Paid subscription services like Netflix, Hulu, and HBO have long been the standard in streaming. But a relatively new influx of free, ad-supported services has started to change the game. With services like Tubi TV, Crackle, and Popcornflix competing for your attention, the future of cord cutting may be little more affordable for all of us.
Today, we’re taking a closer look at one of these free streaming services. Popcornflix makes a simple promise: “Movies. TV. Free.” The price is right, but do they deliver quality content? Here’s our complete review.
We’ll talk a bit more about this in the “Platforms” section, but we were surprised to notice a pretty significant difference in quality between Popcornflix’s web app and their mobile apps. Let’s start by breaking down the web app.
The content on web app is organized well, with the genres front-and-center and recommended content all over the page. But the ads on the page are stuck in haphazardly, in a way that recalls the more shifty look of the illegal web-hosted streaming services of yore (remember Peekvid and MegaUpload?).
Adding to this low-rent impression is the way in which Popcornflix has labeled its content. While Popcornflix offers information about its content in the same way that Netflix and Hulu do, the program names themselves are often kind of sloppy. For instance, click on a show and you’ll often find individual episodes labeled with conventions like “[show name] S2 E3.”
The naming issue exists on all of the apps, but in other areas, the mobile apps surge ahead of the in-browser experience. Navigating the apps on Android, iOS, and Roku is a much more pleasant experience. The other apps just seem more thought out and better programmed than the web app.
The mobile apps also prompt you to choose how you want to watch (Chromecast vs. on the device) as soon as you hit play, which is a nice little touch.
It’s also worth noting that Popcornflix offers a separate kid-friendly app called PopcornflixKids. That’s a real perk for parents with young children in the house.
With free streaming services, you generally get far less content than you would with a paid service like Netflix. Popcornflix is no exception here. The quality is undeniably of a lower quality than that of Netflix or Hulu. For fans of horror films or cult comedies, though, there’s some fairly decent stuff on offer. The documentary selection is solid as well, and the kids’ programming is fairly extensive, if rather retro (a lot of the animated content dates back to the 80s and 90s).
Overall, Popcornflix’s content library seemed to be a little better than Tubi TV’s and a little worse than Crackle’s. Popcornflix’s library may help you supplement your other streaming services, but it won’t stand up on its own.
On all platforms, Popcornflix streams pretty smoothly. Picture quality, however, is another matter entirely. Popcornflix streams had extremely poor resolution in the web app. It was pixelated and blurred, worse than typical standard definition.
On the mobile apps and Roku channel, the resolution seemed a little bitter. Still, you’ll top out at standard definition, never HD. The picture quality is probably the most disappointing thing about Popcornflix.
Popcornflix is available through a browser-based web app as well as on iOS, Android, Amazon Fire TV, Roku, XBox 360, Samsung, and BlackBerry World. The mobile apps support Chromecast. We tried it out in our browser and on iOS, Android, Roku, Chromecast, and XBox.
The experience was pretty similar across the platforms, with the exception of the web app. We found that the web app’s interface was less elegant than that of the other apps, particularly due to the ad placement. On top of that, the web app seemed to give us lower-quality streams for some reason. The web app doesn’t make content discovery or searching that much easier, so there doesn’t seem to be much of a reason to use it unless you have to.
Popcornflix has one huge advantage, of course, and that’s it’s price. Popcornflix is free.
The catch there is, of course, the ads. Popcornflix’s ads run about once every 15 minutes, which is pretty standard for these types of services. But the ad breaks on Popcornflix were noticably shorter than those on Tubi TV or Crackle, sometimes running as little as 30 seconds.
Some content is available to rent ad-free for $0.99. This doesn’t seem to be a major focus for Popcornflix, though.
Popcornflix is part of a trend that we’re very excited about, but it’s probably the least polished of the three best-known free streaming services (Popcornflix, Tubi TV, and Crackle). Its content library is about what we expected from a free service (read: not great, but acceptable), but Popcornflix’s low streaming quality really turned us off of the service. Picture quality was our main complaint about Crackle, and Popcornflix’s was even worse.
Since it’s free, Popcornflix may be worth downloading on a streaming box (where the user experience is better than in the web app). But it’s only going to supplement your preferred streaming services, and you may soon find that its picture quality is too poor to tolerate.
Please like us on Facebook to keep up to date on what's new in the world of cord cutting: