Foxtel's Presto subscription streaming movie service officially launches on 13 March. Unlike regular Foxtel, you don't have to sign up for a long-term subscription — but does that make it worth $19.99 a month? Here's what you need to know about where it works, what it offers, and why there isn't an Android version yet.
We looked at how Presto compared price-wise to other movie streaming services recently, but since then we've had the chance to play with the pre-release version of the service, and also to dig deeper into the technology behind it.
So what do I get? The basic deal is this: Presto costs $19.99 a month (and there's a launch trial where it costs $4.99 for the first month). That gives you unlimited streaming of the movies in the service, which in practical terms means any movie that Foxtel itself has the rights to. Extremely new releases can be rented as pay-per-view, but the appeal of the service is more in the "all-you-can-eat" element. It's an on-demand service; movies start as soon as you want to view them.
You can stop and start your subscription at any time — so you could sign up for Presto every time the school holidays come around, cancel it when the month is up, and repeat that process each holidays. The same approach is used with Foxtel Play, the service which live-streams existing Foxtel channels. The big difference is that Presto is cheaper, and only offers movies — no TV shoes on offer.
What devices can I stream on? Right now, you can view movies via the browser on Windows or Mac PCs, or via a dedicated iPad app. You have to "register" individual devices, and a maximum of three are allowed. (Foxtel says that restriction is imposed by content providers.) An Android app is expected to be released within three months, but will also only work on tablets.
One note: I found Presto wouldn't work on my Windows 8 touchscreen device, because the service identified it as a "mobile" device. Hopefully this will be fixed soon.
What's the range like? Foxtel hasn't quoted an exact number, but points out that it has deals with a dozen studios, and virtually all the content it can currently broadcast is visible. It has a very definite bias towards more recent films (you can get the 2003 Italian Job but not the 1968 original, for instance). It also doesn't have Heathers, which I count as an oversight. On the upside, movies include Rotten Tomatoes ratings, there are "curated" collections if you feel like binging on a particular genre, and you can browse movies scheduled on Foxtel's movie channels and view them immediately if they're available.
What's the quality like? OK, but not HD. There's a fixed resolution (which seems to be about 480p), but there's a dynamic bitrate used to reflect varying connection speeds.
Can I watch them on a big screen? Yes, if you connect your device with an HDMI cable. No, if you want to use AirPlay or Miracast. (Foxtel again says this is a requirement of its contracts with movie makers.)
How much data will it use? Foxtel quotes a rate of between 1 and 1.5GB for a typical movie — so this isn't one to use on your 4G connection. There are no deals in place with ISPs to offer any unmetered connections either, though Foxtel says it would be open to doing so.
Can I assume that movies will always be available on the service? No. If Foxtel's rights to a particular title expire, it will disappear from the service. Movies in your watchlist that are due to expire soon will show a notification. There's no section specifically highlighting "catch them before they disappear" titles (an option often seen on streaming services), but Foxtel told us it would be easy to build one if there was significant demand.
That still seems expensive compared to Netflix. Yes, it does: Netflix costs $US7.99 a month, and includes TV shows as well as movies. Even if Foxtel has a better range of movies than Netflix, Netflix would still offer more content overall. If Netflix ever launches in Australia, we'd expect the price on Presto to drop. Then again, we'd also expect that the range of titles on an "official" Australian Netflix might not be as broad as for the US version. We'll have to see.
Lifehacker's weekly Streaming column looks at how technology is keeping us entertained.