One of the core tenets of cord-cutting is that you would be disappointed if you intend it to be exactly like cable.
This is particularly true if you enjoy sports. Replicating the cable experience can be difficult due to streams that lag behind broadcast TV, inconsistent 60-frames-per-second support, and the rising cost of regional sports.
However, one related topic has largely gone unnoticed so far: frame-by-frame, slow-motion replays. They’re popular on TiVo DVRs and other cable boxes, but they’re not available on streaming services right now. You can’t roll your own sports replays or rewind to exact moments in the action if you subscribe to YouTube TV, Hulu + Live TV, Fubo TV, or any other live TV service because you can only skip forward a few seconds at a time.
For many people, the lack of frame-by-frame control isn’t a deal-breaker, but I’ve learned from people who can’t imagine cord-cutting without it. Regrettably, the slo-mo status quo is unlikely to change anytime soon.
Hate the player, not the stream
Slow-motion is difficult to achieve on streaming devices, which is part of the issue. Platforms such as Roku, Amazon Fire TV, and Android TV all have their own video player applications that apps can use, but none of them have slow-motion support.
Although some advanced player software can manage frame-by-frame playback—she cited MPV on Linux as an example—the players that ship on Roku, Fire TV, and other streaming devices don’t provide such granular control, according to Laura Slater, a spokeswoman for Tablo DVR creator Nuvyyo.
“Our best guess is that it’s for the sake of simplicity,” Slater said via email. “They want their remote controls and [user interfaces] to be as basic as possible.”
If a service really desired slow motion, it could create its own custom video player with those controls. However, it will then have to deal with configuration issues on its own.
Streaming remotes, for example, typically have a small number of buttons, and users have come to expect those buttons to behave consistently across all of their applications. In lieu of dedicated slo-mo buttons on streaming remotes, Jon Maddox of Fancy Bits, creators of the Channels DVR service, says he will like to add an extra device menu of frame-by-frame options. The method does not sit well with him.
He said, “Rather than clogging up the user interface, we just don’t do features like that.” “We only sell products if they are a good match for us.”
No frames to give
The underlying point is that, while streaming platforms like YouTube TV and devices like Roku and Fire TV could allow slow motion if they wanted to, there isn’t enough demand to warrant it.
Keep in mind that streaming video is a difficult task in and of itself. Unlike cable and satellite TV, where rules govern how content is packaged and distributed, streaming is a free-for-all where each channel, subscription service, and the streaming box can handle video signals in its own unique way.
This explains not only the slo-mo issue, but also many of the other complaints people have about streaming video, such as lag, frame rates, and volume levels that differ dramatically. Even support for visual thumbnail previews varies widely among streaming DVRs, and frame-by-frame replays add yet another layer of complexity that no streaming service seems willing to tackle.
“This isn’t really a video player restriction that can’t be addressed,” Paula Winkel, Conviva’s director of marketing and testing, said via email. “However, customer demand for slow-mo is insufficient to persuade streaming publishers to invest in the technological resources or ongoing support needed to provide this feature.”
Frost and Sullivan’s Dan Rayburn, a principal analyst, put it more plainly.
“Why would they do it if it doesn’t support the company, help them make more money, minimize turnover, and improve retention?”
Add it to the list of items you may have to give up in the name of saving money unless there’s an unexpected spike in demand for slo-mo.