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Eye on Demand | August 20, 2014

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Viaplay Review

Viaplay Review
Jo' Chambers

Review Overview

Quality of Video Stream
8
User Interface
7
Content on Offer
6
Device Availability
7
Value for Money
7
7

Travelers Dream

Have you been enjoying Netflix or Hulu but just wished they had an offline download feature so that you could watch their content when on a long flight or away from your trusty WiFi? Maybe it is time to check out what our Nordic friends have been enjoying for a while, Viaplay. A sort of Hulu/Netflix hybrid complete with offline downloads!

Anyone who has watched some of the great dramas to come out of Scandinavia recently will know our Nordic friends have developed somewhat of a talent in television. It comes as no surprise that their main pay TV operator, Viaplay also have one great on-demand service as well, and for those not well versed in Swedish or Danish, their English language programming usually broadcasts in the original language.

As there is not a lot of difference between the Swedish and Danish versions of Viaplay, this review was based on a Danish test subscription, for the only significant reason in that it was slightly cheaper than the Swedish version. Something which could be a decision-making point worth mentioning. However, since libraries between the Swedish and Danish can be swapped around due to the magic of an Overplay Smart DNS setup, I could test both services which have subtle differences. (Swapping between Swedish & Danish libraries is only possible with a compatible Smart DNS service). Viaplay is also available in Norway and Finland, but these libraries were not tested in this review.

For approximately US$14 per month (£9) (79DK) the basic package includes Viaplay’s rotating selection of films and television shows, although you will have to dish out a significantly higher US$40 per month to include sports. As long as you are just interested in films and television, you can test it out with a free month trial, but unfortunately this doesn’t apply for the sports subscription. As the sports package was detailed in a separate review, this particular evaluation will concentrate on the non-sporting entertainment side.

Language is naturally something well worth bringing up here. As this is a Danish or Swedish service, the language used especially on the web page, may be a tad difficult to comprehend for many, though thankfully most of the important categories are not too arduous to figure out. The TV and Film groups after-all are not too great a challenge to translate into English.

Navigating the various subcategories and genres shouldn’t prove to be too demanding either, and you may learn a little bit of Swedish or Danish in the process. But I would suggest having Google Translate open in a different tab just for backup during the signing-up process, as botching up at this stage is not something you may want to do. Especially if you recently watched the Swedish and Danish thriller series the Bridge, without realizing each police force was speaking their own language.

Quality ButtonVideo quality is for the most part excellent. Viaplay offer television and video shows in either SD or HD, with streams reaching a maximum of 5200kbps if your bandwidth allows. For a guide, the BBC offer a 720p stream of 3200kbps whilst Netflix reaches as high as 5800kbps in their 1080p stream. It is worth mentioning that this 5200kbps is the highest available bitrate for selected programmes and most are offered at lower rates such as 3200kbps or less, not that the average person will notice the difference.

As for the library, you will find quite a fair amount included in the basic monthly fee, but bear in mind that Viaplay is more in tune with a Hulu type service rather than a Netflix one. By this, I mean that Netflix concentrates on older, but more complete series, seasons and a greater range of films. Whereas Viaplay, like Hulu offers a catch-up service from recent Danish, Swedish or imported television shows as well as a selective library of films.

Movie Button

One good thing about Scandinavian television, is that they generally keep the original soundtrack, something sadly missing in the larger countries south of Denmark where the crime of dubbing is committed without pause for consideration or remorse. This means you can enjoy pretty much all English language content as it should be, with the exception of many children’s shows.

Naturally, Swedish or Danish programmes are streamed in their own language as well, which should not be cause for alarm. Many argue one of the major reasons English is spoken so well in Europe’s smaller countries is the copious amounts of English language television shown in the original form. Who knows, watching some local productions on Viaplay may work the other way around?

Subtitles can be switched on or off at will, which is found either on the playback window on the browser, or in the iOS app settings, but there is no way to select soundtracks.

Being Scandinavia, I thought it also worth a mention that Viaplay offer an adult section, which is included in the same package. The range is not especially large but it wouldn’t be an accurate review to not check if it works… year, it works. By default, this is locked to keep curious young eyes from viewing.

 

  • Viaplay Denmark, Viaplay Sweden
    Your first port of call with Viaplay will most likely be their website, having at least to sign up there. It is worth noting that although Viaplay Denmark or Sweden will work quite happily outside of those respective countries with a Smart DNS service from Overplay, you may need a full VPN just for the sign-up process.

    Overall the website is pleasant and straight forward, with only a few language hurdles to negotiate if Swedish or Danish doesn’t naturally roll off your tongue. Even I didn’t need Google Translator to work out what Sæson means, although programme briefings were somewhat more complicated.

    The overall design and user interface is pleasant, if a tad dark. The usual Featured slideshow greets the user upon logging-in and scrolling down will reveal selected current television and film highlights.

    Banner

    It won’t take a state certified translator to guess at least three of the four main banner menu items, though I’ll save you the trouble to look up Børn which refers to children’s programming.

    GenreSelecting any of the various menu items will take you as expected to an expanded view. Along with a wide range of genre filters to drill deeper into the television or film library, you can also list everything by Most Popular, Most Recent (encrypted in Danish as Nyheder) or A-Z. The film section will also offer further listings by Blockbusters, Personal Recommendations and Highest Rated, which altogether offers a fairly good method to find suitable viewing content.Bitrate

    Video QualityVideo quality is automatically selected by default, based on your current bandwidth, and this will fluctuate up and down on its own. You can always see exactly what bitrate you currently are streaming by clicking on the Quality icon within the video window. I love these features which clearly inform on both the current and available bitrates, along with the possibility to manually select one on your own.

    Favourites can be selected as well by clicking on the Star icon (otherwise labelled Stjernemærk/Stjärnmärk) when viewing film or television details, and your collection of Favourites can be found under your account details in the Stjernemærket/Stjärnmärkning menu.

     

    Accessing Viaplay outside of Denmark or Sweden may require a Smart DNS or VPN service. When using Overplay’s Smart DNS, you have the ability to switch between the Swedish and Danish libraries. However, to access either, you must set the Netflix locale in your Overplay settings to Denmark or Sweden. If this is set to another Netflix country, you may not be able to access Viaplay.

     

    iMac

     

    Overplay Smart DNS

     


  • The star of Viaplay could however be their amazing iOS app. There is a lot going on here, so let’s start from the very beginning. At its base, the Viaplay app is a beautiful work of design and layout, simple, elegant and fully functional. The first thing that strikes me is unlike Viaplay’s website which seems entirely in Danish or Swedish, their iOS app auto-detected my language setting on my iPad and provided a rather unusual mix of both English and Danish. It’s a bit hard to see the exact reasoning why some things are in one language and not the other, but in any event I found it a lot easier to navigate than their web page.

    iPhoneThe Start page is clean and directly to the point, highlighting suggested films or television shows. Scrolling downwards provides a long list of recommendations through video screenshots and multiple collections. At the top/left of the screen you will always find the main menu accessible, where you can drill down to TV, Film, Sport and Children’s shows (Barn/Børn), along with various search, favorites and other settings.

    Finding content is thankfully easy with this app, though you will have to keep in mind the language issue, especially when dealing with Danish or Swedish titles. The same basic genres and listings as found in the web platform exist here as well, though with the for-mentioned mishmash of languages. News, a sub-listing sitting beside Featured and Popular may suggest a current affairs list when in fact it will actually lead you to the New listings.

    Video quality is an interesting point, although there is nothing highlighting HD streams over SD ones in any clear manner, some content is listed in an HD category which indicates this is in fact possible. In any case, unlike the web browser you cannot manually select the bitrate which remains purely variable and automatically selected based on your available bandwidth.

    In a move that would raise an eyebrow with Netflix or Hulu users, though little more than an expected nod from BBC iPlayers, Viaplay offer offline viewing. Yes, you read this correctly. Selected titles have the ability to download onto your iPhone or iPad for 30 days allowing viewing outside of WiFi or 3G range – perfect for traveling, with an extension to a further 30 days often possible. Just grab the shows you want, and as long as you have enough local space, you can download to your device and enjoy on a plane or train. In fact, you can restrict the available content in the settings to only show downloadable programmes. This makes it much easier to select and find television shows and films for your travels.

    Isn’t life wonderful. It’s just a pity this is such a rare service and not found anywhere near as often as it should be. But it is something seriously worth considering Viaplay over, or as well as a Netflix & Hulu account, especially if you travel a lot.

    Offline downloads work even in Airplane mode and will last 30 days from the date downloaded. The first time you try to download a programme, you may need to instal a certificate from Viaplay which is required for licensing reasons and is a very straight forward and easy installation.

    If there is only one gripe with Viaplay’s iOS app, it would be its AirPlay support. Don’t get me wrong, Viaplay offer AirPlay, to excuse the slogan sounding phrase, but only on selected titles. This is due to various licensing issues which although not common on many other similar streaming services, has been known to surface every now and again.

    I have to say that although it always bothers me when AirPlay is restricted or not offered, I wish other services like TVNZ or 4oD which have similar licensing issues would implement Viaplay’s method of only blocking titles that don’t have an AirPlay license, instead of the usual blanket ban approach.

    Where AirPlay support is available, you will be able to access it directly from the video screen. But unfortunately no multitasking is possible, which means your iOS device will be resigned to streaming the programme or film for the entire duration without the possibility of alternative usage. For some this is little more than a minor inconvenience, though I can think of better things to happen when watching a film and the phone rings…

    As you can imagine, accessing Viaplay outside of Denmark or Sweden will require either a Smart DNS or VPN service. Although Overplay’s Smart DNS will allow you to switch libraries, you will still need to download and install the correct version of Viaplay from the required country iTunes store. You will also need to set the Netflix region in Overplay’s Smart DNS settings to either Denmark or Sweden.

    iPad White

     

    Overplay Smart DNS


  • Viaplay offer a very strong service for a price that at least in Denmark or Sweden, is comparable to Netflix. When looking a bit further afield, Viaplay is a tad dearer than Netflix or Hulu in the UK or US, but then Scandinavia is not exactly well known as a bargain hunters dream.

    What you do get is a good range of films and television shows streamed in their original language, though a wide range of platforms and where available, AirPlay support.

    What sets Viaplay significantly apart from other services is the ability to download many (but not all) of its programmes and films. This is surprisingly uncommon within the on-demand world, which is a shame as it is possibly the most practical feature available when traveling, making Viaplay one of the best on-demand services available with the constant traveler in mind. If you are often on the move for work or pleasure, and tire of the hours spent on trains, planes or stations and airports, a subscription to Viaplay could be worth it purely for this reason.

    Viaplay offer the first month’s TV viewing free, but keep in mind if you don’t terminate within the first month, you will be charged by your credit card when renewing the following month.

    Pros:

    • Excellent video quality topping at 5200kbps.
    • AirPlay on selected titles.
    • Digital Downloads via iOS on selected titles.
    • Good library of television and films.
    • Live sports available with the extended package.
    • Adult content available for those such minded.

    Cons:

    • Not all titles allow AirPlay support or downloading.
    • Language issues may occur for those outside of Sweden or Denmark.
    • Not all content available in HD

    Technical Details;

    • Check here for the latest platform support details.
    • Viable bitrate peaking at 5200kbps on selected titles.

     

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Comments

  1. Derick

    Not sure if you have but maybe you want to have a look at http://www.playon.tv/playon as well.

    • Hi Derick, that’s a very good point with PlayOn. I’ll be looking deeper into that in the near future, though offline access on iOS is not quite as straight forward as with the BBC & Viaplay. With the latter two, it is easy to sit down for breakfast on the morning of the flight, and with just a couple of clicks, schedule and download your traveling programmes which will be ready before the end of breakfast. But PlayOn’s PlayLater service is still really interesting and worth an article in its own right as well.

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