Binge is technically Foxtel’s fourth attempt to carve out a meaningful slice of the Australian streaming market for itself but don’t feel pressured to catch up on the first three.
Presto is dead, Foxtel Now and Go are expensive and confusing and Kayo doesn’t really make a whole let of sense right now given the impact of coronavirus on the world of live sports. Nevertheless, the third time’s the charm.
Binge is Foxtel’s best streaming service yet but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have problems.
The Short Version
AU$10/month = 1 stream, standard definition
AU$14/month = 2 streams, high definition
AU$18/month = 4 streams, high definition
Platforms: Apple TV, Android TV, Web Browsers, iOS, Android,
Original Content: No
Syndicated Content: HBO, HBO Max, Sony, WarnerMedia, FX, BBC, NBCU
The Long Version
Binge is yet-another streaming service in the same vein as Netflix but running on much of the same technology powering Kayo.
However, unlike the latter, there’s no sports to be found here. Nor is there any original content. In lieu of either, Binge pulls from a number of TV series and movies from international powerhouse brands. The support acts here include WarnerMedia, NBCU, FX, BBC and Sony but, let’s be real, the thing you probably care about is HBO and, to a lesser degree, HBO Max.
It’s very much the headline act here and Binge puts 2020’s most talked-about HBO series at the front and center of both the platform’s marketing campaigns and within the app itself. And If HBO Originals like Euphoria, Succession or Westworld are what you’re after, Binge makes it extremely easy to get right to watching them.
Whether or not Binge has more or less content than Netflix or Stan will probably affect whether you stick with the subscription service over the long term but, if you're thinking of signing up, all it really takes is one good show to make that $10/month feel worth it.
At launch, Binge is claiming they have 10,000 hours of content ready to go. It’s unclear how this number breaks apart but the sparse selection of films on Binge suggests that a big part of that is probably down to long running series. Most of what you’ll find here is typical modern mainstream fare like The Fast and Furious and cinema classics like Goodfellas, The Breakfast Club or Apocalypse Now.
Some of the movies on Binge also include introductions by Margaret Pomeranz. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing but it’s certainly not something that’s communicated until after you’ve hit the play button.
Curiously, the poster art for Under the Skin appears within the search section of Binge app but the movie itself doesn’t. Nor does anything else so niche. For all its talk around curated selection, the Binge app doesn’t even have indie films listed as a genre.
Weird thing: Binge prominently features the poster art for Under The Skin as a backdrop on searches but they didn't seem to bother licensing the film? pic.twitter.com/9A0JQbALrN— Fergus Halliday (@Cvamped) May 26, 2020
Outside of the HBO offering, I was also surprised to see how much overlap Binge has with some of the other streaming services out there. It’s got 30 Rock, Parks and Recreation and Battlestar Galactica - but so does Amazon Prime.
As opposed to the confusing bundles of channels involved in Foxtel Now, signing up for Binge is blessedly simple regardless of whether you’re doing so via their website or app.
The Binge app itself has a few neat hooks but plenty of shortcomings. It works, and it’s a little slicker to use than something like Stan or Amazon Prime. Out of the gate, Binge is available on Apple TV, Android TV, iOS, Android and via the usual web browsers.
At the time of writing, you won’t be able to find it on non-Android-based smart TVs from brands like Samsung, LG and Hisense. However, PC World understands that Foxtel are looking to expand the service to at least some of these platforms in the future.
You can also stream it to TVs using ChromeCast and AirPlay. I had more luck with latter though. Casting to a Samsung TV was sometimes a little inconsistent.
Offline downloads aren't available yet but Binge users are able to set up and sort their own "BingeList" of content they want to watch while the service's recommendation carousels will be curated by real people rather than just algorithms. Annoyingly, you can only ever set a single “BingeList” per user - so this ends up being more-or-less identical to similar watchlist features on other streaming apps. It’d be neat to have a streaming service where you could set up playlists of video content in the same way that you can music via something like Spotify, so that's a bit disappointing to behold.
Binge also promises to include more than just the final cut of content, with support for behind the scenes interviews, footage and other special features. How extensive the implementation of this feature goes remains to be seen.
Stan and Disney+ have a similar feature but actual usage of it is pretty inconsistent. In practice, I have yet to encounter a single Binge title with any special feature content.
In terms of blind spots, the app doesn’t support picture-in-picture playback on iOS or Android. This might sound like nitpicking but it’s a bit annoying if you want to watch something while doing other stuff at the same time and a lot of the competition already supports this as a feature as standard.
At the time of writing, Binge also lacks support for any sort of subtitles. Aside from just the accessibility aspect, this sucks. It’s a basic feature you’ll find in all the competition. If you're a parent, you'll probably also be vexed by Binge's lack of parental controls.
Of course, the biggest drawback here is probably the lack of both HDR and 4K content. This is arguably the service’s greatest weakness.
Stan, Amazon, Netflix and others all offer the ability to playback content in these higher fidelity standards and formats. This leaves it significantly outgunned by some of the other options and some of the best content on Binge shredded by poor compression.
Binge’s compression does the Battle of Winterfell no favours. Any dark scene exhibits way too many artifacts pic.twitter.com/TfRJEjVyNM— Alex Choros (@a_choros) May 25, 2020
All the above being said, I think that Binge is still a really compelling package for heavy-streamers who don’t own a TV.
Hear me out. There are plenty of university students and other price-conscious consumers who don’t have the money or space in their home for a 4K TV to make sense. These customers tend to watch most of their content on a laptop, tablet or smartphone screen.
For these customers, most of the areas where Binge falls short don’t actually matter. It doesn’t matter if Binge isn’t yet available on Samsung or LG TVs, nor does it matter that much that you’re capped at HD quality and can’t play things back in HDR if the only thing you’re watching on is a smartphone or tablet.
The Bottom Line
If you’re looking for the best value way to keep up with HBO Original series like Euphoria or Succession that doesn’t involve a VPN, Binge is almost painfully-easy to recommend over Foxtel Now. There are no ads and the app will probably meet most of your expectations, even if it suffers from a number of clear shortcomings.
That being said, the lack of 4K content and paper-thin backlog of films on the service leave cheaper options like Disney+ or Amazon Prime much more compelling by comparison.
Compared to previous efforts, Binge is a breath of fresh air. It’s got some serious issues that need to be addressed but if you’re after a fast and cheap way to check out that show on Twitter that everyone won’t stop talking about, it’s hard to beat. At least, not without breaking the law.
Binge is available now via the iOS App Store, the Google Play Store and the official website.