A Really Great App, Poorly Executed
Even before I tested Can I Stream It?, its developer, Urban Pixels, won points from me for the app name. Sure, Can I Stream It? (CISI) won’t be easily verbified like Googling or Facebooking, but it lets you know what the app does: type in the name of a TV show or movie, and CISI will tell you if it’s available for streaming.
CISI searches a variety of free and pay streaming sources, including Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, Amazon, Crackle, and VuDu. Unlike other streaming services, CISI also integrates with XFINITYTV for Comcast subscribers who want remote access to shows from their cable lineup.
Can I Stream It? is not the only video streaming aggregator on the map; HTPC viewers have had options like Windows Media Center, XMBC, and Boxee for some time, and CISI competes with several desktop web-based services such as WatchItStream and MediaHound. However, the release of the CISI app for iOS and Android puts it in a very small group. As far as I know, the only others are Fanhattan and Clicker, both of which are restricted for OS and device compatibility. In addition to the web app, CISI has versions for Android, iOS, and even Windows Phones. Thus, developer Urban Pixels wins extra points for compatibility — that’s plenty of points already, and I haven’t begun to test yet!
In use, CISI is as direct as the name indicates. The search results allow you to narrow your choice down to the show, season, and exact episode you want. Then you search the various streaming services, and most of the time CISI tells you it’s not available.
Okay, so it’s not always a failure, but it’s not often a success. I was able to find The Prisoner and launch the premiere 1967 episode in my browser with no trouble. But several other searches proved much less encouraging. CISI’s search engine is somewhat limited in features; searching for Monty Python didn’t give me Monty Python’s Flying Circus as an option until I typed in the entire name.
For any search, there weren’t many free options. I suppose CISI would be helpful if I was trying to choose between the subscription-based services — if, for instance, my searches consistently showed that Netflix, Amazon, or HuluPlus had all of the shows that I was looking for. A specific Brady Bunch episode that I easily found on YouTube was “N/A” on YouTube according to CISI. I understand copyright issues with user-generated content, but CISI also told me that a specific episode of Seinfeld was unavailable — even on Crackle, which is odd as I was currently watching it in Crackle on my desktop PC. And because of the focus on specific services, you won’t find links to shows like South Park which are streamed from the network’s site — only a link to the paid services.
Obviously, the most popular shows are current shows, which aren’t often available for free or even paid streaming. Previous seasons and older mainstream shows are more likely to be available for purchase, and you can tell CISI to notify you when something does become available. So CISI could be a good way to find out which service to use — I know I’m not the only one who has been irritated by constantly jumping back and forth from Netflix to Hulu to Amazon in search of a specific show.
Then again, the aforementioned companies already have good apps with intuitive search functions, so it’s difficult to see where CISI makes the process much easier. With CISI, you have to type in the search, then click three times (four if you count having to select “TV” each time because “Movies” tends to come up by default). It’s great for tracking down specific episodes, but this specificity greatly increases the chances of the dreaded “N/A” result. It would be nice to simply have an indication of which episodes are available without having to search each one individually. Ideally, I’d love an interface that promotes discovery of new shows as well.
There really is a lot of free streaming content out there, but you wouldn’t know it from using CISI. Perhaps Urban Pixels gets a cut of any purchase, but that begs the question of why the app is ad-supported. This all costs the devs a lot of points with me. The question is “Can I Stream It?,” not “Can I Buy It?,” or “Is it OK if I Stream It?”
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