Five hundred hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute, so you’ll literally never be able to watch everything. The real challenge is sorting through everything that you could be watching and deciding what sounds good—like you could in the old days of TV.

Why can’t you channel surf the web, the way you used to surf cable channels? That is the question PlutoTV tries to answer, and it does a pretty good job. There are live TV stations, including The Weather Network and Bloomberg News. But there are also “channels” offering videos you can find elsewhere online, curated into a format that feels just like flipping through TV. And best of all: it’s completely free (and legal).

How Pluto.TV Works

This is all hard to explain, so take a look at the desktop app, available for both Windows and Mac:

As you can see, I’m watching The Weather Network…for some reason. It’s a live broadcast of that channel, just like you’d see on cable. Below the video there’s an episode guide, similar to what cable or Sling TV subscribers are used to, but most of the “channels” offer content from a single source, all day. For example, there’s a channel that shows Mystery Science Theatre 3000, constantly. It’s amazing. Here’s how that looks on the Roku app:

There are similar channels for classic cartoons, technology news, and well-known internet brands like Cracked, Nerdist, and The Onion. There’s a channel with just standup comedy, a channel with just fail videos, and a couple of channels with week-long “slow” TV, allowing you to watch things like a train traversing Norway in real time. There’s live footage of animals, and numerous channels with old cartoons. Here are the complete channel listings, if you’re curious.

This isn’t going to replace a cable package entirely, and it’s not going to be the only place you go to watch video. But it’s a great application to have on hand for those moments when you don’t know what you want to watch, and don’t feel like scrolling through Hulu/Netflix/Amazon.

How to Start Watching Pluto.TV

If you’re on your computer, it’s easy to get started: just head to Pluto.TV and click the “Watch Now” button. In our tests the site refused to load at all if you have an ad blocker set up, so if you can’t get the site to load that’s probably why. You’ll also need Flash installed for some, but not all, channels to work.

There are apps for Windows and Mac users, but both seem to be little more than a browser running the application in its own window.

Where Pluto.TV gets really interesting is on an actual television, and there are applications for almost every platform you can imagine:

  • Roku
  • Amazon Fire TV
  • Apple TV
  • Android TV
  • Chromecast
  • SONY TVs
  • Samsung TVs
  • Vizio TVs

There are also versions for Android and iOS, so basically you’re covered on every platform. Here are links to every version of the app; just click the platform you use to get started. Note that there are different versions for PC and mobile depending on whether you reside in the United States, and that viewers outside the United States will see fewer channels. This is a legal matter: Pluto doesn’t have the rights to content in all markets. Hopefully that will change as the service continues to grow, but for now this is worth a look regardless.

Profile Photo for Justin Pot Justin Pot
Justin Pot has been writing about technology for over a decade, with work appearing in Digital Trends, The Next Web, Lifehacker, MakeUseOf, and the Zapier Blog. He also runs the Hillsboro Signal, a volunteer-driven local news outlet he founded.
Read Full Bio »