Quality of Video Stream5
Content on Offer7.5
Airplay and iOS7
NPO.nl, the Dutch national broadcaster’s online portal offers not only a wide range of catch-up programming from their various channels, but also an extensive live streaming service that many other similar networks from around the world should take serious note of.
The Nederlandse Publieke Omroep (or National Public Broadcasting) dates back to the early 1930’s, but it was not until 1951 that the first television channel, Nederland 1, aired for the first time. Although primarily thought of as a public network, the NPO is more like a merging of public/private corporations that would be akin in many ways to a BBC/PBS mix.
This cooperation amalgamates channels from various regions under a single umbrella, allowing the npo.nl portal to be a one-stop-shop, so to speak, addressing the needs of a wide audience.
What we end up with, is a streaming service offering selected catch-up content as well as live simulcasts from Nederland 1 (npo 1), Nederland 2 (npo 2), Nederland 3 (npo 3 or Zapp between 06:30 & 19:00), Zappelin 24, Humor TV 24, Journaal 24, Best 24, Cultura 24, Holland Doc 24 and Politiek 24. In addition, selected catch-up only content is also available from additional regional channels such as Omrop Fryslân, Brabant and RTV Rijnmond.
Content is as should be expected, predominantly Dutch. Well, you wouldn’t come to npo.nl for Spanish programming would you? Still, for those hoping for an alternative to their local streaming services, there is not a lot of English language content available via npo’s catch-up, although I have seen the odd very dated British comedy. For original Dutch content however, this service is a treasure trove and in many ways a godsend to Dutch expats around the world – as npo.nl generally speaking doesn’t enforce geographic restrictions to their Dutch language catch-up content.
And there is really no reason to do so, as when you think about it, the Dutch language is all the encryption that is needed. That said, their live streams are geo-blocked, which is probably because of the greater range of foreign content available. If you wish to access the live streams, you will need a good VPN or Smart DNS service to unlock it.
Video quality is limited to standard definition only, and streamed at a variable bitrate that will adjust itself depending on your bandwidth. Don’t expect anything extraordinary here, but if your Internet connection is reasonable enough, you should be able to watch shows without too much pixelation or artifacts.
Platform support is average. Besides the web, there are mobile options via Android and iOS, with excellent AirPlay support on the latter, a Windows 8 tile app, as well as selected Smart TVs.
Finally, NPO employ a rather irritating age-restriction method, where certain catch-up content can only be played back between the hours of 22:00 and 06:00 which includes rather tame dramas. Of course, there is no doubt that a certain level of child protection should be employed, but there are far better ways to implement this than by time restrictions. Forcing an adult to wait until a certain time period before he or she can access a drama is not only over-zealous and nanny-state, but ignores segments of the population such as shift workers.
NPO’s website won’t win any awards over its design or user interface. The otherwise standard conventions utilized, imposes somehow an undercurrent of clutter and complexity that simply shouldn’t be there.
The front page offers a list of highlighted catch-up content, plus a quick link to live simulcasts from the three main television channels – not a bad start to be honest. But things take a small turn for the worse in the catch-up zone (Uitzending Gemist), as well as the Live TV page.
The page Uitzending Gemist lists the most popular/viewed content which can be sorted by date, with A-Z filtering that should make things a little easier to browse – but somehow it just doesn’t. I haven’t quite worked out why there are two A-Z listings, one also at the very top of the screen, but in any case, this is the best place to find content as it can also be filtered down by genre and channel.
Results are a little confusing, as many thumbnails seem blank, some of which leads to content that can be played, but others do not.
When playing back however, npo.nl offer the ability to choose between an automatic bitrate based on your bandwidth, or a manual choice, with rather odd increments of 162p, 234p, 306p and 342p. Keeping in mind that 360p is considered analogue, low definition quality, 480p as modern standard definition, not to mention 720p or 1080p both of which are high definition streams. Which clearly places npo’s streams as sub–SD. At their best, they are certainly acceptable to watch, but fast moving action such as sporting events do result in an average level of pixelation and visual artifacts.
The same quality video is provided both for live as well as catch-up content, but the live streams are an exciting addition to this service. Accessed via the EPG (Gid) or Live TV tab, various channels may offer live simulcasted streams. The first 11 channels almost always do, but many of the regional channels in the EPG don’t always offer live streams.
The EPG itself is rather confusing. Channels tend to change position based on which were last played, with the exception of the first three which remain static. Clicking on a channel takes you away from the full EPG to a cut-down version with a small playback window. Why not just keep the full EPG, instead of the shortened version? Finally, there is an annoying toggle between the main additional channels and regional channels. Again, this would just be so much easier if the entire listing was shown, or especially if a favourites listing could be created.
There are two EPG views, the workable horizontal one, and an impossible to comprehend vertical version. If anyone can work out the advantage of the vertical view, please don’t hesitate to pass it on here.
- Video playback quality can be automatic or manually chosen.
- Live television streams.
- Wide range of genres.
- Watchlist (Kijklijst) if logged in.
- Live radio stations as well, with basic information on what is playing.
- No HD streams.
- No way to record programs, pause live TV or even set reminders.
- No Resume feature.
- Confusing EPG system.
- Cluttered layout.
(Accessing npo.nl’s live streams from outside of the Netherlands may require a good Smart DNS or VPN)NPO iMac VerticalGuideNPO iMac RadioNPO iMac LiveTVNPO iMac HomeNPO iMac GuideNPO iMac CatchUpNPO iMac A-Z
This service is geographically unblocked on this platform by the following Smart DNS providers:
npo.nl’s iOS app, which can be found only in the Dutch iTunes store, is considerably easier to navigate and use than their website.
The Home screen comprises the usual horizontal list of scrolling highlights, which can be filtered to show Uitgelicht (Featured), Nieuw (New), Meest bekeken (Most viewed), A-Z and the Search function.
The same filters are oddly also available via the main menu on the far top/left of the screen, but the advantage of going there are the additional options such as direct links to the three main live TV services, npo 1, 2 and 3, along with the live radio link (which thankfully still works even when you switch off the iPad/iPhone).
The live radio stream will stop however, if you try to access anything else from the app, including the TV guide, which seems a bit odd, but who am I to complain really? It is after-all an incredibly basic radio service, with no details on what is currently playing, or access to audio catch-up and podcast material – unlike the BBC’s equivalent. The seven radio stations available are Radio 1, Radio 2, 3FM, Radio 4, Radio 5, Radio 6 – Soul & Jazz and fun X.
Speaking of the EPG, it’s much more basic than the website, though clearer and easier to follow. It only shows the three channels available live on the app, but you can access the catch-up content directly from the guide, along with a direct link to the live streams.
There is a favourites section as well, which programmes can easily be added, along with a reminder option as well. But the real important question would be regarding video quality, which as with the web streams, remains very much within the standard definition territory.
AirPlay is supported, and accessible directly from the video playback screen, and there is also a direct AirPlay button for the radio stations, which will no doubt come quite handy. But the best feature is that it is fully multitasking, so you can switch off the screen to save juice, or even use other apps while the live or catch-up programme happily streams across to your main TV.
Over-all, the app is well made, but lacking a few important features. I would personally like to see access to the same number of live channels as the website, along with a timeline bar showing where you left off for unfinished content – this is always helpful. Not to mention a much more polished radio player, as the current one lacks even the most basic features we have come to expect from digital radio. Still, all that said, the ease at which all this content can be played on the big screen via AirPlay, makes this platform my current favourite.
- Resume option
- Full AirPlay support including multitasking.
- Live TV channels for the big three.
- EPG included in the app, with direct access to live streams as well as catch-up.
- Favourites as well as Reminders.
- No log-in possibilities.
- No cross-platform support.
- SD quality only.
- No information on Radio programmes.
- Fewer live streams than via the web.
- No offline options.
(Accessing npo’s live streams from outside of the Netherlands may require a good Smart DNS or VPN)NPO iPad RadioNPO iPad PopularNPO iPad PlaybackNPO iPad NewNPO iPad MenuNPO iPad LiveNPO iPad InfoNPO iPad HomeNPO iPad EPGNPO iPad ChildLockNPO iPad A-Z
This service is geographically unblocked on this platform by the following Smart DNS providers:
npo.nl offer quite a reasonable range of Dutch catch-up content that ranks pretty high when compared to similar services around the world. The fact the service also offers live television streams via web and mobile devices is quite frankly, the icing on the cake. Not a lot of official television services around the world provide this. Granted, it isn’t as flash as the BBC’s simulcasts, which also offer PVR style services, but it does cover enough channels to make the offering noteworthy.
My only serious gripe would be related to the user interface. One could argued that the main problem is my lack of Dutch – and there is no doubt, understanding the language would go a long way. But with other languages under my belt, I understand enough of what I read to know where to basically go. The UI quite frankly is a little too cluttered, and I’m not even taking into account the greater levels of orange usage than is normally acceptable outside of the Netherlands.
But, once you get through to the business end, the video itself and combined with the vast range of content, npo provides an excellent service to the Dutch population.
What improvements would I like to see on this service? More cross-platform support, a tidier and more comprehensive user interface and offline access for when traveling or commuting all comes to mind, but what we have here is already above the average when compared to many other catch-up services.
(It should be pointed out that NPO is a tax-payer funded operation in the Netherlands)
- Large range of Dutch catch-up content.
- Live streams from 10 channels via web, and 3 from iOS and Android.
- Sparing use of the colour orange.
- Radio services also available.
- Resume and favourites options.
- Cluttered UI that is not always well designed.
- No quick live channel selectors.
- Very little foreign language content via catch-up.
- Age restriction is based on watershed time periods.
- No offline access.
- For the latest requirements, visit npo’s official list here.
- Some content is globally available, but others require a VPN or Smart DNS. Full details here.
11.02.2014: Review published: Score 6 – Love the Live Streams.
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