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History Vault Review | PCMag

History Vault Review | PCMag

History Vault Review | PCMag

If you’re looking to learn something new about the past, The History Channel’s excellent video streaming service offers many documentaries and series to enlighten and inspire. History Vault is a streaming service from The History Channel that delivers some of the cable channel’s best-known series and documentaries. History Vault does suffer from inconsistencies across apps, both when it comes to style and features—you can download titles on iOS, but not Android devices, for example.

Editors’ Choice winner CuriosityStream also offers stellar documentary programming in stunning 4K video quality, all for a lower price. Another option, Disney+ has many documentaries among its thousands of movies and shows. Still, there’s a lot of excellent content on History Vault that you won’t find elsewhere, and you get access to them for a refreshingly low price.

History Vault vs. History

Somewhat confusingly, the History Channel has two dedicated streaming services: History and History Vault. History is free and provides full episodes of fan favorites and reality shows such as American Pickers, Pawn Stars, and Swamp People; these are available the day after the episodes air on television. The catch is that it’s only available to cable subscribers.

History Vault is a separate paid service that gives you access to much of the video content you don’t see on the History channel prime-time lineup anymore, including long-form documentaries and docu-series such as America: The Story of Us, Ancient Discoveries, and Mysteries of the Bible

What Can You Watch on History Vault?

History Vault is the way to watch thousands of hours of History Channel documentaries and series. You can explore some of the greatest moments in history, from the rise and fall of civilizations to ancient and modern warfare. As a service for documentary lovers, particularly those who want to focus on military history and ancient civilizations, History Vault is an excellent option within those narrow niches. The World War II section alone includes 111 videos. New video content is added every week. You can stream most of History Vault’s titles in 720p and 1080p, but not in 4K.

History Vault’s library contains full seasons of current and older popular series such as American Restoration, Ancient Aliens, Ice Road Truckers, Modern Marvels, and The Universe. New episodes are added weekly. There’s also WWII in HD, featuring color footage of World War II. In addition to those offerings, over 100 biographical documentaries live on the app that highlight the life and times of luminaries from Albert Einstein to Evel Knievel.

There are over 200 documentaries in the Military category, including A Distant Shore: African Americans of D-Day, which features seven Black soldiers who were among the nearly 2,000 African American troops who stormed the beaches of Normandy. There’s also The Korean War: Fire & Ice, a four-episode series about how the US forces faced off against China and North Korea on the South Korean battlefields. 

If you’re looking for broader documentary subject matter, the aforementioned CuriosityStream is a fine option. It has thousands of edutainment documentaries that cover broad topics such as History, Nature, and Science. Streaming giant Netflix also offers over 500 documentaries, including the popular Forensic Files series.

How Much Does History Vault Cost?

A History Vault subscription is $4.99 per month or $49.99 per year. With a subscription, you get access to the entire library and your streaming experience is ad-free. Sign up for a seven-day free trial, or create an account and sign up for a paid subscription. 

History Vault’s price is about average when it comes to documentary streaming services. CuriosityStream’s least expensive plan is only $2.99 per month, while documentary service MagellanTV offers its videos at 4K streaming quality for $6.99 per month. Kanopy is free with a participating library or university login and PBS Documentaries costs $3.99 per month.

History Vault is available on Apple devices, AppleTV, Android, Amazon Fire TV, Chromecast, Roku, and the web. The service does not support game consoles. I tested the service on an Apple TV, an iPhone 12 mini, and a Samsung Galaxy A71 5G.

History Vault on the Web

History Vault on the web

History Vault’s web interface is very dark and simple, with a black background and thumbnails or graphics for each title. The top center of the page is reserved for the day’s featured topic. Going down the rest of the page, you see categories for Editor’s Picks and other documentary topics. 

The top navigation bar takes you to the Home, Documentaries, Series, and Search sections. I tested the search feature by looking up content on the Korean War. The results populated quickly but were sparse, so I looked up videos about Rome instead and found many videos about the ancient empire, as well as a video about Alfa Romeo cars. You can filter search results by documentary or by series.

To watch an on-demand program, simply click on the title’s thumbnail to begin playback. A popup window appears with a brief description of the video, including its runtime, production year, rating, and closed caption certification. 

Clicking on the Play button takes you to the playback screen. The playback controls live in the bottom-left corner; aside from play and pause controls, you get buttons for scrubbing forward and backward 10 seconds. On the right side of the screen is a volume button, a closed captioning toggle, a keyboard icon (which shows all the video player keyboard shortcuts), and a button for entering a full-screen view.

History Vault on Mobile

I downloaded the History Vault app on my iPhone 12 mini running iOS 14.7. After installing the app, it asked for access to Bluetooth settings (to enable Chromecast features). The mobile app looks just like the web app: It has a dark background and a streamlined layout. There is an added category on the mobile app—My List. This watch list is helpful for managing the videos you want to download or watch later. You navigate the app via four tabs at the bottom of the home screen: Home, Documentaries, Series, and Downloads. The Downloads section lists all the videos you’ve downloaded for offline viewing. You can delete videos from local storage from the Downloads section, and you can also see how large each file is in that same section.

History Vault on iPhone

When you tap the thumbnail for a series or documentary, the app takes you to its landing page. Tap on the episode you want to watch to begin playback. I watched an episode of Unknown Civil War called “Jennie Wade of Gettysburg.” To watch the video in a full-screen mode, rotate your iPhone into the landscape orientation. To enable closed captioning, tap the CC in the top-right corner. You can cast from your phone to a Chromecast or Apple TV. 

In the Settings section of the app (located in the top right corner of the Home screen), you can choose to stream video over Wi-Fi only and also change the resolution of downloads (360p, 480p, or 720p). You can’t download full HD-quality videos, unfortunately.

I also downloaded History Vault on my Samsung A71 5G running Android 11. The app looks totally different and much better on Android than it does on iOS or web apps. The graphics use a navy-blue-and-cream color scheme while the title thumbnails look rich and vibrant. 

The History Vault’s Android app provides a better browsing experience than the web and iOS platforms, but it has other limitations. For instance, you can’t download videos for offline viewing or add titles to your watchlist. Both capabilities are serious omissions. 

History Vault on Android

I tested the app’s streaming performance over a Gigabit Ethernet connection and a Wi-Fi connection (450Mbps download) on mobile. On my iPhone, I watched an episode of Unknown Civil War called “Jennie Wade of Gettysburg.” The video viewing experience was smooth. On my Android phone, I watched an episode of How the Earth Was Made, about the San Andreas Fault, over Wi-Fi without any problems.

History Vault Interface for Apple TV

I downloaded History Vault on my Apple TV for testing, too. The app looks similar to the iPhone and web versions, with a dark background and simple layout featuring video thumbnails. At the top of the screen are tabs for Home, Documentaries, Series, Search, and Settings.

The History Vault apps let you continue watching where you left off from another device. The service supports an unlimited number of simultaneous streams and devices. Free streaming service Kanopy also doesn’t impose limits on simultaneous streaming from a single account. I watched half of America’s Greatest Feud: The History of the Hatfields and the McCoys on my Android device, and the second half of the documentary was waiting for me in the Continue queue on my Apple TV. You can also add movies and shows to the My List section on the app for later viewing from this platform.

Accessibility and Parental Controls

On History Vault’s web app, you can turn closed-captioning on and off easily by clicking the CC button which is similar to other documentary streaming platforms we’ve tested. On select videos and series, you can choose a language other than English, but that’s the full extent of the accessibility features. You can’t change the font size, font family, font color, or opacity of the text. Even the free CW Seed service offers more robust accessibility options. On the History Vault’s mobile app, you can toggle the closed-captioning option from the playback screen, but again, that’s where the accessibility functionality ends. The service also doesn’t include Audio Descriptions, which are narrated descriptions of a program’s visual elements. This feature can be found on many Netflix Original series and movies. 

History Vault lacks parental control functions, but then again, there isn’t any content made specifically for young viewers. Parents should supervise young children on the app because there are some depictions of violence, particularly in the True Crime category. 

The app does list content ratings for its shows and documentaries, and during my time testing the app, the highest rating I saw was TV-14 for a documentary about the 9/11 tragedy. The app should let parents create separate profiles for kids with ratings-based restrictions.

Kanopy has a Kids section on its app. Disney+ features plenty of shows and movies for kids, plus it lets you create specific profiles for younger viewers.

History Vault and VPN

A VPN can make your online browsing experience a bit safer, but many video streaming services block VPN traffic to enforce regional streaming rights. In testing, I connected my Samsung A71 5G to a ProtonVPN server based in the US. I played videos without interruptions. I switched to a different VPN server based in Japan. When I tried to watch the documentary titled Afraid of the Dark, I encountered network errors and the video would not play. On the History Vault support page, it says content will not stream if you are located outside of the United States.

Finding a VPN service that works with video streaming services can be difficult because video streaming services work to restrict VPN traffic to protect the rights holders of the videos on their platforms. However, when choosing a VPN, you need to consider more than just whether it works with your video streaming services. We recommend you pick a VPN based foremost on its privacy practices and value.

A Blast From the Past

History Vault has a robust library of both popular series and insightful documentaries sure to please fans of military, crime, and ancient history. The app would benefit from including the History Channel’s most popular reality programming, however, and we hope the two apps eventually converge. History Vault’s biggest drawbacks are that you can’t download shows for offline viewing on Android devices and the app’s drab visual appearance on the iOS and web platforms.

Of the other documentary apps we’ve tested, Editors’ Choice winner CuriosityStream has a substantially larger selection of documentaries and starts at a cheaper price. Kanopy, a free streaming service, is an Editors’ Choice pick because of its collection of educational content. Netflix also earns an Editors’ Choice distinction because of its excellent on-demand originals and movies.

Pros

  • Many high-quality historical documentaries

  • Available on many different platforms

  • Plenty of original series and shows

  • Affordable

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Cons

  • Only available in the U.S.

  • Doesn’t let you download videos for offline viewing on Android devices

  • Inconsistent app styles and features

  • Few accessibility options

  • No parental controls

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The Bottom Line

History Vault is an excellent investment for fans of the past who want to see The History Channel’s many infotainment programs and documentaries, all for an appealingly low price.

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