Up until the start of 2015, streaming your favourite TV shows and movies in high definition via your internet connection was something only for the clued-in, tech savvy amongst us.
While Australia did have access to early streaming service Quickflix, the popularity of global giant Netflix was soaring despite not being legitimately available in Australia. Behind the scenes, Channel Nine and newspaper publisher Fairfax were joining forces to launch the oddly-named streaming provider Stan, on Australia Day 2015. Netflix arrived in Australia a couple of months later. Not wanting to be left out, Foxtel took their existing movie streaming service, partnered with the Seven Network and relaunched as Presto.
So now we have four major players in the “all you can eat” streaming video market. But which ones are worth the monthly fee? Who has the best range of programming? Which one offers the best picture quality, and which is the easiest to use? We’re here to demystify it all for you, so you can decide which ones are worth trying out – and which ones are likely to make you want to keep paying.
Something of a surprise contender, Presto is the result of a quick remodeling of Foxtel’s movie-streaming service which has been around since 2014. Presto formed a partnership with the Seven Network, relaunching as Presto Entertainment and beating Stan to the market by a week and a half.
What’s on offer?
Their catalogue is steadily improving; and their heritage as a movies-only service is clearly apparent from the sheer volume of Movies in Presto’s library, ranging from the recent to the very, very old. When it comes to TV, Presto have some great first-run shows, including the remarkable Mr Robot and the compelling Aquarius, and recently snapped up the streaming rights to the hugely popular sitcom The Big Bang Theory. But the ace up their sleeve is HBO – the US cable juggernauts with all of its acclaimed shows. Presto is being a little coy, adding and removing HBO programming at the whim of Foxtel’s broadcast schedule (and Game of Thrones is nowhere to be found) but it’s the HBO content that makes Presto especially desirable to have a subscription to. Also exclusive to Presto is their Home and Awaycontent, along with A Place To Call Home.
How much does it cost?
Another holdover from its origins is the pricing; you can subscribe to movies only, or to TV only, for $9.99/month each. Alternatively, you can have it all for $14.99, making Presto the most expensive of all the players at the moment.
Where can I watch Presto?
Picture quality was an issue with Presto up until late last year – they launched with only standard definition available across all content. Since then they’ve added the option of HD on many devices, including Apple TV (via AirPlay only) and Chromecast. HD picture quality is pretty decent, but not as nuanced as Netflix and Stan’s is. Apps are available for iOS and Android, as well as PS3/PS4 and of course Telstra TV.
The Australian upstart that was determined to beat Netflix to the Australian market, Stan (no, we don’t know why they chose the name either!) has been extremely aggressive in both their marketing and their acquisition of content. They positioned themselves right from the start as being a little bit cheeky and irreverent, as well as adventurous with the choices of shows and movies they make available.
What’s on offer?
A year in, the Stan movie and TV library is arguably the strongest of all the Australian offerings, and the most diverse. There’s far less focus on blockbuster movies – though there are some, such as the Hunger Games trilogy or Gravity – and a lot more emphasis on quality TV shows, with the movie library full of quality stuff from Australia and around the world as well as the US. Stan has locked down deals with several big US players including Starz and Amazon, and as a result has exclusive access to shows like iZombie, Transparent and Ash Vs Evil Dead, with episodes appearing on Stan immediately after airing in the US.
It’s impossible not to emphasise just how good Stan’s catalogue is. There’s something here for everyone, from Silver Linings Playbook to the bizarre low-budget sci-fi movie Iron Sky, from legendary comedy Friends to the wonderful brand new indie comedy Billy & Billie. Tons of Aussie movies, enough world cinema to keep you in subtitles for months, and a large range of quality documentaries. The Netflix catalogue looks almost a little dull by comparison.
How much does it cost?
Stan keeps things simple with only a single price – $10/month for access to all of it. You can watch on up to three screens at a time, and to help you do so they’ve been expanding their range of device apps.
Where can I watch Stan?
The iOS app is superb and can be used both for Chromecast and to AirPlay to an Apple TV – and while they do have a native Apple TV app, the phone/tablet app is far more fully featured at the moment. Stan also has apps for Android, Playstation 3 and 4, Xbox One and Telstra TV, as well as on selected (i.e. very recent!) smart TVs.
Picture quality is stunning when streaming in HD – easily as good as Netflix’s, if not a tiny bit better. Audio support depends on the device you’re viewing on, though; 5.1 surround is available only on some (such as Apple TV).
Stan at a glance
The granddaddy of them all, at least in terms of the formula used by streaming services today. A simple low, flat monthly subscription fee that gives access to all of the content – no catches, no conditions. It seems simple now, but prior to Netflix moving into the streaming business (they started off renting DVDs to customers via mail) there was nothing of its like around.
What does it cost?
Netflix prices in three tiers, each higher one offering higher picture quality and an increase in the amount of screens you can watch on at the same time (important for families and share houses alike!) $8.99/month gets you a basic standard definition stream on one screen; $11.99 bumps the quality up to high definition and enables two screens, while the $14.99 tier gives you access to 4k (Ultra HD) streaming on four screens at once, though 4k streaming requires a very fast broadband connection.
The sweet spot is undoubtedly the $11.99 tier. Almost all of Netflix’s programming is in HD, and with their expertise in video encoding, a HD Netflix stream can look almost as good as a Blu-Ray Disc.
What’s on offer?
Along with a range of licensed TV series (always in full seasons, and always starting with season 1) and movies, Netflix has won a lot of fans for its “Netflix Originals” – high-quality shows (and some movies) that they’ve commissioned themselves. And there’s some great television to be had – House of Cards, Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Sense8, Bloodline, Orange is the New Black, and many more, with new ones added monthly. These are, of course, only available for streaming on Netflix – and they almost justify the subscription on their own.
Where can I watch Netflix?
Netflix has many years of experience in the streaming game, and as a result they have apps available on almost every device imaginable, from smartphones to game consoles. If you have a Blu-Ray player that connects to the internet, it’ll almost certainly have a Netflix app on it, as do almost all brands and models of smart TV. There’s also a native app for Windows 10 that allows you to stream in full 1080p HD on your PC screen.
Netflix at a glance
The veteran player that took to the racetrack before the race even started, Quickflix has not fared well in the face of the arrival of its competitors. Starting – just like Netflix – as a DVD-by-mail rental service, they moved into online streaming in 2011 and had apps available for just about everything in short order.
The problem for Quickflix has been that the newer players have large amounts of cash to invest up-front for content and marketing, happy to lose money for years in order to build their brands. Quickflix’s resources are more limited, and as a result, so is the content they’re able to offer – especially the content that comes under the “all you can eat” banner.
What’s on offer?
Streaming content is split up into two categories – free and “premium”. For the basic $9.99/month subscription, you get access to a small (by comparison to the others) streaming catalogue of mostly older TV shows and movies. And as you browse the catalogue, you’ll notice a bunch of “premium” banners across the cover shots of a large number of titles.
These premium items are not included in the monthly subscription. Instead, you’ll either have to buy them (TV shows) or rent them (movies) in order to watch. For $5/month you can purchase a “Premium Pass”, which gives you one premium movie title per month and discounts on buying and renting the rest; one Premium Pass per month is included in the subscription. It is, sadly, a model that just cannot compete with the offerings of their three rivals – and indeed, Quickflix has recently suggested they’re going to put their focus more on the disc-rental-by-mail business in the future.
Picture quality is extremely average compared to the competition, too, with even the HD material – when it’s available – looking decidedly soft and low-res, largely because it is limited to 720p resolution.
Where can I watch Quickflix?
Realising early on how important it was to get themselves onto as many platforms as possible, Quickflix developed apps for every device imaginable. You’ll find Quickflix apps on everything from game consoles to smart TVs, phones and tablets to digital video recorders – and they’ve even got apps for certain e-book readers! One glaring omission, though, is support for Apple TV.
|Service||Price/month||Key TV||Key Movies||Apps||Devices|
House of Cards
Grace & Frankie
Guardians of the Galaxy
The Dark Knight Rises
The Twilight Saga
Mozart in The Jungle
Ash Vs Evil Dead
Silver Linings Playbook
The Imitation Game
The Hunger Games
Big Bang Theory
Home And Away
Fifty Shades of Grey
Theory of Everything
Apple TV (AirPlay)
Frequently Asked Questions about Streaming TV
Since the birth of television, we’ve gotten all our TV via broadcasts – signals containing continuous TV channels sent out to anyone who can pick them up. Streaming TV is completely different – you choose what show or movie you want to watch from an app on your TV or a device, and it’s then sent to you via your broadband internet connection. It’s called “streaming” because you watch it as it’s being sent to you, rather than downloading it to watch later.
If you’ve got a recent model TV, it’s almost certainly what’s known as a “smart TV” – in other words, it can download and run apps. The most popular apps for smart TVs are those for streaming services, and that’s because it’s easy to just sit back and load up the app for your favourite service and start watching. But smart TV support for each streaming service varies, so if you’re watching a lot of it, the better option is to buy a dedicated streaming device like Telstra TV or Apple TV, or get a low-cost device called a Chromecast so you can send streaming TV to your screen from a phone or tablet app.
Streaming is really easy on modern smartphones and tablets, but not everyone wants to watch their shows and movies on a tiny screen. You can fix that easily with a small device made by Google called Chromecast. It plugs into a spare HDMI port on your TV, and connects to the same Wi-Fi network that your phone is on. Once it’s set up, all you need to do is load up your favourite streaming app – Netflix, Binge, Kayo and hundreds of others – and tap the little TV screen icon in the top right corner to connect to Chromecast. Then everything you play will stream direct to your TV.
If you’ve got a fairly recent model of Mac or PC, you’ll almost certainly find a HDMI video output socket on the back (or side, in the case of laptops) of the computer. If you have one of these, streaming direct to your TV is easy – just connect it to a spare HDMI input on your TV with a cable and switch to that input, then start streaming. Other computers may have different video connectors, such as Mini DisplayPort, USB-C or Thunderbolt; these can connect to your TV as well, but you’ll need a special adapter cable to do so. An easier option in those cases may be to use a Chromecast connected to the TV, sending video to it from the Google Chrome web browser.
Of all the streaming services, Netflix is the one that almost every smart TV and streaming device supports – in fact, if you’ve bought a TV, disc player or streaming device recently, it’ll probably have a big red and white Netflix button on its remote control! All you need to do to stream Netflix on any TV is just load up the app and sign in with your account email and password – it’ll load up all your profiles, favourites and watch lists so you can pick up on the TV where you left off on the phone or PC.
While you’ll find Netflix support on pretty much every smart TV, the other streaming services you can access on that TV will vary greatly depending on the brand, model and year of your TV. The much better solution if you’re streaming all the time is to buy a dedicated streaming box. These smart little devices plug into your TV via HDMI and act as a sort of “one-stop shop” for all the different streaming service apps, so you can stream from any of them from the one remote control. The best streaming boxes are the ones with the widest app support – with the Telstra TV and Apple TV at the top of the list. They’re both priced just above $200, but the Telstra TV can be had for $9 a month if you’re a Telstra customer, making it a great affordable streaming upgrade.
While Foxtel Now offers plenty of shows and movies for you to watch on demand, its main purpose is to deliver Foxtel’s live TV channels to you as they’re broadcast – but via streaming rather than satellite. The way this is done is very much the same as other streaming services, except that each channel is its own separate never-ending live stream, and you switch between channels rather than choosing individual titles. It’s designed to behave just like regular TV does, but under the hood it’s a streaming service and as such, it performs best on a fast broadband connection.
All streaming TV uses an amount of download data on your broadband plan – so if you’ve got a monthly download limit, you’ll want to keep an eye on just how much data is being used. That amount varies greatly between different streaming services, but as a general guide, expect to use around 1GB per hour at standard definition, 3GB per hour at HD (high definition) and 7GB per hour at 4K Ultra HD quality. We’d recommend anyone who streams regularly get a broadband plan with unlimited data – they’re incredibly cheap now.
Innovative sports streaming service Kayo Sports is still working on apps for a wider range of smart TVs – at the moment, though, they only offer an app for Samsung TVs made in 2017 and later, and for TVs running the Android TV operating system (like Sony’s recent models). For any other TV, smart or not, you’ll need to use a streaming device, with the best ones for Kayo Sports being Telstra TV (which also lets you subscribe directly from the device) and Apple TV. Kayo also supports Chromecast so you can cast from your phone, but a current-model Chromecast is recommended for best results. Check out our guide for more suggestions.
Foxtel Go is the app for phones and tablets that’s designed for use by customers of both Foxtel satellite TV and Foxtel Now services. You can stream the live channels and on-demand content to a TV by using the new Foxtel app for LG and Samsung smart TVs, or by streaming from the mobile app to a Chromecast device. However, Foxtel satellite customers will need to add the Multiscreen pack to their account before streaming is possible. Foxtel Now customers can stream on up to two devices at the same time. They can also use the dedicated Foxtel Now box or Telstra TV to stream.
With the free-to-air streaming services – ABC iView, SBS On Demand, 7plus, 9now and 10play – you’ve got plenty of choices to watch on your TV, especially if it supports the “Freeview” standard. TVs that offer Freeview will display a banner when changing channels, letting you access that network’s streaming service with the tap of a coloured button. For easier browsing and streaming, though, almost all smart TVs include apps for all five of the free-to-air networks, as do the to streaming boxes like Telstra TV and Apple TV. All of these apps are completely free to use, though some require you to sign up for a free account, and all (except ABC iView) are supported by ad breaks during your streams.
No. That’s one of the best things about all streaming services, including Foxtel Now – there is no need to agree to any sort of lock-in contract. You pay a month in advance for a month’s access and can cancel at any time. Even better, you can re-subscribe later and as long as it hasn’t been too long , you’ll find all your favourites and watch lists right where you left them.
The tradition with streaming TV has been to offer new customers a free trial period so they can see if they like what the service has to offer – but not all services have free trials. Most notably, Netflix and Disney Plus don’t offer a free trial at all anymore, so anyone signing up for the first time will have to pay for the first month up front. However, there are still plenty of free trials around, such as Foxtel Now (10 days), Binge (14 days), Kayo Sports (14 days), Amazon Prime Video (one month).
Because it’s designed to be watched on demand, streaming services don’t give you the ability to record shows and movies to watch later. However, some services do allow you to download titles to a mobile phone or tablet to stream later without using the internet. This can be brilliant for when you’re travelling – load up your iPad or phone with some movies or a series, and you can watch them anywhere without incurring a massive mobile data bill. Streaming services that allow downloads include Netflix, Stan, Prime Video and Disney Plus.