FreeTube: free TV online - reviewSunday, March 25, 2007
I've only recently found FreeTube (alternative URL), which has been going for a while now. It offers lots of TV channels free over the Internet (funded by unintrusive ads). This is a review of FreeTube (cum tutorial or howto introduction, though it's very easy to use).
As the site puts it: "you can watch tv online for free - no fees, no downloads, no time limits!... FreeTube eliminates the necessity for any expensive hardware or monthly subscription costs and provides you with free streaming television and video on demand. Essentially, you are to use your computer as if it were a TV, without the hassle of installing any special software or purchasing expensive hardware or satellites."
System requirementsMost people with relatively modern systems will be able to watch free TV programmes over the internet via FreeTube. You just need:
- a computer with minimum resolution 800x600, and of course a Net connection (the faster the better),
- some browser plugins which most of us already have: Windows Media Player, Quicktime, Real Player and Flash.
ContentThey basically seem to aggregate free TV channels available elsewhere on the Web so that you can easily access them all from one place.
You can choose from lots of genres and channels within them, from children's TV programmes and movies to live Webcam feeds and, somewhat surprisingly (or not!) even porn channels (yes, free, nuff said):
- educational such as documentaries (e.g. Discovery Channel)
- web cams
- movies, and
The full listing is best seen by clicking the "Full Listing" view on the site, left sidebar menu (ugly version but direct link here).
They add new channels continually. Helpfully there's a "New Channels" section in the right sidebar (there's even a newsfeed available) to help users keep track of new additions.
Remember, this is streamed live TV, so you can't pause anything - you have to watch it in real time. You can press a Stop icon which on Fox anyway seems to just reload the channel (ditto the Play button); not sure how they work in IE given the crashing and black box problems.
Quality, usability, problems or bugs, support?Overall I like FreeTube, even though there are issues, but most are livable with given that it's free.
Crashing browserThe biggest problem - browser crashes.
It used to crash Firefox, though no longer with a recent update. However, while it worked for me in Internet Explorer 6, it's now crashing Internet Explorer 7, on my system anyway.
Luckily Fox mostly works, but it still occasionally crashes Fox, and that's not even on changing channels but on trying links to other parts of the site e.g. FAQs. I suspect it's to do with their AJAX coding of the site (side point: I hate the way you can't link direct to pages of certain AJAX sites, or you can but it's ugly. I wish they'd use plain HTML on pages where it's mostly static text. Big hint to FreeTube!).
So for now, I'd use Fox (or perhaps IE6) for this.
Picture quality and screen sizeIt's like watching videos from YouTube etc online, the picture is within a smaller screen inside your browser. The picture quality is what you'd expect for something like that. Not as good as real TV, but perfectly watchable in most cases (see the screenshot above). As is usual with streaming video over the Internet, there is the occasional pause and stutter.
FreeTube say you can doubleclick the screen to make it fullsize, but that doesn't work in Fox and I've not been able to try it in IE7 as it keeps crashing.
Even fullscreen though, because the resolution's not exactly huge the picture quality may not be that much better. Still, that may provide a more TV-like experience, if you can get it!
Blank boxOn some channels, it seems the most popular ones usually, you sometimes get a black box instead of a picture. It could be taking a while to load, in which case patience will sort it, or it could be broken.
They give you a "Report Channel as Broken" link plus icon under the screen to report a channel as broken though you have to wait for a countdown to end before you can click them, I guess to stop the hasty or impatient from wrongly reporting a channel.
The FAQs generally cover the common problems.
Nice touches: My Channels, Top Channels and TV schedulesMy Channels. You can save a list of your favorite channels for quick access. Underneath the screen there's a "My Channels" icon (hover over the icons and the description will pop up). Click that to save the current channel to "My Channels", then your favourite channels which will be listed in a separate section at the bottom of the right sidebar, which appears immediately through the magic of AJAX.
There's also an icon next to each channel in your My Channels to delete a saved channel from the list.
It's done by cookies so you don't have to sign up or login, and you can clear your My Channels list by deleting the cookie and clearing your cache. I like. (More on My Channels.)
Top 5 Channels. You can see which 5 channels are currently the most popular ones, from the list in the right sidebar. I bet you anything though that they edit out all the Adult / XXX channels from that list, otherwise I suspect other channels wouldn't get a look in on that list!
TV schedules. Theoretically you can check the TV timetable or schedule for a particular channel by clicking an icon underneath the screen. But everytime I've tried, for every channel I've tried, it doesn't work: "The connection has timed out - The server at freetube-tv-guide.uni.cc is taking too long to respond." So clearly they do need to sort this out. But the idea is good.
Help and supportThere's a decent FAQ page and a diagnostics page (which however crashed my IE7).
I've not tried contacting them direct on any issues though so I don't know what their one on one support is like.
However they seem open to suggestions, providing a form especially for that (as well as a contact form), which is always a good sign in my book.
VerdictFreeTube is an excellent way to watch streamed TV live over the Net, for free. A great example of the ad-funded model which may well pay dividends for those involved. There are some glitches to be ironed out, but hopefully they'll get there, and the problems I've encountered so far aren't bad enough to outweigh FreeTube's many good points.
IPTV / Internet television is clearly going to be a big growth area. Sites like FreeTube are only the start. I do wonder what the impact of sites like these will be on TV licence fees - as in, the debate about whether people who watch TV programs downloaded or streamed from the Internet onto their computers should be made to pay a licence fee if they don't already have a TV. This question has already arisen in the context of the BBC's proposals to make TV available for download over the Net, which I'm blogging separately. How businesses as well as government and consumers deal with the increasing convergence between media / television and the Internet will be very interesting to watch over the next few years.