No longer must Australians settle for the rubbish free to air television over the holiday season. Now with a wealth of streaming options available all that is required is a fast internet connection for the holiday season ratings hiatus to be a thing of the past.
With many of the new breed of TV streaming services offering a free trial period there has never been a better time to switch remote controls and get a solid binge watch under your belt. It is time to break the couch.
Couch time streaming options for those looking to relax indoors has grown into an extensive list: Amazon Prime, YouTube TV, QuickFlix, BigPond Movies, YouTube Red, Foxtel Now, Netflix and Stan. If you have a VPN connection you can even venture overseas for streaming options such as Direct TV, Acorn TV, CBS All Access, HBO Now and Hulu.
For this article though we will be concentrating on the 3 main Australian services that don’t require a VPN: Netflix, Stan and Foxtel Now. All three services are paid and you will require at least 200GB of data allowance a month if you stream a lot of TV, more if you have multiple TV’s streaming at once. All 3 services also allow multiple devices to stream simultaneously, so technically you can share your account with your friends.
Netflix is a streaming only service with no live TV channels but that is offset by the low cost, at $8.99 a month for the standard definition membership. You’ll pay $11.99 for the HD membership and $14.99 for 4K. The picture quality across the board is very good and if you have a 4K TV the difference is easily noticeable when watching 4K content. Bandwidth requirements for Netflix range from .5mbs for standard def content all the way up to the recommended minimum of 25mbs (11MB of data per hour) for 4K content. Netflix is also the easiest services to stream with apps available for almost every device, most Smart TV’s even come with the Netflix app pre-installed. The app will also let you download many of the shows to watch when your offline.
Netflix in Australia has a reduced catalogue when compared to its American big brother with many of their most popular shows excluded from their Australian catalogue. In the early days of Netflix many Australian customers resorted to using a VPN to fool Netflix into giving them the full catalogue but this is no longer possible. Generally, shows that have been licensed to Foxtel won’t be available. The content that is available is quite eclectic and off beat but there is a good range of shows and movies, the catalogue is quite extensive and growing quickly. They even have a basic collection of Japanese Anime cartoons to select from. Netflix scores well when it comes to the size of their catalogue, quality of the content and the fact that there are no ads when watching shows or movies. Recent highlights include Stranger Things, Fargo, The OA and Luke Cage. All of which make great binge watching.
The Netflix interface is clean and easy to navigate but like most streaming services finding something new to watch is a bit of a pain and you will often have to resort to Googling to steer you in the right direction. Even with this slight annoyance Netflix is highly recommended and currently the best of the streaming services available.
Stan is one of the newer streaming services in Australia. Like Netflix it is a video on demand streaming service with membership starting at $10 a month for SD/HD while the premium HD/4k membership is $15 a month.
Stan’s biggest problem is the size of their catalogue. Most people with a decent movie collection on their computer will notice they have more than Stan. The TV series collection is growing fast with a number of exclusive series beginning to appear but even so it is a bit like the best of cable from 4 years ago. Given another 6 months Stan’s catalogue will start to make things interesting. The highlights of the Stan catalogue includes Wolf Creek, No Activity. Will & Grace (new series), Claws and Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams.
The interface for Stan is similar to Netflix with a clean design and large images for each show, it is easy to use and includes a few handy options such as search and bookmark. The Stan app is available on Android, iOS, Windows 10, PlayStation and Xbox One but it is only built in to a limited number of TV’s so you will generally need to download and install it. At the moment it is hard to recommend Stan unless you have watched everything on Netflix or if you aren’t a fan of the content that Netflix offers. It is a good quality service but the catalogue needs a little time to grow.
Foxtel Now is the only service available in Australia that combines live channels as well as a streaming service. Being Foxtel’s internet only service there is no requirement for the old Foxtel cable box, just an internet connection and plenty of free GB’s. Prices for the Foxtel service are higher than the streaming only services but the package you sign up for can be modified to include only the channels you want. Streaming is limited to the shows from the channels that you have selected. With the sports, movies, documentary, drama and lifestyle channels included Foxtel will set you back close to $100 a month. Each of the packs is around $10-$15 a month but the movie and sports packs are more expensive at $29 and $25 a month.
Content is king and Foxtel has the shows that everyone’s watching. Game of Thrones, the new X-Files, the Walking Dead are all exclusive to Foxtel. Other popular shows include The Long Road Home, Casual, The Deuce, Westworld, Veep, Gone, Fargo, Orange is the New Black, Top of the Lake: China Girl and Taboo. Combine that with the options for live sports from around the world and you have a whole world of content to choose from.
The interface of Foxtel Now varies a little across the few devices that can stream the service. Streaming using a PC (Chrome browser) provides tabs for LiveTV, On Demand and Kids. Search options are available and the on-demand section keeps with the large image for each show style of most streaming services. When watching LiveTV an electronic program guide is displayed on the right side that lets you scroll through the channels and see what is on. With the Foxtel Now service still being quite new the number of devices you can use to stream is still a bit limited with PC, Mac, Apple TV, Telstra TV, Foxtel Now box, Chromecast, PlayStation and Xbox One being your only options. No TV’s are currently coming with Foxtel Now preinstalled. The best device to use to stream Foxtel Now is still a PC or laptop hooked up to your TV, but for us that’s not a show stopper. Foxtel Now lets you stream TV as background noise, binge watch or catch your favourite show as soon as it is released. If you love documentaries, drama, sports or you want to watch the most popular shows available Foxtel Now is highly recommended.
Foxtel Now: 8/10
All services provide a wealth of content to fill in the free to air crapfest that occurs every holidays. It is especially worth remembering that all services offer a free trial period so technically you could make it through the holiday season without paying a cent. Netflix and Stan both offer a free month’s trial while Foxtel Now offer a two week trial.
Here at Highpants our favourite streaming service is the Foxtel Now service, while there is room to improve on the application and interface it has the content that we actually want to watch, content is king after all. After trying all 3 services we have kept Foxtel Now and Netflix for now but we can see ourselves letting the Netflix membership lapse after the holidays are over. Netflix is highly recommended if you haven’t taken the plunge yet.