Product Review: Crackle.
Sony decided to shamelessly promote their streaming platform during The Emoji Movie, so we put it through its paces.
I can’t think of a less auspicious beginning to a review than “this product was recommended to me by The Emoji Movie.” While critics are gleefully savaging that film, I decided to dodge a bullet and instead check out Sony’s streaming movie and television platform, Crackle. I went to set up an account on the service…and discovered I’ve had an account with Crackle since 2013. You know when a guy who watches 3-5 movies a week hasn’t touched your movie service for 4 years there has to be something fishy going on.
Crackle is a streaming service owned by Sony Pictures Entertainment. The platform was originally operated under the name Grouper (which if you haven’t tried Cajun blackened grouper, you really should) way back in 2000 before it was acquired by Sony in 2006. Re-branded as Crackle, it features TV and movies (mostly films by Sony, Sony Classics, Columbia and Tri-Star) that stream on demand. The library rotates in and out of availability every month, similar to Netflix, Amazon Prime and Hulu. Also like those services, it produces a small stable of original series and films that are exclusive to Crackle.
In almost every way, Crackle performs like a poor man’s Hulu. The platform is free to use, though they do pester you occasionally to sign up. Signing up allows you to link your accounts across multiple devices, though this is pretty much limited to creating “watch later” lists and providing minimal feedback that Crackle uses to generate recommendations. I didn’t find much difference between the vanilla version and the signed in version, since the platform tends to push the same half dozen films and shows at you, regardless of your tastes.
Free. With Ads. Plenty of ads.
Crackle performs much like Hulu did before Hulu required a pricing plan. For a television program, you get four 30 second ads, and for a feature film you get eight. Other than costing you time, the service is free and there isn’t any option to upgrade to a paid ad-free version.
Here’s where the old standby “you get what you pay for” starts to apply. The selection is limited, mostly by quality. I counted 102 movies available at the moment and 59 television series. The movies are not what you would consider classics, but there are plenty of films that many would consider fan favorites or solid. The vast bulk, however, is kinda mindless filler. I saw Steven Seagal and Jean Claude Van Damme’s mugs way too many times on the top page. For every decent film like Bottle Rocket and FearX, you’ve got a dozen trash picks like Juwanna Man, Joe Dirt, or Bad Ass 2: Bad Asses.
The television section is much the same. There are some popular favorites like Seinfeld or Heroes, but nothing currently hot. You’re not going to catch up on your missed episodes of Better Call Saul or Preacher here.
The Original films are laughably poor in quality. I saw a spate of cheap action flicks like Dead Rising, based on the video game series, and Jack Hunter, who is a blatant Indiana Jones rip-off. The current offering being pimped for August is called Party Boat…a comedy about a party on a boat. Pretty par for the course when the hyped original film mentioned in every article about Crackle is Joe Dirt 2.
As for television, you get a little higher quality. There are some serious original series like Sequestered, Behind the Ropes, and The Art of More that seem like they could draw in a mainstream audience. The serialized exclusive Snatch, based on the movie, seems like it would be at home on any other platform. There is a stop-motion super hero comedy called Super Mansion that will appeal to fans of Adult Swim, though I found it to be pretty pedestrian (even considering the voice talents of Bryan Cranston!)
Crackle can be an infuriating muddle. Nearly a decade old, the app is poorly optimized. I tried it first on my X Box One, and it crashed spectacularly several times. Making the experience even worse is a weekly high-light video with some schlub trying to heap praise on this month’s selections as if he’s an impartial critic and not a paid promo guy. This video is omnipresent. Trying to get that guy to shut the fuck up is a major chore on the X Box, as often if you pause the video (which helpfully auto-loads) it ignores you and just keeps going. It also led to several of the crashes! You’re literally fighting the platform to get to the content, and that sucks big time.
Switching to PC, things are a little better. The promo video doesn’t auto-load, and signing in is much less of a hassle. The presentation is no frills but easy to navigate. I was actually able to watch some content!
…which is where the second instance of “you get what you pay for” becomes applicable.
The video quality is pretty poor. You get the paltry choice of 360p or 480p to watch your videos in. You Tube has better fidelity. Hell, my Nintendo Wii has better graphical fidelity. The menu for each video is very spartan: you pretty much can choose one of two video settings and a few closed captioning options. This is a poor man’s streaming service, indeed. The only positive is that the site makes it very easy to see info for your selections such as run-time, year of release, and a short synopsis. Unfortunately, there’s no cast or crew info available, so you better be able to spot the stars from the box art.
Looking at this platform, I started to remember why I signed up and promptly forgot about it for four years. Crackle is pretty much a poor clone of Hulu, with none of the selection. At least with Hulu, I know I can get the Criterion Collection and have a stable of solid classics to fall back on. Looking at the selections for Crackle, I saw TWO out of 102 films that I would actually recommend. There were about a dozen guilty pleasures, like Johnny Neumonic and Alien Vs. Predator, but nothing that is “must watch.”
I’m not really a TV series guy, though, and Crackle does do better there. There are more recognizable hits, and several with wide-audience appeal. You’re not going to find Daredevil or Game of Thrones on this, but you can find plenty of animated Marvel series to scratch your itch or classics like The REAL Ghostbusters, All in the Family, The Critic and The Shield.
My take away is that Crackle is a back-up plan. If you’re tired of paying for Netflix or Amazon, I guess you could skimp by for a month or two and clean Crackle out of their decent stuff before going insane and needing to renew your subscription to other platforms. I originally got it to increase my options for getting old films to review for the site, but their selection is too chintzy to be good for that. Unless you love old TV classics or love to watch bad movies, Crackle has little for you.