Disney+ Review

Disney Plus

Disney launched its streaming service Disney+ in 2019 in the United States and launched it in select regions and countries since then. A Disney+ subscription is cheaper than the cheapest Netflix subscription but does not impose the same restrictions on subscribers as Netflix’s Basic plan does (more about that later). Another difference is that there is a single Disney+ plan whereas there are multiple Netflix plans which makes the selection process quite easy for users interested in the new streaming service.

Disney+ is the new digital home for many Disney productions and brands including Star Wars, Marvel, Pixar, National Geographic, and new and classic Disney productions. Subscribers won’t find the entire catalog of TV shows and movies on Disney+ at the time of writing though. The situation is complicated as availability differs from region to region; factors that play a role are licensing deals with companies in select regions and to a lesser degree the date Disney+ launched in a region.

The main questions that you may have is whether Disney+ is worth subscribing to, what it offers right now, and what it will offer in the near future. Before I answer these questions, let us look at the hard facts:

  • Disney+ is available in the United States, Netherlands, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Puerto Rico, Austria, United Kingdom, Spain, Germany, Ireland and Switzerland at the time of writing.  It is coming to India, France and Monaco in April 2020, and to other countries throughout 2020.
  • The service is available for a monthly fee of $6.99 (€6.99, £5.99) or a discount if paid annually $69.99 (€69.99, £59.99). A 7-day free trial is available as well.
  • Subscribers may watch using a web browser (e.g. on desktop PCs or consoles), Android and iOS applications, apps on Smart TVs, Amazon Fire devices, Apple TV, and other devices.
  • Disney+ supports downloads (on mobile devices) and subscribers may stream on up to four devices at the same time.
  • Technically, Disney+ supports a video quality of up to 4K UHD, HDR and Dolby Vision.

Watching shows and movies on Disney Plus

disney plus home

The Disney+ interface displays top content as a banner at the top. Below that is a list of the five main content providers — Disney, Pixar, Marvel, Star Wars and National Geographic — and below that the usual show and movie listings that resemble those of other streaming providers.

You find recommend and continue watching sections near the top, and a selection of suggested categories there as well. If you navigate to the left, you open a sidebar with menu options to list all movies and shows, search and settings. Depending on the device and screen size, these may also be displayed at the top as links instead.

Shows and movies are displayed with a cover only. The cover includes the title and while readability is fine for most content, it is sometimes difficult to read the title that way. Once you select something you get a description, lists of other episodes, extra content, and also related content. The readability issue is not unique to Disney+ as most streaming providers use the same display format. It would be useful if additional information would become available on selection.

disney plus search

The top content categories list the available movies and TV Shows. You find more categories when you open search.

Searching worked fine and the list of collections on the Search page is quite useful to dive straight into a topic of interest, e.g. Darth Vader, X-Men, or Marvel Animation. You can search for titles, actors and directors, and results will be returned based on your search query.

A search for George Lucas returned all the classic Star Wars movies while a search for Johnny Depp his movies that are available on Disney+.

Content is always available in the region’s language and in all cases that I checked English. Many shows and movies have half a dozen or more language choices and subtitle choices which is excellent. If you prefer to watch movies or shows in English as opposed to your native tongue, if you are not a native speaker, you may very well do so on Disney+.

disney plus mandalorian

Disney Plus remembers the last position when you exit a movie or show before it ends and displays a resume button to resume (minus 10 seconds or so) from that position. It lacks a replay button which means that you have to go back manually to the beginning to start anew. It is not a huge issue but something that may irritate users every now and then.

While you do get controls to change audio and subtitle languages, Disney+ does not provide options to adjust the quality of the playback. Disney notes that it will always adjust visuals to give customers “the best experience in every situation”.  It would be great if users could select a different quality, e.g. lower or higher if available as situations sometimes may require that.  Parents may set up profiles for children to limit the content that is displayed to them if the kids profile is used.

The Disney+ catalog

Disney+ features movies and shows from Disney and its brands including Star Wars, Marvel, X-Men, Simpsons, and others. While the catalog is not as extensive as that of Netflix at the time of writing, it does offer exclusive access to shows and movies that were never available on other streaming services and many more that are available exclusively on Disney+.

There is a small but excellent selection of content produced exclusively for Disney+; it is led by the Star Wars series The Mandalorian but there is also Pixar, National Geographic and Disney content that is exclusively available.

You may notice that some shows and movies are not available. For Star Wars, Episode IX is not available yet in all regions and neither are the Ewok movies (in no region to the best of my knowledge). You do get all other Star Wars movies (including Han Solo and Rogue One), as well as lots of TV shows such as Rebels, Clone Wars, and Lego Star Wars series though.

One of the main draws of Disney+ is Disney’s own content. You find classic and new animations from Disney including The Jungle Book, Alice in Wonderland, The Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King, and Mulan. Families with children find lots of content for their little ones on Disney+ and that is without doubt one of the core audiences of the platform.

Disney has big plans for Disney Plus and seems determined to take the crown of streaming from Netflix in the coming years. New content is produced and plenty of new additions are announced each month including several original series and movies that will come out this year and in the coming years.

Verdict

For families with children, Disney+ is an excellent choice thanks to the vast catalog of TV shows and movies for children. Adults find some shows and movies designed specifically for them as well to stay entertained but Disney needs to push new content to the service regularly, and more so than Amazon with its Prime service or Netflix, to close the gap, and keep subscribers entertained.

You can subscribe to Disney+ here (7-day trial, monthly and yearly plans available)

If you subscribed already, let us know what you think of Disney+ so far.

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How to reduce YouTube's Bias for Mainstream Media

De-Mainstream YouTube is a browser extension for Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome and other browsers based on Firefox or Chromium code, that reduces the bias of the YouTube algorithm in regards to mainstream media.

YouTube’s algorithm has changed significantly in the past couple of years. What you may have noticed is that the site tends to favor certain publishers — usually larger well established ones — and that this is reflected in the site’s trending section and when you search for content on the site.

Tip: check out SponsorBlock for YouTube if you want to skip sponsored ads in YouTube videos.

De-Mainstream YouTube comes with two main features to address this: first, by returning videos in the trending category by view count and second, through integration of a blocklist that may be used to block certain channels on YouTube.

Note that the custom blocking feature did not work at all during tests; this will hopefully get corrected in an update.

The extension requires one extra permission to work on the youtube domain. It works automatically after installation as it comes with a set of mainstream channels that it blocks outright on the site.

youtube de-mainstream

You can check the list with a click on the extension icon in the browser’s toolbar. There you find options to deselect every channel (unblock) to start using the extension without any banned channels or to deselect individual channels instead that you like included on YouTube. Channels like Fox News, Buzzfeed, ESPN, The Verge, or Vox are all blocked by default by the extension.

You may notice the absence of these channels when you run searches on YouTube. While the list of channels the extension comes with may be handy for some users, the ability to block custom channels is even better, if it would work.

I tried the blocking functionality in various Firefox and Chromium versions, and it did not work in any of them. Theoretically, it allows you to block any channel that you come across so that it is excluded from results as well by the extension.

Extensions like VideoBlocker or YouTube Recommended Blocker may be used for that; then again, you may use these to block the mainstream channels you encounter as well which would make De-Mainstream YouTube superfluous.

The main thing that the extension has going for it currently is that it comes with hundreds of pre-set channels that it blocks automatically. If the developer manages to add blocking so that it actually works, it could very well become a great option for users who don’t want to be exposed to mainstream sources on YouTube.

Now You: do you use YouTube regularly? Is the site biased?

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You may save up to 20% of data when watching Netflix on Android now

If you like to watch Netflix on your Android devices, you may have noticed that streaming has become more efficient recently.

The company started to use a new video codec on Android devices that provides “20% improved compression efficiency” over the VP9 codec that the company used before to deliver shows and movies to Android users.

The new codec that Netflix uses is called AV1, a royalty free video codec that we mentioned several times already here on Ghacks.

AV1 is backed by some of the largest technology companies on the planet including Microsoft, Google, Apple, Facebook, Netflix, Mozilla, and Nvidia. As such, it has a good chance of becoming the next-gen codec.

netflix new

Mozilla and Google integrated support for AV1 in Firefox and Chrome already, Google did enable support for AV1 on YouTube in 2018, and Microsoft released a Beta app called AV1 Video Extension in the end of 2018 to add support for AV1 videos to Windows 10. AV1 promises better compression without affecting the quality of the video output.

Android was selected as the first platform for AV1 codec adoption because it is a natural fit considering that cellular networks can be unreliable, limited data plans are common, and bandwidth is often not as fast either when on mobile.

Netflix customers need to enable the “Save Data” feature on Netflix to make use of the new AV1 streams. This is done by selecting Menu > App Settings > Cellular Data Usage” and there the “Save Data” option.

The company notes that “selected titles” make use of AV1 currently but does not mention which titles are available in the new codec and which are not. It is likely that availability will increase over time.

Netflix is a founding member of the Alliance for Open Media which oversees the development of AV1. The company made the decision to use the new codec on Android exclusively for the time being but plans to expand usage to “more use cases” and is working with “device and chipset partners to extend this into hardware”.

Now you: do you watch videos or other streaming media content on your mobile devices?

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Google accidentally includes videos of other users in data exports

If you need another reason why it is wise not to put too much trust in “the cloud”, this may be it. Google is mailing users of the company’s Google Photos service currently to inform them about an issue that occurred last year.

According to the email, data exports of Google Photos content resulted in videos being exported to archives of other Google Photos users for a period of time. Google notes that this started on November 21, 2019 and went on until November 25, 2019.

google photos export

Users of Google Photos who requested a data export during that time may have been affected by this. Some users may have had videos attached to the downloaded archives that are not theirs, and some may have noticed that some of their videos are missing from an archive. The latter indicates that these videos have found their way into the archives of other users.

The data of users who did not request an export of data in the specified time period is not affected.

The issue was resolved according to Google, and the only suggestion that Google has is to request another download and delete the already downloaded archive and its content.

Google does not mention the scope of the issue in the email and it is unlikely that the company will ever reveal it.

The impact to affected customers may be high considering that this may lead to breaches of privacy and even potential leaks.

Customers may also be less than impressed with Google’s rather cold sounding email as it provides no information on the videos that may have been put into the exported archives of other users.

While it may be possible to go through the archive to find out manually, more assistance from Google would probably be appreciated by the majority of users affected by this.

Closing Words

The latest incident confirms my stance on cloud-based services: if you have data, be it photos, videos, text documents or something else, that you under no circumstances want someone else to access, then you better not upload it to the Internet.

Now You: what is your take on this?

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Mp3tag 3.0 released with improvements

The developer of Mp3tag has released version 3.00 of the application for all supported versions of Microsoft’s Windows operating system.

Mp3tag is a long-standing music tagger for Windows; our first review of the application dates back to 2008 (a whooping six years after the first version of Mp3tag was released). Lots of functionality was added to the program since then which has improved its quality even further.

Mp3tag 3.00 can be downloaded from the developer website. While you can only download a setup version, you are asked if you want to install the application or create a portable version when you run setup. You may enable Explorer integration during setup if you want to push audio files from Explorer to the application directly.

mp3tag 3.00

The general idea behind the program has not changed at all. You may use Mp3tag to add, edit, or remove tags from audio files. The program started out as a tagger for mp3 audio files but it supports popular formats such as aac, m4a, flac, ape, or wma as well. Integration of audio databases, MusicBrainz, Discogs and FreeDB make the process painless and quick.

The program interface is streamlined and easy to use: load audio files using various ways, e.g, by loading directories or individual files, and use the provided functionality to automatically or manually tag the files.

Mp3tag 3.00 includes new and improved features as well as a huge number of fixes that address issues in previous versions of the program.

One new feature in Mp3tag 3.00 is the ability to adjust the size of cover art; this may be useful if you play music on hardware players that limit cover art size or to reduce the overall size of audio files by reducing the file size of cover art.

Integration of the MusicBrainz database was improved; the tag source comes with two search fields for artists and albums to improve the quality of searches.

Other improvements include better detection of high-contrast modes and visual improvements of menu styles “to conform with system defaults”.

You can check out the entire release notes on the official Mp3tag website.

Closing Words

Mp3tag is a great program to manage tags of audio files on Windows systems, especially when it comes to tagging. While you may use other programs for that, e.g. Metaogger, Picard or MusicBee.

Now You: do you use programs to manage audio tags?

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