CBS All Access Works Poorly, and It Has Commercials

Written by Larry Press

CBS All Access is a new a la carte streaming service that allows you to watch CBS episodes via app or web browser. Larry Press experiments.

aNewDomain — CBS announced an a la carte subscription service last week, CBS All Access, which will let you watch CBS TV shows via web or app for $5.99 per month. Episodes will stream, like Netflix, in an on-demand format. In specific markets you can also watch episodes as they are broadcast live.

cbs all access let's get started

All Screenshots: Larry Press

CBS All Access Test Run

I signed up for the service to give it a test run. I streamed an episode of Big Bang Theory through my Nexus 5 and the CBS All Access app, mirroring the phone’s screen to my TV with Google’s Chromecast.

cbs all access big bang theory mirror

While the quality of video was pretty good, it wasn’t incredibly sharp and tended to hiccup frame rate or audio, throwing things off synch. Definitely watchable, though, which is the good news. The bad news comes in the form of the dreaded commercial. CBS All Access costs $5.99 a month and shows a commercial before each episode, and throughout the episode, like a normal cable broadcast.

After the phone experiment, I wanted to test the quality from my laptop’s Chrome browser. The quality of picture worked when the video played in a small window, but Next, I tried watching in the Chrome browser on my laptop. The picture quality was fine as long as I watched it in a small window, but when I went full screen (1920 x 1200 pixel display on a 15-inch laptop), the image quality sank immediately. You can see just how poor below. Click on that image to blow it up if you want.

CBS All Access Blurry Photo


That was bad, but it actually got worse. My laptop is a bit slow in general, but a few minutes after viewing (via the Chrome browser) the fan began to swirl and the video stuttered, then froze. I started the video again and pulled up the task manager to see what had happened. I saw this:

CBS All Access cpu usage

It was using about 3 GB of 8 GB of memory and the CPU load was highly variable around an average of about 50 percent. Then the CPU load jumped to 95-100 percent and stayed there, rendering the video unwatchable.

I’m not sure what caused the change of state — perhaps it tried to raise the frame rate and overwhelmed my laptop. I have an 802.11 ac Wi-Fi access point, but the laptop radio is a/b/g. Perhaps it had exhausted an initial buffer, but there was not a noticeable pause for buffering when the stream started.

Next, I tried watching a live stream. The live stream is only available in certain parts of the country, but the small map on their site seemed to have a dot over Los Angeles, where I live. It may have been a temporary outage, but all I got was a message saying to wait:

CBS All Access Live Stream

I gave up after about five minutes of watching the little animated circle rotate.

My test went poorly, but the technical problems will be solved. I’m sure CBS will get live streaming working soon and improved video algorithms and my getting a new phone and a new laptop will take care of my quality complaints. But, even if the video is rock solid and high-definition, I will not subscribe if it continues to run commercials.

Commercials Aren’t For Me

Major content providers like HBO and CBS offering Internet service marks the beginning of the end for cable TV as we know it. Eventually, we will all cut the cord and get our video online, but regardless of the technology, we have four video business models:

CBS All Access Commercials

I suspect that in the future most of our viewing will be on demand and scheduled viewing will be mostly used for sports and other events. I can wait to see the current episode of Big Bang Theory until the day after it is broadcast.

When I asked my students whether they would pay $5.99 a month to watch CBS TV with commercials, they all said “no.” When I asked if they would watch if it were free, but had commercials, they said “yes.” Before the courts put them out of business, Aereo also showed us that there is a market for on demand local TV with commercials. My students are young and on limited budgets, but, as Netflix and Amazon Prime have shown, there is also a substantial market for paid, commercial-free video.

I’ve no idea what the prices of these video options will be in the future, but I doubt that we will be paying less after we cut the cord. Our ISPs are also our video providers, and, since we generally have only one or perhaps two ISP choices, I expect them to raise broadband prices to compensate for any lost revenue. We will end up with a la carte video and higher monthly bills.

But, that is the speculative future. For now, I will stick with Amazon, Netflix and Hulu Plus, and watch an occasional CBS program over the air with my trusty rabbit-ears antenna.

For, I’m Larry Press.

Based in Los Angeles, Larry Press is a founding senior editor covering tech here at He’s also a professor of information systems at California State University at Dominguez Hills. Check his Google+ profile — he’s at +Larry Press — or email him at


  • After purchasing a Roku3 system, I looked for content providers. I settled on Amazon Prime first. I’m satisfied with their service. I used Amazon as the yardstick for other providers. Since I was interested in a number of CBS shows, so I selected CBSallaccess. This provider has numerous problems. First of all, note that they insert commercials, and not just a 30 second one per break. Worse still, the programs continuously buffer. Watching has become more of an exercise in patience than a pleasure. The quality of the picture is comparable to AmazonPrime, but with the commercials and buffering, I have to give CBSallaccess a failing mark. This is particularly troubling in light of other providers.