Stan and Presto Reviewed

Meet Stan and Presto. Such stupid names.

Streaming media in Australia is laughably bad. In fact, media in general is atrocious. While our friends in the US or UK have access to services like Netflix or Hulu, Australia is geoblocked from accessing them. The dinosaur cable network, called Foxtel, charges absurd monthly prices for content that only occasionally airs sometime around when it does in the US. Some shows air soon after the US, but the insane prices are putting it out of reach of many people. It’s no wonder we’re such prolific TV series pirates. Even worse, deals with content creators and Foxtel mean that some other, cheaper legitimate ways are blocked. Australians could buy Game of Thrones on iTunes for a reasonable (well, reasonable for Australia at least) price… until Foxtel got pissed and now you can’t do that anymore.

While Netflix and Hulu can be accessed using certain bypass methods, the fact that they’re still billed in US dollars means their value is tied to our dollar… which is currently weakening. Netflix is coming to Australia, but likely with an abysmally small catalogue of content. In the meantime, Fairfax Media’s new service, Stan, has beaten them to the punch. For $10 AUD a month, it’s vastly cheaper than Foxtel. To strike back, Foxtel has reduced the price of its own streaming content service called Presto, to roughly $15 a month. Thus for $25 a month, you can have access to a decent slab of online content. But is it worth it?

Stan – $10AUD/mth

Stan is a streaming media service similar to Netflix. It offers a selection of movies and TV shows. In all, Stan’s content options are somewhat mixed. It has a relatively decent selection of movies, including some that are relatively recent, but it tends to lean more towards TV series. In that regard, Stan has quite a number of series though exactly how many episodes are there varies wildly. Stan is carrying Better Call Saul with it being available the same day it airs in the US – which is exactly what people have been asking for. It also carries the entire Breaking Bad catalogue. Some other series only have a handful of seasons, occasionally way behind being up to date. It almost seems random.

That said, there’s quite a bit of content here. It’s not up to Netflix or Hulu’s standards, but that’s hardly the fault of the service when draconian licensing agreements and backroom deals are crippling services in this country. There’s enough here that Stan looks like a promising service, especially for $10 a month. Netflix, when converted to AUD, is roughly the same, though you’d also be paying a bit more for a DNS unblocking service.

All in all, I’ve been pretty pleased with the performance of the service. There are some issues though depending on what device you use. The web browser client relies on Silverlight, which is an odd choice and one I hope they eventually abandon. The iOS client is quite good and supports AirPlay – so if you’ve got an Apple TV or something like that, you can easily use Stan on your TV. There’s also an Android client which supports Chromecast, but be warned that it doesn’t support rooted devices.

There are also issues with support for other devices – namely, there isn’t any. Want to watch Stan on your PS4? Too bad, there’s no client. Your smart TV? Nope, can’t do that. A lot of devices that would support Netflix or Hulu won’t support Stan.

My 14mbit ADSL2+ connection, which is beyond the reach of many Australians, seemed to do well with streaming HD content on Stan. I didn’t experience any buffering issues or slowdowns. But I did experience a few random errors which caused the stream to drop, though these were relatively few and far between (and the A11 error message helpfully said it would be fixed in the next release of the iOS app).

In all, Stan’s a very promising service. It has a good UI, it has a promising start in terms of content, and the price is quite good. While Stan isn’t up to the likes to Netflix or Hulu, this is still a remarkably good start. It’s tempting to write it off if you can access Netflix or Hulu – simply because those two US sites have a content library that dwarfs Stan – but as I said, that’s hardly Stan’s fault. Given time, I think Stan will prove to be a service to have.

Presto – $14.95/Mth

Presto is Foxtel’s foray, and recently had a price cut. Presto actually offers three packages – two of them offer a choice between only TV shows and only movies for $9.95 each, but the $14.95 package gives access to both. Presto is a curious mix of content that almost seems carefully designed not to make Foxtel (and its own online service Fotxtel Go) obsolete. There’s a lot of new stuff here, particularly new movies. Interestingly, these new movies often aren’t available on Netflix either – we’re talking 2014 releases. Generally if it’s available to rent, it’s a candidate for Presto (if Foxtel will allow it on the service). In terms of TV series, Stan is probably better with a better range. Curiously, Presto won’t give you many of the Foxtel exclusives (like Game of Thrones) – probably a tactical decision to keep you paying for Foxtel.

Presto’s massive content library is let down by technical issues. The web client for PCs and Macs isn’t particularly good and seems pretty buggy on Chrome, occasionally crashing the tab or having rendering errors. Streaming content seems to be okay but the experience isn’t overly pleasant. There’s an iOS and Android app but the iOS app is only for the iPad (go figure). Curiously, Chromecast is supported but AirPlay isn’t, and since there’s no Apple TV app you’re shit out of luck if you don’t own a Chromecast capable device. The decision not to allow AirPlay but to support Chromecast baffles me. Who thought that was a good idea? Stan supports AirPlay, so surely Presto can’t be far behind.

The biggest problem is that Presto won’t stream over standard definition (480p). Stan supports HD. Netflix, when it launches (probably next month) here in Australia, will support 4k. Nobody has an internet connection or usage cap that’ll support it, but the option’s there. Watching the newest movies at 480p is almost like paying for a pirated DVD rip at this point. Seriously guys, why the hell did you decide to do that?

Presto’s biggest drawcard is its content library, particularly for movies. It’s massive, and it’s got a lot of newer movies too – something Netflix often doesn’t have (at least in its US/UK incarnation). For example 2014’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier is on Presto, but only on Netflix Netherlands. Go figure! The price of $15 isn’t really too bad, although it’s not exactly Stan’s excellent pricing. The real problem is the absurd lack of AirPlay support, and the horrible 480p quality stream. Without fixing these things, Presto’s massive content catalogue is pretty much the only thing going for it.

Recommended? Maybe.

Stan’s $10 price, along with its generous 30 day trial, make it pretty risk free. Honestly, you’d be silly not to at least check it out. $10 isn’t much and 30 days is plenty of time to check out the content. It has a solid client (though it has a few bugs that need to be ironed out) and a decent amount of content. Presto is a bit harder to recommend – while $15 a month is still what I’d consider reasonable, particularly given how recent the content is, there are some major technical issues with the service that need to be resolved (and quickly) for it to be competitive.

The elephant in the room is Netflix and Hulu. Firstly, Netflix will launch here in Australia very, very soon, and will probably sit at around Stan’s price point. We don’t know what content it will carry, but you can be certain it won’t hold a candle to the US or UK library. As such, services like Presto might still have a reason to exist. But the other thing is that it isn’t hard to get around the geoblock and access the US versions of Netflix and Hulu, where there’s a load of content to watch. And it’s relatively cheap, too – though the value is slightly diminished when our dollar weakens, as it is now.

Stan and Presto will set you back about $25 a month. At the current exchange rate, Hulu and Netflix will run at about $22 AUD. Most DNS services to bypass the geoblock will set you back around $5, often charged in an overseas currency. So you’re probably paying a tad extra (with our weaker dollar) to access these overseas services. Whether or not that’s worth it (and the risk that it’ll all stop working if Netflix or Hulu ever crack down on this system) will depend on what content you want to watch.

In any event, the streaming media industry in Australia is about to see some major changes. Stan’s arrival in the market, and the imminent arrival of Netflix, are going to shake up the system quite a bit. The old media dinosaurs of Foxtel are in for a major fight if the content can flow through Stan and Netflix like it does in the US. For now, both Presto and Stan in particular are worth keeping an eye on.

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