- Jog wheel seeking
- HDR and frame rate matching
- Using Siri to toggle audio and subtitles
I’m going to put aside the baffling issue of a telecommunications company deciding to purchase a visual media company for now. Nonetheless, it’s a strange pairing. Should the quality of the content available on HBO Max begin to degrade, surely this business arrangement will be the culprit. ↩︎
That is to say, money. ↩︎
A beta version of the Disney+/Hulu app will launch in December for subscribers of the two-service bundle […] ahead of the official launch in spring 2024 (around late March).
I’ve been thinking this would happen for a while. Wouldn’t it be so much easier for Disney to only have to run a single service? Who knows how this one will shake out when it goes live, but it could make for an interesting experience. Maybe I can stop paying for Hulu then?
Then again, the whole Max debacle was a letdown, so maybe this kind of content consolidation is always a bad idea. We’ll see.
Also, does this mean that Disney+ will get all of Hulu’s content, i.e., next-day tv episode premieres, the FX shows, and the decidedly more adult movies and shows? Will it also eventually get its live tv service?
The latter feels doubtful and the former seems necessary (but still kind of weird at this point).
Disney has agreed to take full control of Hulu in a deal with Comcast, which has owned a third of the streamer ever since Disney’s acquisition of the 21st Century Fox entertainment assets.
With this deal all but assured, I wonder what this means for Hulu’s future? Obviously, it could go one of two ways: everything gets folded into one service, likely Disney+, or they continue on as separate services.
The part of me that likes efficiency wants one app, but that would surely turn Disney+ into a overloaded behemoth.
Netflix is gearing up to raise the prices of streaming plans without advertising “a few months” after the SAG-AFTRA actors strike is resolved, according to a new report.
The streaming service is “discussing” raising prices in “several markets globally,” and likely will first increase fees in the U.S. and Canada, according to a Wall Street Journal report, citing anonymous sources. The Journal did not have info on what Netflix’s new prices will be or when they might go into effect.
THE PRICE HIKES WILL CONTINUE UNTIL PROFITS IMPROVE!
While this news isn’t definite, it also wouldn’t surprise me one bit if it happened. I’m sure somebody in an executive suite questioned why in the world they should have to suffer the consequences of temporarily lost revenue when they could just pass it on down to their consumers. After all, it was the media companies that were the true victims of the recent strikes, right?
Every day it seems that enshittification should become an enshrined law of the universe.
UPDATE: After several hours of considering this app, I’ve committed to leaving it behind. Gone are the halcyon HBO days; Max is the final nail in that sad coffin.
Max, in its current form, appears to be just a reskinned HBO Max app—new colors, the same big header images, and a sidebar navigation (but with the addition of an inexplicable top menu too). It seems like they could have kept the old app and just changed the name. Why this needed a completely separate app is beyond me. Let’s just call it corporate stupidity.
That’s where the similarities stop. The most egregious issue is the return of the custom video player that no one was asking for. Doing this means Max has dropped all support for the standard tvOS interface and features. “Regression” is the only word for this. This means Max doesn’t currently offer:
This is breaking long-held and valued conventions, all for the benefit of tracking every single second of watching time and every single choice made within the app. Make no mistake, these changes have been done so that WBD can architect profiles of its users and, likely, sell that information to advertisers. In a less nefarious way, it’ll also likely be used to inform future content spending and acquisitions.
This is a 1.0 release (even though it didn’t need to be), so I’m interested to see how it’ll evolve; HBO Max wasn’t particularly great when it was first released either. However, if they’re not going to learn from past mistakes, then I don’t have to give them any more attention and money.
We’re all pawns in the war between streaming giants. The best way to stay clean is to stay out of the skirmish.
While streaming the classic rock station, I heard an ad for a separate Apple Music radio show between songs. And here I thought the $30 a month I’m paying (Apple One subscriber here) was going to give me a totally ad-free experience.
We’re all just captive audiences.
UPDATE: Seems like Jason Snell is having the same issue. I’m not going to change things, but maybe his public complaint could move the needle?
Paramount+ has the distinct honor of being the worst streaming service that I’ve ever seen or used. Their competitors aren’t even close. UI issues aside, if I can’t count on it to even just play a chosen video, then it deserves nothing but shame.
Netflix: “I see you watched an entire season of a single anime show. Let me offer you some new suggestions. Have you considered watching every anime ever produced now?”
Me: “…You’re coming on a little strong. I think we need to see other people.”
Speaking of AT&T and its acquisition of Time Warner, and therefore also HBO, the whole deal has always disappointed me.
On the one hand, HBO Max has done well for AT&T. It got 4.1 million new signups in its first month of existence, which is nothing to sneeze at. Even more impressive is that it’s accomplished this while demanding $15 a month, making it one of the most expensive streaming services available. By all accounts, it’s a big success for AT&T. No doubt it was helped along by the COVID pandemic; when we’re all stuck at home, it helps to have excellent and fresh programming to consume.
The decision to premiere feature films that otherwise would have been theater exclusives on the service was another boon for them. Sure, it upset many people involved with both the entertainment and theater industries, but their objections were never going to sway business daddy AT&T. Until HBO Max starts losing money, nothing will deter them from their present course.
On the other hand, HBO as we knew it before the acquisition is gone and will likely never return. The blame for that lies entirely on the shoulders of AT&T’s CEO, John Stankey.1 In an incredibly detailed and well-researched CNBC article, Alex Sherman details the rocky process of this acquisition. The article boils down to this quote from a former HBO executive:
If HBO stood for anything, it was making a product for the customer, not the advertiser. It’s not as though John is unpleasant. He doesn’t throw stuff. He just knows much less about television than he thinks and won’t be debated.
Is Time Warner and HBO’s acquisitions by AT&T good for business, or at least the business of AT&T? Undoubtedly. This opens up a bevy of new revenue opportunities, which will, in turn, make the bottom line of the telecommunication giant look great. However, I don’t believe this will improve the quality of the content that’ll appear on HBO Max in the coming years. HBO was doing just fine without AT&T’s heavy, leading hand before the acquisition. You can expect the familiar HBO quality to get watered down as AT&T spreads the focus to areas that have never mattered to past HBO. In an interview with Jillian Morgan at Realscreen, executive vice-president of original non-fiction and kids programming, Jennifer O’Connell, says:
There is a ton of weight on unscripted… We’re doing dating, we’re doing social experiments, we have competition shows, we have really big competition shows… That is an area that, for example, our colleagues at HBO, they are not necessarily in that space so deeply, so it’s very rich, very fertile ground for us to dig into.
There’s nothing necessarily wrong with unscripted programming. It’s enormously popular for a reason—people flock to those shows in droves. However, it was never HBO’s area of interest. AT&T doesn’t care about that history. It cares about making money, and there’s a lot of money to be made in unscripted, non-HBO style content.
If you’re looking for a future replacement for HBO, the service that’s making the strongest play is Apple TV+. Netflix has become flooded with content that’s aimed at appealing to the broadest number of viewers. A service like Hulu has an advertising-supported pricing tier, meaning their content is ultimately beholden to other entities. Disney+ has shown that they’re interested in telling unique stories, but they’re doing it off the springboard of their massive library of previously made content.
The only service out there that’s charting a unique course is Apple TV+. They’re walking the HBO path of debuting movies and shows that will, over time, grow to be a body of impressive work that’s all their own. They’re going to stumble along the way—even HBO was never perfect—but they’ll catch themselves and improve on their mistakes. They’ve invested too much money already to just ditch all their hard work. I’m looking forward to seeing where they’ll go.
It’s just a damn shame about HBO.
UPDATE: From a 9to5Mac article published on April 13, 2021: Apple TV+ features the highest-rated content of any streaming service, study says. Seems like Apple TV+ is already beginning to deliver on my estimation of it being the new HBO.
I’m reminded of Craig Mod’s excellent essay, Fast Software, the Best Software, when I consider the current state of streaming video player interfaces. In the essay, he says that it’s not innovative features or a flashy UI that makes a piece of software the best. Instead, the mark of good software is in how well it performs, or rather, how fast it feels. Software that takes ages to load, bogs down when dealing with a hefty project, or otherwise feels as if you’re trying to work while submerged in a vat of molasses is not the best. I would add to Craig’s thesis that easy to parse and manipulate software also makes for the best software.
Similarly, the various interfaces through which we control our streaming video each have their own speed and feel. Some are so well-designed that using them feels like the screen in front of you is an extension of your body. Others are so damn awful that using them maybe makes you harbor thoughts of flinging your tablet or phone like a Frisbee through an open window.
It’s not luck that turns any of them into a joyful experience. It’s iteration and thoughtful consideration. The poor ones feel slapdash, and appear to be made by people who never actually use the product on which they’re working.
I haven’t used all of them because there are just so many available to us now, but I’ve used several. They all stand out in their own way: some are great, others just get the job done, and a merciful few are loathsome. This is a subjective ranking from worst to best. All images are taken from the iPad versions of these services.
I love The Criterion Collection and their Criterion Channel is a treasure trove of artistry and delight. To be involved with their work in any way would be a dream. Perhaps my job could be improving their player interface because their current offering is a pile of hot garbage.
The major problem with this app is hitting play on a video doesn’t bring it to the fore in glorious full screen. Instead, it starts playing in the description window for the film. Giving yourself the full-screen experience requires additional button presses to get there.
This isn’t unique behavior—YouTube works the same way. However, YouTube doesn’t default to a full-screen player because YouTube is also a social network. It features comments made on videos, additional content to watch, and a description for what you’re watching. Criterion Channel is not a social network. It’s a tightly curated collection of some of the best that cinema has to offer, and there’s nothing but friction involved with it.
Every element feels small and cramped. Good luck hitting pause when the skip buttons are only a few short pixels away from it. Criterion Channel appears to embrace the current “small is hip” trend. There’s nothing wrong with large buttons; they actually make things faster and more enjoyable to use. With these issues, I find myself not wanting to even open the app. It’s a damn shame.
Much like any interface design Amazon tries its hand at, this one just feels clunky and careless. It looks like Amazon’s trying their best, but when stacked up next to something prettier, like Hulu or Discovery+, Prime Video just can’t compete.
What it lacks in pleasantness, Prime Video makes up for in information density. It can surface and display actors who are currently onscreen, trivia about what’s being viewed, and music that’s being played. This is due in large part to IMDb being an Amazon-owned company. For movie and tv lovers, it’s a treat.
When you dig deeper into the interface, and the service as a whole, it becomes clear that something is a little off. The whole thing feels like it’s being held together by duct tape and chewing gum. It’s the little things like icon alignment that shouldn’t be an issue but are. For example, the small icons in the upper-right corner of the player window aren’t vertically aligned and it’s all I can see now:
This sort of thing shouldn’t happen when a corporation as large as Amazon is making the app. Yet, this sort of laziness appears to be okay with them.
It’s a damn shame that the massive shortcomings of this service overshadows the niceness of this interface. Seriously, what the heck is going on with Paramount+? Aside from a logo change, it’s currently the exact same thing as its predecessor, CBS All Access, and that wasn’t a great service either.
Here’s what the player looks like:
It’s very nice. Here’s a fine example of an economy of information. We know what’s being played, we can play/pause and skip around with ease, and there’s a couple of extras in the top right. This may be the most spartan interface on this list, and I’m down for it. It makes the whole mess of Paramount+ a little easier to stomach.
Seriously, though, what’s wrong with that service? Why doesn’t it have anything resembling a watchlist? Why did they think a logo change and a SpongeBob movie was enough to shake the streaming world? Maybe there’s a mountain of entertainment, but the way to the peak is filled with disappointment.
Still, the player interface is nice and quick.
Discovery+’s interface comes so close to greatness. It flirts with being one of the best of the bunch, but it falls down in a way similar to Criterion Channel. On the one hand, we’ve got some clear, well-defined buttons throughout this interface. There are no hard or sharp edges. Indeed, it feels welcoming.
On the other hand, the play/pause and skip buttons in the center of the screen are positioned so close together that pressing the correct one becomes a challenge. They’re too small and too close. It’s a real letdown.
As a content player, it’s snappy enough. It’s not going to feel too sluggish at any point. The app’s reliance on slow screen animations, e.g., going from a window to a full-screen view, slows things down a touch, but not enough to be frustrating. This is a middle of the road player, and that’s fine.
Curiously, this is also one of the only streaming services that currently doesn’t blank out its content when you take a screenshot. I guess they’re not too worried about piracy.
Admittedly, Peacock is the service I’ve used the least. I only signed up for a trial when it premiered because I wanted to watch Psych 2: Lassie Come Home. I’m not that big of a fan of The Office, so I didn’t have any interest in paying for or using the service.
That being said, here’s the interface:
In terms of its speed, it feels adequate. This may have been because it needed to serve me an ad before playing a video, so getting itself going was a small endeavor. Once my chosen video finally started playing, there wasn’t anything about its speed to complain about. Perhaps this wouldn’t be an issue on their ad-free tier?
The buttons throughout the interface are well-designed and well-spaced. It’s all comfortable to use, and nearly everything is clear. My only gripe is with the row of three buttons in the lower-right corner. At first glance, it’s not evident what those buttons are supposed to represent. There’s no accompanying text, so there’s some trial and error involved. If you’ve used many other streaming services, then they may be familiar, but that’s not a sure bet. It could be clearer and more accessible.
You could place the interfaces of HBO Max and Disney+ side-by-side and they’d both come out as equal winners. The minimal nature of the interface is a big part of why this interface looks so good:
This interface appears to have been designed by someone who doesn’t want to have to squint at their screen. All of its buttons are sized and placed well. The play/pause and skip buttons in the middle are the sort you could probably press accurately with your eyes closed. Heck, even the numbers in the progress bar at the bottom are easy to see.
However, the app’s reliance on slow-moving animations to transition between screens and when starting a video is terrible. It slows down what would otherwise be a fast piece of software. Screens push each other over on every button press, but only after a pause of a second or two, as if the app needs time to think. Getting a video playing is also an exercise in patience, and I have decent internet. The sluggishness of the HBO Max app makes the experience of using it less pleasant; it could have been a real contender.
With YouTube TV, we’ve got an interface with small, close-packed buttons right in the middle of the action. I wouldn’t mind the multitude of control buttons if they were just spaced further apart. This is especially egregious on a device like an iPad, where the substantial screen real estate goes sadly unused.
The service is quick enough, and that saves it from a world of hurt. You’re not going to find yourself waiting around for screens to animate in or content to start playing. The app feels as present as regular YouTube. Were it anything else, YouTube TV would be closer to the bottom of this list.
Apple’s player window feels omnipresent, and indeed may be the inspiration for many current video players. This is an interface that millions of people are familiar with on an intimate level. Most video you play on an iPhone or iPad is going to be controlled with this interface:
It’s basic, and includes everything a person needs to view and control video on a screen. Notably, it’s one of the few in this list of players that doesn’t obscure any video in the center of the screen with its play/pause or skip buttons, which bucks the current trend. Not only is Apple’s version unique, in this case it also makes hitting those controls less reliable. Compared to HBO Max or Netflix, it’s all too easy to skip around a video instead of pausing it, or vice versa. I don’t have sausage fingers, but I still find the controls a bit too small. Having to be precise in my tapping slows me down. Slow software is not the best software.
No other service in this list resembles Apple’s player interface as much as Hulu’s does. I think that’s to its credit. We’re in familiar territory with this one:
Hey, if it works for Apple, then why shouldn’t it work for Hulu? This is a curious design, though, considering Disney owns Hulu. I would have expected it to resemble Disney+, or vice versa, in the name of corporate uniformity. Clearly, there are different teams working on these services, and they may want to avoid confusion between the two.
We’ve got a service and a player interface that feels acceptable, and that’s where it stops. It falls prey to the same drawbacks that Apple’s player does. Sticking the play/pause and skip buttons in the lower-left corner makes for a tough time when trying to press the correct button. On the other hand, it’s as speedy as Disney+, and that’s a good thing. You’re not going to feel held back.
Now we’re talking. Considering the money that was spent to ensure that the launch of Disney+ was a success, it’s no wonder that its player interface is a minimalist marvel (no pun intended).
What Disney has chosen to give you feels refreshing. You have only what you need, and that’s more than enough. It’s clear what every button does, and mercifully, the play/pause and skip buttons are large and given a pleasant amount of breathing room. There’s not going to be any accidental button presses here.
This entire service feels refined and snappy. Selecting a video to watch brings up the player instantly, with only a quick wipe animation to sit through. They probably figure there’s no time to wait when young children want to watch their shows. What do they care about flashy animations? This is a pleasure to use.
Netflix is the gold standard of player interfaces. This isn’t a surprise considering how long they’ve been in the game. Heck, when it comes to streaming content, they were among the first to make online video easy to watch.
However, their lead is becoming tenuous. There’s strong competition coming from the likes of Disney+, and that’s not going to stop. Disney is signing people up for their service at lightning speed.
Browsing through Netflix and starting a video feels smooth and quick. There’s nothing to slow you down when you get a good steam going. They don’t subject you to animations that serve no purpose. It just plays your content when you tell it to. Many other streaming services on this list should take note.
My only concern with Netflix’s interface is it’s beginning to feel heavy. There are many buttons available, and most of them are crammed down at the bottom. Were this player interface to resemble Disney+ more, then it may have earned a perfect score. On the plus side, everything is easy to see and press. It continues to be joyful.
We’ve never had more or better streaming services available to us, and that’s a wonderful thing. It’s nice to have such an assortment of good content waiting for us at any time.
The player interfaces of these various services shows that there’s always room for improvement. In some cases, there’s a desperate need for improvement.
Instead of spending so much of their considerable resources on trying to acquire more content than their competitors, these companies should apply time and effort1 toward making the prettiest and quickest interface imaginable. Admittedly, that’s a tough sell for an aspect of the service that should be mostly invisible. However, an interface that isn’t good-looking or fast is not going to be invisible. It’s going to be screamingly obvious and bad.
Friction drives people away. Ease invites people in.