What Is Pluto TV and Is This Free Service Worth It?

There are so many streaming TV services, they're starting to name them after former planets. Take Pluto TV, for example, a free site that may not have heavy hitters, but tries to offer something for everyone.

Credit: Pluto/CNN

(Image credit: Pluto/CNN)

What is Pluto TV?

Pluto TV is an odd mish-mash of more than 100 free channels (not all of them are live), and it doesn't require users to make an account. If you'd like, you can sign up with the service, so you can mark channels as favorites for easier viewing.

Pluto TV is actually free? How does that work?

Yep, Pluto doesn't charge uses a penny. It feels like the modernized version of the free channel package you'd get when you'd connect an antenna to a TV. The service features ads throughout your experience, often when changing channels. Ads can be intrusive when they unexpectedly interrupt the middle of a movie, and can range from one 30-second ad to up to four at a time.

MORE: Streaming Netflix? Here's the Best Stuff to Watch

What can you watch on Pluto TV?

As long as you don't *need* every single brand you're used to tuning into, Pluto TV has something for you. Scrolling through the Pluto TV channel guide, you'll see a mix of familiar (Fox Sports, People TV) brands and those you won't recognize, such as WHAT?!, Man Up, Anime All Day and The Feed. But if want a better selection of channels, and have a monthly entertainment budget, check out our Hulu Live vs. YouTube TV vs. Sling vs. Vue vs. DirecTV Now face-off.

On May 22, Pluto announced a retro content channel, 80s Rewind (on channel 65) for those who just can't get enough out of Flashback Fridays and Throwback. When I tuned in, I caught the film Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo, and saw that The Secret of N.I.M.H. was up next.

Pluto TV even added CNN on April 23, but it's not exactly the CNN you get on cable TV. Instead, the CNN channel on Pluto is "a curated playlist of short-form digital content from CNN’s esteemed anchors and story-tellers."

You don't get the broadcast channels, but you will get news channels based on their offerings. So, when you see CBSN, know that it's CBS News and won't give you Big Bang Theory. Similarly, the NBC News network doesn't have the sitcoms and dramas of that network. Fox and The CW are missing altogether.

If you want movies, Pluto's got genre-based channels such as Action Movies, Flicks of Fury, Horror 24/7, Gravitas Movies and Black Cinema. Looking at the actual films on these channels, I saw a bunch of stuff I've never heard of (Vendetta, Ninja and 247 Degrees Fahrenheit) but noticed that Pluto TV Movies 1 & 2 feature more-recognizable content, such as the award-winning drama There Will Be Blood and the satirical comedy Saved!.

Looking to learn? NASA TV provides a live stream from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. XiveTV streams "long-form, factual entertainment" including a documentary I sampled called "Wildest India: Thar Desert Sacred Sands." The Science TV and Docu TV channels also package similar content, such as "Let's Get Inventin" and "Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations."

Chassy, a car-driven channel co-founded by radio and podcasting impressario Adam Carolla, began revving its engines on Pluto TV on August 21, the start of a one-year exclusivity agreement with Chassy.

Pluto's gained even more channels recently, as November 2018 saw a Discovery channel — with content from Discovery Channel, Animal Planet, ID, Discovery Life, Science Channel, and TLC — arrive on the free platform.

Then, this month (Dec. 2018) Pluto added two more: WeatherNation (channel 150) and Combate World (channel 206). The former is a weather news service and the latter is an MMA channel that claims to be the "recognized leader in Hispanic Sports and MMA."

What about sports?

You won't be able to follow your favorite teams on Pluto. You can track day to day scores on Fox Sports, but you won't get ESPN. Poker fans may appreciate the World Poker Tour channel; Glory Kickboxing is here to satisfy the needs of bloodsport fans; and Pluto TV Sports is a series of documentaries on athletes. Other channels include Big Sky Conference, Stadium, Sports News, Fight, and both Lucha Libre AAA and Impact! Wrestling are here for pro wrestling fans such as myself.

Credit: Pluto/Big Sky

(Image credit: Pluto/Big Sky)

Is Pluto's content live?

Yes and no. While select news and sports programming is live (and you'll see an icon indicating that), a lot of Pluto's channels repackage existing content by genre.

Credit: Pluto

(Image credit: Pluto)

If you click on a film name in the channel guide, rather than its channel icon, you can start at the beginning. A Live button allows you to jump to the current moment.

Where can I watch Pluto TV?

You can watch Pluto your TV, thanks to its apps on Amazon Fire TV, Android TV, Apple TV, Chromecast and Roku. Pluto TV is also accessible via the Google Play, iOS, Mac and Windows app stores, as well as on web browsers.

Last year, Vizio added Pluto TV integration to its Smart TV sets, via an app called WatchFree. LG TVs feature a similar ad-driven television platform, Xumo.

You may not get every Pluto channel on certain connected set-top devices, so check here first to see what you can stream.

What about my smart TV?

Yep, Pluto TV is also available on select Vizio, Samsung and Sony smart TVs.

What's up with the on-demand content?

We noticed that you can't load on-demand programming via a web browser, but it is currently available via Smart TV apps and connected devices.

What's missing?

Aside from the programming you're used to? Pluto TV doesn't have the cloud-based DVR service that paid, premium streaming services offer.

Who is Pluto TV for?

If you're looking for a traditional TV-like experience, where you surf between channels instead of searching for a specific show, Pluto TV might be right for you. It's also best-suited to those who are just looking to watch something and don't have a specific show they need to see.