Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Streaming Showcase: Pub-D-Hub

Those of you without a Roku may be wondering, "What the heck is Pub-D-Hub?" Well, it's a streaming video on demand service that assembles public domain content from various sources into an easy-to-use, convenient channel that outdoes many of the high-profile services on Roku. Oh, by the way, it's FREE, and if you want to get the "Gold" services with extra features and content, it's only a few bucks a year. I strongly recommend that fans of the old and the obscure sign up for this channel. This review covers the Gold service, though the free version is well worth your time, too.

Yes, there are lots of cheap channels on Roku that gather public domain movies and TV programs and throw them up for our enjoyment.  However, Pub-D-Hub Gold goes well beyond the same assortment of "Bonanza" episodes and "Angel and the Badman" to offer a wide array of content in a variety of categories. Perhaps more importantly, it's all commercial free, the search function is decent, there is a "resume playing" option, and you can set a queue of titles and a separate playlist for automated viewing. These are features every SVOD service should offer, but many, including some that charge more per month than Pub-D-Hub does per year, do not.

I can't overemphasize how straightforward the interface is and how easy it is to use. Each Sunday morning or late Saturday night, Gold adds new content, much of it exclusive to Gold members (the "standard" free version adds content periodically but not on a set schedule). Pub-D-Hub seems reliable, and once I start a program, I rarely experience buffering or anything like that. The one time I experienced a minor technical difficulty related to my subscription, it turned out to be a blip, and most importantly, the company communicated with me promptly with useful information.

Let's get to the good stuff: What can you watch on Pub-D-Hub? Mostly older movies and TV shows of all genres, plus old-time radio, serials, vintage military and space films, cartoons, educational films, audiobooks, drive-in trailers...As long as it's in the public domain (or believed to be), it's fair game. One cool feature is the seasonal collections the channel provides around major holidays, gathering material from the site and placing it in one convenient category.

If you have the mistaken notion that public domain=garbage, please think again. As I said, this is not the same recycled PD material you've seen on countless dollar DVDs and public access channels over the years. This week, Pub-D-Hub added an episode of a well-known series in "The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet," but it also added an installment of "The Rosemary Clooney Show." It also added 3 more chapters of the "Brick Bradford" movie serial (Pub-D-Hub adds several serial chapters a week instead of all at once, but it never leaves you hanging--it adds all segments eventually), a handful of episodes of OTR program "The Smiths of Hollywood," several "Aesop's Fables" cartoons, and movies such as "Battles of Chief Pontiac" with Lex Barker and Lon Chaney Jr. Is all of it classic? Of course it isn't, but if you can't find a few hours' worth of solid entertainment on Pub-D-Hub, that's on you.

A few caveats: The service does take a few weekends off from updating (major holidays like Christmas), and sometimes I have seen it include as "new additions" items that are already on the site or were (if Pub-D-Hub drops content, I haven't noticed) on the site. Those are really nitpicky issues considering how the channel gives so much content throughout the year. Also, not every category is updated each week, but some core ones--cartoons, commercials, TV shows, movies, serials (called TV serials for some reason), and OTR are almost always given a fresh handful of titles every weekend.

Also, there is no subtitling or closed captioning, which is understandable given the nature of the programming and the low cost here, but since much of the material is in fairly rough shape, it would be nice to get something to accompany the audio, which often shows its age along with the video. You won't get "digitally remastered" stuff here, but you will get plenty to watch. In fact, my biggest problem with Pub-D-Hub is that the queue holds "only" 200 titles, which isn't enough to cover my needs!

When you hear "public domain," you may expect no frills, cheapness, and a lack of variety. However, Pub-D-Hub Gold exceeds those expectations by providing a ton of fun vintage programming in an easily navigable format. If you're frustrated by the lack of catalog content on the higher-profile SVOD channels, give this one a try. I'm not saying you can't find most or all of the titles elsewhere, but here you get it all in one places and with those features like the queue.

It's just fun to look for something to watch on here. Just last night, I watched a random old episode of "The Dennis Day Show." For a fraction of what other outlets charge, Pub-D-Hub gives you tons of material, the vintage material others are increasingly ignoring. I find myself going there more often than many other more famous channels.

Pub-D-Hub gets a solid A for all of its efforts.

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