Nowadays you have your fair share of subscriptions to choose from.
On the surface, that’s a good thing. But it also means that choosing wisely has become more important than ever. Why spend $5 or $10 here when you could be spending it better there.
This is where our “is it worth it” series comes in as these articles are based on time spent with various streaming services to give you a better idea of what you can expect before signing up.
This time we are taking a close look at CBS All Access
CBS, CBS, and more CBS
CBS All Access is about as CBS as it can get. It offers all the CBS-related content you can shake a stick at, and more. So if you are a fan of CBS in general then this is a service pretty much tailored to you.
You not only gain access to the back catalog of CBS content, but also a number of exclusives that are only available to CBS All Access members. To be clear, even if you have access to CBS channels elsewhere, you won't have access to these exclusive shows.
In addition, you also gain access to some live (yes, CBS) channels.
In terms of the price, CBS All Access currently costs $9.99 per month. This is for the ad-free plan which also lets you download episodes to watch offline.
Those looking to save on the subscription cost can opt for the $5.99 per month option instead. While this one is cheaper, it does come with ads.
A mixed content bag
CBS All Access is OK when it comes to the content, but it’s far from being great. For starters, the content is significantly more TV oriented than many might expect. Yes, there are some movies available but the movie list is pretty short in comparison to other options. At the best of times you’re probably looking at about thirty movies in total and none of which are particular new.
What’s more, due to their age most of the movies listed you could probably watch on competing services. So for example, if you already subscribe to Netflix, Hulu and/or Prime Video, the movie selection is unlikely to be a big draw and just simply a list of movies you mostly already have access to.
Which brings us to the TV shows and this is where the service comes into its own. Again, we’re not talking endless watch hours here as even by the service’s own admission there’s a maximum of about 100 shows which equates to roughly 10,000 episodes.
Still, enough to watch as long as those shows are in line with your tastes. There’s a huge emphasis on classic shows, drama, lifestyle and reality TV, and so if that’s your bag, you’re in luck.
For reference, here’s a peek at what you get in the "Drama" category
The “Reality” category
And the “Classics” category.
For those looking for some additional content, there's is the option to add one premium network to the plan. That's SHOWTIME and when added it brings the monthly cost up to $18.99 per month if going the ad-free route or $14.99 per month when opting for the ad-supported bundle.
This is a premium add-on that's widely available through streaming services, as well as directly from SHOWTIME. So there's not much need to add it through CBS All Access, although you can if you want.
Good device support, but lacking in features
A very good thing about CBS All Access is that it does seem to come with wide device support. This does include Android TV with a fully optimized app available to download from the Google Play Store.
Additionally, there’s access points available for various gaming consoles, smartphones, tablets, set-top boxes, TVs, as well as direct access through a browser. So there’s no shortage on ways in which you can tune in.
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for features in general as the various access points feel very bare bones compared to other streaming services.
For example, you cannot really customize the experience much. The various apps do not seem to give you the option to add shows to your list and so keeping track of content you might watch is harder to do than it should be - you’re always having to navigate the interface.
Yes, the apps do offer the option for you to “Continue Watching” as well as highlighting “Shows You Watch” but that’s not quite the same thing.
As an example, if you start watching something and turn it off because you don’t like it, you can expect it to remain in your “Continue Watching" list and most likely in your “Shows You Watch” list even though you do not plan to continue watching nor is it a show you watch.
That's not the same as having a list where you can add or remove content at will.
Equally annoyingly, you have to effectively start watching something in order to bookmark it for later. The interface overall just doesn’t feel like an intuitive video streaming experience.
Things are slightly richer on the mobile front as here you do gain some (not many) additional features. Most notably is the option to download and this works pretty well. You can download most episodes and even newer ones, and downloads only take a few seconds over Wi-Fi.
This feature makes the mobile app a worthwhile download but this might not be the case for everyone. If you have little need to watch CBS content on your phone when offline, then the mobile app experience becomes almost as generic as the TV app version.
Bare bones viewing experience
The actual viewing experience feels equally as bare bones as the interface in general, although this does differ slightly depending on the platform.
For example, you don’t get much control via the Android TV app as all that's on offer is a basic video player and once again the option to customize the experience is limited. You cannot select the resolution/quality or make any notable changes other than to enable closed captioning.
Fast-forwarding and rewinding is also a bit of a pain through Android TV as you can only really click forward or back in short 10-second intervals. Therefore, trying to get to a completely different part of a show or movie proves quite time-consuming.
On desktop and mobile the video player is slightly richer as you do have some additional controls including choosing the quality of the picture from four pre-set options: Auto (decides the best quality based on connection), Low, Medium and High.
Likewise, navigating withing an episode is easier and quicker.
To be clear, there’s nothing particularly wrong with the user interface and it worked perfectly each time. It’s just, there’s not much to it and that applies to pretty much every aspect of the user experience.
For some, maybe that's a good thing as there's little to do or make changes to. You simply hit play and it plays and that's it.
Live TV is a nice touch
Unlike other streaming services in this price bracket, CBS All Access does provide you with access to live TV, but again, not much as you do only get access to CBS channels.
Basically, you’re gaining access to the service’s local channels and so this will vary depending on the user's location. It might also be the case that some people in certain locations might not get any access at all.
Where we are, we were able to tune in to three different CBS channels: CBSN, CBS Sports HQ and ET Live.
These channels worked reasonably well and there were no major issues noted with the quality or reliability of the transmission. Again, the player is a little basic although you do get everything you need, including an overview of what’s on now and due to be broadcast in the coming hours.
The live TV feature did prove to be a nice addition to the experience and especially considering we're talking about a plan that costs less than $10. Although, again, this is only worthwhile if you are interested in the select CBS channels that are available, and providing you don’t have access to those same channels already.
So is it worth it?
If you are a CBS watcher in general then the service is going to be worth it providing you don’t have access to the same content elsewhere.
Some of the originals you certainly won’t have, but at the moment they are so limited in their number that there’s not a lot of new and original content to keep you ticking over month-to-month.
What the service currently trades on is is back catalog, and again this might be enough to sway CBS lovers users over, but it does not feel like it is robust enough for those who are not specifically drawn to CBS content. This is especially true at the current price which feels like a lot of money for not a lot of content.
At $9.99, this is not a great solution for most people looking to cut the cord.
Thankfully, there’s the $5.99 per month plan and this changes things somewhat. Again, you are not getting loads of content here but at $5 a month, and as a means to supplement an existing subscription package, then it is certainly worth considering.
Yes, this does mean you will lose out on some advanced features (ability to download on mobile, for example) although that's not going to be much of a loss to be honest. What is likely to be more of an issue for those opting for the cheaper plan is the ads. They are not too bad, but they are still ads and knowing you could pay a few dollars more to banish them altogether will remain hanging over your head and constantly acting as a lure to consider upgrading.
At $5.99 this is an OK service. It won’t be for everyone, but it’s a nice add-on if you already have a few subscriptions on the go and are looking for something a little extra. That said, this may be one of those services that you are best off checking in for a month or two and then cancelling again for a few months, before checking back in again for another month or two.
Repeating this cycle will make sure you get to catch up on whatever new shows are only available via CBS All Access, while also making sure you’re not endlessly paying for a service you only occasionally watch.
CBS All Access is available with a seven-day free trial and you can make use of the ad-free plan during the trial and then switch to the ad-supported option before the trial ends. So it’s worth giving the service a try to see if it is right for you.
If nothing else, just to binge on The Twilight Zone and the upcoming Star Trek: Picard.