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Eye on Demand | April 25, 2017

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NBC Catch-up Review

NBC Catch-up Review

Review Overview

Quality of Video Stream
8
User Interface
6.5
Content on Offer
8
Device Availability
4
Airplay, Chromecast & Mobile
4.5
6.2

Above Average

As one of the big three US OTA commercial networks, there is no doubt that NBC should offer some pretty impressive television to the American public, and indeed the world. But what does NBC offer in the fast changing environment of catch-up television? Actually, there are a couple of pleasant surprises.

NBC (National Broadcasting Company) is in fact America’s oldest major broadcaster, starting off as RCA (Radio Corporation of America) in 1926 a full four years after the BBC. NBC’s television broadcasts began regular scheduling in 1939 and via RCA, even began churning out their own-brand television sets to sell in New York department stores.

NBC.com offers primarily a free catch-up service for their latest and most popular television series and in this way, the broadcaster doesn’t differ to much from their American competition. However, the library of currently available content is not as small as many other American services, with a quick glance on their website offering no less than 52 different shows, many with multiple full episodes including some containing entire seasons. And this is where it gets interesting. Although most relevant and current programming will only stream episodes for 30 days after broadcast, NBC also offer a small, but additional interesting collection of classic shows on-demand.

These classic programmes include the likes of the A-Team (seasons 1 to 5), Battlestar Galactica (seasons 1 & 2) and the first season of Knight Rider (at the time of first publication). How long these remain available is not known, and they can disappear as Magnum PI did during the writing of this review. But it still was a pleasant surprise to find these old classics, and retaining television shows on-demand is quite an impressive step for an American OTA television catch-up service.

Unfortunately, a great deal of NBC’s main library of content is only available via a pay-TV log-in, despite being broadcast for free over-the-air. However, they do offer a limited range of shows or episodes without the need of dispensing cash.

Video quality is generally speaking excellent, with my own tests averaging between 1400kbps and 4700kbps depending on platform – Essentially a subSD minimum stream, ranging up to 1080p high definition. It is just a pity there are so few places to enjoy the higher end of the scale.

Which is where, once again the American catch-up OTA service falls short. NBC lacks the comprehensive hardware support found around the world for catch-up services (the BBC iPlayer for instance is available on more than 650 different devices), and in the case of NBC, little more than web and limited mobile access.

NBC is a commercially funded network which generates a good portion of its revenue via advertising, so it should come as no surprise to find commercial breaks within NBC catch-up programming. That said, I personally don’t find episodes saturated with too many commercials, and on a really positive note there are no ads before the programme actually starts on the web platform. Kudos to NBC for this pleasant treat.

 

  • www.nbc.com

    NBC provide a relatively fluid catch-up website which is conveniently located at www.nbc.com. No need for any fancy name to differentiate their streaming service from NBC’s normal programming and to be honest, why not.

    The home page offers the usual highlights slideshow, along with a small section containing suggested full episodes, with the rest dedicated to clips, news and the blunt end of their business.

    Two tabs operate very similar lists at the top of the screen, Shows & Full Episodes. The latter offering a list of what is currently available to watch and enjoy in full. The former, has a slightly larger list and includes content where there may be no actual episodes. I haven’t yet found a good enough reason to dwell on the Shows tab, but Full Episodes will no doubt send you to some great content. There is a “more” button that will take you to some lesser watched shows, as well as one dedicated to the classic on-demand series.

    Quality SDVideo quality is a bit of a letdown when compared to NBC’s iOS feeds, with a pleasant, but distinctively standard definition stream we measured at 1940kbps*. This doesn’t mean bad picture quality for the most part, but it certainly lacked the shine seen on the iPad, even via AirPlay.

    NBC also offer a live stream via their web portal, but before you get too excited, keep in mind that they also charge for the free-to-air stream. Yes, as odd as it sounds, the live streams require a pay-tv log-in despite being available for free over-the-air. Generally speaking, live streams are not supported by Smart DNS, so if you are outside of their region, you will need to tunnel to them via VPN.

    Platform Pros:

    • Good video quality.
    • Easy to navigate and find content.
    • Live stream
    • Widest range of content available.

    Platform Cons:

    • No HD streams.
    • Sofa unfriendly environment.
    • No Resume feature.
    • No cross-platform support.
    • No Favourites. (if there is, I found no way to access them)
    • Live stream requires pay-tv login.

    (Accessing NBC outside the US may require a good VPN or Smart DNS service. Live stream requires VPN)

    CC BUTTON Thumbnail BUTTON Catch-up BUTTON SD BUTTON Live TV BUTTON

     

     

     

     

    This service is geographically unblocked on this platform by the following Smart DNS providers:

    [pro_ad_display_adzone id=”19173″]

  • Best 2If you happen across the US iTunes app store, you can pick up the NBC iOS app for free, and it’s well worth the effort if you don’t mind the smaller screens.

    NBC’s current iOS app is a treat to the eyes, with a Home screen that highlights some of their most popular content, as well as direct links that clearly show the latest available episodes and whether a cable login is required.

    The side-menu brings up a listing of all available shows, allowing quick access to whatever you want to watch. There is also a Favourites list which can be populated with shows you want to keep track of, as well as a Watchlist with adequate episode management.

    Quality ButtonVideo quality certainly can’t be complained about either. I tested an extremely impressive average stream of 4700kbps* which filled the small iPad screen with very pleasant quality video. This may seem like an overkill for the tiny mobile screen, but once you consider AirPlay you can see why the resolution is worth it.

    And all that glorious HD bitrate really shines once you begin airplaying it across to your main TV. Video looks absolutely stunning on the big-screen, so good, it may as well come from a set-top-box. NBC have thoughtfully included a direct AirPlay button on the playback window, but unfortunately they are yet to implement any form of multitasking. Even switching off the iPad kills the stream, so you will have to contribute to the planets death by keeping two screen on at the same time.

    NBC also offer live streams via the iOS app, but you will need to have not only a pay-TV sub to access it, but also reside in a city where NBC owns the local affiliate.

    All up, this is a very solid app, and makes a great way to watch NBC shows at home. Unfortunately, without offline downloads, access while on the move is not as practical as NBC may suggest, but hopefully this comes with a live TV feature and Chromecast support at a later date.

    Platform Pros:

    • Favourites list & Watchlist.
    • Good video quality for smaller screens.
    • Resume option available.
    • AirPlay with direct access.
    • Exceptional 1080p HD streams on both iPad and iPhone.
    • Schedule for live TV.
    • Syncing between iCloud devices.
    • 3G/4G access.
    • Live TV.

    Platform Cons:

    • No offline downloads.
    • No Chromecast support.
    • AirPlay won’t multitask or allow the device to be switched off.
    • Live TV requires a pay TV sub and restricted to limited cities. (Won’t work outside of US).
    • Outside of iCloud sync, no other cross-platform support.
    • Less content than via the web portal.

    (Accessing NBC outside the US may require a good VPN or Smart DNS service)

    CC BUTTON Catch-up BUTTON Watchlist BUTTON Time Bar BUTTON HD BUTTON Resume BUTTON Recently Watched BUTTON Cross Platform BUTTON AirPlay BUTTONLive TV BUTTON

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    This service is geographically unblocked on this platform by the following Smart DNS providers:

    [pro_ad_display_adzone id=”18162″]

  • The following app has been tested on a Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4 running KitKat 4.4. Due to the enormous fragmentation of the Android ecosystem, features, availability and UI may vary dramatically between devices.

    NBC offer free Android apps for both smart phones, and tablets, making optimum use of either screen sizes, with the app available via the Google Play Store.

    Once the app is fired up, a simplified version of the Featured home page opens, with around four current shows being promoted. As with the iOS app, the left-hand side of the screen presents a menu providing access to the entire library that’s available on the platform, the Favourites page (which also operates as a Watchlist), a somewhat pointless Schedule (as there are no live streams) and the Settings page.

    And this is where we say not all mobile devices are the same. Android lovers may be rather disappointed to find that their platform offers the lowest quality streams of any provided by NBC. Clocked in at an average bitrate of 1410kbps, and with noticeable pixelation and visual artifacts, it would be difficult to even claim this as standard definition.

    This is a far cry from iOS’s staggeringly good 4700kbps stream that we measured. We suspect iOS received special treatment there as it offers AirPlay support, and that high resolution stream looks great on the big-screen TV. Since NBC haven’t even provided Chromecast support for the Android app, perhaps they don’t see any real reason to support higher quality streams.

    Outside of that, performance is pretty much on par, with the same high quality user interface design as found via Apple’s mobile products.

    Platform Pros:

    • Favourites list & Watchlist.
    • Resume option available.
    • Schedule for live TV.
    • 3G/4G access.

    Platform Cons:

    • No offline downloads.
    • SubSD quality streams.
    • No Chromecast support.
    • No live TV.
    • No cross-platform support.
    • Less content than via the web portal.

    (Accessing NBC outside the US may require a good VPN or Smart DNS service)

    CC BUTTON Catch-up BUTTON Watchlist BUTTON Time Bar BUTTON Resume BUTTON Recently Watched BUTTON

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    This service is geographically unblocked on this platform by the following Smart DNS providers:

    [pro_ad_display_adzone id=”18153″]

     

     

  • NBC provide quite a reasonable catch-up service by providing a respectable selection of their main television shows including a small back-catalogue of television classics. And one thing NBC isn’t short of, is high rating programmes. This certainly makes NBC a service worth investigating, even if they don’t make it easy to enjoy.

    With AirPlay support an 1080p HD streams, it is possible for Apple owners at least to also enjoy the content on main big-screen TV. Unfortunately, due to the lack of decent platform support, it is not quite so easy otherwise.

    Of course, the logical solution to access the latest NBC material is to simply subscribe to Hulu Plus, which offers a vast range of platform support, crisp high definition streams and a true sofa-friendly user environment. When you think about it, this is probably what NBC want. Why spend their own money developing their free service when they can profit from royalties filtering through from Hulu – not a bad business plan from their perspective in reality. Although others may argue their own advertisers on their native platform should provide a solid revenue stream anyway, without distractions from competing broadcasters.

    Still, Hulu Plus is not free and NBC’s catch-up service is. So, if you are just a casual viewer who is interested in the odd NBC show, their own services should suffice. But if you want something a bit more solid and with a lot more flexibility, Hulu Plus is certainly worth the monthly subscription! Besides, you also get access to all the other amazing range of content they provide.

    Pros:

    • Good range of the latest NBC episodes via catch-up, along with some classic on-demand.
    • Excellent HD 1080p video quality via iOS.
    • AirPlay support.
    • Limited cross-platform support.

    Cons:

    • Limited platform support.
    • No AirPlay multitasking
    • Only iCloud cross-platform support.
    • No offline downloads.
    • Website lacking important features.

     

    CC BUTTON Catch-up BUTTON Watchlist BUTTON SD BUTTON HD BUTTON Resume BUTTON Recently Watched BUTTON Live TV BUTTON Cross Platform BUTTON AirPlay BUTTON

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Log:

    06-09-2013: Review published. Score 5.4 – Above Average.

    11.02.2015: Major overhaul of iOS platform review.

    12.02.2015: Major overhaul of web portal review. Added Android review. Score increased to 6.2.

    18.02.2015: Updated with Live TV reference for iOS.

    * Bitrate tests were based on multiple averages and are subject to both the geographical location and ISP bandwidth at the time.