REVIEW

Disney+ Is a Wonderful World for Tykes and Geeks

Disney+ made its official debut last week, and after a few minorhiccups the service is up and running. It is widely available via aplethora of devices, offers a breadth of content, and serves quickand seamless downloads to mobile devices.

However, with a heavy focus on Disney animated films, Marvelsuperhero movies and Star Wars, this service might not be quite theNetflix killer that the Walt Disney Company claims it is.

Simply put, it is a great service for families with children who watch their favoriteanimated movies on repeat, and it’s great for sci-fi fans. Compared to Netflix,Amazon or Hulu, however, Disney+ lacks diversity. There’s very little in the way of dramas or action films that don’t involve a caped character!

Disney+ may signal a shift toward more specific — if not entirely specialized — content. The core content available through the streaming service comesfrom the Mouse House and the various brands it now owns.

Disney+ devices

Its catalog likely will get more diverse in the months years to come — surely in years to come — but unless you absolutely need to see the latest Star Wars series orAvengers: Endgame (and you don’t want to buy the Blu-ray version), thismight not be the service for you.

Disney+ currently is available for US$6.99 a month or $69.99 fora year. In addition, Disney is offering a bundle with Hulu and ESPN+for an extra $6 per month. Unlike rival services, Disney+ includes 4Kand HDR versions of some of the content at no extra cost. Netflix, for example, now charges a premium for this programming.

As a matter of full disclosure, to review Disney+ I signedup for a free trial, to be deleted at the end of the seven-day test period.

Set Up and Launch

Disney+ had a rocky start. After being live for just a few days, Disney announced that the service had more than 10 million subscribers. Though not in the same ballpark with Netflix’s more than 158 million, the flood of viewers was large enough to cause Disney+ a few download issues. Those were mostly resolved by the first weekend.

Disney+ can be accessed on a number of devices: Amazon FireTV devices; Apple TV, iPhones and iPads; Android handsets, tablets and TVs;Google Chromecast devices; Roku boxes and sticks; Samsung and LG smartTVs; and video game consoles, including Microsoft’s Xbox One andSony’s PlayStation 4.

The fact that the service is so widely availableis commendable. Out of the gate, most customersshould have an easy time accessing it.

I found the service installed quite easily to an AmazonFire TV Cube, and within a few minutes it was ready for living room viewing. I also downloaded Disney+ and set it up for testing on a Kindle Fire.

Compared to other services, Disney+ is quite easy to navigate. Thisis made all the easier by the fact that Disney, Marvel, Pixar, StarWars and NatGeo content is immediately accessible from the homescreen. In addition, users can browse categories: originals, movies orseries. There is the expected overlap and some movies — Avengers:Endgame, for example — show up in multiple categories.

As with other streaming services an algorithm can providerecommendations based on past viewing, but a longer viewing period would be required to tell how effective these recommendations might be.The recommendations max out at just 25 titles, so it is not very useful to browse that way. Since most of the content isfrom the Disney vaults or associated companies, search could be a farmore important feature.

One annoyance is that Disney+ makes it hard to continue watching aprogram, compared to Netflix, Amazon or even Hulu. Withthe FireTV this is less of an issue, given that content across allservices is listed on the device’s home screen. However, upon returning toDisney+ you’ll see no option to continue watching a series.

Streaming Quality

I tested Disney+ on my living room setup through a wired connectionto the Fire TV Cube. Even on Friday evening — no doubt during heavy or even peak usage for the newly launched service — there were no serious glitches.

The picture was free of noticeable artifacts; there were no lockups, buffering issues or other problems. At no point did the content revert to a lower resolution — something that can be a common occurrence with rival streaming services such as HBO Now or evenNetflix.

Disney+ clearly is using some robust compression technology, and both thepicture and sound quality were excellent.

Tablet Time

I also tested the service on an Amazon Kindle Fire and found no issues with thesetup. The interface and menus translatenicely to the smaller-sized screen.

Disney+ wisely offers downloadable versions of its content, which can be viewed in an offline mode. Content is available as long as the subscriber’s service is active, and there appears to be no limit to the amount of movies or series that can be downloaded.

This could be a godsend to parents planning a trip or just an evening out.

Available Content

Where the service lost my interest was in the content on offer. As another matter of full disclosure, my wife and I do not have children, and we’re not fans of Disney animated films. The same is true of Star Wars and Marvel. Given that these are major selling points for the service, we’re obviously not the target market.

In testing, we did watch The Mandalorian, the new Star Wars bounty hunter series, just to see what the hype was about. Simply put, the show will appeal mostly to the hardcore fans. Whether it is worth $7 a month is another questionentirely.

Disney+ is following the Hulu model — rolling out content rather than making itavailable for binging. No doubt hardcore fans will want to seeeach episode as it rolls out, but the show leaves a lot to be desired.

Right now Disney+ does have more than 500 movies, as well as a number of series, and the promise of a whole lot more content to come. At present,however, it is really one part “kids and princesses” and another part”Star Wars and superheroes” with some National Geographic contentthrown in for good measure.

Original content, which includes a live action remake of Lady and theTramp, was simply lacking at launch. Disney promised a ton of content,but the streaming platform arrived without a true must-see show — apart from The Mandalorian, which disappointed.

Canceling the Service

It is common for users of streaming services to cancel one from timeto time, and here is where Disney+ can be a lesson in frustration.Because the service is available via a plethora of devices, cancelingis far more complicated than signing up.

Users who sign up directly via the Disney+ website will have it theeasiest, but it’s trickier for those who opt to set it up via a third-party device.I set it up on a third-party device, the Fire TV, so I then needed tomanage the subscription directly through that vendor.

In my case, it meant going to the Amazon website to cancel the service. Users should note that uninstalling the app alone does NOT cancel the subscription. You willneed to turn off the automatic renewal before the free period ends (orprior to the next billing cycle).

In the case of Amazon it should be noted that I did not technically cancel the service — I simply turned off auto renewal.

I won’t know for certain if I actually managed to cancel the service until next month.

Bottom Line

Perhaps my lukewarm review is due to my not being the right target market, and that could be a fair assessment — but I contend that the target is too small. Unlessyou have children, are a fan of Disney’s movies, or simply absolutelyneed to have access to all things Star Wars, there’s little justification for spending $7 a month on this service.

It lacks the “grownup” fare offered by both Netflix or Amazon — for example, TheCrown, Jack Ryan or Orange Is the New Black. In fact, Disney+ has all but doubled down on a very specific segment of the market: kids and geeks.

That isn’t to say there’s anything wrong with catering to that audience. In fairness, Avengers: End Game is the highest-grossing filmof all time, and Star Wars still has a huge following. Still, thiscontent is widely available via Blu-ray — and what Star Wars fandoesn’t already own the movies in multiple formats? The same goesfor most of the animated films, which also are available on home video.

Another example of highly touted content is The Simpsons. Although it now is part of the Mouse House, the show remains in regularrotation on the FXX cable channel, and is available on DVD/Blu-ray.

In other words, Disney+ isn’t so much about being the exclusiveplace for the company’s content, as it is a way to convince fans to pay for asubscription-based streaming service filled with content they already might own!

If they can pull it off, Walt Disney would be proud.

Peter Suciu has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2012. His areas of focus include cybersecurity, mobile phones, displays, streaming media, pay TV and autonomous vehicles. He has written and edited for numerous publications and websites, including Newsweek, Wired and FoxNews.com.Email Peter.

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