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Eye on Demand | August 18, 2017

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SBS on Demand Review

SBS on Demand Review

Review Overview

Quality of Video Stream
5.5
User Interface
6
Content on Offer
8
Device Availability
6
Airplay and iOS
8
6.7

Great Content

SBS, otherwise known as the Special Broadcasting Service, starting off in 1975 as possibly the only place to find yodeling, feather capped and leather clad men on Australian television. Who would have known that it would grow into possibly the world’s best free art-house and foreign language television service?

The reason behind SBS’s success has possibly as much to do with Australia’s geographic isolation as it does with South Park. After all, in Europe if an Italian expat in London wants to watch TV from back home and in his own language, he simply needs to point his satellite dish in the right direction. Immigrants in Australia never found such luxuries as a giant rock the size of the earth, called the Earth tended to get in the way of satellite signals.

And these days, with so many television channels on offer, it is not difficult to find services dedicated to specific ethnic and cultural needs. Indians in London now have plenty of Indian language channels to watch for instance, and finding a Chinese language channel in the US is also not a problem.

As for the South Park reference, in 1997 the rarely watched SBS television network picked up an otherwise unknown American animated comedy series that was passed on by the far larger commercial networks. South Park became an enormous surprise hit that changed the way SBS was perceived by all Australians. Since South Park, SBS had become far more adventurous and creative while no longer only being the niche channel for immigrants living in Australia.

What sets SBS apart from the rest, is that this service specializes in finding great television and film it can source from all around the world, streaming in the original language and with English subtitles (look Germany, no dubbing needed here).

It doesn’t matter if you’re not Australian. If you have an interest in global and art-house cinema or if you just want to watch television in your mother tongue then this fantastic free service could become one of your favourites in a very short time. SBS also broadcasts many locally made products as well

Video quality is one of SBS’s stronger points. Sure, we don’t see any BBC style 3200kbps HD yet. But SBS does stream up to a comfortable 1500kbps SD quality. They employ a dynamic quality range which has settings from an almost unwatchable 128kbps to the very pleasant 1500kbps with various stages in between.

Another plus for SBS is their platform support and it hasn’t gone unnoticed that SBS is better at this than any of the much larger Australian commercial networks. SBS is partially publicly funded, which many may argue is yet another good reason to support public television. Despite its government support however, SBS still requires limited advertising to fill in the funding gaps.

This is all very good, but without quality content it would have little purpose. Thankfully SBS does this justice as well and their catch-up services offers quite a significant variety of programmes from more countries than most people can name on a quiz night. Programme genres range from the Arts through to Entertainment and Documentaries to Drama. Official news bulletins from around the world can be watched and the SBS is also a great place to catch art-house cinema with new films added to the rotation almost every day.

 

  • http://www.sbs.com.au/ondemand/

    Like most of Australia’s catch-up websites, at least those sporting advertisements, SBS’s is a little cluttered. Still, it is a far more pleasant experience than Australia’s three main commercial networks.

    As always in these cases, the website offers the largest content selection of all platforms, though with the usual sofa-unfriendliness if you just want to use this portal to connect to your main TV.

    You don’t need to sign in to SBS to use their on-demand services, but if you do create an account, you will be able to access your favourites (known as the Playlist) and programme subscriptions across many other device which allows signing in.  Just click the Plus (+) button next to a video to add it to your playlist. You also have the ability to resume a show where you left off, although it doesn’t give you the choice. By signing in however, you have the added advantage of transferring these favourites to any other SBS compatible platform.

    Expect the usual categories for genre but included are a couple of not so often seen ones, which is a pity since they are very helpful.

    Last chance, shows a list of what you would expect with a title of that name, programmes that are about to fall off the catalogue and expire are listed here, starting with the most endangered. Catch up on last night, is a quick link to recently added titles, and Coming soon, which is a lot more helpful than you may suspect. The News section is especially useful in finding reports from specific countries or regions.

    The web browser is the only place where you can change the video quality of a programme or film manually, although I have to be honest I have yet to master the technique. Unless they have improved it since I last checked it is better to just keep the setting to Auto where your bandwidth will determine the highest possible bitrate for playback and dynamically adjust it whilst the video play.

    Platform Pros:

    • Widest range of content available.
    • Highest quality streams.
    • Ability to manually control bitrate (to a point)
    • Favourites and Subscriptions.

    Platform Cons:

    • No Resume function.
    • Not the most sofa-friendly of environments.

    (SBS on Demand may require a Smart DNS or VPN server to work outside of Australia)

     

    iMac

    This service is geographically unblocked on this platform by the following Smart DNS providers:

    [pro_ad_display_adzone id=”16940″]

  • SBS on Demand offer an iOS app available in the Australian app store, and packs enough features to make it well worth the effort to head on over and install.

    Gone is the dark and gloomy theme so common with such apps, with SBS’s contribution bright and refreshing in comparison. Upon start-up you are greeted with possibly the least interesting view SBS could muster, their Featured page. Nothing is wrong with a page that features great content, but SBS has a nasty habit of filling this with 1 or 2 minute long news clips. There is no point to this, especially as SBS also offer a separate and dedicated news app.

    Still, if you drag iPhonefrom the right, you will soon be eyeballing some far more interesting content. But the best way to navigate through SBS’s amazing range of programmes and films is through other  browsing tabs. Programs (sic) will bring up a plethora of genre’s, as well as the A-Z, Catch up on  last night, Last Chance and by actual channel.

    Films will take you to directly to a separate screen where you can either view the full films or various clips and trailers. As with their television programmes, films on SBS rotate through their normal catch-up cycle and at the time of publication, SBS’s iOS app were hosting 14 full length feature films as well as a longer list of short films.

    There is also a News & Sport plus a Coming Soon tab to explore, but it is the Playlist tab where you will find all your favourite programmes and subscriptions.

    Signing in to the iOS app is possible, though slightly hidden away at the Playlist screen. But once you have done so, all your cloud details such as favourites and subscriptions will be available on this device. Using the same plus (+) buttons found on their other platforms will add new programmes to the Playlist. What is pretty nifty is the ability for SBS to send you emails or notifications when new shows are added to a subscription and/or programmes are due to expire.

    A history icon is also available to assist you finding previously watched shows, or to embarrass you when your friends catch a view of your viewing habits. It is possible to clear your entire history, but not individual shows.

    AirPlay is not only supported on the SBS app, but with almost the full feature set. You can AirPlay directly from the playback window and you have full multitasking. This means you can still use your iOS device for other purposes whilst the programme plays on your television.

    Although SBS have not released any details regarding video quality specifics on the iOS device, it does appear to be the same quality as on your browser, so expect a dynamic bitrate between 128kbps and 1500kbps if your bandwidth approves. There is no way to manually adjust your video quality unlike through the web browser. AirPlay SBS content on to your television set and you will have difficulty telling this apart from normal standard definition broadcasts.

    Platform Pros:

    • Excellent user interface.
    • Full AirPlay support.
    • Favourites and Subscriptions.

    Platform Cons:

    • No resume feature.
    • No control over video quality.
    • Video quality often drops to poorer levels than it should.
    • No offline downloads.
    • Annoying clips which are too dominating.

    (SBS on Demand may require a Smart DNS or VPN server to work outside of Australia)

     

    ipad

     

    This service is geographically unblocked on this platform by the following Smart DNS providers:

    [pro_ad_display_adzone id=”16997″]

  • First impressions of SBS’s Samsung TV app is that at least for aesthetic reasons, they should have used the same design team as their iOS app. The colour set used may not be all that different, but the execution lacks the other’s elegance. That said, it functions in pretty much the same way and with many of the same great features.

    Finding your Playlist page is not quite as easy as it should be, but once you know to press the Yellow (c) key on your remote (labelled My Videos) it’s easy enough to access in the future.

    Make sure you log in at the Playlist screen so that all your favourites and subscriptions are brought across from your cloud account. Thankfully, the latest update from SBS added a resume feature, complete with a yellow bar on the preview posters showing your current status. This alone is the feature that gives the Samsung Smart widget the slight edge over other platforms. So often I don’t have time to finish programmes, and a resume feature really takes the work out of remembering where I last left off.

    Categories are only slightly different from the other platforms, but it should also be noted that the Films section only offers full length feature films. What has become of the short films is unknown to me and this could be missed by many. Short films is something SBS does otherwise extremely well.

    Video quality is stated at 1000kbps at maximum quality, though it is variable with the lowest bitrate a pointless 128kbps. If your bandwidth allows the highest quality setting your videos won’t quite be as high as standard definition, but they still appear sufficiently good on most screens. Like the iOS app, there is no way to manually adjust your video quality, as you can on a web browser. Unfortunately, there appears to be some odd video artifacts whilst using the widget, with pixelated green blocks filling half the screen for a second or two every few minutes. This seems to be a bug that has persisted for many months, including after updates, so I don’t see much chance of this improving soon.

    In a very unusual and ill-thought action by SBS On Demand, their Samsung Smart widget has possibly the worst FFW & REW implementation I have seen on any video viewing application, not just on the Samsung Hub, but any platform whatsoever. If you are keen to fast forward or rewind to a specific point, this is certainly not the best place for it. Moving through a video is so painfully slow, it is often little faster than just watching the video in the first place. SBS really have to look into this (hint: Check out what Netflix are doing with their Samsung widget)

    Platform Pros:

    • Good video quality (Good use of determining best bitrate).
    • Includes resume feature.
    • Favourites and subscriptions.
    • Great sofa-friendly UI.

    Platform Cons:

    • Horrible FFW and REW implementation.
    • Green pixelation every few moments.
    • Has been known to crash every now and again.

    (SBS on Demand may require a Smart DNS or VPN server to work outside of Australia)

     

    TV

     

    This service is geographically unblocked on this platform by the following Smart DNS providers:

    [pro_ad_display_adzone id=”16997″]

  • Best Choice Stamp

    As soon as SBS On Demand is fired up on the Xbox One, users are greeted with the expected horizontal-scrolling Windows tile screen, with plain white background, complete with an upper-right shadow that reminds me of a magnetic distortion one of my hi-fi speakers used to induce on an older CRT TV I once owned.

    Whereas a plain white background can often look very pleasant (re: 4oD), somehow it appears cold and barren here. Still, there is enough happening with SBS’s on-demand app to consider it one of their best set-top-box efforts.

    The home screen offers a selection of featured content, along with other tabs for Programs, Films, News & Sports along with your Playlist.

    Tabs for Most Popular, Catch up on Last Night and Last Chance are also found on the front screen where after clicking, a very detailed programme list is shown.

    The Programs screen lists shows by Genre, Channels, A to Z, Latest and Most Popular, so there is no shortage of ways to browse. The Search function hides under a specific genre, although it is globally accessible via the settings button, but it only worked sporadically for me. For instance, depsite being able to clearly see The Bridge in the drama genre, I couldn’t find it via the Search option.

    Films split the browsing choices to the Featured list, Latest, Most Popular, Short Films and Trailers, while the News & Sport screen separates content between News & Current Affairs, NITV (indigenous news), and Sports categories.

    Many of the categories can be filtered down even further, which makes browsing especially useful considering the limited search functionality.

    Finally, the Playlist will feature any programme manually added. Shows can be resumed from where they are left off, but there are no visual queues like that found on some other platforms to indicate where this is. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to log into SBS On Demand to make use of their cross-platform features for this test, but theoretically this should be possible.

    For whatever reason, I have found the video quality to be more reliable than most other SBS On Demand platforms. Where a video will drop to the lowest quality bitrate via iOS or the Samsung Smart TV widget, it often sits much higher on the Xbox One. Perhaps the code used on this platform is not as quick to assume the worst.

    It is possible to pin some shows to the Xbox One home screen, but oddly enough, I found very few that permit this. In many cases, it was restricted to films which is generally less useful than pinning television series to the Xbox One’s home screen – which when successfully done, allows direct access to programmes without even needing to manually fire up SBS On Demand.

    What’s really cool about the Xbox One as a streaming platform are the options available to control your apps, and regarding SBS on Demand there are no less than five ways to control the catch-up service, each with their own preferences and advocates.

    Voice: One of the coolest ways to control SBS On Demand is by voice, and this can be started directly from the Xbox One’s Home screen. In fact, if you pin your favourite shows to the Xbox Home screen, you can begin playback of an episode with only one basic command, although SBS doesn’t seem to allow many shows to be pinned. Still, it is possible to pause, continue, stop, and browse television shows purely by voice, and it even works with fast forward and rewinding, but good luck for keyword searches. Voice control though can be finicky. When it works, it does so with grace and style and really makes it seem like the future is here to stay. But it is almost guaranteed to fail as soon as you try to demonstrate it to someone else, especially those critical of tech.

    Motion Control: Alternatively, you can wave your hands around in a ridiculous fashion. I haven’t been a big fan of the Xbox One’s motion control, but I have to admit it is slowly getting better. Then again it may just be my imagination, but I have to admit the Xbox One hasn’t confused my foot resting on the coffee table, for my open palm in quite a while. Don’t be surprised if you pull a bit of hair out with this one method, but if it works for you then great.

    Xbox Controller: Probably the easiest way to control SBS On Demand is via the Xbox controller. The only real downsides here are the awkward shape for such a simple operation, and the problem it will go into hibernation after a while – still, if you urgently need to pause, you can always yell it out. Otherwise the controller is a pleasant way to navigate and control SBS, and at least for navigating, one of the best. Here is a quick guide to the controller for SBS:

    SBS Controller

    SmartGlass: The Xbox’s SmartGlass concept has so much enormous potential, almost all of which has been completely wasted on this particular app. What could have been a near perfect touch screen remote, has been reduced to pretty much nothing more that the worst designed controller you could possibly think of. There is no second-screen information, no details of the currently playing show, or any real use of social media. In fact, SmartGlass is so poorly implemented here, the one place where it would work better than anywhere else – the search function – doesn’t even bring up a proper keyboard.

    Programmable remote: If all else fails, you can always resort to a programmable remote such as the Logitech Harmony, and return back to the retro pleasures of horizontal sofa laziness. Once set up, it will work a dream, but be prepared for a lot of hair-loss during configurations, especially if you are competing with voice control to also switch on your Xbox and TV

    SBS On Demand via the Xbox One takes the lead in our favourite platform for the Australian catch-up service, mainly due to the improved FFW & REW over the atrocious Samsung TV app, along with more reliable streaming quality when compared to the TV app or iOS device.

    Platform Pros:

    • More reliable video streams for SBS on Demand.
    • Fast and responsive UI.
    • Resume feature.
    • Playlist feature.
    • Good FFW and REW compared to Smart TV app.
    • Wide range of controlling.
    • Ability to pin shows to the home screen (see below).

    Platform Cons:

    • Couldn’t log in for my tests.
    • Video quality still far from perfect.
    • Oddly enough, most shows will not allow pinning.
    • No visual queues for FFW/REW or current playback position in the playlist.
    • Voice control and motion gestures have issues.
    • SmartGlass is very poorly implemented with no keyboard for search.
    • Search does not always find available content.
    • Controller can go to sleep and requires two handed operation.

    (SBS on Demand may require a Smart DNS or VPN server to work outside of Australia)

    This service is geographically unblocked on this platform by the following Smart DNS providers:

    [pro_ad_display_adzone id=”16997″]

     

  • There are just too many things to like about SBS on Demand, especially when we put this into perspective. First of all, this is currently the finest on-demand or catch-up service from any television network in Australia and by a long shot. Due to poor hardware support and far from pleasant user interfaces, the three largest commercial Australian networks could learn a lot from SBS here. Only the other public broadcaster, the ABC is comparable, although even then SBS runs circles around them.

    What sets SBS aside from any similar free service is the variety of content from around the world, all in the original language with English subtitles. Drama, comedy or thrillers from Asia, Europe, North & South America, the Middle East and Africa as well as locally produced programmes and films from Australia are all represented here.

    There are exceptions to the rule of course. Why any broadcaster would consider including Inspector Rex in its repertoire is a question that begs answering. But there are not too many other free on-demand or catch-up services you can go to which will provide such a great variety as found here. SBS isn’t for everyone of course and if what you want are the latest American prime time commercial television shows, then this will likely not interest you so much.

    The only downside are the somewhat annoying issues that plague their platforms. The iOS app would be great if the video quality didn’t keep dropping – this should not happen since the same video will play perfectly via a computer’s web browser. And the Samsung Smart TV widget has the potential to be their best platform, if it were not for horrible green pixelation every few moments and the worst FFW/REW implementation that is possible to imagine. Such a great pity from a network that provides such amazing content.

    That said, if you have a good Smart DNS service and are looking for another fantastic free source of quality globally sourced content, SBS should sit alongside some of the other must-haves such as the BBC and 4oD. If your smart DNS service doesn’t give you access, then maybe you should consider changing.

    Pros:

    • Great selection of foreign language film and television shows, in the original dialogue with English subtitles if needed.
    • Full AirPlay support, including multitasking.
    • Good hardware support.
    • Cross-platform support for favourites and subscriptions.
    • Up to Standard Definition video quality.

    Cons:

    • No HD streams or live TV.
    • No way to adjust video quality on iOS or Samsung TV platforms.
    • Lack of resume feature on many platforms.
    • Stability issues on some platforms and the worst FFW/REW implementation via Samsung TV app I have seen.

    Technical Details:

    • Programs are retained for 7-14-30 days after appearing on SBS.
    • Video quality 128kbps, 500kbps, 750kbps, 1000kbps, 1500kbps (SD)
    • Video may be limited to 1000kbps on Smart TVs.

    Log: 

    27.03.2013: Review published. Score: 7 – Excellent.

    07.06.2013: Updated with new SBS TV features, plus platform pros & cons. Score updated: 7.1

    15.08.2013: Due to persisting stability and video quality issues with the Samsung TV app (and to a lesser extent, iOS) the score has dropped to 6.7 – Great Content.

    29.01.2014: Major update adding Xbox One review tab.

     

     

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Comments

  1. Chris

    thank you for the balanced review.
    I agree w your cons and would like to add another related con: I find that on my iPad, when a program (using airplay) is interrupted by ads, the whole app misbehaves, flickering and shaking and not running.
    The only way around this is to go to the task manage and delete (swipe up) to kill SBSOD and start again. Here too there is a problem – if you try to drag the progress button to (say) 25minute mark the whole program tends to snap back to the start.
    Very very frustrating.
    Note: this does not happen with either Stan or Netflix.