UNBOXED: Reviewing the PBS Kids PLUG & PLAY HDMI Streaming Stick
Now more than ever, families are cutting the cord on pricey cable and switching to the growing number of streaming options out there. Kids especially have grown accustomed to watching content on-demand on their tablets, YouTube, streaming sticks, and through subscription services like Netflix, Hulu, and now, Disney+. There’s a major market for kids streaming options, and networks and media companies would be wise to hop on the bandwagon.
One of those bandwagoners, it turns out, is PBS Kids. The children’s network released the PLUG & PLAY HDMI Streaming Stick in May 2017 proclaiming it as “the first kids’ television and playtime streaming stick.” The car-shaped device comes preloaded with PBS kids content, sing-alongs, and exclusive games - some of which can be accessed offline. The PLUG & PLAY is similar to a Roku or Google Chromecast but users navigate the platform with the kid-friendly remote.
Once you’ve connected to Wi-Fi (which you should unless it’s unavailable), you can access everything on the platform. Like the PBS Kids tablet, the home screen uses an interactive wheel to display all of the different content options. Kids can choose from: Word of the Week, Sound Box, Sing-A-Long, Video, Scenes, Road Trip Adventure, and Rail Riders. Of these seven options, “Video” seems to be the most worthwhile.
When you click on this option, it shows you 34 different PBS Kids show (even some old ones like Mr. Rogers) and you can watch full episodes and clips from each show. You’ll only get about 2-4 full episodes per show, but PBS Kids updates those options pretty frequently and adds seasonal content to coincide with the time of year. Depending on the popularity of the show, you can also get about 50+ short clips which help make up for the small number of episodes. The clips and episodes I’ve tried so far mostly worked just fine with a handful of exceptions where some buffering paused play for a few seconds.
In addition to watching these on-demand episodes, users can also live stream their local PBS Kids station. I made the mistake of trying to watch the live stream before selecting my local station in settings and it never ended up loading. After I chose my local PBS Kids station, accessing the livestream only took about three seconds and I didn’t experience any lag or buffering.
Some of the shows also offered sing-a-long clips with about six options each. There were only 12 shows to choose from for sing-a-longs, but I noticed they were all newer shows (Daniel Tiger, Splash and Bubbles, Nature Cat, etc.) which is probably what kids want most anyways.
Some of the game options are fun but definitely for a younger crowd. The “Scenes” are really just interactive background images that only require a user to click the center star button to make things move. For example, one scene is a set of fireworks lined up and each click of the star button makes them go off. The “Sound Box” is one of the more fun games where you can make your own music by choosing different instruments and sounds. “Road Trip Adventure” has a board that is similar to Candy Land where you pick a card and move along the trail. Each block you land on will offer a prompt to make an animal sound or perform some sort of motion which can be a fun way for kids to interact. The “Rail Riders” game features a train on a continuous track with prompts to look for hidden items in the scene. Once you see the item, you click the star button. Pretty simple and not super exciting but like I said, fine for a younger crowd.
At launch, the PBS Kids PLUG & PLAY Streaming Stick was $50 at Walmart but it’s currently available on Amazon for $20, which is a much more acceptable price point. There are no subscription fees so the PLUG & PLAY quickly pays for itself. The nice part about the streaming stick is that the only content you can possibly access is from PBS Kids. Everything is kidSAFE Coppa-certified so parents can rest easy knowing their little one won’t get into anything potentially dangerous on their PLUG & PLAY.