Entertainment Reviews

Stan Streaming Service: Australian Hands On

When StreamCo burst onto the scene in Australia promising a better way to stream for all, we thought it was a big promise with a stupid name. Now that we’ve heard all about its exclusives, its price and its new name — Stan — we’re excited (and still not convinced that the name is quite right).

If you haven’t met Stan yet, all you need to know is that it’s a streaming video on demand (SVOD) service built by Aussies, for Aussies. The people at StreamCo noticed we were using a lot of Netflix via US-based VPN services, and supplementing that with a hell of a lot of pirated content. After a bit of research, the StreamCo people figured out that a cheap service with lots of content for Aussies would go down well.

Set to launch next year, Stan will cost around $10 per month and carry exclusive content from the likes of Sony Pictures (Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul), as well as content from MGM. More partners will be announced ahead of the launch, which is expected in the next few months.

Before we start telling you what it’s like, there’s a quick disclosure we need to mention. Gizmodo is published by Allure Media, and Fairfax (which forms 50 per cent of the StreamCo/Stan joint venture with Nine) owns Allure Media. Despite the relation, we still think Stan is a silly name.

After our chat at the launch of the Stan streaming service last month, big cheese Mike Sneesby invited us along to the bunker where Stan is being developed.

“You’re the first people outside of StreamCo and Stan to see it in action,” he said, with a nervous smile on his face.

The app opens, and immediately it looks familiar. Racks of horizontally scrolling content adorn the screen, with recommendations, curated content and recently watched material all easily accessible from the front door of the app.

There’s going to be a carousel-like feature added later, we’re told, that will show off hero content on the app. An editorial team is being hired to curate that, with new suggestions being added regularly.

Your last viewed item sits on the top left of the rack screen, and that will be synced across devices so you never lose your place. Like a global bookmark for your content.

A side menu flies out when selected to reveal a few different subsections of content, including TV, Movies and Kids. The Stan team wanted to make navigation as simple as possible so accessing new content would be a breeze.

There’s also two other menus that help you have a better cross-device experience, too. Watch History allows you to see what you viewed recently and watch it again on any device. If you’ve ever been a bit drunk with friends messing about on Netflix and forgot what terrible B-movie you watched the next day, you know how useful an expanded viewing history would be. Plus, you can see if your partner has been screen-cheating on you (that is: watching ahead in a show you were meant to be watching together).

There’s also a MyList section, which allows you to store content you’re currently watching so you don’t have to fish around for it every time. The Stan team assume you’ll be watching a bunch of shows at once, and would enjoy a few bookmarks and progress bar-style trackers to help you keep up with where you are.

As far as the quality of the stream is concerned, Stan looks amazing. Wherever possible, the content acquired has been HD. Full 1080p HD, that is. Not fake 720p HD that looks blocky on your TV. Stan will also have 5.1 surround sound support.

We spoke with Stan’s chief technology officer and the content team about the whole HD thing. Australia is a country with a big demand with a skinny pipe problem. A lot of us can’t get the HD content we want because of rubbish internet.

We were told that, because Stan is built for the Austrlaian market, the delivery is optimised for a low bandwidth environment. Stan has partnered with Akamai to take advantage of their CDN and compression technologies, and it’s working with Brightcove to ensure a hassle-free viewing experience once the content lands on your device. All the content is also sitting as close to the “edge” as possible, so it doesn’t have far to travel to get to your device leading to lower latency.

Stan has even built a function into the app that sees the CDN go and pre-fetch content as you stream it so it buffers faster. The whole app is geared towards killing off the tyranny of “the last mile” (read: our shitty internet).

You’ll only need a 2Mbps stream to get access to SD content on Stan, and 4Mbps and above for HD content, we’re told.

Compare that to Netflix which recommends you have at least a 3Mbps connection for standard definition content, and a connection of 5Mbps for HD. 4K quality bumps you up to a recommended 25Mbps, but very few titles have that extreme definition right now, and even fewer connected devices can play it.

Stan will also launch with native AirPlay support (a first for an Aussie streaming service) as well as Chromecast support.

I should specify that we only got a very limited look at Stan during our meeting. We got to see the app itself, how it works on AirPlay (very well, actually), a few key features like watch lists and watch histories, as well as a look at the HD offerings. We were asked not to take photos of the app, and we were asked not to talk about some of the content we saw on the screen other than Breaking Bad.

From what we saw, we can tell you that it looks like a product that’s about to live up to the promise of being Australia’s first real streaming service, but there are still a lot of things in motion before launch.

The reason we can’t show you a lot of what Stan is right now is two-fold: first, it’s not really fair to form final judgments on a product while it’s still in development, hence the “hands on” tag rather than a full review which would take longer. Second of all, Stan knows what it’s up against in the market.

2015 is going to be a massive year for SVOD, with Netflix launching, Stan launching, Quickflix ramping up a SVOD service and Foxtel trying to leverage its content deals to keep up. If you like streaming, you’re going to have a great year as a consumer. Because everything’s so cutthroat right now, Sneesby and the Stan team don’t want to give away their secret sauce, and that’s totally fair. We just hope to hear more about it soon is all.

What I can tell you is that if Stan looks anything like it does now when it launches properly, it’s going to be one of the most functional, easy to use and enjoyable streaming services Australia has seen yet. Bring it on.


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