On the playground the other day, parents were swapping stories about movies they recently saw on Netflix and Amazon Instant. We all enjoy watching movies through our Rokus, Apple TVs or other streaming boxes. During the conversation, one parent stated how a friend had challenges enabling parental controls with one of the streaming services. Streaming services use cutting-edge technology to deliver video to your living room; however, for some providers, parental controls have been an afterthought. Tech of the Hub looked at the parental controls offered by the popular streaming services on the market, including Amazon Instant, Hulu Plus, iTunes, Netflix and VUDU.
Amazon Instant: With a device such as the Roku, you need to enter a passcode to make a purchase. However, Amazon Instant streaming (included with Prime Membership) has no parental controls. Also, once a purchase is made, any title can be played out of the video library without restrictions. Update (8/10/2012): Amazon has updated its parental controls.
|Amazon requires a passcode for purchase or rental|
Hulu Plus: Hulu doesn’t have any real parental controls. In their support document, they suggest you logout of the Hulu client when you’re done. This isn’t a realistic solution, as you will forget to do it and it’s a pain to log back in. The actual text is below:
|Hulu Support on Parental Controls (Click to Enlarge)|
iTunes: When using Apple TV, iTunes offers the most comprehensive set of parental controls. You can independently define the ratings levels for movies and TV shows. If you want to watch a show that exceeds the allowable ratings, you can enter a passcode on the fly. All of the parental controls are tied to the device. Outside of iTunes content, Apple TV lets you control access to the other services on the box, such as YouTube and Netflix (but it’s all or nothing). There are corresponding controls you can also enable on your Mac to restrict iTunes content on the computer.
To enable the controls: from the top Apple TV menu, go to “Settings” and then select “General” and then “Parental Controls”. You will then see the parental control screens below. Select “Turn On Parental Controls” and you will be prompted for a 4 digit passcode (make sure there are no kids around!). You can then tweak the individual settings below.
|Apple TV’s Parental Controls|
|The settings below the line control iTunes access|
Netflix: It appears that its parental controls are a holdover from when Netflix only mailed DVDs. The controls offered are not practical to use. You can go to Netflix’s website and click on “Your Account and Help”. Chose “Parental Controls” and you can set what ratings you would like to filter for both instant streaming as well as DVD deliveries.
|Netflix Parental Support Options|
|Have you planned ahead?|
It’s nice that you can control the settings centrally for all of your Netflix devices from their website. Unfortunately, it can take up to eight hours for the setting to take effect for on-line streaming. In testing, once the controls were set, they were enforced fairly quickly. This was not the case when I needed to remove the controls; it took a few hours for them to be released. The whole point of watching instantly is to be able to watch when you feel like, not wait for eight hours. It’s surprising that Netflix, as the market leader, doesn’t have a way you can enter a passcode to override the settings to watch a particular program.
VUDU: VUDU has similar controls to iTunes. VUDU parental controls get set at the device level, meaning you have to set it up on each blu-ray player or streaming box you have. VUDU offers two levels of controls each controlled by a passcode. One is a passcode which determines whether you can purchase a movie or not. Another determines if you are allowed to watch certain content.
Click on “My VUDU” from the main menu and then chose “Info and Settings” to enable the parental controls.
|VUDU’s Parental Controls|
There you have it. There’s lots of innovation in this space and it’s not regulated. The end result is that features such as parental controls (lack of closed captioning is another) take a back seat. So, instead of the government having to step in, exercise your power as a customer. If parental controls are important to you, voice your concern to the services without adaquete controls. To help you, here are some ways to contact the services:
Amazon Instant (Email)
Hulu Plus (Web form)
Netflix: Call customer service at 1-866-716-0414 (there does not appear to be a way to email)
I’ll add these features to the Steaming Comparison Grid shortly.