THE digital streaming revolution is slowly changing the world. What surely started as a mere counter to the sheer abundance of illegal downloads has become a staple, and inarguably the future of television.
The big question for Australian viewers is no longer whether or not they can afford to be ripped off by the wonderful people at Foxtel, or if they should get Netflix (because lets face it, we all have Netflix), but which of the secondary providers – PRESTO or STAN – should they go with when they feel like they’ve watched everything on Netflix that tickles their fancy?
I’ve spent the last month with both. Yes, I got them for free (from my employer and phone company respectively), but if anything I think that makes me more qualified to share my thoughts on which one I’d rather pay for. Here are a few key criteria that might enhance your own judgement when you and your partner are sitting there asking each other what you want to watch, knowing full well that the conversation will go on for half an hour and get nowhere before you both go to bed.
DEVICES/ACCESSIBILITY – Many of you will be watching on your Smart TV or through set-top boxes, in which case you’ll have a similar experience. Both options are far less sleek than Netflix, and on Stan I’ve found that the ‘featured programs’ slideshow moves so quickly that it’s almost dizzying. Personally, I watch both through a PlayStation, and Stan is the clear winner. Presto not only took forever to release their console-compatible client, it’s clunkier, and crucially it often forgets you, forcing you to log in repeatedly. When you want to resume watching something you had previously stopped, Presto claims to know where you were, only to take you back to the start of your program. When you’re halfway through something – like a movie or documentary that goes for 2 hours – this is incredibly frustrating. Presto has also crashed repeatedly, or forces a hard reset when something gitches. Stan hasn’t done any of that… yet.
RANGE: Both providers, like Netflix, have a large range of programs that you’ll never be able to get through, or want to, so this criteria is largely based on personal opinion. Presto not only offers a good range of recent releases and older movies, it has a wide range of middle of the road sitcoms and other shows that are played ad infinitum on commercial TV – without the commercials. Being in Australia they also provide a good range of classic and more modern Aussie shows – both comedy and drama. They have Home and Away too, but I won’t hold that against them. When it comes to Australian programs and the older movies, Stan has quite a lot of the same. They also provide an interesting range of world movies and a bigger collection of movies with an R Rating. A big point of difference is television programs – while Stan arguably has a better range of more interesting material that isn’t accessible on free to air TV in Australia, and they get shows quickly from overseas (like Better Call Saul, 11/22/63 and Ash vs Evil Dead), they offer many shows in random servings, with fewer actually having all available seasons. I’ve yet to encounter this with Presto. Where Stan offers 4 seasons of an 18-season show like South Park, Presto has every season of The Walking Dead (the main reason I got it in the first place, and am now addicted to the show) – although they’re always a season or two behind where the show is actually up to (no doubt due to licensing), while Stan is far more up-to-date. It’s a tough call to say that one is better than the other – they both have their strengths and weaknesses.
ORIGINAL CONTENT: This has always been what really sets Netflix apart, and Presto has no original content whatsoever. This isn’t such a bad thing until you tune in to Stan and realise what a valuable asset it can be when done well. They only have two shows at the moment – Wolf Creek and No Activity, but both are remarkably strong programs that have been well-conceived and well developed – and I approached both with a heavy sense of skepticism. Should Stan expand their catalogue and Presto fail to make a move, this will be a clear advantage for the former.
BANDWIDTH: Many service providers, both internet and telephone, who offer bundles with these services provide free bandwidth (to an extent), and I’m on unlimited anyway, but this is Australia, and not everyone is. When watching programs on Stan, you’re given the option of variable bitrate streaming, as well as high quality and low quality. Why someone would bother to watch a show in low quality is beyond me – but the option is there if you want it. Presto, meanwhile, does not, and a half-hour episode of a program can use OVER A GIG of your bandwidth due to what I can only assume is poor compression. As someone who used to download shows regularly, a 20-minute program doesn’t need to be over a couple of hundred MB – but obviously no one told Presto. It’s a fine line between quality and size, but while Stan give you the option to decide for yourself, Presto seem to be pretty far off the mark. If I had limited bandwidth, I’d care.
IN CONCLUSION… I don’t hate Presto at all, but reading back over this it’s evident that there’s a clear winner, and it isn’t them. Like I say, I only got it so I could get into TWD, and I suppose the main reason that I’ve kept it was their recent decision to offer two seasons of the remarkable ESPN series ’30 for 30’ – but I’ve almost exhausted my options there, too.
Discussing price is a rather moot point, because neither is breaking your bank balance and both cost roughly the same – somewhere between $10-$15 a month – but in terms of value for money, I would tell you to go and get Stan.