Review: Updated: Stan

Review: Updated: Stan

Introduction, Setup and Interface

UPDATE: Stan has added a number of smart TVs to its list of supported devices – details below!

Now that Australians have spent some time with Stan, it’s time to reflect on how well the final product has delivered in terms of its primary goal – to give Aussies the streaming video-on-demand experience that they’ve been clamouring for.

Since Stan’s Australia Day launch, Aussies (who haven’t resorted to proxies and VPNs) have finally had a Netflix-like taste of what instant streaming content is all about, but is the content up to snuff? And how does Stan perform now that it’s out in the open and away from its preview phase?

Then comes the big question: does Stan have what it takes to keep Australians coming back for more now that Netflix is here?

Setting up Stan

Getting Stan up and running is a fairly straightforward process, though you will require a few things in order to view the service on your television at home.

At launch, a compatible iOS or Android smartphone or tablet was needed in order to browse Stan’s content library, in addition to an Apple TV or Chromecast media streaming device so that you could AirPlay or Cast the content over to your television.

Thankfully, a Stan app has made its way to the Apple TV, PS3 and PS4, allowing users to browse the streaming service’s content library on their TV screens.

On top of the platforms listed above, Stan’s list of supported devices continues to grow, as it’s now also available on a number of 2012-2015 model Samsung smart TVs and 2014-2015 model LG smart TVs.

Alternatively, you can use your PC or Mac to view Stan’s content on most browsers and stream it to your Chromecast from there.

Stan is compatible with iPads running iOS7 and above from the second generation onwards, as well as all iPad minis and iPhones from the fourth generation onwards.

Stan Content

Most Android phones from 4.2 onwards are supported, including recently added support for Sony’s Xperia Z1, Z2, Z3 phones and tablets, HTC One M7, M8, M9 and Desire and LG’s G2, LG Optimus L7II smartphones.

In terms of tablets, most Android units running 4.2 and above will work, aside from the HP 8 G2.

Once you’ve selected something to watch, you can start playing it on your phone or tablet, or tap the AirPlay/Cast icon to throw it to your Apple TV or Chromecast, at which point you can put your smart device to sleep.

It’s fantastic to see that Stan has addressed initial criticisms of its service by releasing app for the Apple TV platform and for PlayStation consoles, and we imagine StreamCo will eventually bring out some apps for smart TVs, the Xbox One and various media players.

But that’s not all – Stan is now available to stream on the Roku 2-powered Telstra TV streaming box, which happens to be the only device that currently streams all three of Australia’s major SVOD services.

Get that interface up in yo’ face

Anyone who’s seen Netflix’s interface should know what to expect with Stan in terms of functionality. That said, Stan might just have the visual edge.

Movie and TV show publicity art is all over Stan, and it looks incredibly slick – Its carousel in particular is clean and image-driven, with over half of our iPad’s screen displaying some of Stan’s most exciting content, like its exclusive shows Transparent and Mozart in the Jungle as well as other premium dramas like Hannibal and Fargo.

Stan TV Season Display

Flicking up on the screen will show you a range of genres and collections below, such as Comedy Classics, Best of Australia and World Movies, with titles and poster art laid out horizontally for you to swipe across and browse.

Tapping on a show will let you choose the season and episode you want, while tapping on a movie will give you some information screen where you can press play and jump straight in.

Options can be revealed on the left side of the screen by tapping the icon in the upper left hand corner, allowing you to switch profiles, browse TV and movie genres, kids content, your watch history or your list of saved shows (just like on Netflix), and the upper right hand contains a search bar and access to your profile (again, just like on Netflix).

Stan’s Apple TV app is slightly different to the tablet and smartphone version, in that it lists its sections along the top of the screen, with genres and content laid out in a style that’s more consistent with Apple TV’s other apps.

That Stan sure has some nice features

Unlike its competitors, Stan gives you the option to choose the image quality of your stream on smartphones and tablets via a cog icon at the bottom of your player window.

You can opt to use Stan’s automatic setting for an adaptive bit rate that’s tailored to the quality of your connection, or choose the SD or HD constant bit rate encode, depending on whether or not you have bandwidth to spare.

Stan Image Quality Options

Curiously missing from Stan are options to change language or apply closed captions to the content you’re watching – the lack of these options in Stan could be make or break for people who are hearing impaired or have a language barrier, so their omission seems odd.

At present, Stan doesn’t have the ability to recommend movies and shows to you based on your movie habits, which is one of Netflix’s best features.

Hopefully, a ‘recommended shows’ feature is somewhere in StreamCo’s future pipeline.

Content, Performance and Verdict

That Stan sure is a content fellow

Recently, we posted a comprehensive rundown of all of Stan’s confirmed content library, and now that we’ve used the service, we can confirm that there’s plenty more content available that has yet to be announced.

When it came to the service’s content ratio for television and movies, Stan leaned more on the television side at launch, however there have been some movie content announcements since then that have levelled the playing field somewhat.

In terms of television exclusives, Stan continues to deliver major announcements, including a multi-year content deal with Warner Bros. International which sees the service gain the local streaming rights to a range of big shows, including all ten seasons of Friends, the DC comic book shows The Flash and Constantine, iZombie, The Following, The Last Ship, Hart of Dixie, A to Z, Forever, and much more.

Add all of that to its already-impressive list of exclusives, including Better Call Saul, Power, Dig, Mozart in the Jungle, Transparent and much more, and you have a streaming service that gives Netflix a run for its money in the content department.

One area where Stan is sure to shine above it’s competitors, is in its Australian content, with a wide variety of quality Aussie television shows and movies on offer.

Stan Aussie TV lineup

The service has quite a bit to choose from in terms of classic movies and back catalogue titles, like the entire James Bond collection, the entire Middle Earth saga (aside from the latest Hobbit film), a large range of foreign films and much more.

However, we do hope that more studios sign on, as the service could do with some more recent blockbusters like superhero movies and animated films – both of which Stan is almost entirely lacking in.

Netflix recently announced a content deal with Disney in Australia and New Zealand that gives the upcoming service access to a wide range of Marvel, Pixar and Disney Animation Studios content, which somewhat highlights Stan’s shortcomings in this area.

With that said, if your interests are more in-tune with art house fare, then Stan is absolutely for you – the service’s range of foreign films, indies and classics is unrivalled.

How does Stan perform?

Stan’s buffering times will vary depending on your internet connection, however in our home and office tests, we were mostly able to start streaming HD content within 30-45 seconds of starting it.

Stan requires a minimum 1.5 mbps connection speed for the ability to stream, 2.5 mbps for standard definition, 3.5 mbps for 720p HD resolution content and a 6.5 mbps connection speed for full 1080p HD resolution.

The real test, however, came with Stan’s much-anticipated, fast-tracked streaming of Breaking Bad spin-off, Better Call Saul.

Obviously, Stan has a lot banking on the successful delivery of this hugely publicised new series, as much of its marketing has centred around its exclusivity to the service.

Tested via a tablet and Chromecast setup only an hour or so after being put up on the service, the first episode of Better Call Saul started immediately in HD, playing almost flawlessly with the exception of a single moment of buffering around two-thirds of the way into the episode.

One thing worth noting – while this is just speculation, we did encounter some fluctuating bit rate quality on an episode of Community that we were watching just before we moved on to Better Call Saul.

Better Call Saul on Stan

Since launch, we have encountered bugs from time to time – one occasion saw Stan continue to try and buffer The Wolf of Wall Street in the Safari browser for several minutes until we gave up and refreshed the window, at which point it worked fine on its second attempt.

Another occasion saw The Terminator randomly start again from the beginning after having already been on for a few minutes.

Also, Stan would sometimes forget where we were up to in an episode or movie when switching between our Mac browser window and iPad.

Switching between episodes on the computer would also cause each episode to go back to the beginning again, and episodes do not have progress bars when viewed in a computer browser window.

Finally, we did experience an instance where a paused episode of a TV show crashed, giving us an A11 error code, which Stan promises will be rectified in its next software update.

A11 error code on Stan

Thankfully, these problems have eased in the months since launch and are practically non-existent on the Apple TV and PlayStation versions of the app.

Stan requires a minimum 1.5 mbps connection speed for the ability to stream, 2.5 mbps for standard definition, 3.5 mbps for 720p HD resolution content and a 6.5 mbps connection speed for full 1080p HD resolution.

We even managed to stream HD over our iPad’s 4G connection during a train ride, though we wouldn’t recommend doing this very often – two 22 minute episodes of Community in HD used up around 935 mb of cellular data.

One thing worth noting, is that Stan would sometimes forget where we were up to in an episode or movie when switching between our Mac browser window and iPad.

Switching between episodes on a computer would also cause each episode to go back to the beginning again.

Verdict

Now that we’ve spent some real time with Stan, we’ve come away largely impressed with what the service has to offer, delivering pretty much everything that Australians have been asking for since they first discovered what their friends overseas have had access to for years.

The ultimate test will be whether torrenting Australians will put their money where their mouth is and pay for the content when delivered in an affordable and convenient manner.

Stan’s excellent execution of its streaming media service really leaves people with very little reason to take the illegal downloading route.

We liked

Stan’s interface is immediately impressive, with an image-driven layout that’s easy to navigate and aesthetically pleasing.

Content-wise, Stan impresses with its large library (even bigger than Netflix Australia), which includes quality television shows, big-time Hollywood productions, foreign cinema and home-grown Aussie content.

Delivering content in full high-definition is also a big plus, and any competitors still sticking to standard definition content are going to find a tough road ahead of them.

Bonus points for allowing smartphone and tablet users the ability to select the quality of their streams based on their available bandwidth.

Streams also start very quickly in full HD with minimal buffering instances experienced.

We disliked

While Stan mostly sails smoothly, certain bugs have marred the experience on a few occasions, either stopping the show dead in its tracks or crashing the app entirely.

There’s plenty of content on Stan, as mentioned above, however, it could still do with more animated films and even more recent tentpole films – no Disney or Marvel content makes the service feel somewhat lacking in the blockbuster department.

We also think there should be some language and subtitle options available for the hearing impaired and those with language barriers.

Stan’s Apple TV and PlayStation apps are a huge step in the right direction when it comes to browsing the service’s content library on our televisions, though we’d still like to see more consoles and other media players added to Stan’s list of compatible devices.

Final Verdict

The question of whether Stan will hold up well as a Netflix substitute in an important one, though we can say that Stan is certainly heading in the right direction, especially when it comes to its $10 a month subscription fee.

However, we do feel it needs even more content – Stan’s recent content licensing deal with Roadshow is a step in the right direction, though Netflix’s recent Disney announcement shows that Stan still has some way to go in terms of providing the kind of popular content that people want to see.

So long as StreamCo keeps working hard to fix its bugs and expand its content library, we can say that Netflix will have itself a worthy local competitor.

Stan may have lost its crown as the Australian king of streaming services since Netflix’s arrival, but it’s consistently edging its way back to the throne by adding excellent content and expanding its supported platform list.


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