Philo review: TV streaming options

A new live TV streaming service has entered the fray: Philo TV. It joins similar cable replacement subscriptions, such as Hulu with Live TV, Sling TV, YouTube TV and AT&T TV Now.

For anyone looking to cut the cord, Philo TV is a less expensive option than its competitors, offering 59 channels for $20 per month. It’s available on web browsers, iOS and Android phones, Roku players and Fire TV devices. Philo’s easy-to-use, bright interface toggles among a home screen with trending and recommended shows, a search feature and a DVR menu. That last feature is where Philo shines, as you can save an unlimited number of shows. Once you save a show, it records all currently airing and upcoming episodes, then stores them for 30 days.

Where Philo lags behind competitors is in its channel selection. The service offers 59 cable channels right now, but no broadcast channels.

So, is Philo worth the cost? And is it a good choice for cord-cutters? Only if your favorite channels are in Philo’s lineup.

Interface

Philo’s interface is simple, easy-to-use and well-designed. The color scheme has a “dark mode” feel, with black backgrounds and blue text. Stills from shows and movies help to brighten things up.

The interface is slightly different depending on which device you’re using, but the essentials are pretty much the same across platforms.

The interface opens on a Home screen, which features a Keep Watching section and a Saved Shows section. Below these are sections for Trending Live, Recommended, Top Shows/Movies, and New and Upcoming. The Trending Live is a cool idea, though I wondered how Philo chooses which titles to display. The Recommended selections appear to be based on shows you’ve saved. The best section is New and Upcoming, which is a helpful reminder for future viewing. Just save a show, and Philo will record new episodes as they debut.

As the service builds out and gets more subscribers, Philo should consider adding more genre sections, beyond just Top Shows and Top Movies. Highlighting more specific types of content, like cooking shows or family movies, would make for a better browsing experience.

In addition to the Home screen, there’s a Guide screen on some devices and a Live screen on others. The Guide is exactly what it sounds like: a cable-style grid format with a channel listing and air times for each show. It’s easy to scroll through and check out not only what’s airing at the moment, but also what will be on in a few hours, or even in a few days.

The Live screen shows the available channels in alphabetical order, as well as what is currently playing. Some devices, including my iPhone, get only the Live screen, and browsing shows by airtime is a much clunkier process. Basically, you have to search for a channel, and the channel profile will show you a full schedule.

Most platforms display a Search screen (on a web browser, there’s a search bar at the top of the page). Philo’s search is speedy, and starts populating results as you type. The comprehensive results include channels, shows, movies and individual episodes.

The Settings screen lets you create up to 10 personalized profiles. Philo also allows up to three simultaneous streams. If a fourth stream begins, the oldest one stops. But the service does not offer family controls, so while your kids can save their own shows, they can still access more mature fare.

When you drill down into individual  channel and show profiles, the design is also simple and clear. On a channel profile, the top section is divided between currently airing and upcoming programs (with air dates and times). There are also sections for the channel’s top shows and top movies.

On the show profile, a navigation bar allows you to toggle among seasons. The episodes area is divided into on-demand, currently airing and upcoming selections (with air dates and times). Below that is the Recommended Shows widget, also housed on the Home screen.

Once you start an episode, if it’s live and currently airing, you have the option to start from the beginning. (This is also something you can set as a rule on the Settings screen.)

Pricing and availability

All you need to sign up for Philo’s free seven-day trial is a phone number. The service will text you a link so that you can try it out, without entering credit card information. (Philo will ask for that later, if you want to continue beyond the trial.)

After the trial, Philo costs $20 per month for access to 59 channels. There are no add-ons, bundles or additional packages available for purchase.

Philo is available on multiple devices including:

  • Roku (all current models)
  • Fire TV (all current models)
  • Apple TV (4th gen or later)
  • Android TV (5.0 or higher)
  • Web browsers on Mac and Windows computers
  • iOS phones and tablets
  • Android phones and tablets (OS 5.0 and higher)
  • Fire Tablet (OS 5.0 and higher)

Philo does not currently support Airplay, screen mirroring or HDMI-out.

Content and channels

Philo’s channels run the gamut of basic cable networks, such as AMC, BBC America, Comedy Central, Food Network, HGTV, MTV and TV Land. And, for the price, Philo offers nearly double the number of channels of its closest competitor, Sling TV (which costs $20 for 30 channels).

But Sling TV’s basic plan has popular channels that Philo does not, such as ESPN, TBS and TNT. Right now, Philo does not offer add-ons or premium packages that have more channels. On Sling, you can purchase additional packages, including more sports, or kid-friendly networks.

Philo also does not stream local channels, while Sling TV, YouTube TV and Hulu with Live TV do (depending on your region).

Philo’s channel lineup is definitely subpar compared with its competitors, although the subscription is also less expensive. If the channels you like are in its stable, then Philo could work as a cord-cutting option.

When you’re watching content, there are quite a lot of ads, which are preprogrammed by the channels (in other words, they’re not controlled by Philo). But if you step away and then come back to a show, you don’t have to rewatch any ads, so at least there’s that.

DVR

Without a doubt, Philo’s best feature is its unlimited DVR. Most of Philo’s competitors cap your DVR storage.

It’s super easy and intuitive to save shows. Just click Save (with a plus sign) on the show page, or while watching an episode. Philo will then record every current and upcoming episode (movies record only once). Those recordings last in your library for 30 days.

The only caveat is that you cannot delete recordings before the expiration date. Nor can you specify recordings of only new airings. If you want to record only new episodes of Married at First Sight, for example, you’re out of luck; you’ll get the reruns as well.

Then again, if you save a show like Friends, you’ll have access to every episode that airs on any of Philo’s channels, for 30 days.

Video quality

Philo streams live TV in 720p and on-demand content in 1080p. Audio streams in standard, 2.0 stereo quality.

Most live and DVRed TV shows I streamed achieved HD resolution within 5 to 10 seconds, which is fairly standard for live TV streaming services. On a fast home network, programs generally held steady once they stabilized, but on a slower network, the resolution would sometimes degrade and then return to higher quality.

Philo recommends at least 7 mbps for one video stream, and 13 mbps when multiple devices are streaming on the same network.

Bottom line

Philo is a decent new contender in the streaming space. It offers the most channels at its price, even if some bigger names are missing from its channel lineup. The interface is well-designed, with only a few things we’d tweak to make it perfect. And Philo gets major props for the unlimited DVR, which makes it stand out from its competitors.

But unless all your favorite channels are among Philo’s lineup, it isn’t going to be a comprehensive solution for cord-cutters — at least for now. If the streamer can add more channels or premium plans down the road, it could be a worthy replacement for cable TV.

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