This article originally appeared in the May 2018 issue of WiFi HiFi Magazine.
Streaming TV is the future. Whether you're looking to subscribe to a service alongside traditional satellite/cable TV, or have officially cut the cord, there are three notable service providers in Canada: Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, and Bell CraveTV, all of which are accessible in a variety of ways and on different devices.
Which one should you choose? What are the advantages of each? After extensive experience with these 3 main players in Canada, we break it down for you.
How can you access it?
Web browser; iOS or Android app; compatible smart TVs, gaming consoles, and Blu-ray players; Apple TV; streaming sticks and media players; via the Fibe TV, Aliant FibreOP, and Telus Optik TV set-top boxes.
What type of content is available?
A variety, from dramas and comedies, to sci-fi, and animated, including an extensive and diverse selection of original, current, and archived series and movies, as well as stand-up comedy specials. Entire seasons are most often made available at once, though in some cases, like with The CW's Riverdale, new episodes stream weekly. The content is not always the same as in the U.S.: for example, you can watch American Crime Story through U.S. Netflix, but not in Canada; while Disney will no longer offer its movies through Netflix in the U.S. starting in 2019, opting instead to launch its own streaming service, Disney content will remain available on Netflix Canada.
SD, HD, 4K, HDR; support for Dolby Atmos. Search for "4K" or "ultra HD" from a compatible device to see all series and movies that are available in 4K. (All Netflix originals are 4K.) HDR content launched in 2017, including the first season of Marco Polo and Marvel's Daredevil. Last summer, Netflix added Dolby Atmos support for several titles, including Okja, BLAME!, Death Note, Bright, and Wheelman, with more to come.
The Crown (photo by Coco Van Oppens, Netflix)
Anticipated content spend in 2018
US$8 billion for both originals and licensed content, up from the reported US$6 billion in 2017. Netflix has committed to investing a minimum of $500 million on original productions in Canada over the next five years, through an agreement with the Minister of Canadian Heritage; $25 million in supporting Canadian French-language content; and to highlight and promote Canadian productions through its global platform. The Netflix Canada production company launched last year; Anne With an E, a follow up of Anne of Green Gables, is one of many Canadian productions Netflix is already supporting.
Major content deals and "gets"
In 2014, Netflix made high-profile deals with studios like Disney in Canada. But more so than snagging licensing rights to popular network shows, Netflix has launched a successful roster of original series, like Orange is the New Black, Stranger Things, 13 Reasons Why, Marvel's Jessica Jones, Master of None, and many more, several of which have won Emmys over the years. Multiple movie deals have been made with Hollywood heavyweights like Adam Sandler and Shonda Rhimes, creator of popular ABC series including Grey's Anatomy, Scandal, and How to Get Away With Murder, recently signed on to exclusively offer future projects through the service.
Black Mirror (photo by Jonathan Prime, Netflix)
Simple and intuitive. Easily search and stream content in real-time, add series to your watch list, rate them, view trailers, scan episode titles, and update account information. See data from Netflix's recommendations engine, including a percentage of how closely a series matches your interests based on your viewing habits, and top picks. Resume a series you started watching on the big screen, or vice versa; and cast content to a big screen TV. Get notifications when new series and/or seasons have been added. Use the thumbs rating system to give a series a thumbs up or down to influence future recommendations. New mobile previews provide 30-second vertical clips to help you discover new content.
Most notable original series
The list of notable original series is lengthy, but the ones that have gotten the most attention include Orange is the New Black; House of Cards; Master of None; Stranger Things; 13 Reasons Why; Marvel's Jessica Jones; Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt; Ozark; GLOW; Narcos; Sense8; The Get Down; Chef's Table; Bloodline; the Gilmore Girls and Fuller House reboots; Punisher; Grace & Frankie; Longmire; Altered Carbon; Bojack Horseman; The Crown; Making a Murderer; and Black Mirror. Netflix, however, does not release data on which series are its most popular.
Smart TV integrations
Accessible on most, if not all, smart TV platforms. The Recommended TV logo, launched in 2015, helps consumers identify smart TVs that deliver a superior Netflix experience. Stringent criteria includes instant on capability and fast app launching; a dedicated Netflix button on the remote; high-res interface; and having the latest version of Netflix with the newest features. In May 2018, Netflix released its list of 2018 model Recommended TVs, which currently include LG 4K UHD TVs with webOS 4.0; and Sony W800F and WF800 series Android TVs.
Anne With an E (photo by Caitlin Cronenberg, Netflix)
Can you view content offline?
Yes. Download some series episodes and movies to one or more smartphones or tablets (not computers) for offline viewing. There's no title limit; limitations are based on device storage and licensing agreements from studios and distributors. Downloaded titles expire after a timeframe that varies.
Watch SD content on one screen at a time, and download content to one device for $8.99/mo.; on two screens simultaneously in HD, and download videos to two devices for $10.99/mo.; or the Ultra HD package is $13.99/mo. for 4K access to four screens at once, and the ability to download content on up to four devices.
From the onset, Netflix has been intuitive and easy-to-use. Depending on how you are watching, series or movie trailers play in the background as you browse content, or select a series. The Skip Intro button is a godsend for frequent bingers.
Content is organized in handy categories, like top picks (based on your viewing habits), recommended series based on others you've watched, what's trending, and genres that fit your viewing wheelhouse. The recommendation algorithm is spot-on, accurately predicting what kind of content you might like. And the ability to have multiple profiles per account makes it easy to get your own personalized list, so the kids will see fun family-friendly series, for example, while mom and dad will be introduced to some of the most gripping new thrillers.
Access is simple through the variety of methods noted above. I usually access it directly through my Bell Fibe set-top box, which is convenient for those who subscribe to traditional TV but might not yet have a smart TV for streaming service access.
Video quality is great on a standard HD TV, but when watching 4K content on a 4K television, the experience is absolutely mesmerizing. Highlight any series title in the menu, and on the right, you'll see the video quality options. For example, Santa Clarita Diet is available in Ultra HD 4K and 5.1 audio, but Riverdale is only available in HD.
Watching The Crown in 4K on my 55" LG B7 OLED TV, there was an almost 3D effect. As Queen Elizabeth (Claire Foy) gets dressed for one of her many public appearances, her dress and pale skin pop in front of the dark, black, faded background. The jewels on her necklace shine bright, almost as if you could place your hand over hers and touch them. The 4K subscription package is a $3 monthly delta over the standard HD plan. But if you have a compatible 4K set-up, it's well worth the extra money for a noticeably enhanced experience.
The experience watching offline content is seamless: it takes just a few minutes to download an episode over Wi-Fi (speed will vary based on your connection). Then, access it from the Downloads section of the app, and watch from your phone or tablet. While you can't download to a computer, the experience is still pleasurable on a mobile device with a large, high-res screen.
With 125 million paying customers worldwide, Netflix remains one of the easiest to use, most accessible, personalized, and content-rich services that will satisfy your needs for high-quality and high-res viewing, both at home and on-the-go. The upgraded 4K subscription price is worth every penny.
Master of None