For fans, Disney Plus is shaping up to be what was promised. It’s easy to navigate and there’s plenty of content to trawl through going back to the 1920s, with enough recent content to keep fans’ interest occupied
- Review Price: £5.99
- Dolby Vision/Atmos
- Disney, Marvel, Star Wars, Pixar and National Geographic
Disney Plus launches on March 24th in the UK, as well as in Austria, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Spain and Switzerland – and it arrives with feverish anticipation.
The service first launched last November and is Disney’s bet on a digital streaming future, bringing a big chunk of the company’s content library into the streaming age.
As the UK version isn’t live, Disney ported over the Netherlands version for this preview. We were told it would be very similar to what we’ll see in the UK.
Disney Plus interface – Simple and accessible
There are no surprises when it comes to the Disney Plus interface. The company has adopted a clean, tile-based format that’s similar to Netflix and Prime Video. The organisation of content is good, with the blue background allowing icons to pop, and other sections a couple of navigational presses away.
At the top is the splash area for new titles and what Disney refers to as its Five Worlds: Disney, Pixar, Marvel, Star Wars and National Geographic.
There’s no mention of 20th Century Fox (now 20th Century), with no specific tab for content from the studio/label. Instead, some of it – we couldn’t get a handle on how much in our limited time – has been funnelled into the Disney section, with titles including Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief and The Simpsons.
The next few rows are Recommended For You and New To Disney+. The “New To Disney+” row curates content for that region, and below it, you’ll find a “Continue Watching” tier. In hindsight, it would be better placed above Recommended For You, instead of having to drop down a few rows to pick up from where you left off.
The rest of the many rows are divided into sections such as Hit Movies, Originals and Nostalgic Movies, as well as a tier for Ultra HD and HDR content. There seemed to be around 15 to 20 titles in these sections.
The side-menu is on the left-hand side, and is also where you’ll find your “Watchlist” – a slight deviation from Netflix’s approach – as well as breaking down sections into Movies, Shows, Originals, Search and Settings.
In my opinion, Disney’s approach to search is one area that could be improved. Letters and numbers are listed horizontally, so jumping from one to another can be time-consuming. Using the Apple TV remote also proved fiddly.
If you can’t be bothered to use the search bar, below it is bundled collections such as the Toy Story Collection, the Spider-Man collection and… Forky Asks A Question collection.
Disney Plus features – Ticks the Dolby Vision and Atmos boxes and wide platform support
Up to seven profiles can be made, with viewers able to download to 10 devices and stream to four devices simultaneously – which sounds very generous.
Disney Plus also supports Dolby Vision HDR and Dolby Atmos, as long as you have compatible equipment. The service is available on Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV (4th gen onwards), AirPlay, Android mobile and TV, as well as Chromecast, iOS, PS4, Roku streaming devices, Xbox One, LG TV, Roku TV and Samsung Tizen TVs.
Click through to a title’s landing page and it will display whether a 4K (or HD) version is available, and also whether it’s in 5.1 or Atmos (or neither). Everything we looked at in 4K was in HDR10 and 5.1, which indicates it scales to your TV/AV equipment in the way Netflix does.
Shift over to the Details section for each title and there’s further info, including the available formats (Vision/Atmos) and guidance rating. We kept seeing the symbol of a spider next to the age rating and have asked Disney to clarify what it means.*
*The spider symbol is to do with the Netherlands age rating as this was the version we were previewed
If you go to the Movies section in the sidebar, there’s a bigger list of Ultra HD and HDR content. Since there’s no separate 4K or HDR tab, it implies everything in 4K has been mastered in HDR too. We forgot to check how many were Dolby Vision streams, but we’d expect a lot of them will be considering Disney offers greater backing for Dolby Vision for its streaming content than it does with its 4K Blu-rays
We did notice one error, however. The 1974 title The Bears and I, was listed in the 4K HDR section but only available in HD.
Disney Plus content – Lots and lots of it
Disney stated 25 original episodic series and 10 movie specials will be launched in the first year. Before the US launch, it also said 5000 episodes of TV would be available. I imagine that number has increased since. Plus, there are about 500 movies on the service, 100 of which are recent titles.
For £5.99/month (or £49.99, if you sign up before March 24th), you get access to a large amount of content from Disney’s libraries. Disney has listed all the titles available for the UK launch. We were told half the films were available in 4K HDR, although there was less info about the TV series.
Mirroring Netflix, Disney Plus has a kids version. There are a couple of differences between it and the standard version. For one, The Simpsons isn’t available. Apparently, it’s viewed as too mature for the Kids 7-and-under age rating.
Otherwise, the interface is similar, with content that skews to younger ages. Disney told us that the age rating of content in the adult section is around 15, but we’ve asked for confirmation.
All the Star Wars films will be available at launch (save for Rise of Skywalker), as will most – if not all – of the Marvel films and Marvel TV series such as Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D and The Runaways, both of which were available in HD. Most importantly, Duck Tales is available in HD. If Condorman doesn’t appear on the service however, we will riot.
We mentioned 20th Century earlier, and we do know that Disney Plus won’t be home to Die Hard, Predator or Alien. It begs the question of where we’ll be able to watch these films if they’re made available online in the UK?
There’s also the question of Disney’s own films. Sister Act is there, but there’s no Armageddon, War Horse or Unbreakable. Apocalypto definitely won’t appear on the service, and the same probably applies to The Waterboy and The Rock, which were produced through Disney’s now-shuttered Touchstone Pictures. We can but dream.
Regardless, we only skimmed the hoard of content that Disney Plus holds. For fans rediscovering old films or catching up with newer films and shows, it’s likely to take up a huge amount of time.
Disney also has its Originals, one of which has made a big splash in The Mandalorian. The one big question mark over Disney Plus is the speed of new content. At some point, Disney needs to serve up some new, fresh content regularly just as Netflix and Apple TV Plus have done. The next big series on the horizon is The Falcon and The Winter Soldier, but you’ll have to wait until August.
Disney Plus performance – Looks good
Disney Plus performed snappily enough, but we’ll have to wait and see on launch day if the servers can handle the influx of new users. There’s no reason to think Disney hasn’t learnt from the issues it’s encountered previously, ensuring measures are in place for the European rollout.
Otherwise, the picture quality was slick. Watching the first few minutes of Remember the Titans, it offered a bright, clear and detailed image, with pleasingly solid and rich colours. The lightning of some scenes stood out for depth too. Remember the Titans looked better than we, uh, remembered.
We didn’t spot any issues with the picture quality or streaming bit-rate. It augurs well for launch in less than two weeks.
For fans, Disney Plus is shaping up to be what was promised. It’s easy to navigate and there’s plenty of content to trawl through going back to the 1920s, with enough recent content to keep fans’ interest piqued if they missed films in the cinema.
The number of original content looked fine. There is a question mark of how quickly Disney can bring fresh content to the service to ensure users remain loyal long-term. And Disney Plus skews heavily to families, with little in the way of more mature content that keeps subscribers invested in Netflix and Prime Video – which could be an issue in the long-term.
Regardless, from what we’ve seen so far, Disney Plus does what it says on the tin. Whether it can do more than that, only time will tell.
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