USTVNow (For Live US Television) Review
Quality of Video Stream7
Channels on Offer7
Airplay and iOS6
USTVNow have been an American expats lifeline for a short while now, offering a wide range of live American channels in either a free, low quality stream or somewhat impressive near-HD quality on the other side of a pay-wall. Whether you watch on your computer, mobile device or even your television, welcome to America!
Technically, this service is only available outside of the US and was created for American’s living abroad or American servicemen and women, which does differ somewhat from USTVNow’s main competitors, FilmOn who offer a similar service within parts of the US and NimbleTV which offers a great service within New York.
Although the basic service allows you to watch live US television via the internet on your computer, with the right subscription and basic hardware, it is possible to watch the same live major American broadcast channels, anywhere in the world and on your main television.
USTVNow can either be accessed free of charge for 6 channels, or via a subscription. In fact, they offer quite an interesting range of plans, including monthly ones for US$29 (28 additional channels), US$39 (additional channels plus PVR). What is really cool though is that you can also purchase single day passes for US$2.99, a three day pass for US$6.99 and a weekly pass for US$15. Great for a holiday or business trip abroad.
But if you can watch US TV abroad for free, what exactly are all the advantages of subscribing to the service?
- The subscription service offers significantly higher quality streams. You can test this on the free 45 day trial when you sign up. After the 45 day trial, your streams will return to low quality.(540kbps* average free bitrate tested to 1900kbps* average under a sub)
- Only ABC, CBS, CW, FOX, NBC and PBS are available from the free plan.
- Additional channels, such as My9, A&E, Animal Planet, Bravo, Cartoon Network, CNBC, CNN, Comedy Central, Discovery Channel, ESPN, Food Network, FX, Fox News, History, Lifetime, National Geographic, Nickelodeon, Spike, Syfy, TBS, TNT and USA are available from the subscription plan.
- PVR service is also available at an additional cost.
- The free service is only available on a computer. A subscription package is required to access on other devices such as mobile and Roku after the free 45 day trial.
Video quality is actually really good, which is something that can not always be said with live streams. As mentioned above, the HD streams are only available via subscription plans, but when you can achieve the highest quality feeds, they are not only good enough for films, but also for sports and other fast action sequences as well. The free SD service is just acceptable on the other hand, with artifacts and pixelation due to low bitrates prone to ruin any decent viewing.
Ill be honest here, if there was a website that could instantly discourage me from exploring, this one could certainly fall into that category. USTVNow’s original browser experience is one of the most basic on the web. At best it could be described as functional, and that is me being polite.
But then again, once you start watching a television channel at full screen, little of this matters at the end anyway. Speaking of watching videos, USTVNow’s website offers no less than four different windowing options. The most obvious and useful, full-screen mode, the standard tiny window to the left of the EPG, a larger window above the EPG (which incidentally improves the overall web experience significantly) and a probably more useful pop-out (in the same two sizes), allowing you to position it so you can watch the baseball while you work on your Excel spreadsheet.
Then there is the expected EPG, which allows up to 14 days ahead to browse or set up potential recordings. You can hop backwards or forwards in time with the arrow buttons, which is a tad slow, but thankfully you can hot-jump to a specific date and time-frame via the drop-down menu. All that said, it is pretty easy to set up a video recording once you have found the show that you like.
There is an option to view on a computer or laptop with a much more pleasant UI. Essentially, set your device to “Smart TV” and read the iPad (GTV) review tab.
- Good for watching on a laptop whilst traveling or windowing while you work.
- Ability to change video quality level manually.
- Window pop-out option.
- The best EPG of all platforms.
- Not terribly sofa-friendly.
- Very basic design and layout.
- UI can be awkward at times.
- Unable to set up recurring recordings.
USTVNow lack a dedicated iOS or Android app, which is a shame really. But they do offer the next best thing, a web-app which can work happily on a desktop or laptop computer but finds its true home on a smart phone. To access it, point your mobile device here and if possible, immediately add to the home-screen – this will allow the web-app to function at its best, utilizing almost the full-screen with fewer distractions. (The web-app will only function under a sub).
The Home screen offers three major options, besides the ability to log in or out or promote the product to friends.
Watch Live TV is where the heart is, and lists all the available live channels in your package. The basic sub offers 28 channels and you can shorten this list down to a favourite selection, but the order remains the same.
Clicking on a channel brings up further information if available but does not yet begin streaming, neither does interestingly enough pressing the View button, but pressing the play button on the next screen will finally start the live stream. I personally would have liked an easier way to start the live stream, maybe via a play button directly on the channel list, sitting alongside an info button that would take you further if required. This would make channel hoping much easier, and work better with AirPlay.
Hidden at the top of the screen is a really interesting DVR button, the only one I have seen on USTVNow, which allows the viewer to automatically record the program either “in this timeslot” or “anytime it airs”, as well as accessing the Recurring Timers management page. My own tests couldn’t seem to differentiate between them, as selecting “in this timeslot” recorded two identical episodes from the same day. Maybe this was just a bug at the time.
Pretty much everything works better here than via the traditional website, with the exception of the Channel Guide. This lists just the next three hours, one channel at a time. Which does not make it terribly easy to schedule recordings, nor is it a fast way to scan through the available channels. It is possible to set a recording here, but only the one-off as there are no links to DVR functions.
AirPlay also works really well, with no mirroring required and looks stunning on the big screen. If you are accessing this from the Safari web browser, you can even multitask, but oddly enough, this is not possible when used as a web-app after being saved to the Home-screen. As for the video quality, it naturally looks near perfect on the tiny iPhone screen, testing an average of 1700kbps*, but was no slouch either on the main television via AirPlay.
Overall, this certainly makes for a much more pleasant way to way to navigate from mobile devices, and is a good stop-gap until USTVNow (hopefully) releases dedicated iOS and Android apps.
- DVR Function.
- Easier to use on mobile platform.
- Remains logged in on iPhone when saved to the Home screen.
- AirPlay support.
- Not as easy to use as a dedicated app.
- Could be a quicker route to playing live streams.
- Channel selector doesn’t remain on the iPhone when airplaying. (This could have made it easier to channel hop)
- No AirPlay multitasking via web-app when saved to Home-screen.
Like with the iPhone, there is sadly no dedicated USTVNow iPad app, but there are still three possible ways to watch.
1) via the Safari web browser: If you thought the standard website was a little clumsy to use, it is even more so on the smaller touch screen. That said, this method is still available to free users.
2) via the mobile device option, which effectively mirrors the iPhone web-app and requires a sub: To be honest, although it works quite well for the iPhone, outside of the increased DVR function over the GTV method, I found it also to be a tad clumsy on the larger touch screen. (Requires a sub)
3) via the GTV, or “Internet TV” method: Possibly designed for Internet TV browsers, I found this works best for the iPad as well. So well in fact, it has taken the best platform title away from the Roku/Now TV box. (Requires a sub)
For a start, it is much quicker to change channels than any of the other methods. Simply tap the watch button after selecting a channel of choice. It is still not quite as easy as a single button operation, but close enough for most situations and works great when airplaying across to your main TV. I know I ask too much sometimes, but I do love a good bit of channel hopping and when something was easier in the 1980s than now, I just can’t avoid mentioning it.
Still, the business end is watching television, and there are no real complaints here. Head on over to full-screen, or AirPlay directly to your TV and the video quality for a live television feed is extremely good. My own tests averaged 1770kbps* on the iPad, which is not terribly high, but outside of a few moments when the variable bitrate dropped for whatever reason, the video quality itself impressed.
As with the mobile web-app, if you save this to your home screen (which for most situations is the best thing to do), you will loose the multitasking support in AirPlay. A bit of a pity to be honest, as leaving the iPad on while the live TV streams for a couple of hours is never terribly good for the battery life, nor I guess for the planet.
Speaking of odd things, you can’t set the currently playing programme to record, but you can for any listed in the near future, which is effectively the next three or four hours in this view.
The Recorded Programs page will list everything currently on your cloud recording playlist, and it is also possible here to switch on or off recurring function, although there is no way to differentiate between the “one time slot”, or “anytime it airs”. And if you do switch on recurring recordings from a previously recorded programme, it will only appear in the scheduled recordings page once you refresh the screen, which is a bit of a pity.
All that said though, this is a great way to watch live US television, outside of the US, especially when your pair your iPad with an Apple TV and AirPlay. You could almost forget you are 10,000km away from home.
- Combined with AirPlay, the easiest way to channel hop and watch live TV.
- Compared to the basic website, beautifully clear, clean and uncluttered layout.
- Includes basic recurring recording function.
- AirPlay support without the need to mirror.
- Easy to channel hop especially when using AirPlay.
- No multitasking support during AirPlay when web-app is saved to the home-screen.
- No True EPG.
- Can’t record currently playing show.
Private channel: Code: “ustvnow” for Roku, or available directly on Now TV.04.12.2013: For some reason, USTVNow has just disappeared from the Now TV channel store. USTVNow seem just as surprised as many users and are looking into the matter.
Wow. Maybe you didn’t expect a wow in this review, but on this particular platform, it deserves it. Granted, the layout and design are still quite basic, but this is not so uncommon with Roku or Now TV channels anyway. For the record here, this channel is essentially the same for either the Roku or Now TV platforms and are merged here, since Now TV is effectively a re-branded Roku LT box.
What works so well here is the channel and platform’s usability. On firing up the channel, you have a choice of four basic options, the Guide (EPG), Live TV, Favourites and DVR.
The Guide is still not going to win any awards for design here, but outside of the basic webpage it is the best on all reviewed platforms to date. It’s easy to read in a 10-foot environment, and you can select live programming or set up a recording if you have an appropriate subscription.
Live TV does exactly what you would expect. Instead of selecting a live feed from the EPG, you chose a channel by name.
What should be mentioned, is that either way you choose to watch live television, USTVNow’s Roku or Now TV channel is one of the easiest to channel hop with. Sadly, it is still not as easy as a 30 year old television which requires little more than a single button, but it is still quick in comparison to other services or platforms by pressing the back button, skipping to the next channel and play.
I achieved the highest bitrates when testing the stream on either a Roku 3 box or the Now TV platform, which averaged at 2300kbps*. Video quality itself was a pleasure to watch in most circumstances, although I did see it drop a bit at one stage during a separate session. In any event, for the most part I would describe the live video stream as very good.
- Great UI for watching USTVNow.
- Almost as good as watching real live television.
- Better EPG than some other reviewed USTVNow platforms.
- High quality video.
- Fast and responsive (on Roku 3)
- Easy(ish) way to channel hop.
- Channel hopping should require a single key-press still.
- Design is quite basic.
USTVNow offer some great plans and services to watch American television when abroad. When you combine their high quality video, excellent channel line up and selection of subscription plans, it becomes an extremely attractive television companion. I am especially impressed with the daily or weekly plan which could be a great idea for someone on a business trip or traveling abroad.
It is a pity there isn’t a cheaper sub to just offer the basic OTA channels in HD, since these are generally available for free in the US anyway. US$29 for live TV for 28 channels could be considered a little expensive to some, especially when you have to pay an extra US$10 to add the ability to record. Although in fairness, USTVNow do offer free recording vouchers when you refer their service to friends.
At first glance, the service looks quite basic, but when you consider it offers full AirPlay support things start to look a little more glossy. But the real killer platform is the Roku or Now TV channel or the iPad using the GTV web-app. If you are living outside of the US, the Roku channel is a great way to sit down and watch live US television. Likewise, if you are living in the UK, or have friends or family that could receive the Now TV box and send it to you, this amazing British £10 (€12, US$15) set-top box will happily make your television set think it is living in the US.
On a rather disappointing note, I could not get USTVNow’s Internet TV designed “GTV” website to play streams on my actual Internet TV’s browser. Neither my Samsung ES-6900, Samsung F-5470 or the painful Favi Smart Stick browser would work. Of course, this may be due to the limitations of those particular browsers rather than anything from USTVNow, but I was hoping to have a bit more success here – especially on the Favi Smart Stick, where I spent a good 20minutes and 20% of my hair signing in (all fault on the Favi’s shocking UI) only to not be able to play a live stream at the end of it all.
This service is not region blocked outside of the US and is available globally.
- Optional free service on a computer.
- Various subscriptions including day or week passes (great for holidays or business travel).
- Great Roku channel.
- Mobile web-app works well on smart phones.
- iPad works great via the GTV web-app.
- Great quality near-HD streams.
- Friend referral scheme to provide free recording.
- Series link possible for recordings (with appropriate sub)
- Full AirPlay support.
- Not region blocked outside of US.
- EPG can be awkward on some platforms.
- Basic UI on most platforms.
- Can be considered expensive.
- No recording available on low cost packages.
- No dedicated iOS app.
- AirPlay multitasking doesn’t work when web-apps are saved to the home-screen.
- Requires partner provider subscription for access within US.
- Could not get the GTV “Smart TV” browser to play on the tested Smart TVs.
- Broadcasted from Eastern USA Time-Zone.
- Basic free channels include: ABC, CBS, CW, FOX, NBC and PBS
- Additional channels include: My9, A&E, Animal Planet, Bravo, Cartoon Network, CNBC, CNN, Comedy Central, Discovery Channel, ESPN, Food Network, FX, Fox News, History, Lifetime, National Geographic, Nickelodeon, Spike, Syfy, TBS, TNT and USA
- Only one person can be logged into the computer account at any given time, but three people can log into other platforms.
- Live channels originate from Pennsylvania.
27.06.2013: Review published. Score: 6 – Best with Roku.
08.08.2013: Updated with Now TV channel added to the Roku platform.
13.09.2013: Alert for Now TV Box, which may have broken the channel. (update working fine)
22.11.2013: Major update adding mobile & GTV platform as well as bitrate tests. Score upgraded to 6.4 – Very Good Video Quality
* Bitrate tests were based on multiple averages and are subject to both the geographical location and ISP bandwidth at the time.
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