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Eye on Demand | June 24, 2017

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History Channel (US) Review

History Channel (US) Review

Review Overview

Quality of Video Stream
6
User Interface
6
Content on Offer
5
Device Availability
5
Airplay and iOS
6
5.6

On the way up!

Almost wherever you are in the world, if you look far enough up the numbers in your cable or satellite package, you may very well have come across the History Channel. What’s that, you’ve already cut the cord on your cable? No worries then as the History Channel have also moved online – although it doesn’t come without a few gotchas.

As long as you don’t actually expect to find a wealth of high quality historical documentaries on the History Channel, you won’t be bitterly disappointed. The network itself concentrates mainly these days on reality TV shows, combined with the odd factual/entertainment programme such as the American version of Top Gear. If you love Reality TV, this place could seem like heaven. If you want drama or quality documentaries… well, lets just say I learned today that I can’t buy Tabasco sauce in Europe (despite conflicting evidence in my cupboard) and ice-cubes are only found in America.

Still, we try to avoid rating the quality of content in our reviews, as that is purely a personal choice. Quantity on the other hand is something we do take into account, and in this case at least, the History Channel is hardly a treasure trove of bottomless possibilities.

The History Channel operates on a system common in the US, and almost unique to that country where catch-up services offer only the very basics of content unless the viewer has a locked in subscription with a partnered cable operator. If this is the case, it can unlock additional episodes and sometimes further programming. However, even with this, content availability seems small compared to totally free services from other countries, and that includes both the History and H2 channels combined.

That said, at the very least the latest episode of some of their main programmes are available for catch-up, but for the most popular programmes, don’t expect more than one episode at a time unless you have a partnered pay-TV subscription.

Quality SDVideo quality is stated by the History Channel as HD, depending on content. My own personal tests found nothing of the sort, although in all fairness I may have just been looking at the wrong shows. This is not to say what I was looking at was poor in quality, and to be honest, especially on the iPad the video came across as quite an acceptable standard definition stream. But HD it certainly wasn’t.

Platform support is also somewhat limited. There is web, Roku, iPad and smart phones, which although far from the levels of Netflix, Hulu or the BBC, are still pretty good for American catch-up services and offer opportunities for both mobile screens as well as the main TV.

 

  • http://www.history.com

    The History Channel has regional websites scattered across the world, but the only one that really offers full length episodes in any quantity, is at the original American site. Once you are there, History.com is well laid out and not over-cluttered with advertisements or too many pointless video clips.

    Full episodes can be found from the scrolling selection of recent additions directly on the home page, or by selecting the Video tab and then filtering for Full Episodes. Nice, but it does highlight the rather small collection that is actually available unless you are subscribing to a partnered American cable company.

    Unfortunately, things start to drop down significantly from this point. Video quality would best be described as average standard definition. I was testing the bitrate at approximately 1660kbps*, although thanks to good compression algorithms, the video was better than many other services at the same bitrate.

    I was also rather disappointed to find I could not even resume an unfinished show. Which when combined with no Watchlist to keep track of favourite programmes, I find the usefulness of this website to be rather low.

    As well as the separate pages for History and H2 videos, there is also a Topics archive providing access to a reasonable range of short 2minute history and documentary clips. This is not laid out in the nifty preview window method chosen by the iOS app, but instead simply by a text listing.

    At the end of the day, I can find very few reasons to use the History Channel’s website. With less features than that found on iOS, the only real use for this website is if you don’t own an iPad, which is to be honest, the only alternative choice.

    Platform Pros:

    • Pleasant, uncluttered UI.

    Platform Cons:

    • No Resume ability to continue previously started content.
    • No Watchlist to keep track of favourite shows.
    • Not the most sofa-friendly environment.

    (Accessing History Channel’s US content outside of the United States may require a good Smart DNS or VPN service)

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

    [pro_ad_display_adzone id=”19185″]

  • Best Choice StampDespite the History Channel having a somewhat international presence, they only provide their main iOS app through the American App Store.

    Overall the app is reasonably well laid out, without too many distractions and a pleasant enough home page to browse through, which has recently been updated for iOS7.

    The eye symbol reminiscent of CBS’s logo at the top of the screen is where you will find your Watchlist, which is split into two parts:

    Continue Watching is quite self explanatory. Here you can find your unfinished programmes. If you look carefully directly underneath the preview window, you can even find a tiny bar graph that hints at what level you last ended the show. And quite thoughtfully, programmes mistakenly played for a few seconds before ending are not added to this list.

    My Queue is where you add programmes or series that you want quick access to, or simply to keep track of for future viewing. Shows can be easily manually deleted in either list.

    The bottom of the screen also offers four options:

    • Featured: This is essentially the home screen which follows the usual pattern of suggested highlights, including not only programmes that offer full episodes, but advertising upcoming series.
    • Shows: Here you will find all shows currently offered by the History Channel. But be warned, not every series has full episodes and it is cunningly split between the History and H2 channels.
    • Topics: This is effectively a list of short history and documentary clips. Think BBC documentaries with loud music, inappropriate explosions and all packed into a 2 minute clip, perfect for short attention spans.
    • Just Added: A rather interesting method of listing all new content which can be filtered down to just include full episodes and specific series.

    Video quality was essentially the same on both tested platforms, with excellent SD quality dynamic bitrates at just a shade under 1500kbps*. This is not quite the HD streams I was lead to believe existed with this streaming service, but in all fairness maybe this was due to my location or the content tested.

    AirPlay ButtonThe new look for iOS7 has also added a greatly welcomed, but hidden feature – AirPlay support! Unfortunately, for reasons very difficult to comprehend, there is no direct AirPlay button on the main playback screen, but if you make your way to Apple’s global AirPlay toggle and switch it on, you can get fantastic quality, full-screen playback on your main TV without the need of mirroring.

    I still think the History Channel should go a couple of steps further and add this button to the playback screen, along with full multitasking, but AirPlay alone is an enormous leap forward.

    Platform Pros:

    • Resume feature allowing the app to remember where you left off.
    • SD Video streams averaged at 1470kbps*
    • Includes Watchlist.
    • AirPlay support!
    • Cloud syncing between iOS devices.
    • Timeline on Watchlist thumbnails.

    Platform Cons:

    • No HD streams.
    • No offline downloads.
    • No live streams.

    (Accessing History Channel’s US content outside of the United States may require a good Smart DNS or VPN service)

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

    [pro_ad_display_adzone id=”18174″]

  • If there is one thing we appreciate the most here at Eye on-Demand, it’s the ability to watch television on a real TV. Mobile platforms or laptops are fine when traveling, but we have very little love for television on a standard desktop. Television quite simply still belongs on a television, which is why I am rather impressed that the History Channel have made an effort to bring their catch-up service to Roku, and without the forced cable subscription that so often blights and restricts American catch-up television.

    Unfortunately, the network has made as little effort on design and layout as their parent company did for the A&E Channel, opting here to use the generic Roku templates rather than their own high quality efforts present on their iOS app.

    Still, it covers many of the more important aspects, mainly the ability to set programmes (and even entire series) to the watchlist, and high quality, full-screen video playback. In fact, the video quality here is the highest I have seen on all the tested platforms, and the closest to real HD.

    There are not a lot of other features though. Woefully missing is a resume option when returning to previously started material and there don’t seem to be any cross-platform support from other devices.

    If it added some of these basic options it probably would make best platform despite the generic Roku UI, as we just love television on a TV, but the lack of these is just a little too hard to ignore.

    Platform Pros:

    • Perfect sofa-friendly UI.
    • High quality near HD video stream.
    • Watchlist for episode or entire series.
    • Ability to watch some content without a cable subscription.

    Platform Cons:

    • No Resume feature.
    • Very basic UI.
    • No cross-platform support.

    (Accessing the History Channel via Roku outside of the US requires a US Roku box and Smart DNS service)

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

    [pro_ad_display_adzone id=”18174″]

  • The History Channel arrived on our review list in October 2013 with the lowest score attached to a free catch-up IPTV service. And all this actually came as somewhat of a surprise as it is owned by A&E who have fared a little better with their own service. Thankfully, since then there have been significant improvements, and as we do our best at Eye on-Demand to keep track of these and update our reviews, the History Channel has since risen significantly with the improved platform and AirPlay support.

    That said, the History Channel still needs to get a few basics sorted out. True cross platform support and availability on more devices are just a couple of things that need addressing.

    Once the ground work is done, the History Channel could be an interesting portal for those with a love for reality TV.

    At this point I would simply suggest an alternative like Hulu. With the Hulu Plus service, theoretically all of the missing features and downsides to the History Channel’s own portal are usually resolved. Hulu is simply an amazing service and one of the Networks they offer is the History Channel. Unfortunately, there are in fact less titles available than offered directly here, something which is usually the other way around for American networks on Hulu. Still, if it is available at Hulu Plus, in most cases it would be a more enjoyable experience to stream it from there.

    Pros:

    • Limited access to some free content.
    • Average video quality.
    • Roku channel and AirPlay support for sofa-friendly watching.

    Cons:

    • No true cross-platform support.
    • Content restricted without a cable subscription.
    • Sporadic episodes that often fail to follow any pattern.
    • Limited hardware and platform support.
    • Resume feature not available on all platforms.
    • No HD streams available.
    • No Watchlists or Favourites on web platform.
    • No offline downloads.

    Technical Details:

    • Videos on Flash browsers are in QuickTime MP4 format, and HTML5 on mobile devices.
    • For current minimum requirements, check the History Channel’s official support page.

    Log:

    30.10.2013: Review published. Score 4.6: Needs Improving.

    17.02.2014: Major update adding Roku channel and iO7 update: Score 5.6 – On the way up!

    * 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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