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A quick review of Foxtel Now

Last week Foxtel renamed their “Foxtel Play” service as “Foxtel Now”, with new mobile apps, HD video, and Chromecast support.

I’ve been a Foxtel Play subscriber on and off since the service first launched, never really happy with it, but finding it ethically satisfying to at least pay the local rightsholder than not.

So how’s the updated service?

Better, but still behind the alternatives in several key ways.

The video quality when playing on Chromecast — compared to what I’d been getting with the XBox One app — is pretty decent. I’ve watched a bunch of stuff and not been annoyed by fuzziness in the picture. However my eyesight isn’t great and I’m only using a 1080p display — your mileage may vary.

Audio doesn’t seem to be 5.1, though that may simply be that the shows I’ve watched so far haven’t had a 5.1 mix. Seems unlikely that the 2016 Ghostbusters remake (for example) doesn’t though. So my best guess is that they’re sticking with stereo.

The stream has been solid even on my Australian-grade internet service. I’m not on Bigpond so there’s probably not any special prioritisation going on here. These speeds are pretty typical for my home ADSL2+ service in inner Melbourne:

Speed test results: 26ms ping, 12.97Mbps download, 1.06Mbps upload

My main areas of complaint with the service are with the app user interface. The first is the more substantive criticism: there’s no concept of a “watch list” or “favourites”. Every time you fire it up, you have to find the programme you want to watch, and if it’s a series remember which episode you were up to.

There is a “continue watching” area on the home screen, but that just shows episodes or movies you’ve not finished streaming yet. Which includes “I bailed part-way through the closing credits”. So while it’s not completely useless, it’s not great either.

The other key problem area is in the playback UI itself:

Playback interface showing Ghostbusters. Has a slider for viewing position, plus mute and pause buttons.

The problem here is the lack of seek controls. All you’ve got to work with is that slider, which is pretty small and fiddly.

Contrast this with Stan, Netflix, and Plex:

Stan’s playback controls: -10 second jump, +10 second jump, pause, and a slider.
Netflix playback controls: -30 seconds, pause, stop, and a slider.
Plex playback controls: previous programme, -10 seconds, pause, +30 seconds, next programme, and a slider.

Unsurprisingly Plex offers the most flexibility here, but it’s operating as a DVR without the commercial “oh my god we don’t want people to skip ads!” constraint. But even the simple “whoops, I missed a bit of that” -30 second jump provided by Netflix is welcome, and ABC iView offers a similar function.

This is problematic because some Foxtel channels include ads even in their on-demand programme streams. Anyone with cable and an iQ box will simply fast-forward through those, as one can easily do with the XBox app as well. But here you’ll need to fiddle around with the slider.

Is it an improvement over the old service? Yes, except for the fast-forward issue. Is it worth the money? Well, that’s a harder choice and will depend on what you want to watch. I’m paying $45/mo ($10 for the “Pop” package, $15 for the “drama” package, and $20 for the “movies” package), and I’m okay with that.

If what you want is to watch Game of Thrones when that comes back soon then you’ll be paying $25/mo. At that price, frankly, if you still insist on torrenting it then you should quit making any claim that “I’d pay for it if they’d just let me!”. Nope, you really do just expect it for free.

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