I’ve mentioned nimbleTV on this blog many times in the past as a way to watch and record live television channels over the internet without the need for a cable or satellite subscription. Thanks to the fine folks at nimbleTV, I had the opportunity to test drive the service for a couple of weeks, and now I’m ready to share my thoughts.
First off I want to mention that my review only covers nimbleTV on the Roku. I’m an Android user, and as I’m writing this review, nimbleTV is unavailable for Android phone and tablet users. However, nimbleTV can be used over the internet in a web browser through the nimbleTV website, and it can also be used while on-the-go with the nimbleTV iOS app for iPad and iPhone users. iOS users can also use AirPlay to push video from nimbleTV to their Apple TVs for a big screen viewing experience.
Update 4/22/2014: I’ve been told by nimbleTV that it wants to bring its service to as many devices as possible and it’s working around the clock to make that a reality. The service should support Android, Chromecast, and more devices in the future.
Installing nimbleTV on the Roku
The first thing I had to do before accessing nimbleTV on my Roku was to install the channel. It’s not available when you browse through the list of available channels on the Roku, but it is painless to install. Because nimbleTV is a private channel, you simply go to the Roku website and add it to your device. Then, go to your TV, do a software update, and the nimbleTV channel will magically appear. Finally, load it up and input your username and password to bring up the nimbleTV Roku interface.
What channels you have access to depends on your subscription plan, which you can browse here. I had access to all channels, which included local New York channels along with the standard networks like A&E, Bravo, Cartoon Network, Comedy Central, Travel Channel, and more. nimbleTV also has premium channels from HBO, Showtime, Starz, and more. If you’re a sports fan, nimbleTV has you covered with ESPN, ESPN 2, Fox Sports 1, Fox Soccer Plus, and more.
When the nimbleTV channel first loads, you’re presented with a list of the channels available to your account. The interface is what you’d expect from the Roku: a horizontal interface that is big and easy to read from far away. Above the channels you’ll see additional options, which I will get to a little later.
The majority of TV shows and movies listed in the “guide” have a poster or image which instantly lets you know exactly what the program is. Certain shows don’t have any images available, and in these cases a standard “nimbleTV” logo is used instead.
The default view shows you all the programs that are currently airing. You start at the lowest channel and as you scroll from left to right, you can browse through all the channels. All the relevant information is there for you to easily see, including the aforementioned show or movie poster, along with a station or network logo, the channel number, the time the program started, and the date.
If you’d rather browse by channel, you can move the cursor up to the top row and choose Channels. Clicking that option presents you with a similar interface, but rather than browsing all the channels and all the shows that are on, you’re given a list of all the channels available to your plan. Clicking on a channel will give you a list of all the programs on that particular channel presented in chronological order from left to right.
When you’re ready to watch something, simply click on your choice and you’re presented with the option to simply begin playing the program, or to view the recording options. Choosing the Play button will play the program live after displaying a window where the show buffers briefly before playing.
Just like your favorite set top box, the nimbleTV service has a PVR feature that allows you to record and playback shows. Depending on your plan, this PVR service could have as little as 20 hours of storage or a generous 90 hours.
As I mentioned, when you click on a show, you’re given the option to play the program or record it. Clicking on record will give you a list of recording options. These recording options give you the ability to record the current show, which refers to the one episode (or movie) you’ve selected, every new episode of the show, or every episode of the show whether it has aired before or not.
Recording shows is just as easy as you would hope it would be. I decided to record Bubble Guppies for my son, and choosing to record every episode of the show did exactly that: recorded every episode of the show whenever it aired.
Playback of Recordings
Playing back recordings was just as easy. From the home screen, you have a couple of options. Recent Recordings will give you a list that you navigate chronologically from left to right of all the shows that have recorded recently. You can also choose to view All Recordings where you will find everything that is recorded. All shows are grouped together so there’s no endless scrolling through episode after episode of the same show.
Update 4/22/2014: When playing back recordings, you can fast forward and rewind just as you would expect that you would be able to.
nimbleTV also has a Search option in the menu that will allow you to search through the listings to find a particular show, or to search through your recorded shows. This option worked perfectly when I tried it. I simply typed in “Toy Hunter” into the box to search for it, and even though it was a few days away, found the listing and set it up to record.
The one area where I would have a small complaint about nimbleTV is the video quality. I have a 50Mbps internet connection which is more than fast enough to stream video at 1080p resolution. However, the nimbleTV looked far below that. I’m not sure what the bitrate of the video is, but even the HD channels didn’t appear to be high definition. It was more like standard definition in widescreen than true HD. This is even after choosing the “Best” option in the Settings menu. Fortunately the sound didn’t sound compressed or less than what you’d expect from a regular television experience.
Update 4/22/2014: nimbleTV has told me that the quality of the video depends on the speed of your internet connection and that the video can run up to 3Mbps.
I’m not a fan of the standard Roku interface that almost all “channels” on the device seem to have, but I must say that with nimbleTV it worked really well. It was easy to browse through channels, easy to record, and easy to browse my recorded shows as well. The last time I had a cable subscription, the set top box didn’t have any graphics integrated into it, so the ability to view logos and posters made things especially appealing visually. I would even go so far as to say that I prefer using nimbleTV on the Roku than my previous cable set top box. It felt like I was simply watching TV rather than streaming it over the internet.
Overall I was really quite impressed with the nimbleTV experience on my Roku, though I did find the old complaint of 100 channels with nothing on to be somewhat true. I was often scrolling through the channels looking for something to watch but coming up with nothing. This is not a knock on nimbleTV though, but likely due to the fact that I cut the cable years ago. I’m used to watching what I want when I want, not being at the mercy of what channels happen to be showing right now.
But, I realize that there are many people who do want a regular television experience without being locked into a contract with a cable or satellite provider. Sometimes, a cable or satellite subscription is just too expensive. If you travel, you may want to take your shows with you, or you could even be located outside of America but want access to American television channels. nimbleTV is ideal for any of these situations.
In terms of cost, I’m not sure how competitively nimbleTV is priced when compared to a traditional television subscription, but the most expensive nimbleTV package runs $85 per month with a 90-hour DVR. With this plan you get 95+ channels with over 50 of those in HD. nimbleTV could be expensive compared to a regular television plan, but the flexibility with nimbleTV is what you’re paying for. I’d say that nimbleTV‘s cost is more than worth it if you’re a TV junkie who wants 24/7 access to live TV without being at the mercy of a cable or satellite company.