Pluto TV: Everything you need to know about the free TV streaming service

Pluto TV

Not keen on spending money on subscription-based streaming video services like Netflix and Hulu? There's a growing number of alternative options that provide free, ad-supported movies and TV shows. Crackle and Tubi are two of the biggest current options – and now you can also add Pluto TV to that pile.

That said, Pluto TV does things a bit differently than those other services by bringing together a wide array of content, including web-based and bespoke channels curated from licensed TV shows, as well as movie "channels" with on-demand films.

Despite its unique approach, Pluto TV offers a large amount of streaming content, it's available to watch on a lot of different devices, and it's completely free of charge. 

Recently, TV manufacturer VIZIO incorporated Pluto TV into its WatchFree service. As long as you can connect your TV to your Wi-Fi, you'll have access to free, direct streaming access to more than 100 live and linear channels.

Ready to jump on-board the free TV train? Here's a full look at what Pluto TV is all about and why it's worth a look.

How much does Pluto TV cost? 

Nothing! It costs nothing at all. You don't even need to sign up for an account to start using Pluto TV: the first time you click over to Pluto TV's website or load up one of the apps, you'll have a channel up and running right away.

Pluto TV is entirely ad-supported, and you'll encounter these commercials in different ways while watching. At times, I've fired up the website and watched 2-3 minutes' worth of ads before the content started - or occasionally after flipping channels. In other cases, the streams started right away without any sort of commercials preempting the movie or TV show.

The streaming TV channels have their usual commercial breaks every so often, and if you're watching something and click to go back earlier in the content, you might be forced to watch a couple minutes of ads before playback resumes.

The ads themselves are usually short, between 15-30 seconds apiece, but you'll see several of them - and quite often, the same handful of ads over and over again.

How can I access Pluto TV? 

Quite likely, the device you're reading this article on can access Pluto TV. It's pretty widely available across desktop, mobile, and set-top box devices, as well as smart TVs, even if it's not as ubiquitous as something like Netflix.

First and foremost, you can access the Pluto TV website from a web browser. There's also a desktop app available for Windows and Mac computers, if you plan on using Pluto a lot and would rather have something native installed.

If you're on an iOS or Android phone or tablet, you can download the official app from each respective store. Apple TV, Roku, Amazon Fire TV, and Android TV devices all have apps available, as well, plus smart TVs from Vizio, Samsung, and Sony offer up a Pluto TV app. There's also a Pluto TV app on PlayStation 4.

Interestingly, you might be using Pluto TV without even knowing it. If you're a VIZIO TV owner, the newly released WatchFree feature is an extension of Pluto TV. Turns out even TV manufacturers are coming around to the idea of free content.

What are Pluto TV's key features? 

...have we mentioned its free streaming movies and TV channels? That's the main thrust of it, obviously. But Pluto TV isn't the only ad-supported service out there, so what makes this one distinct?

The way the Pluto TV presents its offerings is rather unique. Rather than just open up access to a vault full of on-demand stuff, Pluto is set up like a cable or satellite package, with a channel guide full of various channels to flip between. However, these mostly aren't the same kind of channels you'll find on any pay service or even over the air.

There are a few familiar live channels in the mix, such as Bloomberg and CBSN. But some channels feature familiar names and content, but aren't like - like an NBC News/MSNBC hybrid that airs repeat episodes from past days, and a Fox Sports channel that does much the same.

Elsewhere, some of the channels are themed, original Pluto TV creations that cobble together existing content from other sources. For example, sports channels like Fight, Impact! Wrestling, and Stadium show sometimes years-old events. Anime All Day, meanwhile, really does show anime all day.

There are channels for the World Poker Tour and Rifftrax, as well as channels that curate web content from places like The Onion, IGN, GameSpot, Nerdist, and CNET. None of that content appears to be exclusive to Pluto TV, but it's another way to check in on your favorite sources for web video - or find new favorites by channel flipping, of course.

All told, there are more than 75 different channels spread across categories like News, Sports, Comedy, Geek + Gaming, Chill Out (mostly music and nature-themed stuff), Entertainment, Life + Style, Curiosity (science and documentaries), and finally a chunk of music and radio channels at the bottom.

There are themed movie channels, as well, with names like Pluto Movies, Flicks of Fury, and Horror 24/7 that deliver a mix of options. They function differently based on which platform you're watching from, curiously enough. 

Watching from a web browser, the movies start from the beginning like on-demand content, even when the listing shows them nearly completed. You can click "live" to jump ahead to that spot.

On the other hand, when watching from the iPad app, the movie channels would just drop us in at the current spot in the schedule. But that's seemingly because the app has a separate "Free Movies + TV" on-demand section, where you can load up those movies whenever you please. It's an odd discrepancy between platforms, even if the end result is ultimately the same.

As of this writing, the movie selection features major flicks like Shutter Island, Hugo, True Grit, and The Fighter, along with a mix of older fan-favorites (Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure, Teen Wolf), lots of documentary films, and a large number of horror options.

Why choose it over Netflix? 

It all boils down to cost, of course. Comparing their content libraries, it's a clear slam dunk for Netflix. Not only does Netflix have a massive and ever-swelling library of completely original and exclusive content, but it also has more recent films on offer, a large selection of great television shows, and other fun curiosities to discover. Netflix also has an excellent selection of kids' content, while Pluto TV has bits and pieces.

Pluto TV, on the other hand, cobbles a lot of its content together from other disparate free sources, and has a lot of stuff you've probably never heard of beyond its small, headline layer of noteworthy films. But it's free, and it's something to watch if you're not choosy. It can complement a Netflix subscription, too, if you just want another option for stumbling onto something you might not have queued up yourself.

Watch these channels 

Cats 24/7: Now here's something you won't find amidst the 700 channels of a cable subscription. Cats 24/7 is, quite literally, an all-day channel about cats: documentary shows, YouTube-like cute kitty clips, and even "Cats Gone Wild" (watch if you dare). 

Anime All Day: As mentioned above, Anime All Day really lives up to its name, flitting between English-subtitled episodes of shows like Bleach, One-Punch Man, and Saint Seiya: Soul of Gold. It's probably not the best way to follow storylines, but the shows can be pretty entertaining all the same. 

Vibes 24/7: Vibes 24/7 seems like a nicely random bit of nonsense. While watching, Vibes went in one moment from odd short films backed by thumping electronic tunes, then segued to a few minutes of The Little Rascals, and then ultimately showed adults riding homemade tricycles down steep hills. This might be our new favorite channel anywhere, to be honest…