Sunday, 25 March 2007

FreeTube: free TV online - review






UPDATED links.

I've only recently found FreeTube, 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 requirements

Most 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),
  • a Web browser like Internet Explorer, Firefox () or Opera - but Javascript must be enabled (here's how) as the service uses AJAX, and
  • some browser plugins which most of us already have: Windows Media Player, Quicktime, Real Player and Flash.

Content

They 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):
  • news
  • business
  • educational such as documentaries (e.g. Discovery Channel)
  • entertainment
  • religious
  • music
  • sports
  • fashion
  • web cams
  • movies, and
  • adult.
Just use the menu in the left sidebar to choose a genre, then click a channel to select it, and that's it. But it may take a while for the channel to load.

The full listing is best seen by clicking the "Full Listing" view on the site, left sidebar menu.

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 browser

The 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 size

It'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 box

On 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 schedules

My 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.

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 support

There'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.

Verdict

FreeTube 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.

8 comments:

eyal said...

Hi,

I enjoyed reading your blog and thought you maybe interested in the site Sutree. It's a community site that has thousands of free video lessons & tutorials.

If you liked it, please drop a line about your site in your blog.

Cheers!

peterr78 said...

Hi, a similar one with a bit less frills but much more reliabile and "community driven" is Streamick.com .. if you don't know it yet, you might want to check it out..

Improbulus said...

Thanks eyal I'll check it out if I get a chance.

Peterr78 looks good, thanks, and full screen mode works fine in Fox too.

DigitalPhish said...

hmm good review but I think its a little dated because they do let you link to the channels now. click on a channel and go down to share and you get a link and you can watch channels now. they also have a widget i use it on my blog and its kewl. it used to crash for me before in firefox but now it doesn't do that and it works fine in IE 6 on vista at least for me. its the best site, i tried that streamik one but its not the same and it doesn't work as well plus the ads a bit oto much on the site so i stick with freetube.

Improbulus said...

Belated thanks for the comment Digitalphish, you're right, the review is dated as I wrote it in March 2007 and haven't had time to update it since.

So many thanks for adding the update and your thoughts.

HanTin said...

There are satellite programs out there where we pay one time for what we think it's a good deal with many channels such as digitalsatellite.tv and ect.; just don't purchase it, it's really not worth. There are lot of channel, but it combines with many countries and the majority of channels it just like a dvd channel it plays the same thing every days. I purchased digitalsatellite.tv because I want to watch the World Cup Soccer on my laptop, but guess what it doesn't have a single sport channel that play the World Cup and likes I said it just plays repeating thing everyday and it's boring things. I paid around $30 for that satellite program, but I have to watch the World Cup on firefox, so the program is really useless and definitely not worth.

Groovbabe said...

HanTin it's a site not a program and a free one at that.

but tthey got the url wrong. it's www.freetubetv.net ! might want to change the urls to reflect that

Martin said...

Hello,

I would like to suggest this website : http://www.tvweb360.tv/


You can browse channels from around the world, free.

Martin