Foxtel's Presto is the latest attempt to lure Australians away from US streaming video giant Netflix, but does the local rookie have what it takes to win us back?
It's been a long time coming but Australians are finally spoilt for choice when it comes to online video. You'll find a wealth of local catch-up TV and movie rental services built into home entertainment gear such as smart TVs, Blu-ray players, set-top boxes and game consoles – letting you watch movies on the big screen in the lounge room rather than the small screen on your lap.
While things have certainly improved locally, many Australians still look to Netflix as the Holy Grail of online video. Netflix isn't officially available in Australia but it's not hard to bluff your way in. It even accepts many Australian credit cards if you fudge your address details. For $US7.99 a month Netflix gives you unlimited access to a vast library of movies and TV shows, which you can also watch on your television with a little extra trickery.
All-you-can-eat subscription services such as Netflix look to be the way of the future, a lesson that hasn't been lost on Australian online movie services. Like Netflix, Australia's Quickflix began life posting out DVDs in the mail but now offers an online library of movies and television shows for $9.99 per month. Also like Netflix, you can watch Quickflix on a range of home entertainment devices as well as computers, smartphones and tablets.
Now Foxtel has joined the party with Presto, a new online movie library offering unlimited access for $19.99 a month. It doesn't include TV shows at this point. If you want to watch the likes of Game of Thrones online you should look to Foxtel Play, which offers both TV and movie channels similar to a traditional Foxtel home service.
Presto seems like a raw deal considering it's twice as expensive as Quickflix but lacks TV shows. Presto's strength is access to new movies from the Foxtel Premiere movie channel, appearing before they're available as overnight rentals elsewhere.
Right now you'll find the likes of Iron Man 3, Oblivion and Star Trek: Into Darkness on Presto, while over at Quickflix they're either overnight paid rentals or simply not available at all (unless you want them posted out on disc). Presto also draws content from six other Foxtel movie channels: Comedy, Romance, Thriller, Action, Family and Masterpiece. At launch it offers about 1000 movies but unfortunately it won't build up a larger library over time. As movies drop off the Foxtel movie channels, they'll also drop off Presto.
If you're after new release movies then Presto has the advantage over Quickflix, but not Netflix. That's because Netflix abides by Hollywood's US release schedules, so it's allowed to add new movies such as Iron Man 3 to its library long before Quickflix can. You'll struggle to find a recent movie on Presto that isn't also on Netflix.
Don't make the mistake of thinking Netflix offers instant access to every movie and TV show ever made. There are still massive gaps in its movie library compared with what you'll find on the shelves in your local video store. Netflix is more tempting if you're chasing TV shows, but once again there are glaring omissions. A turf war with pay TV giant HBO means hits such as Game of Thrones and True Detective are conspicuously absent from Netflix.
Of course we're not supposed to be watching Netflix anyway. Local services have cried foul and asked the US giant to do more to keep us out. Rumours of Netflix officially coming to Australia persist, even though it couldn't offer the same vast library due to Hollywood's Australian distribution deals with local giants like Foxtel.
In Australia, Netflix would cost more and offer less. For the time being it makes more sense for Australians to sneak into the US service, while it turns a blind eye, rather than Netflix coming here and playing by the local rules.
Presto has one more major shortcoming compared to Netflix – you can't watch movies on your TV. For now Presto only works on Windows and Mac computers and on iPads, with an Android app on the way. This could be a deal-breaker for those who want to watch new movies on the biggest screen in the house.
Presto offers only standard-definition picture quality, so even if you plug your computer into your television it won't look great. AirPlay streaming from the iPad has been disabled, so you can't use an Apple TV to get Presto on your TV either.
If you prefer to play by the rules, Quickflix offers better value for money than Presto unless you value new release movies. If you're already sneaking into Netflix, Presto doesn't offer nearly enough to win you back.
What service(s) do you use to stream movies and television online? Let us know in the comments.