Since sites like YouTube and Netflix first started introducing us to streaming content, streaming websites have all worked and looked pretty much the same. Videos are sorted by names and categories and have to be selected to be played. That format has some advantages over cable (you can curate your own content and you’ll never arrive halfway through a show), but it also has a major downside: you can’t channel surf, because getting to curate your own content means having to curate your own content. And for years now, that’s how all the services have done it. Hulu, Amazon Instant Video, you name it: they all work the same way.
Pluto TV is changing that. When you load their free streaming site up on your laptop or through their free app, you’ll be greeted by an interface that looks a lot like a modern cable menu. You’ll be able to click on channels and surf through them to see what’s on. It’s a streaming site that acts like a cable box.
Curated free content
So where is Pluto TV getting all of this content?
As it turns out, Pluto TV is getting its content from the same places that cord cutters do. They’re supplying videos from YouTube, Vimeo, DailyMotion, and other streaming sites. All Pluto TV is doing is saving you the legwork of finding your next favorite show. They’re restoring the simplicity of channel surfing (without restoring your hefty cable bill).
That said, Pluto TV doesn’t only use freely available content. They also have a bunch of agreements with other content providers. They’ve inked deals with Funny or Die, Bloomberg TV, and Hulu, among others. The Hulu deal alters some of Pluto TV’s usual rules (the Hulu deal is browser-only, so you won’t find it on the mobile app version, and its content is on-demand rather than constantly streaming), but for the most part this licensed content slots right in there alongside Pluto TV’s other channels.
So how much content is there? More than 100 channels worth. Some of the channels are more compelling than others, but there is surprisingly little filler in the lineup. The major weakness of the service is that just about everything is a rerun, but Pluto TV’s time-sensitive offerings (like news and sports channels) are pretty solid considering the limitations. Lovers of classic television and viral footage will be particularly happy with Pluto’s offerings.
Features, features, features
Pluto TV matches your old cable package feature for feature. Users are able to set reminders and favorites, so you won’t miss any must-see TV. You can also explore channels by themes and genres. Pluto TV has an answer to cable’s DVR feature, too – they allow you to save shows to watch later. Of course, all of Pluto’s content is available on demand somewhere – if you really wanted to, you could just save the YouTube video URL directly. But Pluto TV’s whole appeal is that it clothes actions like this in the familiar language of a cable box, in this case turning a bookmark into a DVR-like feature.
Some channels also offer a chat feature, in case you want to know what other users think of what you’re all watching. This isn’t Pluto TV’s most compelling feature, but it’s at least a little better than YouTube comments. You can also “follow” channels, in a way that’s similar to the same feature on Twitch and other streaming services.
There’s an app for that
You can get Pluto TV through your browser or via their free mobile app, which is available on Android and iOS. It’s compatible with Chromecast, and it has an app for the Amazon Fire TV Stick. Roku users can cast to their Roku, too, though they’ll have to use an Android device to cast the screen since there’s no native Roku app. Only the latest Rokus (Roku 3 and the streaming stick) will work.
Pluto TV is a relatively new service, and it will be interesting to see it grow. It could use some more solid licensed content, but that could come with time. For now, though, their channel-surfing model seems to have solved one of cord cutting’s only problems – and we’re grateful for that!
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