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Review: UPDATED: Stan
3:03 am | February 28, 2015

Author: admin | Category: Mobile phones | Comments: None

Review: UPDATED: Stan

Introduction, Setup and Interface

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 once Netflix arrives on our shores sometime in March?

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.

Alternatively, you can use your PC or Mac to view Stan’s content on most browsers and stream it with the exception of Chrome for Mac, as the Silverlight plug-in is not fully compatible with that browser.

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, 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.

Still, these are early days for the service, and we imagine StreamCo will eventually bring out some apps for smart TVs, consoles like the PS4 or Xbox One and media players.

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).

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.

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.

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.

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 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

Whether or not Stan was prioritising its quality of service around Better Call Saul for its debut is uncertain, though we will continue to investigate the matter.

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

While these are by no means frequent occurrences, we hope to see wrinkles like these ironed out by Stan’s development team in the near future.

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 big library of quality television content and back catalogue of films, which includes 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 users to select the quality of their streams based on the quality of 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 recent tentpole films – no Disney or Marvel content makes the service feel somewhat lacking.

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

Browsing Stan’s content library on a smart device or computer works fine, but we wish we could just do it on our television screens.

Final Verdict
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.

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’s local launch will have itself a worthy competitor, as Stan is easily the best local streaming media service Australians have had to date.



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