Farewell, CBS All Access, and welcome, Paramount Plus! The service formerly known as CBS All Access has re-launched under the Paramount Plus name, and the changes here are much more than just brand-deep. To find out what’s new — and to determine if Paramount Plus is truly bigger and better than the old CBS All Access — read our all-new Paramount Plus review.
In testing Paramount Plus, I found it to be a sneaky good service with a few flaws. Paramount Plus lacks the name recognition and splashy debut that made Disney Plus an instant hit, but it has a nice blend of live TV and on-demand content that will appeal to fans of CBS shows and Paramount films. The lack of a few quality-of-life features hurt Paramount Plus’s score, but don’t let that deter you if you’re a fan of what ViacomCBS has to offer. It’s the content that makes or breaks this service. While CBS All Access was great for CBS super-fans and not worth much to anyone else, Paramount Plus is built on expanded content offerings that make it more interesting than its forerunner.
Paramount Plus Pros and Cons
- Live TV options, including a live feed of your local CBS station (in most markets)
- A beefed-up on-demand catalog that includes Viacom properties like Nickelodeon and MTV
- Recently aired content available — no need to wait until the season ends
- Early looks at Paramount movies that are still in theaters
- Missing some basic quality-of-life features, most notably watchlists
- Theatrical releases come along 45 days later (rather than right away)
- Lacks exciting original content
- Don’t expect to find every CBS or Viacom show, much less every Paramount movie
What You Can Watch on Paramount Plus
Using Paramount Plus, I was able to watch two general types of content: on-demand content and live TV. On-demand content makes up the bulk of what you can watch on this service, but I felt like the live TV element — limited though it was — really added to the experience.
First, the on-demand content: Paramount Plus is run by ViacomCBS (the parent company of Paramount Pictures), so I wasn’t surprised to find that the service’s content library was chock full of CBS and Viacom content. ViacomCBS owns a lot of media, so the library is pretty impressive. Shows run the gamut from “NCIS” to “SpongeBob SquarePants,” and the film selection is similarly broad.
There’s definitely an emphasis on shows that have already aired on networks that ViacomCBS owns. There are a few Paramount Plus original series that are exclusive to the platform, but even these tend to rely on existing ViacomCBS properties: the original series “The Real World Homecoming: New York,” for example, builds on MTV’s long-running reality series “The Real World” by reuniting cast members from past seasons; “The Challenge: All-Stars” does something similar, bringing back MTV reality stars for another installment of a series that began on MTV. Then there’s “SpongeBob” spin-off “Kamp Koral: SpongeBob’s Under Years,” bonus-content program “60 Minutes Plus,” and several “Star Trek” shows, including “Star Trek: Discovery” and “Star Trek: Picard.”
There are a few interesting Paramount Plus originals — the “Star Trek” series, for example — that largely deliver on their promise, but it’s always clear that Paramount Plus is built on the shows that ViacomCBS already has. Above all, this is a place to stream hits from CBS, MTV, Nickelodeon, and other ViacomCBS channels.
The selection of on-demand movies is strong, but not overwhelming. There are some great films on this service, including “The Godfather,” but don’t expect a sprawling library the size of Netflix’s — this is much leaner, and is (as you might expect) confined to films from the ViacomCBS/Paramount family.
One nice thing about the movie selection is that it will include brand new films released to theaters. Paramount flicks will arrive on Paramount Plus 45 days after their theatrical debut, before they become available on other services (or on Blu-ray). That’s a nice perk, though Paramount Plus is being outdone here by HBO Max, which lets subscribers stream Warner Brothers movies the very same day that they’re released (Disney Plus has a same-day policy, too, but charges subscribers extra to stream each film).
On top of all of this on-demand content, Paramount Plus offers live TV content. Like its forerunner, CBS All Access, Paramount Plus will give you a livestream of your local CBS station (there are a few markets exempted from this feature, but Paramount Plus seems to have pretty good coverage).
Paramount Plus also comes loaded with live news content and sports content, including Europa League soccer matches. Paramount Plus would be a pretty good sports streaming service even without the extras, since plain old CBS already comes with NFL games and some great March Madness livestreams. With the extra live sports content, Paramount Plus really elevates its sports cred. This isn’t a “sports streaming service” in the sense that ESPN Plus is, but I was impressed with the sports content I found. If you’re a sports fan like me, I think you’ll be pretty pleased.
How It Felt to Use Paramount Plus
Paramount Plus has some — though, somewhat surprisingly, not all — of the basic features you’d expect from a streaming service in 2021. You can create multiple user profiles, start watching content on one device and then finish on another, and mark viewing preferences in the form of a sort of “favorites” system. But while Paramount Plus will let you mark yourself as a fan of certain shows, it won’t let you queue up movies and TV shows into a “watchlist” in the way that most streaming services do. It’s a strange omission that also troubled us about CBS All Access. It’s not a deal breaker, but it is a mark against Paramount Plus.
Aside from little quality-of-life hiccups like the lack of a watchlist, Paramount Plus is pretty easy to use. Fans of streaming services like Netflix and Hulu know the drill by now, and Paramount Plus sticks pretty close to the tried-and-true formula: expect rows of movies and TV shows, with icons that look like the covers of Blu-ray cases. Content in each row will have something in common, which may be a genre but is just as likely to be an algorithmic selection “for you.” The latter doesn’t work quite as well here as it does in some larger libraries, in my opinion — with fewer titles, Paramount Plus just has less to go on than Netflix when it tries to guess my next favorite — but if you use this service for long enough, it’s sure to get to know your preferences.
Paramount Plus’ app also lets you tab over from the home page to look at dedicated menus for things like “Live TV” (a simple vertical list of the few live TV options Paramount Plus offers), “Browse” (a screen that takes a tiled approach instead of the scrolling rows of the home page which I found less usable than the main page was), and “Search” (a tab that looks and works exactly as you’d expect). There’s nothing groundbreaking going on here, but I think you’d find that using Paramount Plus is stress-free and intuitive.
Paramount Plus Features and Streaming Quality
Paramount Plus has some 4K content available for premium subscribers, but the bulk of what you’ll see will top out at 1080p. That’s fairly standard for on-demand streaming, if not particularly spectacular.
More impressive is Paramount Plus’ livestream quality. Most services top out at 720p for live TV streaming (and for good reason — when the content is live, that limits buffering and makes it harder to deliver a steady stream to begin with, a problem that only gets worse when you throw in the extra data you’d need for a higher quality stream).This is not the case with Paramount Plus, though: In many cases, it streams live content at up to 1080p and refreshes the screen at a rate of 60 fps (frames per second), which is a remarkable accomplishment for live TV. Not every CBS station gets this treatment — you’ll have better luck if your local CBS station is wholly owned by ViacomCBS (some stations are owned by other companies and cut a deal with CBS to become an “affiliate”). Every station seems to at least reach the 720p industry standard for live streaming, though.
Due to buffering, you should expect all of the livestreams to operate on a delay. I didn’t find this to be a big problem, though I did sometimes have to tell friends to stop texting me about a basketball or soccer game to avoid spoilers. (This sort of streaming delay, by the way, is an issue you’ll find on every single live TV streaming service. All of these services have to build in a delay so that they can do the buffering that’s necessary to keep your stream reliable.) In my tests, Paramount Plus’ delay was typically about 45 seconds relative to my antenna feed. The longest delay I recorded in my trials was over a minute.
I tested Paramount Plus on a wired connection, a Wi-Fi connection, and a wireless network connection. I had no problems whatsoever streaming live or on-demand content over any connection type. Loading times were quick, streams were uninterrupted and in consistently high quality, and the only noticeable thing was the aforementioned live TV delay.
Paramount Plus Platform Support
Paramount Plus is a new service in most ways, but it’s also a new iteration on ViacomCBS’s prior streaming service, CBS All Access. That seems to have given Paramount Plus a jump start on platform support. Right from launch day, Paramount Plus supported every major platform, including Roku, Fire TV, Android TV, Chromecast, iOS, Android, and web browsers.
For this review, I tested Paramount Plus on Roku, Fire TV, iOS, and Mac. I found the experience to be very consistent across the board. The Roku and Fire TV apps used the familiar rows of TV show and movie “covers” or title cards to organize content, and the mobile apps do a good job of translating that same sort of interface to smaller screens.
Paramount Plus Value
There are two types of subscriptions available through Paramount Plus: “limited commercials” and “commercial-free.” As you’d probably guess, the big difference here is that one of these has more commercials than the other — though the differences are slightly more complicated than that.
The premium “commercial-free” version of Paramount Plus has no commercials in the on-demand content. It will still, however, have commercials in the live TV content. This makes sense, to a degree: your local CBS station has commercial breaks, and there’s no way for Paramount Plus to get around that. Still, it might have been nice to have a “Be right back” screen up during that break instead of the commercials, considering the extra cash spent on the supposedly commercial-free plan.
Another difference between the two plans is the ability to download content for off-line viewing. That’s a privilege reserved for the pricier “commercial-free” tier. Also reserved for top-tier subscribers is the 4K content; with a regular subscription, your streams will top out at 1080p.
On either subscription plan, Paramount Plus’ pricing makes it a fairly affordable streaming service. Most streaming services we review fall either in the $5-$8 range (Hulu, Disney Plus) or the $13-$17 range (Netflix, HBO Max), and Paramount sits comfortably in the former. That’s for the best, because this streaming service feels a bit “supplemental” to me — it’s hard to imagine using Paramount Plus exclusively, but it’s easy to imagine adding it to my other subscriptions and enjoying what it has to offer. Because the price is right, Paramount Plus offers some solid value as a role player in your streaming subscription lineup.
Paramount Plus Review: Our Verdict
Paramount Plus’ forerunner, CBS All Access, was a tough service to evaluate. It was clearly designed to be supplemental to larger, pricier services like Netflix. But it was so locked into CBS content that, even at its affordable price, our CBS All Access review concluded that the service was “for CBS super-fans only.” With Paramount Plus, ViacomCBS took another crack at creating a service worth a few bucks a month — and, this time around, they’ve succeeded.
Like its predecessor, Paramount Plus is definitely not a one-stop shop for streaming. But it’s not really trying to be, and — more importantly — it’s not priced that way. For six bucks a month, this service will give you a nice selection of TV shows, movies, live TV, and sports. Paramount Plus is no superstar, but it can be a valuable part of your streaming starting lineup.
Paramount Plus will hold some extra appeal to folks who like European soccer, since it offers live matches from both Europa League and Europe’s Champions League. This service is also a slam dunk for anyone who lives out of antenna range of their nearest CBS station. If you can’t already use your antenna to get CBS free and watch NFL games, CBS dramas, March Madness, and more, then you’ve got a great alternative route to all of those things in the form of Paramount Plus.
There will be folks who won’t find Paramount Plus to be worth it, and that’s fine. If you already get CBS for free over the air — or as part of a live TV multichannel service like Hulu + Live TV — then that will limit the upside to Paramount Plus. And if you’re not a fan of CBS, Nickelodeon, MTV, or Comedy Central, then you won’t find much to love here. For the rest of us, though, Paramount Plus is a solid streaming option at a great price.