, perhaps two of the more utilized features would be the recently watched and favourites sections, the latter being the depository of your personally selected shows. The RTÉ Player thankfully had the wisdom to include a resume feature, giving the option to continue where you left off or start from the beginning. It may sound standard, but you may be surprised how often this basic component is omitted.
Although there are no exact indications of what video quality is streaming, it appears to be the same sub–SD stream as seen on their other services. Naturally, with a larger TV, this is more noticeable than on a laptop or iPad, but for general viewing it is acceptable.
The live feature was a pleasant surprise, but it’s usefulness is certainly in question due to the patchwork broadcast. If anything, it seems less material is available than more and a sudden blank, silent screen during commercial breaks is a little creepy.
At the time of press, it appears that catch-up viewing on the Samsung platform was playing without advertisements. Whether this is a long lasting plan for RTÉ is totally unknown, but enjoy this while you can.
- Excellent sofa-friendly UI.
- Live television streams possible (though patchy).
- Recently watched and favourite listings.
- Resume feature for unfinished content.
- Live streams are terribly patchy.
- Video quality is not quite standard definition.
Overall, the RTÉ Player is a versatile and functional on-demand service. RTÉ have made the effort to bring this service to a good range of devices and have implemented better Airplay support than many other on-demand providers. The only real let downs are video quality and a patchy live stream. At the end of the day, a video streaming resource is only as good as the quality of its video and this is where RTÉ lets it’s viewers down. Video is streamed at sub–SD at either 512k or 1024k. This is more than good enough for mobile or tablet use, and acceptable for most laptops and computer screens. As soon as a real television is added to the equation however, things begin to look less agreeable, with notable artifacts and pixelation on even a standard 40″ screen. Compression artifacts are especially noticeable during fast or detailed movement, even on small displays, rendering the service unsuitable for sports or action shows. RTÉ have announced that they do plan to increase this over time, with a goal to reach HD quality, though no time frame has been announced.
- Above average Airplay support.
- Overall UI is pleasant to use.
- Live TV (including on iOS and Samsung TV!).
- Available on a good range of platforms.
- Live TV has too many gaps due to licensing issues.
- Sub–SD (Standard) video quality.
- Video Quality: Low- 512kbps, High- 1024kbps.
- Available only on selected models of Samsung D and E series televisions.
- iPhone app is optimiszed for iPhone 5 (which means it makes use of the wider screen).
- iOS app requires iOS v4.3 or later.
- Browser viewing requires the latest Flash plug-in.
- Programs are generally available between 7 and 21 days after broadcast.
27.01.2013: First published: Score: 5.6, Above average.
03.06.2013: Updated with new graphics, platform pros and cons, best platform.
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