Until fairly recently, Netflix (and to a lesser extent Hulu and Amazon Prime Video) has had little in the way of serious competition. But the streaming video landscape is about to undergo a seismic shift thanks to the introduction of a ton of new streaming services, and with it, Netflix’s position as the king could be truly under siege.
In this case, we’re comparing new rivals Apple TV+ and Disney+, two brand new services that launch in November with some impressive looking original and exclusive content to compete with everyone from Netflix to HBO. Since neither service has launched yet, this is a very cursory first glance, and we’ll be updating this post up to and after each service launches. Let’s take a look at these two in detail and see which one (if either) will be worth adding to your streaming catalog.
We now know that 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, when the service debuts on November 1, there will only be one subscription plan: $5 per month for everything the service offers.
A seven-day free trial lets you check out the service to see if it’s right for you before you start paying. Up to six family members can share one Apple TV+ subscription, though Apple has yet to confirm if all six can stream simultaneously. 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 six different user profiles. 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, especially at launch, Apple TV+ is way behind.
Apple has landed some very big talent for the creation of its Apple TV+ original programming lineup, with names like Oprah, Steven Spielberg, and J.J. Abrams all confirmed. Early looks at trailers for series like See and The Morning Show certainly confirm that production values will be equal to the very best that Hollywood is currently creating.
Unfortunately, the number of promised shows is still strikingly low, and though the names behind them are well-known, the characters and stories are untested with mass audiences. 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 the depths of Disney, Pixar, LucasFilm, and Marvel Studios’ massive catalog of movies and TV shows. These represent some of the most popular titles of all time, like Star Wars, Toy Story, The Avengers), and much more, plus highly-anticipated new series like the Star Wars universe’s The Mandalorian.
All told, approximately 7,000 episodes of television series and 400 to 500 movies are expected to be available on the service when it launches. Compare that to Apple’s 10 or less, and you can see a glaring imbalance of sheer value.
Especially 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, and Xbox One. The one big absentee is Amazon’s Fire TV platform, which has yet to be confirmed. With the exception of Android TV and Roku, no smart TV platforms (like Samsung, Vizio, or LG) have been announced. However, if you own one of the newer models that will be equipped with AirPlay 2 or the Apple TV app, you’ve now got another way to access the service.
Apple says that “if you have an iPhone, iPad, Mac or Apple TV, you already have the Apple TV app,” which it points out is the best way to watch Apple TV+. But there may be some limitations on exactly which Apple devices actually let you watch the service.
For instance, 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+. But Apple hasn’t officially confirmed this software is a requirement to watch. If it is, that could mean that the iPad 4th gen and older, iPhone 5 and older, iPod Touch 5th gen and older, and 1st and 2nd gen Apple TVs are not invited to the Apple TV+ party.
Outside of Apple’s own devices, there is a slew of 3rd party products that are going to be compatible with Apple TV+, including 2018 and 2019 models of Samsung’s smart TVs. Vizio, LG, Roku, and Amazon Fire TVs have been added to the list, as have Sony TVs that use the Android TV OS, but no official launch dates have been released yet. Finally, Apple will let you stream Apple TV+ via the web using Safari, Chrome, or Firefox.
For now, it looks like Disney+ will support a wider variety of devices at launch, including Chromecast, PlayStation, and Xbox — all very big absences from Apple’s line-up.
User experience, audio, and video
Apple’s TV app, which is already available on its Apple TV set-top boxes and iOS devices, is the home of Apple TV+ (and any other 3rd party video services you subscribe to) and 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 will show up amongst the relevant categories, and you’ll be able to add titles as favorites, start watching on one device and continue on another, plus you’ll get recommendations tailored to your specific tastes. Some of Apple’s original productions will be available in up to 4K resolution with Dolby Vision HDR and Dolby Atmos soundtracks when viewed on compatible devices. It should look and sound 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. Virtually all movies from the last 10 years ought to qualify for this, but older titles may not.
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 like iOS or Android. If you’re a Hulu subscriber, you can watch Disney+ content within your favorite Hulu user environment. Finally, because Disney+ will be compatible with Apple’s TV app, you could subscribe to and watch it within the same user experience as Apple TV+.
We think Disney+’s wider variety of user experiences give it an edge here, but it could also create some fragmentation and confusion if it’s not well-managed. We’ll have to wait and see.
There’s a certain irony in trying to compare two video streaming services that haven’t actually launched yet, so we won’t be declaring any winners right now. But it’s already pretty obvious that, despite Disney+’s higher monthly fee, it will be a much more compelling service than Apple TV+ — at least at launch and for the immediate future.
We’ll revisit this comparison as soon as we’ve had a chance to put both services through their paces, so be sure to come back in November for our post-launch analysis.
Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated the number of Apple original productions that will be available in Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos. Only some of them will be available in these formats when viewed on compatible devices.
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