Online streaming: NZ services compared

No waiting: Lightbox screens Better Call Saul at the same time in New Zealand as it does in the United States.
AMC

No waiting: Lightbox screens Better Call Saul at the same time in New Zealand as it does in the United States.

In the space of a few months Kiwis have been flooded with options for streaming movie and television services.

We now have a smorgasbord of choices, which is great but also a little daunting, as each has a range of different shows and some work only on particular devices.

The paid-for options pit US giant Netflix against local companies Neon (owned by Sky) and Lightbox (owned by Spark) with veteran Quickflix (an Australian/Kiwi company) also in the fight for your streaming dollars.

They are trying to lure viewers away from Sky TV which is in half of New Zealand homes but costs significantly more. Also in the battle are traditional broadcasters TVNZ and TV3, who both have fledgling free streaming services.

This guide will walk you through the options for subscription streaming services to help you choose the one (or two) that suit your viewing tastes.

LIGHTBOX

Price: $12.99 a month (recently reduced from $15)

Devices: iPads, selected Android tablets, computers via website, PlayStation 4, selected Samsung smart TVs

High definition: On all shows where available.

Ease of use: Simple interface on apps and website.

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Free trial: One month

Movies: None available

TV: Offers similarly themed, but more comprehensive fare than QuickFlix. Strong on BBC and Kiwi shows from the last two decades, it also offers the entire back catalogue of much-loved US series such as Boston Legal and Seinfeld. Some more recent series are a season or so behind what you might expect, though. Also boasts a growing roster of new, exclusive content such as Better Call Saul, Transparent, Outlander and Black Sails.

Recommended for: Those entering the world of binge-viewing for the first time or wanting to revisit their favourite shows from the past. It also suits anyone who prefers watching on their phone or tablet.

NEON

Price: $20

Devices: iPad, iPhone, selected Android devices and computers via website.

High definition: Standard definition only.

Ease of use: Simple interface on apps and website and you can pick up shows where you left off.

Free trial: One month

Movies: While boasting far more recent titles than Quickflix, Neon is essentially an online offering of a cross-section of titles from the Sky Movies channels. Currently containing more zombie movies than you can shake a stick at, it also has a number of more off-beat and art-house titles usually found on Sky's premium Rialto Channel.

TV: For those who haven't experienced SoHo, this offers a chance to see the most recent series of Game of Thrones, The Fall and Ray Donovan. New, currently exclusive content includes the likes of US Broadchurch remake Gracepoint, the pirate-themed Cross Bones and American thriller Black Box. Also the home of classic HBO shows such as The Sopranos and E! Channel's catalogue of international reality programmes.

Recommended for: Those who like American drama, the Kardashians or independent/arthouse films. However, it's not easy to enjoy these on your big-screen television and it doesn't have high definition so it's mainly for those who like watching on their phones and tablets.

NETFLIX

Grand gesture: Marco Polo is one of the flagship shows available on Netflix.

Price: Three options – $9.99 a month for standard definition on one screen at a time; $12.99 a month for high definition on two devices at once; $15.99 a month "family plan" with ultra high-definition (4K) streaming for up to four devices at once.

Devices: Smart televisions from Samsung, LG, Sony, Panasonic, Philips and Hisense as well as PlayStation, Xbox and Nintendo consoles. It can also be used on Apple TV, Google Chromecast, and Apple and Android tablets and smartphones.

High definition: Yes, but only on two of the plans.

Ease of use: Mobile apps are great but the smart TV apps make it harder to find content.

Free trial: One month but offer expires on April 30.

Movies: While those after recent blockbusters should look elsewhere, this service contains the widest selection and number of film titles. Everything from 2012 box office smashes to popular hits of 80s, 90s and noughties and some classic titles such as The Godfather. Plus it was the only place we could find The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

TV: Exclusive shows such as Bloodline, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and Marco Polo sit alongside collections of globally popular hits like Homeland and Mad Men (although often not quite as up to date as you may expect). A notable inclusion is a very large collection of episodic material from the US and UK, aimed specifically at kids.

Recommended for: Those who want to be the first to see some of the latest comedy and dramas coming out of the US, parents keen on short-form programming for kids, fans of documentaries. This is also the best choice for people who prefer to watch on their televisions.

QUICKFLIX

OLD SCHOOl: Quickflix has several classic Kiwi shows, including Outrageous Fortune.

Price: $12.99 a month with extra charges for premium content.

Devices: TV apps (Samsung, Panasonic, LG, Sony); Apple, Android and Windows phones and tablets; PlayStation and Xbox; Chromecast.

High definition: SD and HD, though some devices can only access SD.

Ease of use: Simple with separate free and premium options.

Free trial: Two weeks

Movies: Describing itself as offering a "hand-picked selection of Hollywood blockbusters", the service is strong on much-loved video-era classics like the original RoboCop, Tim Burton's Batman and Happy Gilmore, but frustratingly offers more recent titles for an extra "premium" price per title.

TV: Offers a reasonable mix of recent and older shows, with the line-up filled with BBC content such as Doctor Who, Prime Suspect and noughties Kiwi shows like Outrageous Fortune and bro'Town. Again, more recent product is offered separately at a "premium" price. Recommended for: Those not near a video/DVD store or who want to relive the past.

3NOW

Price: Free

Devices: Apple and Android devices, Samsung smart TVs and on computers via websites

High definition: No

Ease of use: Nice and simple navigation

TV: Like TVNZ, this offers three to four weeks for you to catch-up on episodes of shows such as The Blacklist and The Good Wife you may have missed. As with the network, reality television dominates with a bit of web-exclusive footage thrown into the mix. Disappointingly, a number of MediaWorks shows aren't available, including The Simpsons and South Park.

Movies: None available

Recommend for: Fans of reality television and the few good dramas TV3/Four has left.

TVNZ ONDEMAND

Tasty treats: TVNZ OnDemand features a few fast-tracked exclusives, such as iZombie starring Rose McIver.

Price: Free, though you need to register.

Devices: Apple devices, Samsung phones and tablets, computers via website and selected Samsung smart TVs.

High definition: No.

Ease of use: Simple interface.

TV: A great way of catching up with recent episodes of TVNZ-screened shows you may have missed. Contains most of their current slate, as well as a few fast-tracked exclusives (mainly from ABC and Warner Bros in America) such as new seasons of Castle and Person of Interest and new shows like iZombie and American Crime. Be warned, though, the majority of content on the site only lasts 14 to 28 days.

Movies: None available.

Recommended For: Those without a MySky or other television recording device.

OTHER OPTIONS

Sky TV

Sky is hugely popular in New Zealand and is still the must-have service for sports fans (although the web-based Coliseum Sports Media has made inroads by obtaining the rights to English Premier League football, golf's PGA Tour and French rugby, forcing Sky to set up its own online sports packages). It costs significantly more than other options ($75 for standard and sport, $90 if you want HD), but has a vast range of shows, including lifestyle programming, which is missing from most streaming services.

The broadcaster plans an update this year that will allow your set-top box to connect to the internet so you can download content from channels you subscribe to.

Netflix US

This is available to those at particular internet providers who offer a "global mode" that overcomes regional restrictions so Kiwis can access the service. You can also set up a VPN (virtual private network) that masks your location. Netflix boss Reed Hastings recently said the company had no plans to close this loophole, forcing viewers to use the NZ service.

It offers a significantly larger amount of content than the New Zealand version but costs about the same.

Using "global mode" will also allow you to access other streaming services such as BBC's iPlayer and Hulu.

Freeview

This free service allows you to access all the free channels in New Zealand. It is set to launch FreeviewPlus in mid-2015 that will bring internet streaming such as on-demand services from TVNZ and TV3 to Freeview devices.

You'll need to buy a new set-top box for about $150 and the service will initially be available only for those with Freeview HD via UHF aerials.

Video Ezy

This is essentially an online video store. There is no ongoing subscription fee and you can get buy latest movies for $30 or rent them for 30 days for $8 each. TV series cost between $23 and $50 to buy.

To watch on your computer, you need to download a player or use a website. Android and iPhone apps are available, as is Chromecast. There is also an app available on the latest Samsung smart TVs.

Igloo

Brings together a range of Sky's basic lifestyle and entertainment channels including E!, Vibe, UKTV and Food TV, while recent blockbuster movies and select live sporting events are available on a pay-per-view basis. You can either buy the set-top box outright and pay for what you watch, or sign up for $19.95 a month plan and get a 13-channel pack.

Apple

The New Zealand version of iTunes only offers movies costing between 99 cents to rent to $25 to buy a new release. There are no television shows, though you can access them if you sign up to the US version.

This service is best suited for the occasional purchase though if you have an Apple TV device it's easy to watch on your television.

Keep an eye on Apple, though, as recent reports say they may soon be releasing an internet-television service that would blend streaming live television and on-demand online programming.

Google Play

A similar option to iTunes as you can rent and buy movies for similar prices. Google Play is a bit more aggressive in terms of getting new films and recently Google Play was among the first to release The Interview. Available on all Android devices.

THE BASICS

What do you need?

Not all services work on all devices, though if you have either a computer, tablet, smartphone or smart television you can access them.

You'll need a broadband connection with a speed of about 4Mbs or higher. You can test this by going to speedtest.net. Also, you'll need a good data allowance. About 30GB to 40GB a month should be OK but if you need more, most internet providers offer reasonable unlimited plans. You'll use about 2.3GB an hour to stream high-definition shows.

Where do I start?

There are two things that will determine what service you use – the shows and the devices.

The first thing to do is match your devices with a service. For instance, if you only have a Sony tablet then you can't use Neon. However, all the services have websites so as long as you have a computer you will be OK.

All of the services have easy-to-use website and apps so that shouldn't effect your decision-making.

Next, check out the websites of each to take a look at the television shows and movies offered. Don't just choose the one with the biggest selection (Netflix) as it may not have your favourite show.

Also, remember none have contracts so you can easily switch between services depending on what shows are available.

How to watch on your television

This is where these services start to stumble. There is no device that can plug in to your television that offers all of the services, however this could change in the coming year as more apps are made available.

Chromecast is the best option at the moment. It's a small device that costs about $60 that plugs into your TV. At the moment it works with Netflix and Quickflix and you can stream others from apps on your Android smartphone or tablet.

Another good option is a newish Samsung smart TV which has apps for Netflix, Lightbox, Quickflix, 3Now and TVNZ OnDemand.

Apple TV has a Netflix app and it shouldn't be too long before others are available. You can also stream content from apps on your Apple device via Apple TV. The final choice is to plug your computer into your TV and watch using a website.

 - Stuff

Related Links

6 Netflix flix to anticipate

What Netflix offers Kiwi viewers

Freeview to revamp service

Spark hits back at Netflix prices

Why TV's golden age is doomed

Lightbox coming to Chromecast

No GST for Netflix

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