FilmOn Review (For Live US Television)
Quality of Video Stream8
Channels on Offer6
Airplay and iOS7
FilmOn have been gracing our computer screens offering live UK television for some time now, but not everyone may realize that they also provide a small collection of the main live OTA US channels as well. ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, The CW and PBS amongst a long list of lesser known ones. So how exactly do they all stack up and are they good competition to USTVNow?
Although FilmOn don’t offer a great number of live US channels, at least compared to cable operators, they do cover what many people may consider the six most important OTA Networks, available from more than 45 US cities to ensure local news bulletins and programming are accessible. I’m a great believer that quality is far more important than quantity, and to be honest, these six networks do cover a great deal of fantastic programming.
Now don’t get me wrong here, there are a load of other channels also available. FilmOn offer over 200 live television stations in total, which include a good range of news feeds (including Bloomberg, France24, Euronews, CCTV, Al Jazeera etc) and a pile of channels that wouldn’t look out of place in the higher numbers of your satellite or cable service. But the focus on this review will concentrate on the important six OTA networks.
Before I go any further though, it should be pointed out that FilmOn’s local US channels only work within the United States itself. In fact, outside the United States of America you won’t even see the channels listed on their EPG. If you happen to reside outside of the US, you will require a good VPN service to access them, as well as a good broadband connection – streaming live content through a VPN tunnel may result in buffering issues if you are half a world away.
All that said, like their UK channels, FilmOn offer two basic models, free and via subscription. Anyone in their right mind would ask why pay for the service if it is free, so here are some of the main differences:
- The subscription service offers significantly higher quality streams when viewing it on a computer.
- The subscription service does not have additional advertising during channel switching.
Video quality here is one of the more interesting topics regarding FilmOn. First impressions on their free “SD” streams via the web will certainly bat the odd eyelid, with 350kbps hitting your screen, the pixelation and artifacts will be so strong you will be lucky if you can make out facial expressions. Testing out their HD subscription streams is not always easy to trial either since at times, FilmOn’s own advertisements can cover the entire short trial period. Once you get behind a sub however, things improve dramatically, but no platform impresses as much as iOS, which quite frankly is excellent considering it is a live stream
Of course, this is all very good if you happen to be sitting within the time zone of FilmOn’s live channels, but if you are on the move or quite far from your channel’s geographic region, live television becomes somewhat more difficult to enjoy. Thankfully, FilmOn also include a combination cloud/local PVR service. All platforms will record programmes to the cloud except the desktop app, which records locally.
FilmOn’s cloud recording offer 10hours for free, which is pretty fair for an average television user. Real fans would want more, and FilmOn have a number of packages where you can increase this number for a modest fee.
As far as platform support goes, FilmOn offer a reasonable choice, with their greatest achievement being their iOS app complete with AirPlay. On a surprising note however, there currently is no longer a Roku channel available, but FilmOn have stated plans for this to return in the future.
FilmOn’s website feels more cluttered than it should be, which is a bit odd since it isn’t particularly covered in advertising. If anything, much of the information, especially below the video box is quite useful. Still, once you switch to full screen video or alternatively the pop-out, this all becomes a moot point. FilmOn have notified Eye on-Demand that there are plans for a major overhaul of their website soon, which we are quite excited about.
Until then, the left-hand side of the screen is taken up by a rather extensive channel listing, which thankfully is sorted into collapsible groups. The first group Most Watched, unfortunately defaults to open, whilst the Favourites group right at the very top defaults to closed. Personally I think it should be the other way around, especially as the Most Watched group creates the list from all users, and as such offers very little interest to me. It also doesn’t help that the Favourites group seems to sometimes get lost behind the On-Demand banner, which can get slightly annoying.Note: There appears to be some issues with the latest version of Internet Explorer 8 that are causing problems with FilmOn. If you experience this, try accessing via an alternative browser.
All up, there are too many things that can be done from this home screen that I could mention, including different ways to view the EPG, record the currently playing programme, video quality toggle switch as well as access to your recordings. I particularly like the programme information under the video window.
Video quality will vary depending on whether the viewer has a sub or is watching for free. Unlike via iOS, the free web stream comes in at a painfully low 350kbps with an improved 800kbps under the sub. 350kbps is just far too low for any form on enjoyment. Even at the tiny windowed view, the quality is spoiled by pixelation and artifacts, let alone over full-screen.
That said, the video quality improves dramatically once on a subscription. FilmOn inform me this is streamed at 800kbps, which by numbers alone is actually quite low. Whatever they do to this stream though, it does appear to be somewhat better. In my opinion, it looks closer to 1200kbps quality wise, which makes it just good enough to watch some sporting events.
Recording to the cloud is an easy process, which you can start directly on the current live stream or via EPG – much like with a standard PVR. There are no options for series-link however, which is a shame, especially since the EPG is only two days long. But once you have recorded your programme it is very easy to access again later. As all recordings are saved on FilmOn’s own cloud servers, you can access them from any computer or iOS device once you log in.
(Outside the US, you will require a VPN service to access FilmOn’s US channels)
- The easiest way to access FilmOn content.
- Direct access to recordings and easy to play back.
- Very low video quality on the free service.
- Not the best video quality through subscription service.
FilmOn also offer a rather interesting alternative on a PC (windows 7 & below) or Mac; their dedicated app. Effectively this mirrors many of the features found via the web browser but in a far more attractive package. It is less cluttered and in many ways quite well designed.
The channel List is found on the right-hand side instead of the left and the favourites group is now easier to access via the Star symbol at the very top/right of the FilmOn window – not quite as cool as a default position, but at least it is easily made available. Though I should point out that one thing I especially liked was the ability to set the default channel on start-up.
There is a significant difference on how recordings are treated which could really be the deciding factor for this platform. The web browser simply records on FilmOn’s remote servers but the desktop app will record straight to your hard drive, without DRM, which in anyone’s book raises an odd eyebrow or two. This does of course offer what can best be called “an ability to record programmes for offline viewing”. They can be transferred to a mobile device although they require converting to be able to run on iOS platforms such as your iPhone, iPad or iPod touch. This makes it possible to record your favourite David Attenborough documentary for that long flight to Easter Island when you otherwise wouldn’t have an internet connection and access to your cloud recordings. Likewise, recording space is limited to only that of your own hard drive.
What could be seen as an advantage to some however does not come without its own rather significant pitfalls.
- You must keep the desktop app (and your computer) running the whole time during recording and before if you have set up a scheduled event. Close down the desktop app and all your scheduled recordings will be deleted.
– Video quality is identical to your live viewing quality, so the free service will only record at 350kbps, whilst through a subscription you will have an 800kbps recording.
– You can only record the current channel that you are watching and this makes it extremely easy to mess up planned recordings – change the channel and visit the guide and your previous selection is cancelled without warning.
Personally, I prefer using the desktop app over their web page in most circumstances, as it’s a cleaner interface and very easy to use. But I prefer their web/iOS cloud PVR. The offline recording options are interesting with regards to offline viewing, especially when traveling, but sometimes I also miss the cloud storage simply because of the ability to watch from a different platform or location.
(Outside the US, you will require a VPN service to access FilmOn’s US channels)
- Clearer and easier to use UI on a computer compared to browser.
- Recordings are stored locally.
- Extremely poor video quality on free service.
- Poor video quality on paid service.
- Recordings are stored locally (can’t transfer to another device) and at the quality of your free/sub.
If FilmOn shines on one particular platform, it would certainly be via iOS. Not only does it offer significantly higher video quality, but FilmOn’s iOS user interface is quick to navigate and well designed. Take AirPlay into account and you have a great way to watch live US television on the move or direct on your TV without the need of an antenna or cable/satellite service.
The iPad channel list sits on the left hand side, whilst on the iPhone it takes up the entire screen. But either way, you couldn’t find a faster way to skim through all the available channels to find the one you are after. Just swipe up or down on the listings and tap on the channel to watch.
Accessing the EPG is just as easy, simply by tapping the TV Guide button next to the channel. A basic two-day guide will pop up and it’s from here that you can quickly and easily set a programme to record, including the currently playing one.
Video quality can only be described as very good for the free service and excellent within a subscription, though some channels are better than others. Considering this is a live television service, which does not have the same buffering tolerances that on-demand can afford, I had very few problems testing the New York channels a good six thousand kilometers and an ocean away.
AirPlay can be accessed directly from the video window and doesn’t require mirroring, which translates to a great picture on your television screen. It’s just a pity that FilmOn haven’t implemented full multitasking, so you have to leave the iPad on, and directly accessing the FilmOn app otherwise the AirPlay stream will end.
Which all goes to show that despite the iOS app being by far the best way to access FilmOn streams, it doesn’t come without its flaws. First of all there is no way to close down categories like on other platforms. Every category is fully open, forcing users to scroll through all of the channels. Likewise, the Favourites category is missing, which again is a bit disappointing. I would have preferred to start with my own personal listing of channels at the top of the pile, rather than be forced through the endless list of Most Watched (which like their Web platform bears absolutely no relevance to my own preferences).
And finally, although there is a really handy Recordings button at the bottom of the screen, you can’t actually play back your recordings from there, only view the list. Instead, users must select the My Recordings button at the top of the channel list which will take you to the web portal for playback. Don’t panic, it may be impractical but at least you can still airplay your content from here, and using AirPlay via the Safari browser means you can even multitask or switch off the iPad to save power.Tip: You may have to log on at least once via the web browser on your computer to set FilmOn’s region to the US city you have subscribed to, otherwise the channels may not show up on your iOS list.
(Outside the US, you will require a VPN service to access FilmOn’s US channels)
- The best quality streams of any platform.
- Easy to swipe and scroll through the channel listings.
- Quick to choose a channel to play back.
- Full-screen AirPlay support.
- Ability to access recordings.
FilmOn startup on iPadFilmOn US channels on iPadFilmOn Live TV on iPadFilmOn EPG on iPadFilmOn AirPlay on iPadFilmOn US channels on iPhoneFilmOn EPG on iPhoneFilmOn live TV on iPhone
- No AirPlay multitasking.
- No in-app access to recordings.
- No Favourites section.
- Unable to close unwanted channel categories.
FilmOn are not the only player on the live US television internet streaming scene. USTVNow’s free package offer the same amount of channels but without the PVR FilmOn provide, and no access outside of the web portal, which once you have seen the quality of FilmOn’s free iOS streams, this becomes quite a serious point. Even FilmOn’s US local sub at US$10 per month with PVR is between three or four times lower than USTVNow’s offering, although in fairness that does provide the much sort-after Roku channel.
NimbleTV, if they manage to get themselves back on air, have no free service, though with packages between US$30-US$80 per month offering over 200 channels it is a completely different ball game.
If the free service of FilmOn is not enough, their sub starts at US$10 per month, the lowest of the three and for this you may not get a lot of prime US channels, but you will get the six most important ones and at very good quality – especially via iOS. It is actually quite a good deal when you consider the quality of the service and the 10hours of PVR storage space.
Greatest recommendation remains just like for FilmOn’s UK services, to watch via iOS. Not only does this offer the best quality video streams, but also the ability to AirPlay, and on the whole a pleasant user interface. Video quality via iOS is quite simply excellent for a live streaming service, and so far FilmOn for live US TV via the Internet is our preferred service.
Like all things though, there could be improvements. I would like to see a proper Favourites category on all platforms, with the ability to set that view as default – I just don’t want to constantly stare at channels I have no intentions of watching. Likewise, series-link, AirPlay multitasking and in-app recordings wouldn’t go amiss either. Oh, and I’m also hanging out for that Roku channel!
- Good value compared to some other similar US services.
- Great quality via iOS.
- Dedicated iOS app.
- Includes the most important US OTA television channels.
- Offers a range of local services from more than 45 different regions in the US.
- Very good video quality under the sub.
- AirPlay support.
- Very poor video quality via web browsers with the free service.
- AirPlay doesn’t offer multitasking.
- No Roku channel.
- Windows8 tile app does not offer US channels.
- EPG is only for two days. (with Fox lacking any scheduling)
- No series link on recordings.
- Local US channels differ per region, but may include: ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox, The CW . Several other channels may be available such as CoziTV and Bounce.
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