Binge review: Has Foxtel nailed it or not?
Foxtel recently revealed its new streaming service, Binge. Positioned as an “alternative” to Foxtel Now, Binge is a slick new app and a second home for some of Foxtel’s most popular television. But is Binge the buffet of content Foxtel claims it to be? Or is it a poorly handled serving of premium television?
Subscribing to Binge is a little like visiting one of the last remaining all-you-can-eat Pizza Hut restaurants. All your favourites are here, the meaty Game of Thrones, the gourmet Leftovers, and even sweet treats like Real Housewives. But the quality leaves something to be desired, and after a few turns at the stale old menu, you start wondering if you’re getting the most bang for your buck.
What we liked
- Some of the best television shows ever made
- User interface is modern and intuitive
- Reasonable pricing
What could be better
- No 4K or parental controls
- Video quality varies wildly
- Headline HBO and FX content missing
Binge Pricing and Plans
The promise of Binge is Foxtel’s award-winning content at a price that compares favourably with Netflix. On that much, it delivers. Binge will set you back between $10 and $18 per month, depending on the quality you’re after and the number of devices at your table. There’s also a two-week free trial if you’re looking for a taste test.
Now that Binge is fresh out of the oven, pricing is undoubtedly the most mouth-watering ingredient in Foxtel’s side dish.
As promised, it’s more competitive with Netflix and Stan, and way better value than Foxtel, but some significant omissions stop Binge from being a five-star experience (more on those in a tick).
Here’s how Binge’s pricing stacks up.
Binge vs Netflix vs Stan
|Plan||Monthly Price||Streams||Max. video quality|
One strange, and questionable, caveat to Binge’s otherwise simple pricing structure is its standard iTunes subscription fee. Although you can sign up for any of the three plans listed above when registering on most devices, iOS (iPhone and iPad) users are only presented with one option when registering in the app, $13.99 per month for two devices and HD streaming. It seems like a ploy to push iOS subscriptions to the mid-tier plan, but, oddly, you don’t even get the option for Premium when signing up via the App Store.
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Binge supported devices
Most of the usual suspects but PS4 and Xbox are MIA.
At launch, Binge is available on a decent number of devices. Most people will have at least one Binge-compatible device, but it might not necessarily be the device you want to stream on.
You’ve got the streaming device staples; smartphones and tablets (iOS 12+ and Android 7+), and computers via a web browser (Chrome, Safari, Edge, and Firefox). Telstra TV, Apple TV, and select Android OS Smart TVs can download the Binge app too. Lastly, those who invested in the TV-smartifying Google Chromecast can cast directly from the app.
That roster of devices will cover most Bingers’ device preferences, but I do most of my streaming via my PlayStation 4, which isn’t available at launch (though an app is in works). There’s also no support for Xbox One. That said, it is available on NVIDIA’s phenomenal 4K-upscaling Shield TV Pro (which might be your only option for streaming Binge in 4K).
Not every option will give you the same experience, however, and for specific devices, the stream optimisation seems to be undercooked.
Binge video quality
No 4K and some serious compression issues.
So far, so good? Is your mouth watering at the thought of affordable access to Foxtel’s premium TV shows? Here’s something that will make you lose your appetite: there’s no 4K streaming on Binge.
So there’s the catch. Binge costs the same as Netflix and Stan, but you’re not paying for the same experience. Netflix and Stan’s premium tiers both offer 4K streaming on select titles. Even Prime Video, which comes in at just $6.99 per month, and Disney Plus, which costs $8.99 per month, offer 4K streaming in some capacity.
The only rational explanation for leaving 4K off the menu is that Foxtel doesn’t want Binge to undercut its premium iQ4 subscription, which still costs between $49 and $139 per month. Though there are “current plans” to bring 4K to Binge, according to Foxtel.
So HD is what we’re stuck with on Binge, which would be fine if the quality wasn’t so inconsistent. Streaming on my iPhone and desktop computer via Chrome has yielded some typical results with no complaints, but my first attempts at streaming via Chromecast have been far from pleasant.
While the quality seems to vary between titles, some serious compression issues are most evident in darker scenes (case in point: the famous ‘Battle of Winterfell’ episode of Game of Thrones). Scenes with limited light sources can become so pixelated as to look like impressionist recreations of your favourite shows.
Even if 4K never makes its way to Binge, I hope the HD quality improves when something I actually want to watch arrives on the service.
Signature dishes missing on opening night.
If affordable pricing is the appetiser, Foxtel’s premium content library is undoubtedly the main course, and Binge has just about every big dish. HBO’s biggest TV shows, like Game of Thrones, and Succession, DC’s latest such as Doom Patrol and Swamp Thing, absolute class like Devs and Atlanta from FX. These are just a couple of the primo shows on Binge.
Then there’s the library of over 800 movies. It has old favourites like Jurassic Park and The Shawshank Redemption, next to the latest and greatest blockbusters, like every Fast and Furious and Mission Impossible movie.
On the surface, it seems like a smorgasbord of drama delicacies as far as the eye can see, but on closer inspection, there are some fresh additions to Foxtel’s library held back on Binge.
I Know This Much Is True, the new headline HBO miniseries starring Mark Ruffalo. Not available. Flack, the Anna Pacquin-led drama-comedy now in its second season. The first season is there, but the latest episodes aren’t. Legion, the creative X-Men spinoff from FX, which wrapped up its third and final season last year. Not available.
The list goes on: RUN, Wentworth, Mrs. America, Outlander, and What We Do in the Shadows, are all either not available, or significantly behind schedule.
These are all the TV shows that Foxtel actively promotes on its Foxtel Now page.
We know that Foxtel doesn’t consider Binge a replacement to Foxtel Now, instead an “alternative,” and there have been no promises made in terms of timing and availability for upcoming HBO MAX content.
All of this leads us to believe that Binge serves mostly leftovers, while Foxtel hoards the haute cuisine of HBO and more.
The biggest hope for Binge was that it would replace Foxtel Now entirely, but it’s feeling more and more like that won’t be the case. Instead of a replacement, we’ve just got another option, another monthly fee on top of what Foxtel already charges.
That will be a real shame if it turns out to be the case, because, despite its early stages and missing features, the Binge user interface is a feast for the eyes.
Binge UI, accessibility and features
Surprising features but no subtitles or parental controls.
Any chef worth their salt knows that thoughtful presentation is just as important as preparation. The same goes for a decent streaming service. It can have cracker content, and tempting exclusives, but if the user experience isn’t up to scratch, users will be lining up at Pirate Bay to get their fill (or seeking out other means to stream HBO).
The overall sheen of Binge passes the initial taste test. It’s got notes of Kayo Sports, and even an exotic dash of HBO Max, in its design. For the most part, using the Binge app is intuitive and mirrors the simple interface of Netflix and more before it.
What made Kayo Sports so special wasn’t just the sports content it housed but also the innovative streaming features it introduced, like SplitView multi-screen streaming, live match statistics, and spoiler-free sports streaming.
Binge does have a few exciting perks, like Binge Centres, content hubs including entire movie and TV collections, and a fun Surprise Me! function that selects an episode or movie at random. But they’re nowhere near as innovative as what we’ve come to expect from Kayo Sports. And even those extra perks are less cool when you realise Binge launched without some crucial features.
At launch, Binge didn’t offer any accessibility features, such as subtitles, descriptive audio, or language selection.
[Note: Binge got around to adding subtitles but there are still key accessibility features missing]
That immediately rendered Binge useless for a large swathe of Australians. In 2020, accessibility features shouldn’t even be up for debate.
Then there are the less essential nice-to-haves. Apart from 4K, Binge doesn’t offer parental controls, or downloadable content for offline viewing (though Binge says this feature is in the works).