Mon, 18 May 2009 Demand Five online streaming review
Critically acclaimed US drama the pick of creditable catch-up TV service
- Manufacturer: Channel Five
- Pros: Good selection of US dramas; kids’ shows and documentaries; stable, Mac-compatible Flash-based player; useful EPG-style 'What's On' guide, including 'last night on Five' listings; good parental controls; free.
- Cons: Some content, including download rentals are PC only; lacks the vast range of programming offered by BBC iPlayer; some ads to sit through; you'll need to sign up to watch, although this is free; no live streaming.
- Min specs: Mac OS X - Five doesn't specify which versions, Firefox 2.0 or higher or Safari 3.0 or higher, Adobe Flash 9.0.115 or above, broadband connection, UK IP address.
- Price: Free
- Star rating:
So far Macworld has looked at live streaming from the BBC via iPlayer and Channel 4 - 4oD Catch-Up. Now it's the turn of Demand Five, the online catch-up TV from channel Five. Previously Demand Five relied on Windows Media Player to serve up video streams, which limited its reach to PC users only.
That all changed in February when a Flash stream was added making the service compatible with Mac and Linux machines. While some programmes, like with 4oD, are still PC only, these are generally older programmes, which can be downloaded, rented or bought.
Demand Five now offers the vast majority of new programming to everyone for free, once you sign up for the service. A valid email is required, but you can opt out of having Five updates sent to your mailbox. You also need to specify that you are over 18 in order to purchase and download shows, although we suspect the majority of users will opt for the free streaming service. By signing up you can also set parental controls, which might be useful, as Five offers a first-rate choice of young children's programmes in their Milkshake! selection.
Once signed up and logged in, you can start browsing what's available to view. Helpfully, a 'last night on Five' front-page section offers a quick guide to what you may have missed, while an EPG style grid shows you what's available to watch across Five, as well as programmes on digital channels Five USA and Fiver. After the odd short ad or three, except on Milkshake! where there are, apparently, no ads, you can sit back to watch your chosen show either within the browser or full-screen size.
Some content annoyingly is still PC compatible only.
Unfairly, Five has gained a reputation for cheap and cheerful TV filler, and an over reliance on low-budget US action films starring the likes of Steven Seagal, Jean-Claude Van Damme et al, along with late night titillation often touted as being ‘educational’. While that all may be true from time to time, Five also has an excellent range of critically acclaimed US drama, documentaries and pre-school shows.
CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, CSI: Miami, CSI: New York, NCIS, Numb3rs and The Mentalist are all available on Demand Five. Recent documentaries include Extraordinary People, Oil Riggers, and Helicopter Warfare, while Milkshake! offers up Mr Men, Little Princess, and Fifi And The Flowertots among others. Last, and by know means least, the always entertaining The Gadget Show may even feature the odd Mac or two.