Steady improvements and more content have made Disney Plus one of the best video streaming services available
- 4K HDR support
- Clean, easy to use interface
- Still affordable
- Big library of content old and new
- Wide platform availability
- 4K HDR discovery still underwhelms
- Not much UK specific content yet
- HDRDolby Vision and HDR10 support
- Sound qualitySupport for Dolby Atmos/5.1 systems
- Original contentRange of Original content added frequently
It’s been over 18 months since Disney’s video streaming service launched. And it’s shaken up the streaming market more than any of us would have thought when first announced.
It sprinted its way to 100 million subscribers – a figure Netflix took a decade to reach. There are times where a walk around London and several buses will appear one after the other promoting Disney+ shows. It feels like it is everywhere.
In February 2021, Disney deposited content from 20th Century Studios in a new section labelled Star, turning what was a family-orientated service into one that has wider appeal for adults.
It’s taken Disney a relatively short period of time to do what it’s taken other streaming services years. And it’s showing no sign of slowing down.
Disney Plus in the UK originally commanded a price of £5.99 a month / £59.99 annually when it launched March 2020. A year later and the addition of Star has increased it to £7.99 a month / £79.90 annually.
Elsewhere, the Disney+ Star combo is CA$11.99/month or CA$119.99/annually in Canada; AUD$11.99/month or AUD$119.99/ annually in Australia; €8.99/month or €89.90/ annually in Europe.
For the rest of the world prices are NZ$12.99 / month or NZ$129.99 / annually in New Zealand; 89.00kr / month or 890.00kr / annually in Norway; 79.00 DKK / month or 790.00 DKK/annually for Denmark; 89.00 SEK / month or 890.00 SEK/annually in Sweden; CHF12.90 / month or CHF129.00 / annually in Switzerland and $11.98 SGD / month or $119.98 SGD / annually in Singapore.
Lest I forget, there’s also the Premier Access tier that charges a fee for certain titles that have to come streaming early, or at the same time as their cinema release. This costs around £19.99 and previous titles included Mulan, Raya and the Last Dragon and Cruella. Black Widow will be a part of Disney’s Premier Access in July.
- Wide platform support
- Not available on every smart TV system
The app is available on most platforms and can be downloaded on – deep breath – Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV (4th gen onwards), the Humax Aura set-top box and Roku streaming devices.
Then there’s iOS, AirPlay compatibility, Amazon Fire Tablet, Android phones, Chromebooks, Chromecast; PlayStation and Xbox consoles; plus, Android, LG, Roku, Philips and Samsung Tizen TVs.
Last time we checked a Philips TV and the Humax Aura Freeview Play set-top box, the Disney+ app was only available in HD/5.1. On Sony Android TVs, the app seems to only support 5.1.
Disney Plus is also on Sky Q. It’s not supported by Panasonic’s My Home Screen and Toshiba has told us Disney Plus isn’t supported by its smart system either.
- Nice, clean interface
- 4K/HDR discovery still disappoints
- Voice search an improvement over text-based input
Aside from the addition of Star, which is only available outside of the US, not a whole lot has changed in terms of the layout – which is good as it was pretty solid from the off.
For the TV app you have the menu options on the left-hand side and that’s where you’ll find Search, Movies, Series, Watchlist, Originals and Settings. For mobile devices Home, Search, Downloads and your Profile are viewable at the bottom, with Originals, Movies and Series tucked away in the Search tab.
It’s a cleanly laid-out interface that’s easy to navigate and explore. At the top is a carousel that features new titles and below sits the “Six Worlds”: Disney, Pixar, Marvel, Star Wars, National Geographic and Star. The little animations as you hover over each remain a nice touch.
Content is arranged in rows with some featuring up to 20 titles, while others have 30+. Whereas before there were too many rows with titles repeated multiple times, the addition of Star fills out the selection for a thorough overview of what Disney Plus now has to offer.
You can, of course, alter what appears by watching more content. Each profile is personalised based on watch history – which, according to Disney, not only dictates what you see but the sequencing of the rows, too. The more you watch, the more it learns about your viewing tastes. Spooky.
The UK version finally added a row for Ultra HD and HDR content, which was my biggest bugbear in the service’s nascent days. It’s further down the Home screen than I’d like and aside from that row, it’s still not particularly easy to find more UHD and HDR content. Search is tailored to movies/shows, actors and characters, so typing 4K, UHD or HDR gives you a big fat zero in results.
Search on the TV app is less of a chore thanks to voice search. It’s better to use this option (if your remote supports it) than entering text, as the text-based version lists letters and numbers horizontally, which means moving (slowly) across the screen to input.
Predictive results can be a little odd with the text-based function (it’s cool that you thought I was searching for Peter Czernin, but I wasn’t), and the actual results can be odd, too.
Search for Cruella and you’ll get the recent film and the Glenn Close versions, but Disney+ populates the rest of the results with some unrelated fodder like Avengers: Endgame and Star Wars: The Bad Batch – I’m not sure what those titles have to do with Cruella De Vil.
Voice search is much quicker, though there are times where it doesn’t seem to recognise your query (uttering Alien doesn’t do anything).
Below the Search box are bundled collections of content such as the Loki collection or the High School Musical collection, which are swapped out and updated regularly. I still don’t understand why Disney doesn’t just add all the Collections here and make it a complete and easy to find hub. Better yet, give it is own section. At this rate, there’s only going to be more of them.
- Decent selection of extras compared to other services
- Dolby Vision + Atmos support
- Parental controls supported
Up to seven profiles can be created, and users can download to an allocation of 10 devices and watch four streams simultaneously. Owners of a Disney+ account can create a Kids profile that curates content specifically for children, as well as parental controls to limit the feature set and require the entering of a PIN to access content.
In terms of video, Disney+ Star displays in SD, HD and 4K resolutions with HDR10 and Dolby Vision supported, too. For audio, the highest quality is Dolby Atmos. If you can’t get Vision + Atmos, you’re served HDR10 + 5.1 (or less) instead.
Around half the films are said to be in 4K HDR, though that was before the addition of Star. The service, like others, scales to your spec of your TV/AV equipment.
Dive through to a title’s landing page and you can view info on who’s in the film, the crew, suggested content and Extras such as commentaries and behind the scenes videos.
- Huge amount of content thanks to addition of Star
- Some older titles still in HD
- Lots of variety
Ahead of 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 were on the service as The Rise of Skywalker hit the service in May 2020. The addition of Star has effectively doubled that, with more programming arriving in the coming months.
And since its UK launch, Disney has slowly but surely replaced HD versions with 4K streams, with Inside Out now in 4K Dolby Vision where it wasn’t before. I do wish Disney would get around to remastering the likes of Tron: Legacy, John Carter or even Tomorrowland in 4K, considering that – somehow – Tim Allen’s The Santa Clause trilogy is in 4K HDR. That’s utter madness Disney.
Other shows and films are now available in their fullest. Fancy watching the 90s animated Spider-Man series? The entire series of the webslinger’s animated exploits is now on the service. 90s guilty pleasure Armageddon is available (though again, a 4K HDR Dolby Vision remaster would be lovely).
There are still some omissions: Speed and The Rock aren’t on the UK version. Other recent and classic titles that don’t feature include the Alien quadrilogy, Deadpool, Fantastic Four, Logan, Predator, Le Mann’s 66, Bad Times at the El Royale, The Martian, Terminator: Dark Fate, Widows and The Revenant. I imagine some are still under licensing agreements, with some on Netflix UK, Prime Video and Sky, while others can be rented from the Chili streaming service.
My previous issues with the service being too reliant on nostalgia and family content have pretty much evaporated with the Star addition, too.
There’s obvious delight in watching the 90s X-Men cartoon or The Rocketeer, and slight disbelief at seeing what Jodie Foster and Kurt Russell were up to in the early 70s, but with Star there’s now a much wider range of content to enjoy.
FX series like The Americans have shuffled from Prime Video to Disney Plus Star, while The Walking Dead arrives in July 2021. Films such as 500 Days of Summer (4K HDR10), High Fidelity (4K Dolby Vision) and The Devil Wears Prada (4K HDR10) add more variety.
TV series like Scrubs, black-ish, My Name is Earl, Atlanta, Dollface, 24 add to the diversity of content and genres, while little seen, forgotten gems like Dead Presidents, OneHourPhoto and 25th Hour will hopefully find another life on the service. There’s a gargantuan amount of content to wade through.
There’s still some of the oddities like Million Dollar Duck, The Shaggy D.A or The Apple Dumpling Gang, but you’re far less likely to be served that content. And where the Original content wasn’t always the most exciting in the beginning – Disney’s Fairy Tale Weddings docu-series isn’t massively interesting to me, at least – Wandavision, Falcon & the Winter Soldier and Inside Pixar will keep viewers invested while upcoming series like Pam and Tommy and Y: The Last Man wait in the wings.
The inclusion of special features is welcome, and for Disney+’ Marvel/Star Wars Originals there’s the Assembled/Gallery series, which feels like a return to the special features I enjoyed growing up. You still can’t resume a commentary from where you left off, and commentaries are only available separately and play with a HD version of the film.
If you still have Blu-rays or even DVDs, I wouldn’t ditch them as a number of extras from those physical releases are missing. For example, some of Marvel One Shots (A Funny Thing Happened on the way to Thor’s Hammer or All Hail the King) are still yet to feature.
- Looks great in Dolby Vision
- 4K Blu-rays still have the advantage over streaming
- Solid sound
It’s worth noting that despite the amount of 4K content available, a fair chunk of it is not native 4K but upscaled 4K. And Disney Plus’ recommendation of 25Mbps for 4K UHD content is less than Disney’s own 4K Blu-rays, which average around 40-50Mbps.
There’s an argument to be made that the physical disc 4K HDR10 playback is more detailed and sharper than a 4K Dolby Vision stream, and I’m inclined to agree.
Nevertheless, Disney+ produces some spectacular video quality, partly because of the nature of the fantastical content, though I would say you’d need a fairly good TV to take advantage of it, with premium sets offering the best quality.
I’ve watched Disney Plus Star on a number of different TVs, from affordable sets, to Samsung QLEDs and 4K OLEDs, and in my opinion the best experience is with an OLED.
In particular an OLED that supports Dolby Vision, which is pretty much all of them (LG and Philips in particular). Content on compatible TVs look spectacular, with deep blacks and (depending on the brand) excellent motion processing for Dolby Vision, as well as lush, rich colours.
Samsung QLEDs also work very well, especially in terms of the wide colour range that Quantum Dot TVs offer. But Samsung’s premium sets will offer the best image quality, while the entry-level QLEDs are likely to struggle a little more with the contrast and black levels required.
Sound quality is also solid, especially if you have either a 5.1 system or a Dolby Atmos surround set-up (or just an Atmos capable soundbar). While there’s not a huge amount of height effects in Wandavision for much of the series, the Dolby Atmos soundtrack does bring about a more spacious presentation.
Dialogue is always presented with clarity (though that will depend on how capable your sound system is), positioning of effects in the soundfield is assured and there’s plenty of detail for a sound system to bring to bear.
You may want to turn the volume up a bit – the Atmos soundtrack on Infinity War did sound a little constrained and less powerful compared to its 4K Blu-ray disc’s counterpart.
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Should you buy it?
You’re a Disney fan: For Disney fans, this streaming service is everything that was promised. Accessible, with platform availability and a vast library of content, it’s getting better and better.
If you want easier access to 4K HDR content: Disney Plus offers plenty of content in 4K HDR, but finding all of it is rather more difficult. Given it’s a strength of the service, it still feels a little buried beneath the avalanche of content.
Steady improvements and more content have made Disney+ one of the best video streaming services available
Disney+ no longer offers a free trial, so you’ll have to £7.99 to sign up.
The Star section adds content from 20th Century Studios as well as more exclusive Originals to the service. Star is only available outside of the US.
The Disney+ app was announced to be coming to the new 360 set-top box, but as of yet it has not arrived yet.