PBS for iPad streams prime-time shows for free

A true gift from TV heaven, this awesome app lets you watch full-length episodes of prime-time PBS shows, from "Antiques Roadshow" to "NOVA."

Watch your fill of enriching PBS shows with the awesome (and free) PBS app for iPad.
Watch your fill of enriching PBS shows with the awesome (and free) PBS app for iPad. Screenshot by Rick Broida/CNET

Hey, PBS! How do you expect to make any money if you give away your app?

I'm kidding, of course. I love free stuff, especially when it's awesome free stuff like PBS for iPad. The new app streams full-length episodes of shows like "Antiques Roadshow," "Carrier," "NOVA," and the much-ballyhooed new "Sherlock Holmes."

It also serves up "PBS NewsHour," "Austin City Limits" performances, and previews of nearly everything else in PBS' prime-time lineup. (Alas, previews are all you get of PBS Kids. If you want full-length episodes of, say, "Sesame Street" and "WordGirl," you'll have to pony up for them in the iTunes Store.)

The app provides you with a schedule of current and upcoming programming from your local PBS station. There's a search option for looking up shows (make sure to look for "Masterpiece" if you want the aforementioned "Sherlock" series) and a bookmark tool for saving your favorites.

The player works like every other you've used, with shuttle controls, double-tap zooming, and even a 30-second replay. And, needless to say, the content is spectacular. I started watching the new series "Circus" just so I could test playback, and found myself totally sucked in (which is why this review is appearing so late in the day).

I did find one aspect of the interface confusing at first: how to actually start a video. Although you see the usual assortment of buttons like Share, Add to Favorites, and Buy, there's no independent "Play" button. Turns out you tap on the thumbnail of the video itself, much like clicking a YouTube vid to start it playing.

Given the amount (and quality) of content available here, PBS could easily charge five or ten bucks for this app. Am I complaining about it being free? Of course not. But I think I'll donate a little extra the next time there's a PBS fundraiser.

For now, the PBS app is iPad-only, but an iPhone version is coming next month (yay!).

By the way, if you like this, be sure to check out NFB Films for iPad, which streams (and even downloads) free movies from Canada's National Film Board.