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Eye on Demand | June 24, 2017

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Willow TV Review

Willow TV Review

Review Overview

Quality of Video Stream
4
User Interface
5.5
Content on Offer
6
Device Availability
7
Value for Money
6
5.7

Video Quality Only Major Issue

Who would have thought that one of the best places to watch live televised cricket from around the world could be US-based? Willow TV covers a reasonable selection of global cricket for $15 per month, contract-free, but it’s not without its pitfalls either.

Willow TV is an American sports channel that concentrates entirely on overseas cricket, including both live and replays in English (with original commentary) and best of all, also via an OTT contract-free streaming service.

While not entire all-encompassing, Willow has at the time of publication the rights to stream matches from Cricket Australia, the Bangladesh Cricket Board, the Board of Control for Cricket in India, the Pakistan Cricket Board, Cricket South Africa, the West Indies cricket team , the Sri Lanka cricket team and Zimbabwe Cricket.

Several ICC events will also be covered, including the upcoming ICC World Twenty20 tournament in India, next year’s ICC Champions Trophy, the 2019 ICC World Cup as well as additional competitions such as the KFC T20 Big Bash League.

While not cheap, all of this cricket action should set you back around US$15 per month, which you can cancel at any time, and it can be watched via a variety of devices that includes the Apple TV, iOS, Roku US, selected Smart TVs from Samsung, Panasonic & LG, the Amazon Fire TV, and Chromecast.

With so much cricket, available over so many platforms, what could possibly go wrong? Sadly the most important part of all, video quality, where the best we’ve managed to muster so far is a 2080kbps* stream. This is nowhere near the HD quality Willow promise, and while this could be related to our geographic location, live streams from other US-based services are generally speaking much better.

WillowTV AFTV 2080kbps

 

It is worth pointing out that Willow’s own OTT solution is not the only way to officially watch Willow TV via the Internet. The service is also available as a monthly $10 plugin to Sling TV. While seemingly cheaper than their in-house solution, we will be testing this shortly to see if it is indeed better value – as it generally requires the $20 Sling TV base package as well. So look out for our updated Sling TV review and the Willow TV add-on.

 

  • Willow TV via iOS

    Willow TV provide a free iOS app either for the iPad or iPhone (& iPod Touch) in the US app store, and while it doesn’t offer a great deal of features found on alternative services (India’s Star Sports is a great example), it covers the live feeds reasonably well.

    Warning: Unless you want to be bitterly disappointed, scores for completed matches are not switched off by default. If you like to watch replayed action, it is recommended to switch this off immediately on the iOS app’s Settings panel.

    The main home screen will show whatever live feeds are currently available directly at the top, with upcoming matches and replays depending on whether you scroll the list to the left or right.

    A menu sits at the scene’s right-handside which also offers Archives, Fixtures and Settings, but if your main goal is to get straight to the live feed, this is reasonably quick.

    The playback window doesn’t offer a lot of options, with little more than a non-functioning closed-captions option, and a pause/play button. While Chromecast and AirPlay are available, there is no way to access the Chromecast switch directly from the playback window – you’ll have to return to the Home screen and switch it from there.

    Playback quality is considerably lower than found on connected-TV platforms, most likely as Willow assumes you will be watching from a smaller screen. We measured the stream at an average 1760kbps* on the iPad, which visually appeared as slightly sub-standard definition to my eyes.

    WillowTV iPad 1760kbps

    However, if you are going to view on an iPhone, expect the quality to be seriously below standard definition. We tested an average of 550kbps* over a 30minute period, and this is one of the lowest quality streams we have seen behind any IPTV pay-wall.

    WillowTV iPhone 550kbps

    While this may have been almost sufficient for viewing on a small iPhone screen, and to be honest, this low bitrate may actually have the benefit that it doesn’t eat a lot of mobile data, it fails miserably when you airplay that over to a proper TV.

    In fact, AirPlay all up is poorly implemented, with no multitasking, or even direct access via an on-screen AirPlay button. But since Willow TV is available in the tvOS app store which offers higher quality streams, there will probably be not too many people missing this feature.

    Wishlist: While this app plays back the live feed fairly well, I find its lack of second-screen functions to be quite disappointing. In all honesty, I am not a fan of second-screening anyway, but cricket is one sport where it would work perfectly, especially while casting to a TV by AirPlay or Chromecast. Then, the mobile screen could make the perfect statistics delivery platform, with graphs, charts and scorecards accessible without hindering the game’s playback on the big-screen. It is such as shame there is no such effort made here.

    (Accessing Willow TV from outside of the US may require using a Smart DNS service or VPN)

    Sport BUTTON On-Demand - BUTTON Sub SD BUTTON Live TV BUTTON Alerts BUTTON AirPlay BUTTON Chromecast BUTTON

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Platform Pros:

    • Quick and easy to jump straight into a match.
    • Chromecast supported.
    • AirPlay supported.
    • Access to highlights and replays.
    • Whilst stream quality was sub SD, it was still sharper than most other platforms.
    • Reminders.

    Platform Cons:

    • Sub SD quality streams, and very low on iPhone devices.
    • No second-screen options.
    • No direct access to Chromecast switch on playback screen.
    • No direct access to AirPlay on the playback screen.
    • No AirPlay multitasking.
    • Chromecast stream can lose contact with Willow App.
    • No offline downloads for highlights or replays.
    • iPad screen’s aspect ratio doesn’t match Willow TV’s 16:9 feeds.
    • Scores not switched off by default.
    • No cross-platform support.
    • Reminders are local only.

    This platform is geographically unblocked by the following Smart DNS provider:

    Ad Getflix

     

     

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

     


  • Willow TV via Android

    Whilst Willow have made an effort to release a native Android app for mobile devices, unlike with iOS they didn’t quite go so far as to design separate layouts for mobile or phone screens. This means while the app will work reasonably fine on a smaller mobile phone format, the tablet version is quite unpleasant to use, especially as it is forced into portrait mode.

    As you can see by the screenshots below, I’m not going to waste valuable screen real-estate by showing the images in portrait, and users will have to constantly switch between portrait and landscape handling every time they switch between a feed and the rest of the UI.

    Outside of that, the same basic principle applies as with iOS, with ArchivesFixtures and Settings optionsJust like the iOS app, the video playback screen offers very few options, without even a Chromecast switch in view (users will have to kill the feed to return back to the home screen and activate Chromecast from there).

    Unusually, there are two pretty much identical menus, one on the top left, the other on the top right. As they achieve the same task and replicate each other, I can’t really see the point of it.

    Streaming quality is average in bitrates, but due to the smaller screen, visual artefacts are not as pronounced as they are on larger TVs. Our own 30minute benchmark test averaged 1830kbps, which explains the subSD quality video we see, although in all fairness it isn’t terribly disappointing. Interestingly enough, this compared well to the iPad stream which sort of fits since this was using an Android tablet. We haven’t tested the stream on an Android phone to see if the video quality drops like it does on an iPhone.

    WillowTV Android 1830kbps

    There is one saving grace to the Android tablet app over the iPad, the aspect ratio has more chance of fitting the stream properly on the screen, especially if your device is 16:9.

    Wishlist: While this app plays back the live feed fairly well, I find its lack of second-screen functions to be quite disappointing. In all honesty, I am not a fan of second-screening anyway, but cricket is one sport where it would work perfectly, especially while casting to a TV by  Chromecast. Then, the mobile screen could make the perfect statistics delivery platform, with graphs, charts and scorecards accessible without hindering the game’s playback on the big-screen. It is such as shame there is no such effort made here.

    (Accessing Willow TV from outside of the US may require using a Smart DNS service or VPN)

    Sport BUTTONOn-Demand - BUTTONSub SD BUTTONLive TV BUTTONAlerts BUTTONChromecast BUTTON

     

     

     

     

     

    Platform Pros:

    • Quick and easy to jump straight into a match.
    • Chromecast supported.
    • Access to highlights and replays.
    • Whilst stream quality was SD, it was still sharper than most other platforms.
    • Reminders.

    Platform Cons:

    • Sub SD quality streams.
    • No second-screen options.
    • No direct access to Chromecast switch on playback screen.
    • Chromecast stream can lose contact with Willow App.
    • No offline downloads for highlights or replays.
    • No tablet dedicated version.
    • Forced into portrait mode for UI.
    • Scores not switched off by default.
    • No cross-platform support.
    • Two menus to achieve the same goal.
    • Reminders are local only.

    This platform is geographically unblocked by the following Smart DNS provider:

    Ad Getflix

     

     

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

     

  • Willow TV via Chromecast

    For the most part, Chromecast utilizes the user interface from the platform controlling it, in which case this is currently either an iOS or Android app. The only difference now is that a small Chromecast button also appears if a device is within the network.

    Which means at least for this review, refer to the iOS or Android tabs for an overview regarding the general user interface. (Chromecasting here was tested via an iPhone)

    Oddly enough, Chromecast must be selected at the app’s home screen, as there is no way to switch to a Chromecast feed from within the playback window. This is rather annoying as it means killing the live feed to backtrack, which all up increases chances of missing live sporting action.

    Chromecast

    Still, once the Chromecast stream begins, whether activated from a phone or tablet, the feed changes to a standard definition stream on the TV which is a big improvement compared to airplaying from an iPhone’s 550kbps bitrate.

    Our tests revealed a stream averaging 1815kbps*, which showed all the characteristic artefacts and blemishes we’ve seen with Willow via any of their other apps. What should really be a standard definition feed appears below that, but like all the other feeds, it is still watchable as long as you don’t sit too close to the TV in question.

    WillowTV Chromecast 1815kbps

    Being a Chromecast stream, you can either browse the mobile device while casting, use it for something else, switch off, or even remove entirely from the network. You don’t actually need the iOS or Android device at all anymore, well, except to stop the stream itself.

    (Accessing Willow TV via Chromecast from outside the US may require a Smart DNS service configured in your router, along with blocking Google’s DNS lookups)

    Sport BUTTON Catch-up BUTTON Live TV BUTTON Sub SD BUTTON SD BUTTON Chromecast BUTTON

    Platform Pros:

    • Fantastic and easy way to stream Willow TV content to a television from Android or Apple without the need of AirPlay.
    • Full multitasking on the mobile device used for controlling.
    • Average video quality (but better than iPhone).
    • Easy to use.
    • Affordable way to get Willow TV onto your main television.

    Platform Cons:

    • No way to easily stop the show without finding your way back to the exact spot in the Willow TV app.
    • Video playback can stop suddenly for no apparent reason.
    • Chromecast button not available directly on playback screen.
    • No second-screen options.
    • If Chromecasting via Smart DNS, static routes and Smart DNS configs are required at your router level (not required if accessing Willow TV within the United States)
    • Chromecast stream can lose contact with Willow App.

     

    This platform is geographically unblocked by the following Smart DNS provider:

    Ad Getflix

     

     

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


  • Willow TV via Fire TV

    Willow TV provide an app for all Amazon Fire TV models, and is available from the US app store. If you want to mix this app onto your Fire TV’s hub from a different region, you will need to follow this guide.

    Overall, the app isn’t one of the prettiest you’ll find. If anything, I’d describe it best as somewhat clunky. But if it does one thing really well, it makes it easy to find the live streams. No messing about here as not only are all the live matches listed on the home screen (along with upcoming matches), but by default, the first live match playing is already highlighted.

    Once clicked, two or three video sources are offered, but I always seem to have more luck with the 3rd option. Video playback is solid, but despite any allusions to otherwise, the stream is definitely not high definition, at least in our tests. We measured an average 2080kbps* bitrate during our 30minute window, which should have been standard definition, but even then exhibited visual artefacts and pixelation during periods of fast action.

    WillowTV AFTV 2080kbps

    When not playing back video, the left of the screen provides a menu where you can switch between the above mentioned Home screen, the Replays screen and Settings.

    (Accessing Willow TV from outside of the US may require using a Smart DNS service or VPN)

    Sport BUTTON SD BUTTON Catch-up BUTTON Live TV BUTTON

     

     

     

     

    Platform Pros:

    • Simple and easy to understand UI.
    • Fast link to live matches.
    • Replays available.
    • Video quality is average.
    • Can mix app on hubs from other regions through this method.

    Platform Cons:

    • Video quality is definitely not HD in our tests.
    • UI is somewhat clunky.

    This platform is geographically unblocked by the following Smart DNS provider:

    Ad Getflix

     

     

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

  • Willow TV via Apple TV 4

    Willow TV has an Apple TV app for both the earlier ATV3 and latest Apple TV 4 models. To find the app on the ATV3, the region must be set to the US, and for the ATV4, users must manually install it from the American tvOS app store. Apple TV 4 owners can mix the app with other apps from different regions, but a Smart DNS service may be required if outside of the US.

    This review was performed on an Apple TV 4 which will have a slightly different layout to the ATV 3 version. That said, Willow TVs Apple TV apps employ the stock-standard templates set aside for basic app development, so while it looks completely different to the Fire TV in layout, it’s not really any better in terms of user experience.

    Whereas the Fire TV app only had three separate menu screens, the Apple TV one has four, with Replays and Highlights separated. Other than that, there is no real significant differences outside of cosmetic ones.

    Video playback is about the same as well, ignoring promises of HD quality streams on our tests for a very average standard definition one. Our tests hung around the 2080kbps* mark, which is really nothing to write home about to start with, and marred by visual artefacts that honestly shouldn’t be there at these bitrates. Still, like the Fire TV option, the feeds are watchable as long as you don’t sit too close to your TV.

    WillowTV AFTV 2080kbps

    I only briefly looked at Replay content, as my main focus was on the live streams, but from what I could see, video quality was essentially the same.

    (Accessing Willow TV from outside of the US may require using a Smart DNS service or VPN)

    Sport BUTTONSD BUTTONCatch-up BUTTONLive TV BUTTON

     

     

     

    Platform Pros:

    • Simple and easy to understand UI.
    • Fast link to live matches.
    • Replays available.
    • Video quality is average.
    • Can easily add app to a multi-region Hub.

    Platform Cons:

    • Video quality is definitely not HD in our tests.
    • UI just employs Apple’s quick-use templates.

    This platform is geographically unblocked by the following Smart DNS provider:

    Ad Getflix

     

     

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

  • Via Sling TV

    Seriously… Sling TV! While everything else in this review concentrates on Willow TV’s own OTT service via their proprietary apps, Willow TV is also available through the entirely separate Sling TV portal, the contract-free cord-cutting cable-style service which only requires Internet access and available over a huge range of platforms and devices!

    Subscribing to Willow TV via Sling TV is fully independent to a direct subscription as described in the rest of this review, so it is important to treat this section as separate. So why are we putting this here? Well, it could be a really serious alternative to using Willow TVs own apps.

    At the time of publication, we haven’t completed our review of Willow TV via Sling TV, but Sling TV already have a solid reputation of delivering real, high quality HD streams for both TV shows and sporting events, employing an excellent user interface. So look out for our upcoming review in which we will make direct comparisons.

    Be warned however that Willow TV via Sling TV will cost at the very least double what it does on its own. While the $10 price tag may seem at first $5 cheaper, this is an add-on pack to the required $20 per month Sling TV base package which includes additional TV channels (check out our Sling TV review here), so you’ll be looking at $30 per month instead of the $15 with just Willow TV – but you’ll get a lot more channels as well as potentially higher quality streams.

    Bookmark this page and check back to see our upcoming Sling TV comparison.

    Keep Calm Samsung TV

  • How to Access Globally

    Finding a good official (and legal) source to watch live cricket in some countries can be a complete nightmare. I know this myself, as I live in Germany which is not only a country where the sport is effectively completely unknown, but on top of that many people will argue here that it can’t possibly even exist, let alone find live coverage on television.

    The problem is, Willow TV is officially only supposed to be available in the US.

    However, watching cricket via Willow TV on your home television outside of the US is not only possible, but incredibly easy to do as well. The trick is to grab yourself a good Smart DNS service. While some people tout VPNs, that method is a little out of date these days and nowhere near as good as Smart DNS.

    Smart DNS is faster than a VPN, easier to set up than a VPN, cheaper than a VPN, and unlike a VPN, it can be configured on most smart TVs and set-top-boxes. So how easy is it?… well that depends on which device you are using. The easiest of all would be the Apple TV 4 (Apple’s latest model), although the Amazon Fire TV and iOS devices are also pretty easy.

    Although we love the Roku and Chromecast devices, we don’t recommend them unless your router can manually configure DNS addresses and static routes, and many can’t (especially ones supplied by ISPs). If you prefer these devices though, contact us for more details.

    So otherwise grab yourself an Apple TV 4 or Amazon Fire TV and watch cricket via Willow TV today! You’ll need to add the Willow TV app to either device, and outside of the US this is incredibly easy for the Apple TV 4 (Note: Earlier Apple TVs require changing the whole region to the US). If you don’t already have a US iTunes account, create a free one using this guide, then add Willow TV from the US app store. Willow TV can sit happily side-by-side with apps on the 4th generation Apple TV from your own region, so there are no issues there.

    The Amazon Fire TV is just as easy if you already have a US Amazon account and only want to use the Fire TV for that country’s apps. If you want to mix apps with your own country or another, you will need to follow this guide.


     

    Now, you just need to unblock Willow TV. Normally Willow TV notices if your IP address is outside of the US and blocks access to the streams. The easiest way to unblock this is via a Smart DNS service.

    There are a lot of Smart DNS services out there right now, but our current favourite is Getflix, not only because they work great for Willow TV, but they also have fantastic support for the Apple TV 4 and Fire TV platforms, meaning plenty of other apps like ITV Hub, BBC iPlayer, Sling TV, HBO Now, TV Player and more also work outside of their regions.

    Ad Getflix

    Getflix offer a two week free trial with no credit card required for the trial period! This means you can test it out risk free, to see if it works in your home network. If you are happy with the service, they’ll charge only US$3.95 per month and cheaper if you go for longer plans – and that’s less expensive than a cup of coffee these days! Don’t forget, Getflix will unblock geographic restrictions from an enormous range of other services as well.

    You will still need a Willow TV subscription as well, and this will set you back $10 per month (contract-free) from the Willow TV website. It is important to remember that a geographic unblocking service like Getflix doesn’t circumvent another company’s pay-wall! Doing so would be illegal. All Smart DNS providers like Getflix do, is identify your virtual location as being in another country so you can access either free content only available in that country, or subscribe to pay-wall content via the official and legal methods. However, it is possible that using a Smart DNS service may break the terms and conditions of the service being used.

    So why not give it a go and see how easy it is to work for you. You can set up Willow TV on a large range of connected-TV devices, including mobile phones and tablets (complete with offline downloads), as well as the Apple TV and Amazon Fire TV.

     

  • Conclusion

    As a huge cricket fan myself, I know exactly how hard it can be to find an affordable (and legal) source of live television coverage. And it doesn’t get any harder than living in Germany, a country in which only one team sport is followed – football. While in the past I have found excellent coverage via the UK’s Sky TV Sports package (via Now TV), that can be considered a little too expensive because it has to pay for the EPL coverage, a sport of which I not only don’t personally want to watch, but I certainly don’t want to pay for.

    And this is where Willow TV has huge potential. It may cost $15 a month, which in my mind is not cheap at all, and it may not cover every major cricket event in the calendar (At the time of publication, it missed the vital Australia vs New Zealand matches), but there is still a very reasonable amount of fixtures including the upcoming World Twenty20 in India.

    Willow TV is available on quite a wide range of platforms, including iOS, Android, Apple TV, Roku, Amazon Fire TV and many Smart TV hubs, but oddly enough, although with no major loss in my opinion, there is no web browser access. That said, while the apps themselves won’t win any awards for design, they pretty much do generally speaking what it says on the tin.

    But it’s not all wickets and summer sunshine unfortunately, and while Willow TV promised me HD feeds, my own tests never saw anything above standard definition – and that’s being rather liberal with the term. In many cases, video quality would drop significantly below SD and suffered from noticeable artefacts. Of course, this could be because I was viewing the stream from outside of the US (in Germany to be precise) and my geographic location could be playing a part there. That said, I get a fantastic live stream from Channel 9 all the way from Australia at twice the bitrate and visual quality, so perhaps Willow should have a good look at how they deliver their streams.

    Willow TV all-in-all makes a great way to catch up on a fairly decent amount of cricket, but while their streams are watchable, for $15 per month, I really would like to see solid HD quality feeds even if I am located in a part of the world where officially it shouldn’t reach – I suspect many Americans are experiencing similar issues where they live.

    Pros:

    • Great range of cricket on offer.
    • Easy to begin live streams.
    • Decent platform support.
    • Chromecast and AirPlay support.
    • Highlights and Replays available.
    • Original commentary!

    Cons:

    • Still misses a lot of major series and events.
    • Video quality could be a lot better.
    • Price a little expensive considering video quality and missing events.
    • No AirPlay multitasking.
    • No direct Chromecast or AirPlay buttons on playback window.
    • No console apps for PlayStation 4 or Xbox One.
    • No web browser version.
    • No second-screen functions.
    • No graphs, charts or on-screen special features.

    Sport BUTTON Catch-up BUTTON Live TV BUTTON Sub SD BUTTON SD BUTTON Chromecast BUTTON AirPlay BUTTON

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Log:

    26.02.2016: Review published: Score 5.7: Video Quality Only Major Issue.

     

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    * 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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Comments

  1. Steve

    I’d just like to note that Sling TV subscribers can get Willow TV and Willow Xtra for $5 a month beyond the cost of a basic Orange or Blue subscription. I’m not sure if it’s available solo, but what I’ve seen seems to suggest it’s $10 a month, if it is.

    • You can subscribe to the Willow package for $10 a month on Sling without needing to get Orange or Blue. You CAN get it solo.