Review: Updated: Presto

Introduction and design

Update: Some updates to apps have fixed bugs and introduced new ones, so we’ve updated the review to reflect our ongoing thoughts.

In some ways, Presto was the pioneer of the Australian streaming video market.

Launching several months before rivals Stan and Netflix, and offering a library worthy far superior to anything Quickflix ever had, Presto was the first real service delivering an all-you-can-watch streaming model in Australia.

While services like ABC iview and SBS On Demand have offered Australia a solid way to catch up on free to air TV, complete video-on-demand services have historically been somewhat lacking.

This means that the market has very quickly exploded from next to nothing last year to a highly competitive smorgasbord of platforms to stream from.

Presto review

But while Presto was initially hamstrung by some technical limitations – streams were only available in standard definition, and there was no Airplay support for starters – recent updates have seen the platform improve dramatically, offering a much better service that is capable of challenging Netflix and Stan with its offering.

It’s still a fair way behind its competitors – as you’ll see in our review below, but it is making gradual advances in usability and functionality.

Working to compliment Foxtel Go and Foxtel Play, Presto initially offered users access to Foxtel’s massive movie library, with streams available from all of the service’s movie channels.

However, the live movie channel streams were quickly killed off, and the service has since refocused on video on demand content.

Perhaps more exciting was the addition of television programming to the lineup. Requiring an additional monthly fee, Foxtel leveraged its partnerships with HBO and Showtime to offer a wide selection of TV shows, from individual episodes to entire seasons, through the Presto Entertainment portal.

Since launch, this rollout has continued to expand, with partnerships with NBC and BBC worldwide, among others. Now, Presto is offering exclusive streaming of acclaimed series like Mr. Robot and Aquarius, giving it a distinct point of difference to its rivals.

Presto review

The catch, unfortunately, is that this TV content isn’t automatically included in the service’s price.

While Foxtel launched Presto at $20 a month for access to movies only, and then halved that rate shortly afterwards, users who want to watch both TV and movies will need to pay $15 a month for a bundled offering, or $10 a month for just TV or just movies.

This price premium is a definite disadvantage against newcomer Stan, which charges just $10 a month for arguably a better lineup of content.

Netflix has a local pricing structure that offers an equivalent product for $8.99, making the $15 Presto price tag slightly harder to swallow.

On the upside, Presto hasn’t increased the price with the inclusion of HD streams, and as the service is expanding to other devices, the price remains static.

Signing up

Presto review

When we first reviewed Presto, it was an incredibly frustrating experience to sign up, involving browsers, activation emails and delayed payment detail input.

The good news is that Presto has improved the signup process. The bad news is that you can’t just download the app on your iOS or Android device and sign up from there – you still need to head to the browser to hand over your details.

But once you’re in the browser, the signup is relatively painless. You create an account with your name, email and password; move on to creating a PIN, sharing your date of birth and postcode before choosing your plan and then handing over the credit card details.

The fact that you get the first month free as a default is nice, although it isn’t too hard to come across bundle deals offering anywhere between three and 12 months of access to Presto’s library.

The technology

Make no mistake, Presto is an intuitive and simple-to-use service.

Initially available via a web browser on a PC or Mac, or via an iPad app, Presto has added support for Android tablets and both Android and iOS phones since launch.

Presto review

Officially, the app supports all Android phone and tablet devices running Android 4.1 and above. The support page does add the caveat that user experience may not be the same across all Android devices, but given the range of Android devices on the market, it’s not surprising that Presto can’t quality check every single device.

Presto has also launched on selected Samsung Smart TVs, as well as the soon-to-be-obsolete Telstra T-Box.

Even better news is the fact that the platform has an app on the new Telstra TV streamer, alongside apps from Netflix and Stan, making the Telstra TV the first device to host apps from all three services.

But while the Telstra TV was first, it’s no longer the only way to access all three Aussie services on a big screen. Presto is now available on both the PS4 and the PS3, making Sony’s consoles the most versatile streaming boxes around.

Presto has also expanded into Android TV powered devices, meaning owners of this year’s Sony Smart TVs and the Nexus Player can enjoy Presto’s content lineup.

But sadly, that’s the extent to which Presto apps are available. Earlier last year Presto made a reselling deal with Quickflix, which would have seen the number of compatible devices dramatically improve, but the deal was squandered by Quickflix shortly afterwards.

In the meantime you’re locked to a browser or tablet screen to watch the service, or a TV via Chromecast or Airplay to an Apple TV, but more on that later.

One potential issue you’ll face, especially with this rollout of new platforms, is that you can only have four devices connected to the account at a time.

That’s fine in itself, except if you want to change devices, you can only change one device per month. That means accessing the new PS4 app may not be possible until next month if you’ve already got a couple of phones and a couple of tablets connected.

If you complain on social media channels, Presto may reset your device list for you. But it seems like an amazingly shortsighted approach in today’s world of multiple devices and multiple screens.

The experience

Presto review

From the web browser side of things, once you’ve signed into your account, you can access the entire suite of on demand movies and TV shows within a few mouse clicks.

The top of the page is made up of your navigation and search bar, allowing you to begin browsing by movies, TV shows or using the search function. A shortcut to your Watchlist sits next to the search function, making it easy to find the shows and movies you’ve saved for later viewing.

There’s also a quick link to the Community forums for advice and help using the service (something we had to check a few times during our review, which was a little disheartening).

Just below the bar is a massive carousel filling up the bulk of your screen and pointing you to the most recent featured content.

Presto review

If you scroll down, you’ll see a series of collections, which seems to change fairly regularly. Expect to see things like “New to Presto”, “Star packed Adren-a-thon”, “Animation fixation for kids on vacation” and other themes along those lines.

For a combined subscription, the list of featured content seems to be split between both movies and TV fairly evenly, with between four and six titles on display, and the ability to scroll if the collection has more titles in it.

Hover over any film or TV cover, and you’ll see a more detailed synopsis pop up, along with a classification and general film information like runtime and release year, plus a rating from Presto users.

From this window you can select to watch a movie straight away or add it to your watch list for later viewing.

The iPad app and Android tablet versions have a similar user experience. Down the left hand panel is a navbar that offers shortcuts to the home page, TV, Movies, your Watchlist, your history and settings.

Presto review

But when you select a movie on the iPad version of the app, instead of getting a rating, Presto offers a selection of films you may also like for Movies, or a rundown of episodes for TV shows.

Because of the design of the app on the iPad, there are more options on the screen which makes browsing a bit easier.

Unfortunately, the actual viewing experience isn’t always good. If you start streaming any older content recorded in a 4:3 aspect ratio, you’ll end up looking at a box with black bars surrounding the entire picture.

There’s no way to zoom in to fill the screen, or even just expand it to only have black bars down the sides. It’s a waste of screen real estate and a poor experience.

Presto review

Viewers using the Presto phone app will experience the same navigation options as the tablet version, albeit with significantly fewer selectable options on screen at any given time thanks to the limited real estate.

If you want to access the Presto service on the big screen directly, you now have two options – via the new Telstra TV streaming box, or through a PS3 or PS4 playstation console.

The two user interfaces are extremely different. While the Telstra TV’s UI is fairly clean, the Presto app itself isn’t particularly user friendly. Finding shows is a pain – there’s no easy way to continue watching a program or finding the most recent episode. But the fact that Presto now streams in HD is very welcome – a look at the first episode of Mr. Robot looks great on 50 inches.

The PS4 Presto app, meanwhile, is a much nicer experience. For a start, it offers the ability to continue watching shows from the main menu easily.

It’s not perfect – you can’t really binge watch on Presto, as the software doesn’t automatically start the next episode when each one finishes.

There’s also an incredibly frustrating bug that means you have to manually sign in every time you leave and re-enter the app. Typing in a 15 character password using a PS4 controller multiple times a day quickly becomes a massive frustration.

But still, overall the PS4 app is by far the cleanest watching experience for the platform.

Content, Performance and Verdict

Content selection

There’s no shortage of movies available to stream through the Presto service. A recent count saw 971 films on offer across a wide variety of genres, and an impressive collection of 335 TV shows as well, although that number does include lots of variants of programs like Sesame Street.

That said, the number of complete TV seasons – as in every episode of every season – is surprisingly limited, given the availability of Foxtel’s Box Sets Channel on its Pay TV service.

There are a few HBO shows like The Sopranos and The Wire (but no Game of Thrones anywhere), while May’s ACCC approval of the 7-Foxtel partnership means that more local programming like Packed to the Rafters and Always Greener are now available on the service.

Presto review

Local Foxtel shows like Wentworth are also present, and pose one of the few exclusive advantages the service has over its competitors at the moment.

Presto has also dipped its toes into the content creation game. It commissioned a Home & Away special which has just launched on the service.

Presto also announced its intentions to launch a 10-part short-form series called “Let’s Talk About” tracking a new couple who have accidentally fallen pregnant. Each episode will last three minutes and tackle different stages of the pregnancy.

The show launched in October, so it’s impossible to say if it will work, but the idea of offering short form entertainment to be consumed on the go could be a smart move for the streaming service as a point of difference.

Performance

While Netflix is pushing forward with 4K streams at the same price as the Presto TV and Movies package – Presto customers are only just discovering the joys of high definition.

That’s right – almost 12 months after it first launched, Presto finally updated its service at the start of September 2015 to allow high definition streams, having exclusively offered SD streams for the bulk of its existence.

This was especially galling in light of the fact that Stan emerged from StreamCo’s womb offering a Full HD service at launch for no extra cost.

Presto review

Fortunately, the addition of HD quality streams didn’t impact pricing for Presto customers, with the Entertainment pack remaining at its premium $15 per month price point.

Certainly, there were always advantages to restricting the service’s quality to standard definition. We managed to watch a movie via 3G and LTE on the train with only a single dropout in a known deadzone.

Given each film runs between 1GB and 1.5GB at standard def, so it means you probably don’t want to be using this while commuting without a mega download pack tacked on.

Fortunately, you can manually set the video quality in the settings mode of the Presto app on iOS and Android for when you are running off Wi-Fi and when you’re on a mobile network, so you can drop the quality down for watching on your commute.

Given the quality of broadband in Australia, streaming at a lower resolution means fewer chance of drop outs, as well as lower data consumption.

And it’s not like the quality is overly bad when watching on a computer screen or on an iPad Air. Films like Sin City look perfectly watchable on the tablet when streamed in standard def.

In our earlier review of the service, watching Presto on a 4K display beamed over Chromecast was frankly a disappointing experience. To be honest, even just bumped up to a 55-inch 1080p screen left us rubbing our eyes and longing for mercy.

But now, watching an episode of Mr Robot is perfectly enjoyable.

Big screen action

While Samsung Smart TV owners may be able to enjoy Presto natively, for many subscribers the path to the big screen will involve either a Chromecast or an Apple TV.

The recent launch of the Telstra TV has added a whole new access point, as has the launch of dedicated Android TV support.

Plus, PS4 and PS3 owners can now stream directly from the console, which is probably the biggest expansion the platform has seen.

Setting up the Chromecast function is incredibly easy – like all Chromecasting. Plug in your Chromecast to your TV and set it up by the on screen instructions. Then, when you’re watching Presto, you’ll see an option to cast the show to the Google dongle. Done.

Frustratingly though, using a Chromecast to beam your movie to the big screen uses up one of the four devices associated with your account.

Presto review

What’s more, the act of beaming content to a Chromecast uses up both of your concurrent streaming devices, so anybody else wanting to watch a different program on a different device won’t be able to.

This is particularly frustrating given that Netflix – ultimately the industry benchmark – definitely doesn’t work like this. Even if you only have the basic plan, streaming to a Chromecast doesn’t count as two concurrent devices, it counts as one.

So ultimately, while easy and useful, the Presto app’s Chromecast support must be fairly poorly coded to use up both concurrent streaming devices.

On the Apple side of the fence, Presto has just introduced Airplay support alongside its introduction of HD.

Again, it’s a surprise that Airplay took so long to appear, but now that it has arrived it’s not without issues.

While it may not suck up one of your precious device slots like the Chromecast does, Presto does however fail to differentiate between video Airplay and audio.

When Presto launched Airplay support, using a pair of Bluetooth headphones while watching an episode of Parks and Recreation the video on the iPad was covered with a superimposed image of a TV.

It made watching the show an impossible task, but was fortunately fixed via an update. But it’s not something that we’ve experienced on any rival services.

Presto review

Verdict

The Australian streaming market has changed massively in a fairly short space of time.

From next to nothing, we’ve suddenly got three highly competitive services, each offering a solid collection of exclusive content on a variety of devices.

Despite launching first though, Presto has been playing catch up for the better part of the year.

With its recent update to HD streams and Airplay inclusion, it’s definitely a better offering than it was a couple of months ago, but it still lacks the polish found in both Netflix and Stan’s offerings.

We liked

The selection is large, in terms of both movies and TV shows. It’s not the largest, but Presto does have some good exclusives that make it worthwhile. Foxtel’s partnership with HBO is a definite selling point.

The fact that Presto is beginning to create its own content – albeit short-form content at the moment – is definitely a step in the right direction.

Plus, the fact that streams are now available in HD at no extra cost is welcome news.

We disliked

Our list of dislikes has shrunk dramatically with the latest app release, but Presto does still feel a little underdone, especially from the development side of things.

The fact that using a Chromecast uses both of your simultaneous streams at once is a poor implementation of Google’s little TV stick.

Not being able to zoom in on a 4:3 video on an iPad seems so half-baked.

While we’re starting to see Presto roll out to lots of different platforms, the device management solution is archaic and in dire need of an overhaul.

Final verdict

Presto has come a long way over the past few months, and we’re certain it’s going to go a lot further before it’s done.

But it’s still most certainly running third in terms of the quality of its service, despite the recent improvements. Given that it’s also the most expensive offering, this makes it harder to recommend.

That’s not to say that we don’t recommend it. If you’re after a comprehensive suite of streaming services, a subscription to Netflix, Stan and Presto will still be cheaper than most Foxtel packages.

But if your cash is limited and you have to limit yourself to one or two SVOD services, Presto is definitely the first to be cut.

With a few improvements to the content lineup and ubiquitous television apps – or the ability to download for offline viewing like Amazon Prime recently introduced – that statement could easily be turned around. And we truly hope that it is.

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