Content quality is good, but so far the service is tough to watch on an actual television screen.
THE GOOD: Solid television content, clean and simple interface.
THE BAD: Limited device support makes it hard to watch on an actual TV.
RATING: A A A A
Netflix’s new rival in Canada, Shomi, has been live for just over a week. So how does it compare?
Quite well, actually. There are some hiccups and issues, which is to be expected, but otherwise Shaw and Rogers’ joint effort at a video streaming service has a lot going for it so far, starting with a nice, clean interface.
Where Netflix divides its content into category row upon side-scrolling row, Shomi is set up more like a website with a grid of boxes. Each box is a different colour, which gives it a more varied look than Netflix. It’d be easy for something like that to look like a dog’s breakfast, but the colours are used sparingly enough to avoid it.
In the lead-up to launch, Shomi executives were touting the quality of its content and taking shots at Netflix for what many say is a sub-par catalog compared to its U.S. offerings. While I personally don’t have any complaints about Netflix Canada’s offerings, even though I wish they were on par with the U.S., Shomi certainly does have quite a bit of stuff I’m interested in watching.
There are all the past seasons of some of my favourite shows, such as Parks and Recreation, Modern Family and Battlestar Galactica, as well as several I’ve been meaning to watch, like American Horror Story and Sleepy Hollow. There are also some movies I’d actually like to see again, like The Matrix, Dodgeball and Borat. Netflix has a better and more current movie selection, but Showmi may very well already have the edge in television shows.
All told, there are about 12,000 hours of content, much of it decent. That’s enough to keep anyone busy, and it’s certainly worth the $8.99 subscription fee.
The technology behind the service is solid as well. I had two streams going at once – one on a computer and the other on a smartphone – with no buffering or slowdowns. I tried to fire up a third device but unfortunately, Shomi limits you to two streams at a time. Also, it doesn’t work outside Canada, whereas Netflix does. Otherwise, the service worked smoothly for me, with no discernible technical problems.
Shomi the problems
Shomi’s big flaw, at least for now, is the limited way in which it can be watched. You can view it on computers, some tablets and smartphones, and that’s it. An Xbox 360 app is being added later this month, while other devices such as Apple TV, Chromecast and newer game consoles are in the works. There are therefore only two ways to get it on your TV right now.*
The first is by using Shomi through a Shaw or Rogers set-top box, which is not an option right off the bat for anyone who isn’t a TV subscriber with one of the two companies. And for those who are, not all of Shomi’s content is available yet via this method because of technological issues.
Shomi via set-top box is more like a video-on-demand channel, which doesn’t have the same bandwidth as a true online streaming service. The company is hoping to overcome this hurdle, but it’s an open question as to how long that will take.
On the plus side, content watched through a set-top box doesn’t count against your monthly internet usage cap. Watched online, Shomi uses up 2.6 gigabytes of data per hour at its best high-definition setting, down to 0.7 GB on its lowest “good” setting.
The other way to watch on your TV is somewhat clumsy and requires Google’s Chromecast dongle. You can fire up Shomi in the Chrome web browser on your computer and, if you install the Google Cast plug-in, you can “cast” it to your TV screen.
I’m fairly certain this degrades the picture quality somewhat, which is grating when you consider the data cap issue. It feels like a rip-off when you’re using HD amounts of data but not getting a full HD picture.
That said, picture quality isn’t bad, but it’s definitely not as good as Netflix’s highest HD setting.
The other issue with Shomi is one we’ve known from the start. I don’t have TV or internet service with Rogers or Shaw, so I was only able to review the service through special provisioning by the company. I like Shomi enough to continue subscribing beyond my 30-day trial, but definitely not enough to switch providers, which is too bad for the service.
(*A reader points out there is a third, albeit even clumsier way to watch on your TV. You can play Shomi on your computer and hook it to a TV with an HDMI cable, if your PC has the requisite port.)
Shomi supplied a 30-day subscription for the purposes of this review.