A media streaming guide for cord cutters
With improving data connectivity and people exploring video streaming services, Tushar Kanwar lists out the best
A revolution is upon us, whether we realise it or not. Our media consumption habits have outgrown the du jour eight talking heads and movies interrupted by unending ad breaks, and consumers across the world are cutting the cord. With improved broadband and mobile data connectivity, streaming movies and TV shows is becoming an increasingly viable option—one that is legitimate and reasonably priced without shortchanging you on the catalogue selection. Here’s our pick of the best video streaming services in town.
Netflix started as a DVD-by-mail rental service but now is by far the most popular service in a category it credits itself to have created. To give you a sense of how popular Netflix is, the service accounts for approximately 37 per cent of all downstream traffic in North America towards the end of last year…and the service just went global in 130 new countries (India included) at the beginning of 2016. Its catalogue includes a host of TV shows and movies, and its original content which includes TV shows like Marvel’s Daredevil, Orange is the New Black and House of Cards. The service has a superior user interface across platforms, and its adaptive streaming technology ensures that the service streams the best possible video quality automatically. Where it lacks is a strong local library of Indian films and TV shows. With plans starting at Rs500 per month, this is the paid video streaming service to get, no matter the platform.
Run by a wholly owned subsidiary of Star India, Hotstar is a great service for watching live sports, but there is a range of TV shows and films on offer as well—over 50,000 hours of content across eight languages, including some of the longest running and highest rated TV content in the country. It is one step ahead of Netflix in terms of producing local original content, and its adaptive streaming works well on low bandwidth connections as well. The cherry on the icing is that the service is completely free, as long as you can sit through some ads. It is available on the web, and via Android and iOS apps.
A strong player in the Asian video streaming space, HOOQ launched in India mid-2015 with a strong catalogue of TV shows, which includes international blockbusters and timeless classics. Much like Netflix, you can take the service for a spin for a free trial before you agree to put down the Rs249 per month for the service. Where HOOQ scores high is the simple uncluttered user interface and the offline download capability, which allows you to store a set number of downloaded videos for watching when you’re offline—say when you’re on a flight—a feature that few services offer, if at all.
One of the oldest players in the space in India, Spuul lacks an English catalogue but more than makes up with its wide selection of fulllength movies in Hindi, Tamil, Malayalam, Telugu, Punjabi and other Indian regional languages. Some of the movies are free to watch (ad supported), while a premium ad-free subscription will set you back by Rs150 per month.
Save your data
Streaming content in India comes with a big warning: watch out for data limits! If you’re on mobile data or on most home broadband connections, chances are that you are dealing with monthly caps on your data usage, and streaming video continuously for hours can land you with an obscenely high bill at the end of the month. Fortunately, most streaming apps have settings that can help save on your data usage big time, but the onus lies on you to ensure they are set correctly in place. With Netflix, for example, you can only alter data usage settings on the Netflix website via the Account > Playback settings. Typically, you’d be set on the Auto setting, which chooses the best playback rate for your current connection speed, but you can force Netflix to reduce your data usage by choosing from one of the three settings: Low (0.3GB/hour), Medium (0.7GB/hour), or High (up to 3GB/hour). Unlike Netflix, YouTube’s quality setting (Auto, 360p, 480p, 720p) does not persist across all devices you are using YouTube on, which means you do have the flexibility of having different quality settings for a tablet and a phone, for example but also comes with the headache of turning the settings down on each device individually. Most apps additionally let you restrict data on your mobile device when you are on Wi-Fi networks, saving you precious megabytes of your data limit. In most cases, you can block all mobile data usage completely or enable mobile data use according to your requirement but keep the streaming quality at a low level while watching videos. Remember, these seemingly small steps will prevent bill shock for your media consumption excesses!
Eros Now has a decent catalogue of films and Sony TV shows, and it has plans to air a few original shows, too. It is free with ads and the subscription fee starts at Rs49 per month, with a Rs99 a month plan for HD movies with subtitles. Or you could try BoxTV, which has a free tier and subscription plans from Rs199 per month. Of course, if you are not fussy about a rich and immaculately arranged catalogue, there’s always YouTube. The king of Internet video has billions of hours of video to keep you entertained, and is typically available as an app on just about any mobile device, media hub, or smart TV.