Things are finally looking up for Aussies desperate to get in on the streaming media craze with the Australia Day launch of Stan, a homegrown service that’s looking to get an early foot in the door before Netflix hits our shores later in the year.
StreamCo began sending out invitations for a sneak peek of the service earlier this week, with some lucky people getting a chance to check out what Stan’s about.
We got our hands on this early preview of Stan, and will be providing some early thoughts on the app’s setup process, interface, features, content and responsiveness..
Finally, we’ll discuss how well Stan holds up to when compared to having an overseas Netflix account.
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.
First of all, you’ll need a compatible iOS or Android smartphone or tablet in order to browse Stan’s content library, and then you’ll need to pair it to either an Apple TV or Chromecast media streaming device in order to AirPlay or Cast the content over to your television.
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.
Most Android phones from 4.2 onwards are supported, with the exception of the HTC Desire 610, HTC One (All models), HTC One M7 & M8, LG Fino and the Sony Xperia Z3.
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.
While this is a fairly convenient and easy system to use, we wish you could just cut out the smart device middleman and browse Stan’s content on your television.
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.
Flicking up on the screen will show you a range of genres and collections below, such as Comedy Classics, Australian Rules 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).
That Stan sure has some nice features
Unlike its competitors, Stan gives you the option to choose the image quality of your stream 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.
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 hard of hearing 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.
That Stan sure is a content fellow
Earlier in the week, 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 comes to the service’s content ratio for television and movies, Stan leans more on the television side, with a wide range of quality shows on offer (especially when it comes to Aussie content).
That isn’t to say that Stan is a slouch when it comes to films – 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.
Stan is responsive
Stan’s buffering times will vary depending on your internet connection, however in our home and office tests, we were 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.
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 minutes episodes of Community in HD used up around 935 mb of cellular data.
Still, this is a closed preview of the service, so we’re curious to see how Stan’s bit rates and connection hold up once it has launched to the public.
In our time previewing Stan, we’ve come away largely impressed with what the service has to offer.
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 big library of quality television content and back catalogue of films, however it could do with more animated films and recent tentpole films.
The question of whether Stan will hold up well as a Netflix substitute in an important one, and as we’ve had some experience with overseas Netflix accounts, we can say that Stan is certainly heading in the right direction, especially when it comes to its $10 a month subscription fee.
So long as StreamCo keeps working hard to expand its content library, we can say that Netflix’s local launch might have its work cut out for it, as Stan is easily the best local streaming media service Australians have had to date.