by Tom McNamara / May 22, 2018
If you've been watching HBO's Silicon Valley, then you're familiar with the phrase "daily active users." It's the main litmus test of an app's success in the real world. As of February 2018, Twitch claimed a whopping 15 million DAUs, with two million people streaming every month. That makes it the biggest platform in the world for live game streaming, easily eclipsing even YouTube Gaming, despite Google's deep pockets and wealth of talent and experience. So what fuels Twitch's amazing success? Is everybody doing it because everybody else is doing it, or is Twitch good in its own right?
Video quality is uniformly high and tweakable: While the quality of the content itself may vary, the technical side of a Twitch stream is consistently solid, from 160p to 1080p at 60 frames per second (60 fps is preferable for fast-paced games). You can manually select your quality level at any time by tapping on the video, then tapping on the gear icon in the upper right, choosing your level, then tapping on Apply at the bottom of the screen.
On this stream selection menu, you also have the option to receive only the channel's chat messages (useful for moderators), an audio-only stream (handy for talk shows), or you can tap on Pop Out, which puts the entire app in a picture-in-picture mode on your phone or tablet. Leaving the channel will also automatically put it in PiP mode within the app, while you navigate around other sections of Twitch.
Last but not least, you can download past streams for offline viewing, so you don't have to worry about connection issues when traveling. Although Twitch is completely free to use, its multifaceted viewing options make it feel like a premium product.
Twitch is available on a wide variety of devices: Aside from your phone, tablet, or PC web browser, there are also native apps for the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 game consoles, and for home streaming devices such as the Nvidia Shield, Amazon Fire TV, and Google Chromecast.
For the best results, we recommend navigating Twitch on your phone or tablet and casting to your TV via a Fire TV. Amazon's streaming box arguably gives you the best of both worlds -- it comes with a simple remote control to pause or play with a click, and you can navigate content quickly on your phone or tablet. (Recent Fire TV devices also come with a remote control that has a microphone to let you talk to Amazon's Alexa virtual assistant, but this feature won't necessarily work within all Fire TV apps.)
And since Amazon purchased Twitch in 2014 for nearly a billion dollars, the Fire TV app is high priority for the company when it comes to stability, security, and overall polish.
Amazon Prime customers get some nice upgrades: When you link your Amazon Prime account to Twitch, you get upgraded to Twitch Prime. Every month, you'll get a few free games to download and play (within the Twitch app, that is -- these aren't Steam or console redemption codes), free in-game loot and in-game currency, and the ability to watch Twitch ad-free. The free games aren't brand-new releases, but they are still fairly popular -- like what you would expect from an Xbox Live Gold or PlayStation Plus subscription.
Amazon Prime has a load of other perks in its own right, beyond free two-day shipping and the Prime Video streaming service. Like a free six-month trial to The Washington Post that costs only $4 after that. We have all the details on this and a bunch of other Prime benefits you might not know about.
Twitch chat remains a problem: On particularly popular channels, the chat function simply does not scale to the number of participants who want to say something. This leads to a flood of text literally streaking down the right side of your screen faster than any human can read it, rendering it a meaningless smear of graffiti.
And with no barrier to entry, you frequently end up with low quality, low effort, and outright spam that Twitch's moderator tools and automatic filtering just can't keep up with anyway. Twitch isn't the only live streaming platform that struggles with this issue, but we'd like to see some effort on this front. Google launched Super Chat for YouTube in May 2017, a system where you can pay for a comment to remain on-screen for an extended period of time (among other actions), but Twitch's approach has been very incremental by comparison. Granted, the more you filter, the more you risk alienating users, but the blur of junky comments isn't exactly inviting either.
On the bright side, it's not difficult to hide the chat section altogether. Just tap on the video feed, then tap on the conversation bubble in the lower right that has a line drawn through it.
While Twitch is the leader in live game streaming, it's not resting on its laurels. The mobile app offers a wide variety of ways to watch, and Prime users get some nice bonuses. It would be nice, though, if they could figure out how to deal with comments on popular streams. [score 4.5 stars]