May 22, 2024


Sapiens Digital

First Looks – Review 2020

You can spend a lot of money each month on video streaming services, or you can save a bit by using free services to meet your entertainment needs.
Crackle, jointly owned by Chicken Soup for the Soul Entertainment (yes, that
one) and Sony, is a free option that offers an adequate selection of movies and some TV
shows. The service is available on many platforms and we didn’t encounter any
issues with its streaming performance. As expected, it doesn’t have a top-notch
interface or sophisticated features such as offline downloads or full HD streams.
Anyone on a strict budget might still want to check it out for its movie collection, despite those flaws.

What Can I Watch on Crackle?

At the time of writing, Crackle has about 700 movies and a little
over 100 TV series. Crackle’s movie library is its main draw, especially since
most of the TV series are missing at least a few seasons. Crackle’s library is substantial,
but falls far short of Tubi’s claimed 20,000 titles. There is some overlap in content
between the two services, too. Still, Crackle’s movie library is larger than
that of some paid options, namely CBS All Access. HBO Now has about the same
number of movies, but most of its titles are of much higher quality.

Some of the top movies on Crackle include 3:10 to Yuma (1957), Ali,
Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Concussion, Dr. Strangelove, El Mariachi,
Fury, Glory, Invasion of the Body
(1956), Midnight in Paris,
Monster, Moon, Mr. Smith Goes to
, On the Waterfront, Rachel Getting Married, RV, Taxi
, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
(2016), and The Social Network.

Notable network shows on Crackle are Starsky and Hutch (seasons 1 and 2), Hell’s Kitchen (seasons 1 through 10),
NewsRadio (seasons 4 and 5). Crackle does produce some original movies and TV
shows (about 12 of each). I had never heard of any of the movies or shows, but
the TV series seemed more compelling. For example, there’s On Point, a series about top-ranked high school basketball
prospects, and Going For Broke, an
Ashton Kutcher-produced series about helping millennials overcome financial

These original entries are nowhere near as popular as the original
shows from other paid services, including Amazon Prime Video’s The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, CBS All
Access’s Star Trek: Picard, Disney+’s
The Mandalorian, and Netflix’s Stranger Things.

If you want to watch live TV for free, Crackle can’t help you, but
Pluto TV is one option. Note, however, that Pluto TV’s channels are largely niche and not those that you would get with a typical cable subscription. Locast is
another option for streaming local channels in major markets.

Value and Platforms

Since Crackle doesn’t cost anything, there’s no financial
reason to avoid it. As with other free services, Crackle is supported by ads and
there’s no way to get rid of them. I would prefer an option to pay to remove
ads and add other features.

Tubi is another completely free service with on-demand movies and TV
shows. IMDb TV, Plex, and Vudu similarly offer libraries of on-demand content
for free. Budgeting for video streaming services is increasingly tedious as
more and more services launch, so these are all worthwhile options for filling
some entertainment gaps.

You can still stay within your video streaming budget, even with some paid options. For instance, Hulu’s and CBS All Access’s ad-supported plans
are both only $5.99 per month. Disney+ is $6.99 per month, while Netflix and
Prime Video start at $8.99 per month.

Paid live TV services are pricier. Philo is the cheapest live TV
service at $20 per month and it offers over 60 channels. Sling TV’s Orange and
Blue plans
are slightly more, at $30 per month.

Crackle offers apps on lots of platforms. You can watch content on the
web; mobile devices (Android and iOS); gaming platforms (PlayStation 4 and Xbox
One); streaming media devices (Apple TV, Chromecast, Fire TV, and Roku); and
select smart TVs (LG, Samsung, and Vizio).

Crackle on the Web

Crackle, like Tubi and Pluto TV, does not require you to sign up for an
account to watch its content on any platform. The main benefit of setting up an
account is the ability to add items to a watchlist.

Crackle’s web interface is functional, and the black, orange, and white
color scheme looks fine, but it could organize content better. In the upper-right corner, there’s an icon to access your profile settings. Here, you can
update your personal information, opt out of notifications, and toggle parental
controls and captions. Across the top of the interface are icons for
Crackle’s home page, TV, Movies, and Search. Crackle’s search feature accepts
titles, actors, and genres. It works well for the most part, but sometimes entering a listed producer didn’t turn up relevant results.

The main page displays a slideshow with featured content and curated
sections of content below that, which Crackle refers to as channels. For
example, there’s a Spotlight, Action, Crackle Originals, Stand-Up Comedy, Film
School For Free, Movie Franchise Channels. The problem is that these section
headers are not clickable and do not correspond 1:1 with the sortable categories
under the TVs and Movies tabs. You can scroll through them on this main page, however.

The TV and Movies tabs work similarly to each other. Crackle lists all
of its available streaming titles and lets you filter by genre and sort
either alphabetically or by recently added. I wish that the curated categories
that Crackle listed on its home page appeared here. Tubi does a much better job
of providing curated sections, which is important, because as with most free
services, a good portion of the content is just not worthwhile and only makes it
more difficult to find quality content. Hovering over a show’s or movie’s
thumbnail allows you to jump directly into playback or add it to your
watchlist, which is convenient.

On the playback screen for a movie or show, you get a large video
player at the top, along with the options to add it to your watchlist, or share
it via Facebook, Twitter, or email. Sharing tools are generally more useful on
free services, since recipients can watch the linked content without signing up
for an account.

Lower on the page, Crackle lists the release year, rating,
runtime, and available audio options. It also provides a description of the
episode, series, or movie, plus a Why it Crackles quip to grab your interest.
Additionally, it lists genres, main cast members, directors, and producers.
Depending on whether you are watching a movie or a show, the bottom part of the
page either shows both an episode selector and recommended content, or just the
latter for movies.

Crackle’s Mobile App

I downloaded Crackle’s mobile app on a Google Pixel 3 running Android
10. As mentioned, you do not need to sign up for an account to use the app. The
app looks less sophisticated than the web interface, with sparse, minimally
designed menus and design inconsistencies. Plus, some graphics-intensive
elements load slowly. Crackle does not support offline downloads either. On the left side, there’s a hidden menu for navigating to
movies, TV shows, as well as your Continue Watching and Watch Later lists. In
the Settings section, you can restrict streaming to Wi-Fi, as well as block all
mature content behind a passcode.

Tapping on an entry brings you to the details page. You get all the same
information as on the web interface, including recommendations at the bottom of
the page. One feature on the mobile app that’s not on the web is a ratings
system (thumbs up and thumbs down icons). It’s unclear how adding a thumbs up
or down affects the rest of the Crackle experience, as you can’t see how other
users have rated content and it does not appear that they affect your recommendations.

Playback Experience and Features

Crackle’s playback screen looks decent and has all the standard
controls. Notably, you do get 10-second rewind and fast-forward buttons, along
with the ability to customize closed captions directly form the player. There’s
no indication of the streaming resolution though, which is disappointing. Based
on the quality of streams, I’d guess that the resolution is capped at 720p (the service did not respond to my technical inquiries),
which is lower than I’d prefer. However, all of the movies I checked seemed to
reach this resolution, the same of which cannot be said for Tubi. Some of the
movies on that service can stream at no higher resolution than about 540p.

In the video’s progress bar there are markers for where ads play. The length
of the content determines the exact number of breaks; most movies I checked had
around 10 breaks while most shows had two or three. With an ad blocker and
several different privacy extensions installed, I was able to watch content
without any ads. Your experience may differ. Crackle may also start to detect
such extensions and block users from streaming with them enabled. Without any
extensions enabled though, anecdotally, I had to sit through more ads on
Crackle than Tubi.

The mobile app’s playback is visually similar, but has fewer features.
For instance, you lose the 10-second fast-forward button (the rewind one is
still there) and the ability to customize closed captions. The rewind button is
also tiny and difficult to press.

Most importantly, however, I didn’t experience any stutters when
streaming over my home Wi-Fi connection (200Mbps download) on my mobile or
desktop test devices. Crackle recommends network speeds of at least 9Mbps (download).

Crackle does not support offline downloads on mobile devices, which is an
expected limitation of a free service. The majority of paid video streaming
services support offline downloads, including Prime Video, Netflix, CBS All
(ad-free), and Hulu (ad-free). For free services, the number of
simultaneous streams is less relevant, but I was able to sign in to the same
account on a desktop and mobile test device and stream content simultaneously.
BritBox currently leads the paid services, with support for five concurrent

Parental Controls and Accessibility

Crackle does offer a parental control toggle in the settings, but it’s
pretty basic. You can’t specify what you want to block by rating; it either
blocks all or none of the platform’s mature content. Tubi at least lets you
specify which ratings are inappropriate. Both services face a similar problem
of implementation, since they are free services and a child could easily access
the site without using the credentials you provide. Also, even if you can
convince your child to use the same account as you, neither have options to set
up multiple profiles. As a result, you and your child are subject to the same
viewing restrictions. You could set up separate accounts for you and your kid without too much hassle though.

As mentioned, you can customize the appearance of closed captions on the web player, but not on the mobile app. For example, you can change the font color, style, and size as well as the background color and transparency. I appreciate that Crackle makes these options available directly from the playback screen. The vast majority of content on Crackle supports closed captions.

Crackle and VPN

A VPN is a helpful privacy tool for protecting your privacy online
against threats such as your ISP. VPNs can also help you spoof your location,
which is a potential issue when it comes to video streaming service, since some
content may only be available in certain regions.

I tried streaming a movie on Crackle while connected to Mullvad VPN
servers based in the US, Canada, and Sweden. I could only stream content with
my Windows desktop connected to the US-based server. If you find a VPN that
works with all of the video streaming services you use, don’t assume that they
will work forever. Streaming services are getting better at detecting and
blocking VPN traffic.

Loose Embers

Crackle, like any other free service, requires you to make peace with
several trade-offs. For instance, it offers full, high-quality movies in 720p,
but it makes you suffer through a substantial number of ads. Crackle even produces some original shows, but very few are worthwhile, and its
catalog of other shows is lackluster. Plus, we would like to see marked usability
improvements to both its web and mobile interfaces. Netflix is our Editors’
Choice winner for on-demand video streaming services because of its top-notch original
shows and excellent interfaces. Our Editors’ Choices for live TV streaming
are Hulu and YouTube TV, since both offer solid channel lineups and useful

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Further Reading

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