Paramount+ (formerly CBS All Access) is an on-demand streaming service by ViacomCBS which features live programming streaming and streaming of recorded content. This review of Paramount+ is primarily based on my experience with this service on my Roku devices, but will include details from friends’ experiences with their Amazon Fire Stick and other smart TVs and devices.
The concept behind Paramount+ is reasonable. It gives me live program streaming from my local CBS affiliate, plus a few other CBS operated channels. That is on top of all the recorded programs, old and modern shows, that are available to stream on demand.
Paramount+ provides a couple service levels – with and without commercial advertisements.
The most affordable service features the same content as the higher tier service, just with commercial advertisements, even on old recorded shows. The commercials are modern commercial content from current paying advertisers. You won’t get to see the original commercials from your favorite episode of Love Boat, for example.
The commercial free experience is just as it suggests; there are no commercials, except on live programming and a few recorded shows. The cost of commercial free is nearly twice that of the lower tier, but if you’re going to stream a lot of prerecorded content, then it’s worth the upgrade.
Live TV gives four channels – CBS, CBSN, CBS Sports HQ, and ET Live. Amazon Fire’s rendition of Paramount+ has a fifth channel. For my Roku devices and Vizio TV, Paramount+ only provides the aforementioned four channels.
The Live TV stream is live … there is no ability to pause or rewind.
Streaming CBS has very mixed results. Live programming, like CBS This Morning, is excessively jittery and often the audio doesn’t match with the video. If you’ve ever played a scratched Audio CD, you’ll understand the jitter I reference. The “oversampling” (Audio CD term) causes a skip ahead effect during the stream. This occurs on all devices, including my friends devices (on their own networks). It can even be seen in a browser stream. I suspect that they are using a data compression device to transfer the feed from the source location to the servers that are streaming the content, but data errors are occurring and are reflected in the jitter and mismatch.1
That last example is reminisce of the old Max Headroom show. The interesting thing about the jitter in the feed of live programming is that it is only on certain live programming, like CBS This Morning, but not the commercials during those feeds. Daytime shows like “The Price is Right” and “The Young and the Restless” do not exhibit these symptoms, probably because they are prerecorded, instead of streamed from the source studio. This jitter issue did not occur with the live feed of the Super Bowl, although every once in a while the actual game feed would go to a lower quality.
When streaming a jittery live feed through my Roku and my browser at the same time, the Roku tends to be about 1-2 seconds behind the browser. This helps to prove the issue is at CBS, not my network or provider. The digital skip jitter I see on my browser, then just a moment later the exact same jitter occurs on the Roku in the same places. Since the streams are so close, it is difficult to capture video-graphic proof. Capturing that mess is a task for another day.
CBSN, CBS Sports HQ, and ET Live all fail to stream on the Roku devices. “Unfortunately, an error occurred during playback. Please try again.” is the error received on these live feeds. They stream without issue on Amazon Fire, Vizio TV and within an Internet Browser.
The recorded shows contain content from CBS, BET, Comedy Central, Mtv, Nickelodeon and Smithsonian Channel. I do not experience the jitter issue with recorded content. For my Roku devices, only the CBS content will stream. All of the other content will not stream on Roku, but instead gives the same error as mentioned above for the Roku live streams. The other content will play on the other devices.
You probably noticed the issues with the Roku application for CBS All Access/Paramount+. Don’t let this discourage from use of the Roku devices; it isn’t Roku’s issue. ViacomCBS develops and supports their application that is used on each of the streaming platforms. Of course “support” is a generous term.
With exception of the jitter issue on some live content, the other streaming issues experienced are purely with the Paramount+ application on Roku. I have tried working with CBS Support on these streaming issues for nearly the entire time of my subscription.
CBS All Access support has not been helpful at all. I have provided a lot of technical data to help them focus on resolving the issue. Literally every response from them showed that they didn’t bother to read the information provided, or simply didn’t care. Their responses appeared to all be template messages. Ranging from “power cycle your router” and “contact your Internet Service Provider” to “We’re seeing your device is having trouble staying connected to the wifi”. I had already proved to them the issue is not my internet connection or network, and that the devices are Ethernet connected, not WiFi.
I requested multiple times for support to escalate to higher level engineers. These requests result in additional scripted responses to contact my ISP or reset components in my environment. I’ve asked specific questions which would help me to help them troubleshoot the matters. Those questions received similar template/scripted responses which were not relevant to my questions.
I don’t know if it is a matter of CBS doesn’t care to resolve the issues, or their support team can’t handle issues outside their scripted program and have no escalation path.
UPDATE – This review article has been updated after the CBS All Access rebrand to Paramount+. At the time of this update, Paramount+ was only a rebranding. The app via browser, smart TV, and Roku have not been rewritten or improved. As a result all of the issues I have experienced are still there.
Since the Paramount+ rebrand, their support has not responded to any inquiries about the issues I experience with their service.
Final Review State
If you choose to go with Paramount+, approach it with caution. If your interest is in the live streams, be prepared for an unpleasant experience. If your interest is only in the prerecorded content, like Star Trek and more, then you should be in good shape as long as the content is from the CBS network.