This is Stan: first impressions


WhistleOut
21 January 2015

Despite no official launch date, Stan has invited a small number of interested users to participate in early trials. We were lucky enough to receive one of these notifications and, after a quick poke around, Stan is about as good as we could have hoped for at this stage.

If you haven't heard about Stan yet, this is essentially an Aussie-based Netflix competitor owned by Channel Nine and Fairfax. It's already secured some juicy exclusives for streaming in Australia (Better Call Saul, Breaking Bad) and thanks to its affiliation with Nine you can expect those to keep coming.

Very important: Stan is still early stages. This isn’t a product ready to launch. This is a consumer trial.

We’ve had a couple of crashes and there’s some basic functionality, like choosing your display pic, still missing. Be that as it may, for a before-market product it’s a significant step forwards from what Aussies are used to from Foxtel Play, Quick Flix or ABC iView in terms of layout and user interface (UI).

On top of that, it already works on all PCs and Laptops, a fair smack of Android phones, a small handful of Android tablets, and all iPhones and iPads currently on the market.

Netflix competitor, or Netflix clone?

It’s difficult to find a delicate way of putting this; the Stan UI reeks of Netflix-‘inspired’ design. Anyone familiar with the streaming behemoth’s layout will know their way around Australia’s plucky new service instinctively.

Titles on home screens are arranged in horizontal side-scrolling streams with your “Last Viewed” up the top right and “Welcome to Stan” sitting right next to it, mirroring the “Recently Viewed” and “Top Picks” layout from Netflix.

Hovering over a title brings up more information about it in a little pop-up box, from where you can click on the title and go to a details screen or add it to “My List”.

As you scroll down the home page the horizontal streams are arranged by genres, both familiar and tongue-in-cheek. They range from “Premium Drama” to “Teen Spirit” to “From the Brits”.

This extreme similarity to an already popular UI is brazen to say the least, but hardly surprising or worthy of criticism. The Netflix UI works. It’s a simple and logical way to lay out a streaming service like this, so why not take a few (quite a few) queues from the top dog?

At the very least, we were pleased to see such a functional and modern UI in an early Aussie product. Needless to say based on the laggy, often cluttered, and even unstable offerings from Foxtel Play, Quick Flix and ABC iView, we were expecting less.

Content

Content is a mixed bag. Stan will be quick to point out that it has the complete James Bond catalogue. Impressive, considering that Netflix in the US still struggles to offer more than a handful each year. Even better, Stan’s Bond flicks all appear to be the HD remastered versions. Very nice.

Once you get past everyone’s favourite spy, pickings get a little more slim. You’ll get decently modern titles like The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, that hit theatres about a year ago in December 2013, which is pretty good for this kind of service. You’ll also get all the new Dr Who episodes right up until the latest season, so no Capaldi just yet.

On the other hand most of the content is older stuff that you may or may not care about, and even then the number of titles is sparse if you’re used to Netflix.

That might have been a deal-breaker, except that Netflix has itself commented that it may have a less-than-impressive content catalogue on day one. Considering Stan is also yet-to-launch, it can be forgiven for now.

That the “Movies” drop-down doesn’t have a Sci Fi category yet is another matter entirely.

Stability, speed, quality

Stan is fast. Very fast. On a 10Mb/s connection – about average for a home ADSL2+ line – Stan starts playing within a couple of seconds in complete HD. There’s no need to wait for the quality to slowly improve as more of the movie buffers; it’s HD straight away. You can drop it down to SD if your connection isn’t quite up to it. Jumping backwards and forwards through a video also only takes a second or two.

The HD quality is great. To the naked eye it’s close to a Blu Ray. It’s not quite 100%, but it’s definitely good enough considering the speed at which it started streaming in our tests.

Both the phone and web app do tend to crash more often than we'd like. You won’t necessarily get one crash per viewing, but it’s close. This can be chalked up to it being a before-release product and with any luck it’ll be fixed before general consumers have to deal with it.

Device compatibility

You can have up to six devices linked to your Stan account at any one time. This might seem like an annoying restriction, but right now it looks like there’s no limit on how many of them can be streaming at once. We got three working on our network, all playing different content, but after that our connection was running a little too slowly to dare try a fourth.

Already Stan works on a fair few devices. Most of the major phones of the last year are covered, like the LG G3, Motorola Moto G and Xperia Z2. No Xperia Z3 or any kind of HTC phones are mentioned, however.

Tablet support is few and far between, unless you own an iPad, in which case you’re probably set.

Once again the omissions are likely due to it still being in beta. More and more devices will join the list closer to debut.

At the very least it’s a novelty to stream this kind of service so easily in Australia on a phone or tablet. There’s no hassle at all, it just works. Assuming your WiFi connection can handle it. Although, it should be mentioned, jumping back and forth through a movie is a serious pain on the phone version. This could definitely be improved.

Profiles and parental control

You can create multiple profiles on the one account, which is great if you have housemates and even better if you have kids. The main profile is the one that controls the show, which means you can place viewing restrictions on the others.

Profiles can be set to Unrestricted viewing, Kid under 12 and, as a nice touch, you can Restrict by classification and select PG, M, MA 15+ and R 18+.

Once you create a second profile you’re prompted to put in a PIN. Noone can change profiles on a device without entering this PIN. This system could use a little sprucing-up. Surely your moody teenager shouldn’t need you to come down and put in a passcode every time they want to switch from the under 12 account to their MA-rated one. Individual passwords would work much better, so long as the parental profile still had total access.

Final thoughts

Stan has all the makings of a legitimate Netflix competitor. It has a great, if familiar, UI; it’s fast; (fairly) stable; and getting it on a mobile device is a breeze. That being said there’s three things that need addressing:

  • Content
  • Device Compatibility
  • Stability

There’s some great content on there. It’s a bit limited at the moment, but even Netflix is struggling with this issue. Even so, we think more titles will be needed if Stan is going to pull a sustainable number of subscribers early on.

The lack of supported Android phones is understandable, but also definitely needs fixing. Doubly so for tablets. One of the great appeals that Stan has is mobile device streaming, so it’s going to need to make sure that support is as close to universal as possible come the big day.

As for stability, it was better than one might expect from a beta, but not quite good enough for a finished product. Given the rarity of the problems we encountered, we’re confident this can be addressed in time.

At the very least it’ll be worth giving Stan a go once it launches. The price is expected to be about $10 per month with no lock-in contracts. From what we can see it’s very close to being finished. It might even beat Netflix’s March release date.


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