Sunday, April 3, 2016

First look at Bell's CraveTV

While I am not a fan of Bell as a company or their harmful politics, I decided to give CraveTV as a technology a quick look given they un-tied it to their BDU and Internet services since I wrote about it in January.


The service works on few devices, nowhere near what is available for Netflix.

While their site listed Samsung SmartTV, the model I have appears to be too old for their immature app. This makes it unlikely my wife will be interested in watching video on CraveTV as she finds the other options far less convenient than just using the remote control that came with the TV -- there is so much from Netflix, YouTube, and Ted Talks that all work great on the SmartTV option to bother looking elsewhere.

My first successful try with CraveTV was with what I would most often be using, which is my Chromebook and Chromecast devices.  The website was sufficient, but not inspiring.  Their "My cravings" menu allowed you to play the next video in a series, but using that interface you couldn't pull up information about the shows like you can in the other listings or after a search.  There is no recommendation engine, rating system, or other features that really bring you the modern video watching experience.  It felt kinda flat like traditional broadcast TV, only with more of a PVR experience where you can watch when you want rather than only when someone else scheduled it.

The play/pause button is not well implemented with Chromecast.  While you can open a new video on the website it does not switch which video the Chromecast is playing, and it will leave you stuck in the previous title.  There is no "stop" button which disconnects from the previous video and allows you to play a new one -- you are stuck going to the cast tab and stop casting before you can cast the next episode or switch titles.

The app for Android worked similar to the site with the Chromebook, with my phone also able to control a Chromecast device.

I tried on my desktop.   On Chrome it brings up all the widgets as if it is going to play video, and even gives that little spinning circle that they display when they are filling buffers, but no video or audio ever plays.  No indication why is ever displayed.   The little Chromecast button sits in the bottom-right corner, and interestingly it will connect to the Chromecast and play the video.  Possibly useful if you wanted to use a laptop as a remote control to a Chromecast, but not very useful otherwise.

First attempt with Firefox displayed a suggestion that I install a non-existent upgrade to the Adobe Flash plug-in.  I am already running the latest that is available for my Ubuntu 14.04 desktop (version as I write this).  Second attempt after upgrading every package that had an update didn't get that far, with the site displaying a connection problem : "It appears there was  problem completing your request.  Please refresh this page.".  The page I was trying to go to was itself, so that is a pretty bad sign.  I exited the browser and tried again, and again got the claim that "To watch video, you need an Adobe Flash Player Update" with a link to the Adobe site that only confirms I'm on the latest.

General impressions is that this is a beta service that they are marketing as if they were ready for general audiences.  I hope they realize the immature level of their site and plan to invest in finishing it.  Even ignoring my political problems with Bell I would not recommend this service to less technical users who would be frustrated having to fiddle and do odd things to try to get the video going.  The site is workable for technically literate people who can work their way around bugs in beta websites.

This site is improvement over  Rogers on Demand Online from 2009 which implemented commercials so poorly as to make programming unwatchable.  Then again, that might only be because they aren't trying to put commercials into the stream.


It is the content that made me look at CraveTV rather than Shomi.   I'm not interested in the regular "reality" TV, sitcoms, or excessively light drama that the lowest-common-denominator brought to broadcast television.  CraveTV has a number of titles that are more to my liking, the type of stuff that would normally be on (about the only channel I miss from my Cable TV days) as well as titles from HBO (Although, no Game of Thrones or even True Blood for whatever reason).  12 titles went into the "My Cravings" listing pretty quickly, and even though I only started my free trial yesterday I've already watched several episodes of The Librarians and Penny Dreadful.

It is typical of Bell that they are relying on questionable legal/business tactics like exclusive regional licensing to force people to their services, rather than offering competitive services using technology that would be considered of "release" quality by modern Internet era companies.  The only reason I would use their service is to access content I'm not legally able to get elsewhere, and I expect I will always have to put up with technology from them that is generations behind what modern companies like Netflix are offering.   It is sad that HBO and other cable-era content companies like it see Netflix as a competitor and Bell as a partner, rather than the other way around. I think far more people would be paying to access that content if it were untied from lesser distribution services and providers.

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