Saturday, August 29, 2015

Streaming Showcase: Crackle

It's time for the debut of my series of reviews of major SVOD (streaming video on demand) services. Note that my comments and grades, unless noted otherwise, are based on my viewing on Roku 3. When evaluating each channel, I consider content, navigatability (spellcheck be damned, I'm going with it), and overall value.

First up is the easiest one to review: Crackle, a free service offering uncut movies and television shows from the Sony library along with a small assortment of originals. It's easy to evaluate something you never watch. Crackle used to be OK for a free channel, but the latest version is not worthy of my time, and it's certainly not worthy of borrowing the name of one of our nation's great candy bars.

I used to enjoy Crackle every now and then. I checked out its rotating assortment of "Seinfeld" episodes, "The Larry Sanders Show," "Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee," and the occasional movie or old "Sanford and Son" episode. The ads were annoying, and the Roku channel wasn't the easiest to navigate, but it was free.

Then a few months back, Crackle rebooted, and I had to reinstall it. Uh-oh. Streaming video channels love to change things nobody asks them to change (Witness Netflix's constant tinkering, usually not for the better). When I launched the new channel, a Crackle Original movie (I discovered later) started playing, somewhere in the middle and at extremely high volume, no less.

Autoplay is the single most obnoxious feature on any Roku channel. It's perhaps the single most aggravating aspect of Yahoo! Screen and why I rarely go back there now that "Community" is over. I groaned as soon as I saw Crackle was now assaulting unsuspecting viewers with an unwanted video. At least, I think I groaned; I couldn't actually hear myself over the movie.

It got worse, though, as I tried to get out of the movie and find some semblance of the old interface. I was looking for, you know, a way to view what else was available to watch. What do they call that? Oh, yeah, a MENU. Roku crashed. I was irritated, but I tried again. Roku crashed again. I tried again later with the same result.

A week or so later, I was able to stop whatever dumb movie was forcing itself on me and get to a menu. Only now, only 3 seasons of "Larry Sanders" were available instead of the complete run. I tried to navigate my old watchlist and had troubles. I tried to watch something and had problems selecting an episode.

You know what? Even at the low, low price of FREE, Crackle isn't worth it. "Seinfeld" is now on Hulu, and it's the whole series, not a measly 10 episodes per month. I'd like to catch up on "Comedians in Cars," but I may have to do it on the web. I've been meaning to just get "Larry Sanders" on DVD, anyway. Nothing else on Crackle is essential, especially since it mostly consists of samplers of popular TV shows instead of complete series.

NOTE: Before writing this post, I figured I'd give Crackle another shot on my Sony Blu-Ray player, even though I have had problems on it as well. No autoplay--Good. Easy to access my watchlist--Good. Able to find a "Comedians in Cars" episode and play it--Good. Episode started with a commercial--Not good but acceptable since it's free.

But after the ad, the screen went blank, and I soon got an error message saying the video was unable to play. Nice of them to do that after the commercial. I tried again, and it wouldn't even play. So long, Crackle.

Grade: F.  There is some worthwhile content on Crackle, and I appreciate that it's free, but what's the use of it on a channel you can't play even if you want to play it? This revamp is a disaster, and though I did not delete it from my Roku lineup, I did bump  it down several rows in my grid. THAT'LL learn ya, Sony!


aibreanban said...

Re roku comment: "
A week or so later, I was able to stop whatever dumb movie was forcing itself on me and get to a menu"
It plays "lucky number slevin" for me at startup and between anything. Something i never selected and would never watch. It's the most annoying.

Rick Brooks said...

You know, I apologize, but I don't remember. After a few more crashes of my Roku, I gave up and discovered that I can get around the auto play by watching on my Blu Ray--a SONY Blu Ray (probably not a coincidence).
I just tried Crackle again, and it seems that the only way you have a fighting chance to avoid whatever (Charlie's Angels: The Movie in this case) is to find what you want to watch and start it before the painfully slow auto-play kicks in.
I feel your pain!