By Harry McCracken | Thursday, February 26, 2009 at 7:21 pm
The iPhone is really an iManyThings: iCommunicator, iMusicPlayer, iGameConsole, and iRemoteControl. I’d love it to be an iTV, too–a rich source of on-demand television shows from broadcast and cable networks that stream live over its Net connection and (unlike the stuff Apple sells via iTunes) don’t cost anything. Little by little, that’s happening. Back in November, Joost released an iPhone app, and today it was was joined by a TV.com one, featuring new and old content from CBS and sister networks–from CSI to David Letterman to Gossip Girl to The Bold and the Beautiful to MacGyver to the original Star Trek to tech stuff from Cnet.
The single most interesting thing about TV.com’s app–to me, anyhow–isn’t the content, but the fact that you can stream it over any iPhone connection you’ve got, including Wi-Fi, 3G, and 2G. Joost is limited to Wi-Fi, and while it uses that speedy connection to provide surprisingly high-quality images, the times when I’m most likely to have Wi-Fi is when I’m at home, in close proximity to my TV set. The TV.com programming I checked out didn’t look as good as Joost’s, and some of the audio was tinny. I can’t tell to what degree TV.com adjusts its quality level to match the connection you’ve got: David Letterman looked and sounded a tad better over Wi-Fi than on 3G, but Star Trek seemed about the same on 2G as Wi-Fi–it just loaded faster over Wi-Fi. On the plus side, I didn’t notice any hiccups or buffering issues with the video or audio–even over 2G, playback was smooth.
Speaking of speed, the TV.com app feels sluggish to me so far unless I’m on Wi-Fi–not just the videos, but other graphical images such as thumbnails pop into place at a leisurely pace. The search feature could use some work, too: When I searched for “Star Trek,” the results page didn’t show the episode titles, so I had to click through to see what was what.
TV.com touts that it streams full episodes of shows as well as clips, and that’s true–but all the full shows I saw had been broken up into chunks of a few minutes each. I’m not sure whether that’s for technical reasons or simply because TV.com thinks that iPhone users are more likely to want to snack on shows a bite or two at time than watch them from start to finish.
As with Joost’s iPhone incarnation, I’m pleased to see TV.com landing on the iPhone, but more than anything else, it whets my appetite for what a Hulu iPhone app could be, given that Hulu has by far the strongest content lineup of any free TV streaming site. There’s no word yet if or when Hulu might land on iPhones. But I’m also eager to see Sling’s SlingPlayer Mobile for the iPhone–and that, supposedly, may be just around the corner.
I remain confident that the iPhone is going to become a great mobile TV sooner or later, but I’m still not sure about how or when…
After the jump, a few images from TV.com for iPhone: