For fans, Disney Plus is what was promised from the off. It’s accessible, features popular content in 4K HDR and there’s plenty of content to trawl through. Questions remain over the service's family-friendly focus and how much variety it offers, but most fans will satisfied but what Disney has achieved here
- 4K HDR10/Dolby Vision support
- Easy to use
- Poor 4K/HDR discovery
- Could do with more variety
- Review Price: £5.99
- Dolby Vision HDR
- Dolby Atmos/5.1
- Android TV, LG TV, Roku TV, Philips TV and Samsung Tizen TVs support
- Original content
Disney Plus is the Mouse of House’s video streaming effort, taking on the likes of Netflix and Prime Video.
The official tagline for Disneyland is “The Happiest Place on Earth”, a spot that its creator Walt Disney envisaged both children and adults could go to have fun.
Sixty-five years after Disneyland was built, we’re now seeing the emergence of a new, digital version that Walt couldn’t have imagined in his heyday.
Disney Plus brings the company’s library into the streaming age, making it easy to dive into its coffers a la Scrooge McDuck. But alongside the banks of classic Disney content, there’s plenty new in 4K HDR.
But is Disney Plus the video streaming service for everyone? Let’s find out.
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Disney Plus interface – Easy to use, but 4K discovery disappoints
Disney Plus presents a cleanly laid-out, easy to navigate interface with a carousel at the top that features new titles. Below this carousel sit the “Five Worlds”: Disney, Pixar, Marvel, Star Wars and National Geographic. The little animations as you hover over each one are a nice touch.
The setup looks similar to Netflix, but is distinctive enough to not be a carbon copy – but it’s lacking Netflix’s visual pop.
The TV app’s menu is on the left and is where you’ll find Movies, Series, Watchlist, Originals, Search and Settings. For mobile devices, Originals, Movies and Series are tucked away in the search tab.
Content is arranged in rows; some have 20 titles, while others have as many as 37. That’s too many for my liking, with some titles repeated multiple times.
You can, of course, alter what you see in these rows by watching more content. Each profile becomes personalised based on watching history – which, according to Disney, not only dictates what you see but the sequencing of the rows, too.
The biggest niggle, however, is the lack of discovery of Ultra HD and HDR content. Considering Disney Plus has been partly sold on having 4K content at a cheaper price than Netflix, the UK site doesn’t make it easy to find it. Search doesn’t help in this regard; it’s tailored to movies/show, actors and characters.
Speaking of search, on the TV app seeking out content is a bit of a chore. Letters and numbers are listed horizontally, which makes specific searches a time-consuming task of jumping from one side of the screen to the other, and the search suggestions weren’t what I was looking for, either.
The actual results, too, aren’t always what you expect. Type in the letters “per” for the (clunkily titled) Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief, and Diana: In Her Own Words and Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit will also feature in the list.
If you can’t be bothered with search, below are bundled collections of Toy Story, Spider-Man, Winnie the Pooh and the like. It makes sense, but also feels incomplete. Why not add all the Collections here, instead of swapping them out?
Disney Plus features – Supported by the most popular platforms
Up to seven profiles can be created and users can download to a generous allocation of 10 devices. That’s six more than Netflix, which reserves that limit for its more expensive 4K tier.
Disney Plus supports Dolby Vision HDR and Dolby Atmos, although the pandemic has led to a reduction of video and audio quality. As such, you may not receive UHD or HD streams, and if you can’t get Atmos you get 5.1 instead. Around half the films are said to be in 4K HDR, and most TV shows appear to be in HD aside from The Mandalorian and Marvel’s Runaways, which are in 4K.
Dive through to a title’s landing page and you can view info on who’s starring, the crew, suggested content and extras. The service scales to your TV/AV equipment, so if you have Dolby Vision then you’ll see the formats supported in the detail section.
The app is available on most platforms and can be downloaded on – deep breath – Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV (4th gen onwards) and Roku streaming devices; iOS, AirPlay, Android mobile, Chromebooks, Chromecast; PS4 and Xbox One game consoles; plus Android TV, LG TV, Roku TV, Philips TV and Samsung Tizen TVs.
Disney Plus is on Sky Q (but not in HDR). It’s not on Panasonic’s My Home Screen OS as far as we know, or on more budget brands. Toshiba has told us Disney Plus isn’t supported by its smart system.
Disney Plus content – Lots of it, but how much will you watch?
Before its US launch, Disney stated 25 original series and 10 movie specials would debut in year one. Over 5000 episodes of TV and about 500 movies are on the service, with The Rise of Skywalker hitting the service in May.
There’s a Kids version of the service, which can be set up during profile creation and only allows content rated 7+. The max age for the main section is 16+, although The Wolverine – the only film I’ve found with that rating so far – is actually a 12, unless Disney Plus has its own rating system.
Not everything you’d have imagined to be in 4K actually is. Inside Out is HD, despite a physical 4K release Stateside, while The Incredibles and Coco are in 4K even though there’s been no UK 4K Blu-ray. The Tim Allen-fronted The Santa Clause trilogy is in 4K, whereas Tron: Legacy and John Carter are languishing in HD.
There are some odd decisions here and there, which truth be told, the majority of folk may not even care about. Fancy watching the 1990s animated Spider-Man series? Strangely, you’ll be able to watch the first season only, not the complete five. The sequels of both Night At The Museum and Fantastic Four are available, but the originals aren’t. The enjoyably silly Invincible Iron Man cartoon isn’t there in its entirety and the episodes are in the wrong order. Odd.
But the big-eared elephant in the room is whether Disney Plus is too reliant on nostalgia and family content. There’s delight in watching the 1990s X-Men cartoon and The Rocketeer, and slight disbelief at seeing what Jodie Foster and Kurt Russell were up to in the early 1970s, but if you’ve seen the Star Wars and Marvel films, plus the classic animations, how much content is there to really tickle your interest?
With its American-centric focus, family appeal and, of course, Disney-centric approach, the service feels more restrained and offers less variety than others. Ever heard of Million Dollar Duck, The Shaggy D.A or The Apple Dumpling Gang? Me neither. And new content isn’t always the most exciting. Disney’s Fairy Tale Weddings docu-series is unlikely to be what you’re signing up for.
And since Disney has opted to be a family-friendly service, we won’t get Armageddon or The Rock (both of which Disney made in the 1990s), nor the likes of Die Hard, Speed or Alien from 20th Century Studios (formerly 20th Century Fox). If Disney Plus is going to lean on nostalgia, then to not include films such as Independence Day and Moulin Rouge!, which they now own, seems like a missed opportunity.
The inclusion of special features is welcome, although it feels half-hearted in places. If you watch a film with the commentary on and exit, you can’t resume it. Extras from the physical release are left off too, with extras just an obligatory trailer.
Disney Plus performance – Good, but diminished in its current form
The pandemic has led to Disney reducing audio/video quality. Two months in and it’s still tricky to judge the service’s optimal performance.
It’s worth noting that despite a lot of 4K content, a good chunk is upscaled to 4K; it isn’t native 4K. And Disney Plus’ recommendation of 25Mbps for 4K UHD content is below what you’d get with Disney’s own 4K Blu-rays, which average around 40-50Mbps.
With a 2019 Samsung Q85R and a copy of Avengers: Infinity War on 4K Blu-ray to compare against the Disney Plus stream (same settings applied), the former offers an uptick in fine detail and clarity, as well as a surer sense of contrast.
The Plus stream looked similar enough to the 4K Blu-ray, although the presentation is lighter in dark scenes, and there’s a slight difference in colour expression that’s probably down to the difference between the Sony X700 4K player and stream.
Some colours are punchier and more refined on the X700, whereas the Disney Plus offers some slight differences in textures of some surfaces and backgrounds. There’s a bit of noise and softness on the streamed version, but it’s a good-looking picture even at reduced quality – although not up to Apple TV+‘s level.
Sound quality is also decent. Voices are clear, positioning is assured enough and, if you have the setup, there’s enough detail to bring to bear. You may want to turn the volume up a bit; the Infinity War soundtrack did sound a little constrained and less powerful compared to the 4K disc’s Atmos track, which isn’t the most impactful track in the first place.
Related: Best 4K Blu-ray players
Should you subscribe to Disney Plus?
For fans, Disney Plus is what was promised. Disney has learnt from others and come up with a service that’s accessible, available on a wide range of platforms and offers a vast library of content, of which a good chunk is in 4K HDR/Atmos, at least when Disney decides to return the bandwidth to normal levels.
Question marks remain over whether the family-friendly/nostalgic nature of the service is enough to keep subscribers invested, and how quickly Disney can bring fresh new content to the service. That’s not an issue for Prime Video, Netflix or even Apple TV+, which is dropping hyped content at a decent clip. The Disney-centric nature of the service will also limit appeal.
But what Disney has in its favour is that at £5.99, it undercuts Netflix by 50% and is a couple pounds cheaper than Prime Video. That makes its offering good value in the current market. For Disney fans, the happiest place on earth might now be their own homes.