It’s quite hard to rate streaming services because so much of their appeal is based on their catalogue, and the quality of the catalogue is so subjective. Disney Plus is brilliant unless you hate Disney and Star Wars content, in which case it’s pretty rubbish, and Netflix is clearly the best streaming service – unless you want sports, which it doesn’t offer but many of its rivals now do.
With that conundrum in mind, we turn our attention to Paramount+, which is essentially CBS All Access in a new, internationally recognisable package. On the one hand, it gives access to a number of (let’s be honest) fairly niche sports at a very low price. On the other hand, its broad movie and TV show output is a bit milquetoast, though there are clear, must-watch exceptions.
Ultimately, only you can decide if Paramount+ has the content you, personally, want to watch. We can, though, tell you what that content is and, more importantly, whether it’s delivered in a high-quality fashion…
Paramount+ is priced from just $4.99 a month, but this ridiculously affordable tier includes ads, does without a lot of the service’s sports content and locks you out of 4K, HDR streams. Go for the $9.99 subscription and you can wave goodbye to ads and say hello to 4K, HDR10, HDR10+ and even Dolby Vision. As far as we’re concerned, it’s a no-brainer – if you’re getting Paramount+, pay for the premium tier.
Also note that this is a review of Paramount+ in the US. It's not yet available in the UK but will be coming later in 2021 via Sky. That said, the content offering for the UK will likely be very different to that of the US.
Arguably the compelling reason to subscribe to a new streaming service is for its exclusive content. Paramount+ is founded on a bedrock of Star Trek, with the service’s first-announced Original having been Star Trek: Discovery. While some older shows and series are available elsewhere, Paramount+ is the only service to play host to every Star Trek show, and the only place where you can watch the latest episodes of Discovery and Picard, as well as the animated spin-off Lower Decks.
While Star Trek: Discovery was the first-announced Paramount+ Original, The Good Wife spin-off The Good Fight was the first to actually become available. There are now five seasons available with a sixth on the way, and reviews have been superb. Objectively, this is probably the service’s ‘best’ exclusive show, although the excellent Evil will appeal more to many and For Heaven’s Sake is a real hidden gem.
Other Paramount+ Original shows include the well-regarded Why Women Kill and the less well-regarded The Stand, The Twilight Zone reboot, Interrogation and Coyote. Ru Paul’s Drag Race All Stars is on there, and there are new Spongebob and Rugrats series on the platform, too.
That’s not a totally exhaustive list of Paramount+ Original shows, but it’s actually not far off, with the total number hovering around the 30 mark – a very small number when compared with the mammoth catalogues of Netflix and Amazon. It’s fewer than Apple TV+, too. There’s more on the way, including a Halo TV series, the Frasier revival and Yellowstone prequel Y:1883, but overall it’s hard to escape the feeling that Paramount+ simply doesn’t have enough Originals right now.
The service is actually significantly less well stocked when it comes to Original movies. At the time of writing, there are just three true Originals available; gaming documentary Console Wars, the decidedly average Sponge On The Run Spongebob movie and the truly awful Infinite. Paramount Pictures’ 2021 theatrical releases are being made available to stream 45 days after their arrival in theatres but, such has been the nature of this year’s release schedule, only A Quiet Place Part II (which is also now available for rental from other services) and PAW Patrol: The Movie have yet appeared. It’s promised that Top Gun: Maverick will get the same treatment, and assumed that Jackass Forever will, too, but beyond that the plans aren’t clear (and both movies have now been delayed into 2022).
Paramount+’s selection of Originals might be on the small side, but that isn’t to say that its overall catalogue isn’t large. In fact, in total it boasts over 2500 movies and more than 600 different TV shows, including content from CBS, Comedy Central, MTV and Nickelodeon. Admittedly, there’s loads of trash in there, but there are also classics to be found if you don’t mind sifting through.
While Paramount+ can’t really compete with the big boys on streamed TV shows and movies, it’s worth remembering that it’s a fair bit cheaper. It also has something that most don’t: live TV. Hop to the Live TV tab and you’ll find a channel guide that includes CBS, CBSN, ET Live and CBS Sports. There are various other channels dedicated to specific sports, and it’s here that things get interesting, because Paramount+ carries a lot of sport that’s either not available elsewhere or is expensive to come by.
Yes, there’s some NFL on there and a lot of college football, but it’s soccer fans who’ll be most impressed by Paramount+’s sports selection. The headline is live coverage of every UEFA Champions League and Europa League game, and the Italian, Scottish and Argentine leagues are also covered. The National Women’s Soccer League is streamed live, too. Away from soccer, Paramount+ also offers live coverage of The Masters and PGA golf, as well as the NCAA March Madness tournament.
That selection of sports won’t be for everyone, but if you’re a dedicated follower of golf or European soccer in particular, or simply a general sports fan, the low Paramount+ subscription price is going to look like an absolute bargain.
Ease of use
As well as being available via a browser, there are also dedicated Paramount+ apps for iOS, Android, Apple TV, Chromecast, Amazon Fire TV, PS4 (but not PS5) and Xbox (including the Series X), plus TVs from Samsung, LG and Vizio.
The experience across these various devices is pretty consistent. The home page features a full-screen slideshow of new and trending movies and shows, plus clickable icons for each of the dedicated providers. Simply scroll down and you’ll find rows for various content types, starting with Originals and Trending Movies and getting more genre-specific as you proceed further down.
Tap left and a column of selectable tabs becomes available, providing quick links to the service’s Shows, Movies, Live TV and News sections, each of which is in turn broken down into sections.
All told, it’s a simple and fairly effective structure that makes it easy to find what you’re looking for and, if it’s inspiration you’re after, simply scrolling down from the home screen usually results in coming across something to pique your interest. There’s a dedicated search function as well, of course.
Unfortunately, you’re not able to search for content based on picture or sound format, so you can’t simply type ‘Dolby Vision’ and have all Dolby Vision films and TV shows appear. Formats aren’t flagged as you browse through content either. In fact, there’s not even clear labelling on each title’s dedicated page – you have to scroll down to the bottom of its description in order to find out whether it’s going to stream in 4K, HDR10+, Dolby Vision and/or Dolby Atmos, and even then you don’t know whether it will actually stream in any of those formats via the specific device you’re using. Only select Roku, Amazon Fire TV and Android TV devices, plus the Apple TV 4K (5th Gen) will play the Dolby Vision streams correctly, for example, but Dolby Vision will be in the description regardless. It’s all a bit suck it and see.
If you want to see and hear Paramount+ at its best, you’d best like horror. That’s because, at the time of writing, A Quiet Place and A Quiet Place Part II are the only bits of content on the service that feature Dolby Atmos, and both also play in Dolby Vision. Watching Part II, the picture boasts the authentic cinematic warmth typical of Dolby Vision. There’s good balance and subtlety to skin tones, and nice vibrancy to the signal fire at the family’s home. It’s a clean image, too, and there’s decent detail to close-ups of characters.
Unfortunately, the picture is also rather soft and murky, lacking the crispness one would expect of a 4K stream. We test using an Apple TV 4K and an Amazon Fire TV Cube, both of which are on Paramount+’s list of devices compatible with its 4K streams, but both of which deliver the movie in a style more akin to Full HD. It’s not a bad picture, per se, but it’s not as good as it should be either, with a smeariness that makes individual elements – the corn in a field, for example – less distinct than they should be.
Switching to Jack Reacher, we’re similarly underwhelmed. While not soft enough to be mistaken for standard-def, resolution looks a little lower than is expected from an HD stream, which is what this is billed as. Edges are rather rough, there’s fizz to areas of flat color (the ocean at the movie’s opening), and there’s a slight exaggeration to the color palette, particularly in the reds. Watching the same movie via Amazon, it becomes clear that the content is fairly weak to begin with, but this second stream is that little bit sharper, punchier and cleaner.
It’s a similar story in terms of audio. Paramount+ sounds pretty punchy and dynamic, with good solidity and impact to the sniper shots at the start of Jack Reacher. Via Amazon, though, the same shots sound even weightier, more dynamic and more defined, and there’s more fine detail over the movie as a whole.
While Paramount+’s VOD content looks rather average, it’s more than adequate for the service’s live TV coverage, with the CBS 2 News studio looking bright and clean. There’s still a bit of blur around some of the on-screen text, and on-location broadcasts are less well defined than the studio shots, but this is a very palatable picture by the standards of streamed live TV.
Content-wise, Paramount+ ends up somehow being both niche and middle of the road. If you’re a fan of one of the sports leagues the service covers, you’re bound to love it, particularly given its low price. Short of the occasional shiny new gem, though (A Quiet Place Part II or Star Trek: Picard, for example), it feels as though most of its catalogue of movies and TV shows consists of stuff that you’ve either seen before or that you’re not really interested in watching.
There are more potential gems on the horizon, such as the new Top Gun movie and Halo TV show, but it feels as though the gaps between big ticket items are too large at present.
Working in Paramount+’s favour is its relatively low price, so you may be happy to let your subscription continue even when the watercooler moments are thin on the ground. Picture and sound quality are average at best, though, even with the top-tier subscription, so cinephiles will generally be better served by buying or renting individual movies and TV shows via a higher-quality provider such as Apple.
Read our Netflix review
Read our review of Amazon Prime Video
Read our Disney Plus review