Stan Review 2019
What is Stan?
Stan, Australia’s homegrown subscription streaming service, launched in January 2015 six months ahead of looming landscape-shaker, Netflix. Its ever-growing library houses roughly 1500 movies and nearly 500 TV shows, which can be consumed on an array of devices: most major smart TVs, PS3, PS4, Xbox One (but notably not Xbox 360), Apple TV, Fetch TV, Telstra TV, Chromecast, Android and iOS phones and tablets, and web browsers on PC and Mac. Let’s take a look at how the local punter shapes up in our 2019 Stan review.
Who Owns Stan?
Stan began as a partnership between two legacy media companies, Nine Entertainment and Fairfax Media, both astutely smelling epoch-shifting change in the air.
In 2014, each invested $50 million into founding StreamCo, the start-up company that would manage the service. In 2018 Stan’s ownership structure became a whole lot simpler when Nine bought out Fairfax in its entirety.
Why is it called Stan?
Honestly, no idea.
How Much Is Stan?
Stan offers three pricing tiers, all of which are good value. The cheapest allows for standard definition streaming on a single screen and costs $10.
For $14 you can stream in high definition on three screens simultaneously. And for $17 you can stream on four screens in 4K.
The caveat here is that, without the equivalent of the bulging Netflix Originals library, there isn’t a tonne of 4K content (which we will go into in more detail further down), so the $14 option is the best pick.
How Does Stan Work? UI and Functionality
Stan’s attractive dashboard hides a number of niggling limitations. Like Netflix, content is displayed as large thumbnails that are intuitive and easy to parse; unlike Netflix, content is not catered to your personal tastes via a magical algorithm DJ. As such, you’ll see a lot of stuff you have zero interest in surfaced to your homepage.
This, coupled with the fact that Stan’s horizontal genre rows don’t loop back around on themselves carousel-style, instead reaching an end point, means it can take an age to return to something you initially skipped over. (Note: in web browsers, categories do loop around.)
Similarly, Stan’s home tabs can’t be reached with a single button like on Netflix. If you’ve scrolled all the way down through every row, returning back to your “TV”, “Movie”, and “Kids” tabs is needlessly fiddly. Refining these few niggles would go a long way to improving the user experience.
It also needs to be said that I’ve encountered far more bugs on Stan than I have with Netflix, from relatively minor stuff like losing my place in a paused show or across devices, to bigger issues like hard crashes requiring reboots. These don’t occur often enough to caution people away from getting Stan, but be warned you’ll need to deal with the odd irritation.
What is on Stan?
Stan’s library is undoubtedly impressive. Although it produces few original series and movies in-house, Stan invests heavily in exclusive Australian streaming rights, with licensed prestige television forming a key part of the catalogue.
The 2019 adaptation of Joseph Heller’s hilarious novel Catch-22, starring George Clooney, is excellent, and you can’t watch it anywhere else. Critically acclaimed Breaking Bad spin-off Better Call Saul is a Stan exclusive, as is AMC’s take on Garth Ennis’ cult-favourite graphic novel Preacher. Sacha Baron Cohen’s latest satirical series Who Is America, David Lynch’s 2017 return to Twin Peaks, and Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams all call Stan home, as do Billions, Sherlock, and Ash Vs Evil Dead. It’s a quality line-up of big-budget serials.
Stan also performs admirably in the classic TV department. If you want to binge every episode of Seinfeld, you can (what’s the deal with that, Jerry?!). Likewise, the brilliant but underrated Deadwood is all here (minus the recent movie coda). Fargo, Peep Show, Lost, even Stargate SG1 are available for nostalgic folks with ample free time.
In the movie aisle, Stan houses a similar selection to what you’ll find elsewhere (with one notable difference, which we’ll cover a little further along). Recent blockbusters like Ready Player One and Oceans 8 sit alongside older action flicks like Dredd, The Hobbit, Armageddon, and Con Air. Staples The Matrix, Pulp Fiction, Love Actually, and Robocop are mixed in with comedies Ace Ventura, Austin Powers, and Ghostbusters. And if you’re feeling sick of Hollywood, there’s an extensive selection of world movies. It’s not a huge library, but it is diverse and packed with favourites.
Stan’s Australian Content
One of Stan’s biggest points of difference is Australian content, no doubt because of its local ownership and audience. Hamish & Andy are here in abundance, as are Channel Nine dramas like McLeod’s Daughters, Doctor Doctor, and House Husbands, not to mention every season of minor phenomenon Underbelly. Despite the existence of iView, there’s also a bunch of ABC shows, including Upper Middle Bogan and Four Corners specials.
Stan hasn’t produced much original content, but there are a few notable success stories, particularly two seasons of Wolf Creek and a season of Romper Stomper – both TV spins on classic Aussie movies. Speaking of which, the infamously in-poor-taste Alvin Purple (1973) is here… which almost certainly can’t be said for any other streaming service in the world.
Stan’s Headliner: Disney
The ace in Stan’s sleeve is a licensing deal with Disney. The House of the Mouse adds a tonne of value to the Stan library, especially for young families – but it’s a strangely scattershot collection.
If you want to show your kids classics like Bambi, The Lion King, The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and Pocahontas you’re set. But if Aladdin, Robin Hood, or Cinderella are your jam, you’re out of luck. For some reason.
Similarly, the Disney deal includes the world-beating Marvel Cinematic Universe… kinda. The collection stretches back to the first Iron Man and reaches as far forward as Ant-Man and the Wasp, but there’s the notable absence of The Incredible Hulk, Doctor Strange, Captain America: Civil War, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, and Spider-Man: Homecoming. Arguably, this doesn’t matter, because Thor: Ragnarok, the greatest movie of all time, is present and accounted for.
The approach to Star Wars is even more lackadaisical, with only The Last Jedi, Solo: A Star Wars Story, and the first season of Rebels. Fortunately, the Pixar collection is more definitive, with everything you’d want from Toy Story to Finding Nemo to The Incredibles to Coco.
I can’t help but see these glaring absences as foreshadowing for the eventual arrival of Disney Plus on our shores. Once that happens we’ll likely need to revisit this review should the all-but-certain yoinking of Disney content occur. For now, at least, Disney’s treasure trove remains a huge selling point in Stan’s favour.
Stan’s 4K Content and its Limitations
Stan recently joined the 4K arms race, but only tentatively. Every James Bond movie is available in UHD glory, so if you’ve always wanted to peer closely at the pores on a young Sean Connery’s face, you can. No judgment on my part.
Alongside the Bond bounty, there’s an eclectic smattering of recent and older movies like Arrival, Tomb Raider, Creed, Bad Boys, Hercules, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Hook, and Talladega Nights. The 4K TV selection is limited, but unlike the movies there’s some must-watch content, like Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul, and The Handmaid’s Tale (but not season three just yet).
Although the 4K picture quality is sharp and clear, in our tests Stan was far less successful than Netflix at hitting a stable 4K resolution quickly. Running on a very good cable connection that averages 110mps down, Hercules didn’t hit 4K at all after letting it run for five minutes. Strangely, this problem was solved by switching “auto” mode off and forcing Stan to only play in 4K (an option, it should be pointed out, that isn’t available on Netflix).
The bigger issue is a subtle but consistent frame rate stutter on certain devices. This was noticeable on both the Samsung TV app and the Xbox One app, but not on the PlayStation 4 Pro, so I’d recommend watching on that if you have that option.
Stan also falls a little short in the colour department. Unlike Netflix’s 4K content, Stan does not support high dynamic range (HDR), meaning colours are noticeably less vibrant. If you don’t have a 4K HDR TV this means absolutely nothing to you, but if you’re looking for the best possible picture quality, even Stan’s 4K library falls short of the mark.
How Much Data Does Stan Use?
Stan has four quality settings. At the lowest resolution, it uses 0.57GB per hour; at SD, 1.13GB; at HD, 2.89GB. And at the maximum UHD resolution, it’ll guzzle 7GB every hour. Plan your data caps accordingly.
In terms of required speeds, at the lowest end, Stan recommends a 2mbps connection for “good” quality (whatever that means); 3mbps for SD; 4.5mbps for HD; and 15mbps for 4K streaming. The 4K minimum requirement is a full 10mbps slower than Netflix’s, which is great for people that can’t quite reach 25mbps but is likely explained away by the lack of HDR support.
How To Cancel Stan
Like its competitors, Stan subscriptions work on a month-by-month basis with no lock-in contract. You can cancel at any time by logging onto stan.com.au on a web browser on PC or Mac.
Stan vs Netflix: Which is better?
Stan is a good service with the potential to be a fantastic one. Its library is impressive, particularly the selection of licensed prestige television, and the focus on Australian programming is admirable. The classic movies are arguably more interesting than Netflix’s, too.
The exclusive rights to (a lot of) Disney’s catalogue adds a tonne of value, but, as mentioned, there’s a Disney Plus-shaped shadow looming. For now, at least, access to the House of the Mouse’s finest is almost worth the price of admission alone.
Stan does fall behind Netflix in a few key areas, though. It crashes and bugs out far more often, and the UI is less intuitive and responsive. 4K picture quality is also noticeably less vibrant than Netflix’s HDR-capable equivalent.
And, as impressive as Stan’s library is, it just doesn’t produce the zeitgeist-dominating original content Netflix is known for. There’s no in-house equivalent to Stranger Things, House of Cards, Orange is the New Black, Black Mirror, etc., which are arguably the main reasons to subscribe to Netflix.
If you’re starting to feel like you’ve worn through your Netflix library, I’d wholeheartedly recommend switching to Stan and seeing how it suits you (you can currently get a no-commitment trial month for free). Better yet, with only minimal crossover, the catalogues complement each other well.
While we give the honours to Netflix overall, for a local upstart battling a global Giant, Stan punches well above its weight. It’s far better than it has any right to be.
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