Over a year after it was first announced, Disney+ is finally arriving next week in Australia, and is full of cartoons, superheroes, and space wizards for you to gawk at. Last week, Gizmodo got a chance to check out the new streaming service app in its final form and speak with the team behind Disney+’s launch.
The time I spent with Disney+ was brief (only a few hours), but I’ll admit the app and streaming quality were surprisingly good—especially given that streaming services tend to choke in demo situations like the one I was in. But this was one of Disney’s first times showing off the new product to press, so it would have been deeply embarrassing if it had choked on the building’s wifi. Assume your own experience with Disney+ to vary depending on your internet speed and the quality of the device you’re using.
The service’s launch has been confusing thus far. Disney has been scant of details (apart from the briefing I attended, which was under embargo until 7pm AEST November 13. Unless you’ve kept a running tally of the news dropped piecemeal by execs, you might have missed what exactly is going on with Disney’s service and when you can actually use it. So let’s clear it up.
When can I start using it?
If you're in the U.S., right now! According to Kevin Mayer, Disney’s Chairman of Direct-to-Consumer and International, Disney “flipped the switch” on Disney+ at approximately 12 a.m. ET on November 12 in the U.S. He did note that it will take a while for the system to fully propagate, which might account for all the wildly different launch times online on Monday. Some people noted it would launch November 11, 9 p.m. PT—which is true! While the countdown clock on the Disney+ homepage suggests it will launch November 12, 3 a.m. PT. Which also could be true depending on how the flipping of switches goes.
To be safe, you should probably just go to bed and wake up later in the morning. Will someone have potentially watched the first episode of The Mandalorian as you sleep and spoil you? Yes. But the joke is on them because you’ll be the fully rested one.
Unfortunately, if you're in Australia, you'll have to wait until December 19 for Disney+ to go live.
How can I watch Disney+?
Disney+ is available on nearly every platform. There’s support for Apple’s iOS, iPad OS, and tvOS, as well as Google’s Android OS. Amazon users will find support on the FireTV; Roku users should have support on most Rokus, and Xbox One and Playstation 4 users will also find an app available. There’s even support for some specific smart TV platforms, namely LG’s webOS and Samsung’s Tizen.
The apps have slowly been appearing on app stores. As of November 11, 2pm ET it’s available on the U.S. Android Play Store, but not the Apple App Store.
And if you just want to watch it on your computer, it should support browsers, too.
How much is it?
Disney+ will retail for $8.99 a month or $89 for a whole year in Australia - that’s $7.41 a month.
How much can I watch and download?
For a streaming service, Disney+ is surprisingly generous. You can have four active streams going at any one time, and Disney says there are no real plans to go after people who share passwords, though they will be monitoring how people use the service, so that could change later. What that means, for now, is that you can be streaming in New York and California at the same time if you’d like.
You can also download an unlimited number of files to up to 10 devices at a time. So everyone on the road trip can have their own wide assortment of content to watch.
What’s the quality of the stream?
Provided you have the internet and devices for it, Disney+ will stream in 4K with Dolby Atmos and Vision or HDR10. Again, this depends on a number of factors. You’ll need broadband that’s fast enough (Disney hasn’t referenced a specific number yet but typically 20Mbps or better is fine), and your device will need to support 4K, Atmos, and Vision. If it doesn’t have Vision Disney+ will offer and HDR10 stream instead. If it can’t handle Atmos, HDR, or even 4K, Disney+ should automatically supply you with the best version available for your device.
We already knew that Disney was using all of its megacorp might to bring an absurd amount of archival content to launch its new streaming service with. Now, we finally know just what will be arriving day one, and hoo boy, folks: it’s a lot.
What content is in 4K?
Ahead of the Disney+ launch, the company announced that the entire Star Wars saga would be available in 4K and HDR exclusively on Disney+. I watched a bit of A New Hope in the new format, and it’s impressively crisp. You could even see the strokes of the paintbrush that coloured Darth Vader’s helmet black.
Besides Star Wars, the Marvel movies and a selection of Disney animated films are also available in 4K. Disney hasn’t provided a list, but in browsing the app, I noted it was almost exclusively animated films that have been made available in 4K—including everything from Sleeping Beauty to The Black Cauldron to Moana. Inexplicably, the only non-nerd 4K live-action movie that jumped out at me was the 1974 film The Bears and I.
How can I find the 4K content?
Provided your device supports 4K, there will be a list of 4K content you can scroll through on the main menu of the app. The app also notes the highest quality available for content when you select movies and shows.
When can I watch the exclusive stuff?
It depends. Some stuff, like Noelle, High School Musical: The Musical: The Series (yes really), the live-action version of The Lady and the Tramp, and The Mandalorian will be available at launch. Other content, like every Marvel show, will be available at a later date.
Will I be able to binge shows?
You’ll be able to binge old stuff like Gravity Falls and Hannah Montana. However, exclusive original series like The Mandalorian will air weekly, with new episodes appearing on the service every Friday.
Is there really that much of The Simpsons on Disney+?
Yes. There are really 30 full seasons of The Simpsons available on U.S. Disney+ (fingers crossed for Australia). And yes, it’s all the good seasons. Unfortunately, it’s not the best quality—at least in the demos I saw. Early seasons of The Simpsons were shot in a 4:3 aspect ratio, which means there should be big black bars on the left and right side of the screen when watching them. Instead, it appears they’ve been cropped so the picture takes up the full screen on a 16:9 TV. That means everything on the top and the bottom of the screen has been cropped out.
There was also no real attempt to upgrade the old episodes for 4K TVs. So you’re left with some very cropped and very ugly TV. Newer episodes look significantly better, but everyone knows the best episodes were the earliest ones.
Will I have to suffer through annoying auto-play trailers whenever I’m looking for content to watch?
Nope! Disney specifically wanted to avoid people sitting in the menu watching trailer after trailer, so you’ll have to choose trailers manually to watch them.
Is there just like, a big list of the content I can look through instead of hunting through the app?
There’s no master list available in the app itself, but we did compile a list back when Disney tweeted every single thing coming to the service at launch.
Get me pictures of Spider-Man! Spider-Man!
If you want to watch the Disney produced animated Spider-Man cartoons you’re in luck. They’ll be available on Disney+. However, the live-action movies made collaboratively with Marvel and Sony will not be available on the service.
Where is Deadpool?
Deadpool, the MA15+-rated Marvel hero, is now owned by Disney, but don’t expect to see any of his films on Disney+, as it’s a kid-friendly service.
Where’s the dirty and violent stuff?
Disney+ is intended for families and nerds. Which means it’s mainly the kid-friendly Disney-brand stuff, National Geographics stuff, Marvel stuff, and Star Wars stuff.
Don’t expect to find any really violent stuff or sexual stuff or anything that might be rated M or MA15+... although someone is chopped in half on screen in the first episode of The Mandalorian.
Wait, so where is all the MA15+-rated stuff?
Now that Disney owns Hulu, you can expect to find the “adult” stuff making its way to Hulu if you're in the U.S., including a lot of Fox Searchlight films. Again, Disney+ is meant to be appropriate for all ages, while Hulu will be for regular TV watching and for all the stuff for older people.
We're not sure what this means for Aussies yet though as Hulu isn't available here.
Should I get Disney+?
I think the decision to subscribe depends on a lot of factors! If you have kids, it’s probably a great deal. It’s $8.99 a month, and you get years of content to occupy small people.
If you’re really only interested in the original stuff it might make more sense to wait. Original series will air weekly, so if you want to binge it all or save a few months of subscription fees, you can wait until a show finishes airing, then subscribe for a month to watch it.