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)