Foxtel Play is a new, streamlined IPTV service from Australia’s largest cable TV company, with a no-contract subscription, reduced prices and updated packages. It’s meant to get Foxtel in the hands of anyone who doesn’t want a complicated, locked-in cable subscription — and it does an excellent job.
• Foxtel play to kick off July 30
• Foxtel Play launches with free 7-day trial
• In pictures: Foxtel Play
Foxtel Play: Setup, cost and features
Foxtel Play is a hugely different service to the old-fashioned Foxtel cable TV subscription. There’s no setup or installation fee, for one. All you need to do is sign up for an account on the Foxtel Play website, enter your credit card details and choose the package you want. You pay on an ongoing monthly basis, but you can change your subscription at any time for the next month’s billing cycle. You can cancel without penalty. These are all Good Things.
Foxtel Play has a minimum cost of $25 per month — that’ll get you one of the four Genre packages, which are Entertainment, Documentaries, Drama, or Kids. Add another genre package for $10, another on top of that for another $10, and a fourth for $5 — for a total monthly cost of $35, $45, or $50. On top of that, you can throw in one or both of the Premium Picks, which are Movies & Premium Drama or Sports for $25 each (and can't be selected without at least one Genre pick).
We think that the simpler subscriptions — say, Entertainment plus Sports, or Documentaries plus Entertainment plus Movies & Premium Drama — make great sense, and are reasonably good value. If you know what you want to watch, and you devote enough time to watching it to make a monthly payment worthwhile, then Foxtel Play is good value.
As you may have guessed, Play is complemented by Foxtel’s existing Foxtel Go service, which is basically Play for mobile devices — the current supported fleet extends to iPhones, iPods touch and iPads, as well as a select range of Samsung Android phones and Tabs. We’re keen to see this grow — namely to the Galaxy S4, which is sorely waiting for Go access — but as time goes on we expect to see Go become ubiquitous on both Android and iOS.’
There’s no point paying money if you’re not going to use it, though. If you aren’t making full use of Foxtel Play’s two-user simultaneous streaming, and streaming to mobiles over Foxtel Go, we think that the maximum price of $100 per month begins to look expensive very quickly.
Similarly, we do wish that it was possible to subscribe to individual channels within the Genre packages, at a lower price, to cherry-pick your favourites, and similarly to purchase access to individual events within the Premium Picks range — the odd movie or two, or Foxtel-owned sporting event broadcast. This isn’t something that Foxtel has planned for the near future, but we’re hopeful it’s not entirely too far off the horizon.
Foxtel Play: Using the app
To use Foxtel Play, all you’ve got to do is sign up for the package that you want, and then install the Foxtel Play app on your PC or Mac, Samsung Smart TV, or Xbox 360 console. The new Play app supersedes the Foxtel on Internet TV and Foxtel on Xbox services, although these subscribers will have grandfathered access to Play with only minor changes.
The Play app for both PC and Mac is exceedingly simple — after logging in once, your account details are saved, as are your preferences like a parental control PIN. There’s a range of settings you can change, but none of it is necessary if all you want to do is watch the TV you’re paying for.
The main screen, curated by Foxtel, shows the most popular, newest and most wanted content that Foxtel Play has to offer. It’s not tailored to each subscription, though, which means you might select a program only to be prompted that you don’t have access — we don’t have a problem with this, because if you want to watch whatever you’ve chosen it’s utterly easy to pay for it.
There are two panels that display all the video that you’ll get out of Foxtel Play — the Live TV screen, and Catch-Up. Live TV shows you all the channels available on Play, with the ones you don’t have access to greyed out. This is what you’ll be using for most of your Play viewing, purely because of Foxtel’s massive variety of content. The window defaults to a half-screen guide, with an inset video stream of whatever channel you have selected. If you want to view a more extensive now-next-later guide, you can do so, although the inset video gets smaller, or you can choose the fullscreen option (which isn’t completely fullscreen, but it’s close).
Catch-Up is another curated screen in the same vein as the app’s home screen, with featured content displayed prominently. There are a number of filters that can be applied — restricting your selection to TV shows, movies, or to search alphabetically or by the channels you subscribe to. You can then sort that by the newest or the most popular videos, as determined by the Play database’s analytics.
Foxtel Play in 'Low' quality.
Watching video streams and video-on-demand on Foxtel Play is a painless process. Select a new channel in Live TV and it buffers for a second or two, but didn’t stutter on our decidedly average ADSL2+ connection, or while streaming over Telstra’s 4G network. On both we were able to watch the ‘Best’ video quality stream, with video ramping up to near-DVD quality — looking no worse than free-to-air digital TV, although not quite as clean as Foxtel’s cable HD channels.
Foxtel Play in 'Best' quality.
If you value your data caps, you can choose ‘Low’ in the app’s settings, to watch the most basic and bandwidth-friendly stream. The quality of the stream varies depending on what device you’re watching on, too, with mobile devices on Go maxing out at a lower bit-rate than a PC or Mac on Play.
You can use a single Foxtel Play subscription on two devices simultaneously, and have the app registered to three devices at once — so you could share the subscription with your husband, wife, girlfriend, boyfriend, or a family member. Similarly, each accompanying Foxtel Go subscription can be registered on three devices and used on two simultaneously — if you’re a young couple, both with PCs (or Macs) and iPhones, one Foxtel Play subscription will have you both covered.
Foxtel Play: Conclusion
We really like the concept of Foxtel Play. It goes a long way towards making the shows that we like more accessible, taking away the requirement for a cable subscription and a long contract, and taking away one of the main reasons for illegally downloading TV or movies — accessibility of a legal alternative.
If you want the full Foxtel Play experience, it’s expensive. We could maybe justify it if we split the cost with a partner or family member, and used Play plus Go to their full extent. For a couple of packages — say, a daily dose of Nat Geo documentaries and the odd blockbuster — it’s hard to find a flaw with Foxtel Play.