CBS Catch-up Review
Quality of Video Stream6
Content on Offer6.5
Airplay and iOS3.5
America’s CBS, the world’s second largest broadcaster after the UK’s BBC, is one of the top three television networks in the US and as can be expected, home to one of America’s most popular free catch-up services. But how well does this service compare with the other big US contenders, or globally for that matter?
Founded in 1928, Columbia Broadcasting System quickly became one of the nations largest radio networks, before branching out into television in later years. As of 2013 the network currently holds the top spot in the US television ratings battle.
As for their relatively recent foray into catch-up services, CBS.com offer free access to a selection of their home produced content, which includes such high rating shows as NCIS, CSI and Under the Dome. Although their online catch-up services would be considered average amongst the main OTA American Networks, they are somewhat limited when compared to what is offered in many other countries, with very selected hardware support (outside of pay-TV collaborations) and a comparatively small content library.
To make matters worse, unlike most American television networks, including all of the big OTA competition, CBS has very little content available on Hulu (whether under their sub or not). In many cases, selecting a show on Hulu Plus will simply redirect you to the CBS website.
At the time of publication, 24 different current shows were available for catch-up at CBS.com with full episodes. I found it quite confusing to figure out CBS’s policy regarding the availability of their shows, but CBS have stated that in general they offer the last 5 latest programmes available to stream, 8 days after they air. In reality it seems a lot more confusing with only a couple of recent episodes available with a few seemingly randomly chosen ones from many months back. If you have figured out the method to their madness, feel free to comment right here and let us all know.
On the other hand, CBS also offer a small, but interesting collection of timeless classics from their back-catalogue. Although this will no doubt rotate over time, when this review went to virtual press, 19 different series were represented including pretty much every episode from all the various Star Trek series, the first 4 seasons of Taxi, and other series with sporadic seasons and episodes like Happy Days.
Video quality is described as HD when viewed at full-screen via the web browser. To be honest, I wouldn’t have described what I saw as full high definition or even 720p, but there could have been bandwidth issues based on my location. That said, video quality was certainly sufficient with no terrible pixelation or other artifact issues.
Platform support on the other hand is woeful. Outside of the web browser, there are virtually no other hardware devices supported with the exception of iOS and Android – at least for free services that don’t require a pay-TV sub.
CBS provide a pleasant and easy to use UI via the web, if not dramatically eye-catching. Hit the Watch button at the top of the screen to head straight to where the full-length catch-up episodes reside, and in contrast to almost every other similar type of service, there is no Featured slideshow in operation.
Instead, a list of categories with suggested titles can be viewed by scrolling down the screen. It all begins with Latest Full Episodes, but in true American clip-obsessed television style, an enormous and pointless set of categories are listed with everything from Too Hot To Handle to Dose of Reality –just perfect for those amongst us with short attention spans.
If only they were full of complete episodes like the equivalent at Hulu.
Click on the All Shows button to the left of the Latest Full Episodes box to list everything that is worth watching in the network’s current line-up, but oddly enough the back-catalogue classics are located separately under Shows >> TV Classics at the very top of the screen.
You don’t have to sign in to watch shows on CBS, but if you do, you can also create a favourites list by clicking on My CBS. To be honest, I quite like how it is presented here with all full episodes clearly visible when they are available.
- Favourites list via My CBS
- Pleasant UI.
- Easy to navigate and find content.
- Good video quality.
- Best range of CBS content available online for free.
- Can resume shows already started.
- Sofa unfriendly environment.
- No true HD, despite claim.
- No live streams.
- No cross-platform support.
- Far too many clips highlighted instead of full episodes.
(Accessing CBS outside the US may require a good VPN or Smart DNS service)CBS iMac ScheduleCBS iMac PlaybackCBS iMac MyCBSCBS iMac MyCBS-PopulatedCBS iMac HomeCBS iMac EndlessClips
This service is geographically unblocked on this platform by the following Smart DNS providers:
CBS offer for the most part, a standard, run-of-the-mill catch-up service that in no way tries to stand above the competition. The same restrictions that plague most of the big OTA networks are also present with CBS, including limited new-release content, poor hardware support (including no AirPlay via iOS devices) and a delay of 8 days after airing before new episodes appears.
However, unlike the other OTA networks, without an expensive pay-TV contract, there is generally speaking no-where else to go as up-to-date CBS content is not available on Hulu. This makes, it rather ironic that the worse place to watch CBS content is still in fact the best place.
Not that CBS’s catch-up service is especially bad, but it does lack enormously when compared to similar services in other countries. Many Americans may quickly discount this as apples and oranges, but in an increasingly global world, global comparisons are more than just.
Still, there is a lot to like about the CBS catch-up service, besides some of the excellent content that CBS produce – and that also includes their on-demand back-catalogue. Many people spend a small fortune on box sets that can be watched right here for free.
- Free and no sign-in required.
- My CBS as a favourites service.
- Good range of the latest NBC episodes via catch-up, along with some classic on-demand.
- Good standard definition video quality.
- Good video playback options on web platform.
- Confusing mixture of recent and old episodes.
- No clear FAQ for viewers.
- Limited platform support.
- No true AirPlay support.
- No true HD.
- No cross-platform support.
- No offline downloads.
- Clip obsessed.
22.01.2014: Review published. Score 5 – Average.
* 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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