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One of the biggest challenges cordcutters face is managing the volume of content available in multiple streaming apps and over-the-air. FreeCast, Inc. delivers their consumer product SelectTV powered by Smart Guide, with a motto that describes their goal, “Untangle your entertainment.”
FreeCast primarily provides entertainment solutions commercially but moved into the consumer space in 2017 with a large library of free and pay-per-view VOD, streaming channels, and more. The consumer arm of the company is SelectTV, which delivers content powered by SmartGuide. I had trouble distinguishing between the company’s naming conventions for the backend guide vs. the branded consumer service that they provide. The literature and press coverage refers to the service jointly as SelectTV or SmartGuide without a clear boundary, so I use the terms interchangeably through this review.
It’s easy to understand why the company is moving into this space. Relying on the web, streaming services, and OTA TV can be confusing and frustrating. Consumers express happiness about the number of options in modern entertainment, but long for the ease of the days of cable, with one interface and a simple guide. Many consumer entertainment devices and services have attempted an aggregated solution that will work across ecosystems to deliver options in one organized, easy to access interface, but the volume of options and the speed with which things change makes it hard to keep up.
Consumers are cutting the cord from cable and satellite providers, but the complexity of the process can be too much for some. Even if they manage the technology leap and find a streaming or OTT service, over time distribution agreements cause movies and shows to transfer from service to service. It can become overwhelming to find something to watch.
SmartGuide tackles the very modern problem of too much content by collecting all of the available online viewing options into a traditional on-screen TV guide.
SmartGuide brings together hundreds of entertainment sources into one interface. Consumers can access all of the content from one organized interface with universal search functions, and set up favorites, alerts, recommendations and more.
It’s easy to find something to watch and save it on a list of favorites for later. When you search for a show or movie, you’ll see options for platforms and corresponding prices if it’s not free. SmartGuide even makes personalized recommendations based on your viewing behavior.
SmartGuide aggregates every conceivable source of information all under one roof. Consumers can access over-the-air broadcast TV, streaming apps, online music, free online movie libraries, and SelectTV’s cloud-based content library of on-demand and pay-per-view content.
SmartGuide gathers all of your education options in one place but goes a step further by enabling you to manage and pay for all of your subscriptions within the interface. The service combines all of your OTT and streaming subscriptions into one place with an easy to use guide.
The service works seamlessly on a laptop or desktop computer. If you have a tablet that runs Flash, it works great. The drawback to the service is trying to watch it on a smaller or bigger device. Mobile apps exist for iOS, Android, and Windows Mobile devices, but they’re not in the traditional apps stores. SelectTV mobile apps are available as apk’s at https://tvappsplus.com/ and must be downloaded channel by channel. The process for this could present a barrier to those seeking a unified service to make their lives easier. A complicated setup can lose consumers and leave them equally as frustrated as when they sought out a solution.
Like most web-based content, you can use Google Chromecast to cast SelectTV to your living room’s big screen or hook it up directly with an HDMI cable. Again, this fairly minor complication is one that will be a barrier to consumers who want to turn it on and have it work.
“To enjoy the full SelectTV experience, we recommend you use a Windows (XP or greater) or Mac (version 10.6 or higher). To avoid choppy video streaming, we also recommend a connection speed of at least 1 Mbps for standard definition content, and at least 2 Mbps for HD content. You should also have the latest video plugins installed, such as Adobe Flash Player, Microsoft Silverlight, and Java.”
The cost for the service is a very reasonable $2.99/month or $29.99/annually. There are no hidden fees, equipment rentals, or installation required. The company is currently running a promotion offering a free HD antenna with a yearly subscription.
There is no limit to the number of logins, devices, or streams that you can run imposed by SelectTV, but you may run into limits from other streaming providers.
Constantly logging in and out of one app, service, or site is time-consuming. It’s not easy to check five different services to see which one might be streaming the movie you want to see. Every consumer entertainment device or service has attempted a solution that will work across ecosystems to deliver all entertainment options in one place.
I am a lifelong fan of TiVo’s unified solution, which has an industry-leading interface that aggregates content and a universal search that is the envy of many online services. Amazon deserves a shout out as the first service to make it easy to add on a premium service like HBO without having to manage the payment and subscription separately.
SmartGuide delivers an easy-to-use, inexpensive interface that manages payments, subscriptions, and a massive selection of content from every source. Friendly features like universal search, favorites, recommendations, and alerts all delivered at a reasonable price make it seem like a dream come true. But the reality of the setup and having to cast it are significant enough barriers to keep it from being highly recommended.
Megan Southard is a writer, mom, technology enthusiast, and movie junkie. She dreads the day her kids have to explain gadgets to her and is old enough to say, "I was the remote for our TV growing up."
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