Until fairly recently, Netflix (and to a lesser extent Hulu and Amazon Prime Video) has had little in the way of serious competition. Now, the streaming video landscape is shifting, thanks to the introduction of a ton of new streaming services. Netflix’s position as the king could be truly under siege.
Apple TV+ and Disney+, two brand-new services, launched in November 2019 with some impressive looking original programming and exclusive content in an effort to compete with everyone from Netflix to HBO. Let’s take a look at these two services in detail and see which one (if either) is worth adding to your streaming catalog.
Apple’s strategy — at least for launch — is to undercut all of the other streaming players on price. In line with Apple’s commitment to keeping things simple, Apple TV+ only has one subscription plan: $5 per month gets you everything the service offers.
A seven-day free trial lets you check out Apple TV+ to see if it’s right for you before you start paying. Up to six family members can share one Apple TV+ subscription, which supports six simultaneous streams. Interestingly, Apple is leveraging its hardware muscle in the early days of Apple TV+ to drive sign-ups. If you buy a new iPhone, Mac, iPad, or Apple TV after September 10, you’ll get one year of Apple TV+ for free.
Disney+ uses the same all-inclusive strategy for its subscriptions, but it’s slightly more expensive at $7 per month or $70 per year. For that fee, you get the entire Disney+ catalog, four simultaneous streams, and up to seven different user profiles. Disney+ also offers a seven-day free trial, and you can save $5 per month if you take advantage of Disney’s combo offer with ESPN+ and Hulu.
At $4 less per month than Netflix’s cheapest plan, and more importantly in this comparison, as much as $2 less than Disney+, Apple TV+ is the cheapest option of the three services, but that doesn’t mean it’s the best value for your dollars. When it comes to how much you’ll get for what you spend, Apple TV+ is way behind.
Apple has landed some very big talent for its Apple TV+ original programming lineup, with names like Oprah, Steven Spielberg, and J.J. Abrams all confirmed. Series such as See and The Morning Show have star-studded casts and visuals that rival Hollywood’s very best, with the budgets to match.
Unfortunately, the number of Apple TV+ original series is incredibly low, and the series have been met with middling reviews. Even worse, there’s no back catalog. With Apple TV+, you get the original series, and that’s it. There’s nothing else to watch. Even if Apple can match the production value and quality of the best services out there with its new shows, it will need more — a lot more — to keep its customers happy.
Disney+ has a huge advantage here, as it’s able to plumb Disney, Pixar, Lucasfilm, and Marvel Studios’ massive catalog of movies and TV shows. These represent some of the most popular titles of all time, including the Star Wars, Toy Story, and Avengers franchises. Disney+’s slate of original series, which kicked off with the Star Wars universe’s The Mandalorian, is nothing to sneeze at, either.
All told, there are over 600 movies and TV shows currently on Disney+. Apple TV+ has nine, although a few more will arrive over the next few months. It’s clearly unbalanced. If you’re looking at one of these services to replace Netflix or one of your other streaming services, Disney+ is the obvious way to go.
At launch, Disney+ subscribers will be able to watch on iOS, Apple TV (tvOS), Google Chromecast, Android, Android TV, PlayStation 4, Roku, Xbox One, Amazon Fire TV, and LG and Samsung smart TVs. If your device is equipped with AirPlay 2 or the Apple TV app, you can also use that to watch Disney+.
Apple says that “if you have an iPhone, iPad, Mac or Apple TV, you already have the Apple TV app,” which is the best way to watch Apple TV+. However, you’ll need to be on a recent version of the company’s software, specifically iOS 12.3 or later, tvOS 12.3 or later and MacOS Catalina, to subscribe to Apple TV+.
Outside of Apple’s own devices, Roku, Amazon Fire TV, and Samsung smart TVs all support the Apple TV app, while you can use AirPlay 2 to get Apple TV+ on other hardware.
For now, Disney+ supports a wider variety of devices, including Chromecast, PlayStation, and Xbox — all very big absences from Apple’s lineup.
User experience, audio, and video
Apple’s TV app is the home of Apple TV+ (and any other 3rd party video services you subscribe to). In true Apple fashion, it’s a logically laid-out interface that’s easy to navigate whether on an iPhone or a 65-inch 4K TV.
All of the Apple TV+ content shows up in the relevant categories, and you can add titles as favorites, start watching on one device and continue on another, and get recommendations tailored to your specific tastes. Some of Apple’s original productions are available in 4K resolution with Dolby Vision HDR and with Dolby Atmos soundtracks on compatible devices. Apple TV+ looks and sounds terrific, especially on a big screen with a dedicated soundbar or home theater speakers.
Not to be outdone, Disney+ will also be available in 4K, Dolby Vision, and Dolby Atmos on select titles and devices that can support these formats. That includes almost every new television show and movie, as well as some older classics (the original Star Wars trilogy is available in 4K for the very first time on Disney+, for example). However, quite a bit of Disney+’s older content is only available in lower resolutions.
Unlike Apple TV+, you can experience Disney+ in a variety of user contexts. You’ll be able to download and use a dedicated stand-alone Disney+ app for platforms such as iOS or Android. If you’re a Hulu subscriber, you can watch Disney+ content within the Hulu app, although you’ll miss out on the 4K features. Finally, because Disney+ will be compatible with Apple’s TV app, you could subscribe to and watch it within the Apple TV interface.
We think Disney+’s wider variety of user experiences give it an edge here, although all of the different ways to watch can be a little confusing. If you’re not sure which interface to use, just stick with the dedicated Disney+ app. It’s available on almost everything, so you should be covered.
Right now, it’s not even close. Apple is spending lots of money to bring big names to Apple TV+, but the content simply isn’t there. There are only a handful of original features, and none of them are breakout hits. Disney+ is more expensive (although it’s still cheaper than Netflix), but it comes with a deep and eclectic library and series including The Mandalorian, which is already generating buzz.
On a technical level, both services impress. However, for now, Apple TV+ is a bonus you get when buying new Apple hardware. Disney+ is the one you actually want to pay for.
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