Comparison: Internet video streaming services

The battle to be the best video streaming service in India is well and truly on. We compare eight services to tell you which one's the best of the bunch

Published Date
11 - Feb - 2016
| Last Updated
14 - Apr - 2016
 
Comparison: Internet video streaming services

The video streaming wars are officially underway in India and the usual suspects are all lined up and amidst much talk and fanfare. The entry of Netflix into the market has put other streaming services on guard and while the world renowned service itself isn’t perfect, to say that it’s got competition in India would be a massive understatement. 

You may have heard of apps like Hotstar, Spuul, Wynk Movies and many others, all of which offer video streaming on demand. They all promise to offer you a seamless streaming experience at HD or more. Unfortunately, the best things in life have never been paid, so alluring as video streaming services may sound, they do cost quite a bit. 

We’ll discuss the question of Internet speeds and data consumption under a different section later, so let’s stick to the services at the moment. It’s an opportune time to compare these services to each other, trying to find out which one offers the most value for your money or performs the best. They can cost as much as Rs. 650 per month, which is no small price for an average Indian consumer.

The goal of these services is to replace your television and they stem from the fact that a big part of the world population today watches content online, rather than on a television screen. Don’t get us wrong, TVs aren’t going to die out just yet, but the way you watch content on your television may change sooner than you think.

But then again, content is not being streamed on the bigger screens alone, apps like Netflix, Hotstar and others are also available for mobile users. In fact, there are even video streaming apps that are meant only for mobiles. It’s all happening and as a consumer, you have a lot to choose from. Well, the following comparison shall help.

PERFORMANCE

SPUUL 
Price: Rs. 300 per month 
Overall Score: 72.4 / 100 

Being amongst the oldest streaming services in India, Spuul has often been underrated. The app can do quite well and is amongst the best performers in this test. 

That said, while the app has the capacity to perform as well as the best out there, but is too dependent on your Internet speed. Yes, most of these apps are, but many do better than Spuul. On a 2Mbps connection, the app refused to ever launch content on HD and always played catch up when it comes to streaming resolution. Spuul will start at SD quality and then play catch up, eventually reaching 720p. In addition, on both desktop and mobile, Spuul will stutter often while seeking. 

On a higher 10Mbps fibre connection though, Spuul does much better. Content streams easily and without stutters, sometimes even if you seek through it.

Performance = 72.4 
Video load time (wired). ...........14.4 sec 
Video load time (mobile). ..............6 sec 
Stutter free performance...............8.8/10 
CPU usage. ....................................16.9% 
RAM usage. ..............................410.8 MB 
Video quality. ......................................5/10

MAVSHACK 
Price: Rs. 400 per month 
Overall Score: 56.7 / 100 

One of the lowest performers in this test, Mavshack left us quite disappointed. It costs Rs. 400 per month, making it the second most expensive in this test, after Netflix. Sadly though, the performance doesn’t justify paying that much at all. Mavshack takes almost 17 seconds to launch movies on desktop, while the time can go up to above 25 seconds when you’re using the Android app. In this day and age, that’s not acceptable and is the opposite of a seamless streaming experience. 

Mavshack doesn’t stutter too much, but then again, the video quality is almost always in SD, which is a big problem after paying 400 bucks. Even on the 10Mbps connection, Mavshack wasn’t able to consistently play content on HD, which was very disappointing. All in all, Mavshack isn’t the one we’d recommend to you. It’s not worth the money.

Performance = 55.7 
Video load time (wired). ...........16.8 sec 
Video load time (mobile). ...........28 sec 
Stutter free performance...............9.6/10 
CPU usage. ....................................12.3% 
RAM usage. ..............................403.3 MB 
Video quality. ..................................5.5/10

BOXTV 
Price: Rs. 199 per month 
Overall Score: 58.1 / 100 

On the other hand, the lowest performer in our test was BoxTV. We found this one wanting from both streaming and app performance point of views. It can take over six seconds to buffer, when you skip ahead on a movie/show and stutters after that as well. To launch a particular movie or show, BoxTV can take 13 seconds, even on the fastest connection we tried it on, which was a 10Mbps line. It’s problems are similar to Mavshack’s mentioned above, but BoxTV stutters even more than Mavshack, making it our least favourite. 

At Rs. 199 per month, BoxTV seems to be overpriced and like Mavshack, its performance isn’t the only reason we say that. While you can easily binge watch on many of the other streaming services we chose for this test, BoxTV and Mavshack don’t really inspire you to do that.

Performance = 54.2 
Video load time (wired). ...........12.8 sec
Video load time (mobile). ...........16 sec 
Stutter free performance..............8.8/10 
CPU usage. ....................................16.8% 
RAM usage. ..............................401.8 MB 
Video quality. ......................................4/10

EROS NOW 
Price: Rs. 99 per month 
Overall Score: 70.3 / 100 

If you haven’t heard of Eros Now, you should definitely look it up. This one came as quite a surprise to us. While performance isn’t it’s strongest suit, it’s not one to be discounted either. On average, Eros Now takes about 8 seconds to launch a movie, while streaming through to various sections of the movie results in about four to five seconds of buffering. The experience is quite seamless and is complemented by the fact that Eros Now has a pretty vast collection of local content, which we’ll talk about later. 

The best part about Eros Now though is in the fact that the video quality is absolutely top notch. It’s at par with Netflix and ahead of both Hotstar and Spuul. While streaming, Eros Now is able to play on high resolutions consistently and with its lowest HD Streaming pack costing only Rs. 99, it comes out to be a pretty great deal.

Performance = 67.6
Video load time (wired). ..............9.4 sec 
Video load time (mobile). ..............6 sec 
Stutter free performance................10/10 
CPU usage. .....................................17.1% 
RAM usage. ..............................405.1 MB 
Video quality. ......................................9/10


 
NETFLIX 
Price: Rs. 650 per month 
Overall Score: 76.2 / 100 

From one of the best to the best. In terms of performance, Netflix lives up to its name. Its smart algorithms are the smartest out there and can assure stutter free streaming on most Internet connections. Yes, on the 2Mbps line, Netflix would often start streaming at SD quality, but it maintained HD longer than others and drops the resolution smartly, so as to avoid buffering. It’s launch times were also amongst the lowest, launching movies and TV Shows in a wink, while seeking to various sections of the video typically took 3 seconds.

What made Netflix the best performer though was its video quality. The fact that Netflix retains HD quality longer than others is easy to ascertain, but more importantly, it seems that even when content is compressed to fit network speeds, Netflix yearns to deliver the best possible. Truly unique!

Performance = 76.7 
Video load time (wired). ..............8.6 sec 
Video load time (mobile). ..............4 sec 
Stutter free performance................10/10 
CPU usage. .....................................16.2% 
RAM usage. ...............................438.1 MB 
Video quality. ...................................9.5/10

BIGFLIX 
Price: Rs. 249 per month 
Overall Score: 58.4 / 100 

Bigflix has been in the video-on-demand business much longer than any of the other services. 

While the Bigflix desktop version consumes the least system resources and can seek to various locations of a movie in less than 4 seconds, it’s mobile app really needs a lot of work as it’s severely below par. On phones, the streaming quality is nowhere close to what Bigflix offers on the desktop, which is what leads to its downfall in our performance tests. The video launch times can go up to 25 seconds and the app often just hangs at certain points, leaving you completely clueless. In addition, the stutter free experience is great on  its desktop app but needs some work on mobile. 

From an overall performance point of view, Bigflix couldn’t really make it with the top dogs.

Performance = 58.3 
Video load time (wired). ...........11.1 sec 
Video load time (mobile). ...........22 sec 
Stutter free performance...............10/10 
CPU usage. ....................................13.1% 
RAM usage. .............................389.9 MB 
Video quality. .....................................5/10

HOTSTAR 
Price: Free 
Overall Score: 72.9 / 100 

Perhaps the most intriguing of all the services we tested was Hotstar. Star India’s streaming app allows you to stream all the content available on it for free. In addition, it’s really the only one that followed the television model, meaning that Hotstar also has live television features. It’s various tie-ups allow you to watch cricket and other sports on it, along with other content. 

In terms of the performance, Hotstar can do almost as well as Netflix and Eros Now, but its focus seems to be primarily towards mobile users. While Hotstar offers a pretty seamless experience on the desktop as well, during the course of our tests, twice we experienced very long waiting times on Hotstar for a considerable period.

On mobile though, Hotstar works really well, with impressive launch speeds of up to 7 seconds, while seeking doesn’t result in a lot of stutter.

Performance = 69.2
Video load time (wired). ..............13 sec 
Video load time (mobile). ..........4.6 sec 
Stutter free performance..............8.8/10 
CPU usage. ....................................13.2% 
RAM usage. .............................406.7 MB 
Video quality. .....................................8/10

WYNK MOVIES
Price: Rs. 38 
Overall Score: 52.1 / 100

Airtel’s tie-up with Eros Now, Hooq and Sony LIV resulted in Wynk Movies. While it’s a streaming service like any other, Wynk Movies differs in the fact that it’s available only for mobile users. It’s a somewhat surprising move, but Airtel seems to be betting that its users will be viewing content more on mobile and less on desktop. 

As far as the streaming quality goes, Wynk can do quite well. It offers a largely stutter free experience and launch times were long, but not too long. The smart algorithms on the app are also quite good at controlling streaming quality, but not quite as seamless on slower connections. 

The fact that there is no desktop version to this service means we can’t directly compare it to the others in this test, but if you do happen to watch a lot of content on mobile, this is a good performer for sure.

Performance = 51.9
Video load time (wired). .....................NA 
Video load time (mobile). ..............9 sec 
Stutter free performance..................6/10 
CPU usage. ..........................................NA 
RAM usage. ..........................................NA 
Video quality. ......................................7/10

 
FEATURES AND DESIGN

SPUUL

From a design and features standpoint, Spuul can take on the best out there. The biggest problem with this service was the serious lack of English content, but when it comes to Hindi and regional content, Spuul is easily amongst the best. As mentioned before, Spuul can stream in 720p, which is more than enough for most screens and has perhaps the best Search function of all these apps. 

The app interface is clean with adequate sorting for content, making it easy to find what you want to watch. Spuul lacks suggestions though, depending on the user to choose what he or she wants to watch.

Where it truly loses out though is in the pricing. Subscription to Spuul costs Rs. 300 per month, with a discount for yearly subscriptions. That said, you can also rent movies from Spuul at Rs. 60 and it offers a free version as well. Select content can also be downloaded for offline viewing on Spuul.

Features = 61.7 
Content Search. ..........................7.5/10 
Interface Design. ......................7.5/10 
CONTENT LIBRARY 
Hollywood. .........................................7/10 
Bollywood. .........................................8/10 
Regional. .............................................7/10

MAVSHACK

Remember our disappointment with Mavshack? Well, it continues here as well, and it’s not a rosy picture  at all. While the interface is colourful, posters for movies, etc. just don’t look as good as other apps on Mavshack. In addition, the app stops to load a little too often, which hampers the experience further. While categories are sorted pretty well, it doesn’t really do much to overcome other difficulties. It’s a frustrating experience overall. 

Mavshack though truly loses out when it comes to the amount of content it has. It’s collection of free content is nothing compared to Spuul and Eros Now and most TV Shows on Mavshack were things we had never heard of. It tried to put up a front that it has a lot of content in store, but in reality, there’s just not enough popular content for you to pay Rs. 400 for a subscription. It ranks below BoxTV in the features and design segment.

Features = 55.4 
Content Search. ................................5/10 
Interface Design. ..............................6/10 
CONTENT LIBRARY 
Hollywood. .........................................3/10 
Bollywood. .........................................3/10 
Regional. ............................................8/10

BOXTV

While most of the problems with Mavshack continue in BoxTV, it beats the former in terms of the mobile app design at least – it’s a definitely better experience. The interface on BoxTV is much cleaner and finding content is easier. However, on the desktop, BoxTV autoplays advertisements while you’re looking for other content and there are stutters when it’s loading content on a new screen. 

However, like Mavshack, BoxTV’s subscription, worth Rs. 199, is also unjustified when you consider the fact that there is little popular content on it. Movies are quite old, while TV Shows are almost non-existent. Amongst heavy hitters like Hotstar, Netflix and Eros Now, BoxTV finds itself quite outclassed when it comes to features and design. 

Also, the quality of content on BoxTV is a tad better than it is on Mavshack, but not enough to match any other streaming platform in this test.

Features = 58.3 
Content Search. .............................5/10
Interface Design. ......................5.5/10 
CONTENT LIBRARY 
Hollywood. ........................................3/10 
Bollywood. .........................................3/10 
Regional. ............................................3/10

EROS NOW

Our best buy for this test, Eros Now excels in the amount of content it has to offer, which is not surprising considering that Eros International is the company backing it. It’s collection of Indian content is far better than Netflix’s even, and it easily beats both Hotstar and Spuul in terms of the English content that you can watch on it.

The fact that Eros Now offers a free service is even better since the quality of content available for free is worth giving it a try. In addition, at Rs. 99 per month, it is one of the cheapest streaming services that you can subscribe to today and a clean and easy to learn interface on desktop and mobile means your experience is top notch. 

You may not have heard a lot about Eros Now, but we found that your money will be best spent subscribing to this one. Just give this service a try, if you’re a Bollywood movies and TV connoisseur. 

Features = 60.5
Content Search. .............................7.5/10 
Interface Design. ...............................8/10 
CONTENT LIBRARY 
Hollywood. ..........................................8/10 
Bollywood. ..........................................9/10 
Regional. .............................................7/10

NETFLIX

Speaking of the best, Netflix may be our best performer, but in terms of Indian content, the app still needs a lot to do. You could argue that Netflix is not about Indian content, but the fact that its international library is also stunted in India, is a point against the service. 

Having said that, Netflix still boasts one of the best applications, both on desktop and mobile. It allows you to search by genre, title, people and so on and the suggestions are better than any other app in its category can boast. In fact, Netflix doesn’t want you to search for content, instead depending on what it suggests you watch. 

It costs Rs. 650 per month for the cheapest HD pack, which is steep, but based on your likes and dislikes, Netflix, not surprisingly is worth considering. Netflix also supports 4K streaming, but that seems somewhat far fetched for Indian users and even users abroad right now. 

Features = 69.1 
Content Search. ............................7.5/10 
Interface Design. ...........................8.5/10 
CONTENT LIBRARY 
Hollywood. .........................................8/10 
Bollywood. .........................................5/10 
Regional. ............................................5/10

BIGFLIX

Bigflix app design wasn’t something that we enjoyed. To put it bluntly, the Bigflix app doesn’t look like something that belongs in this day and age. The images used in the app are low quality and the loading icon appears once too often. The desktop performance is slightly better than the mobile app, but it’s still not the best design out there. It’s more like walking into a physical store, where you browse things and choose what you want, except that it doesn’t work on the Internet.

Also, the app design differs quite a bit between mobile and desktop, making it a steep learning curve on two fronts. For `249 per month, we’d want much more. Bigflix seems to be an old school player that is lost against the competition from the new school. It also needs to work on procuring more varied content for users to watch. It’s Indian content is nowhere close to Eros Now and Spuul, while English content is poor.

Features = 52.4 
Content Search. ...............................5/10 
Interface Design. ...........................5.5/10 
CONTENT LIBRARY 
Hollywood. .........................................4/10 
Bollywood. .........................................4/10 
Regional. ............................................3/10

HOTSTAR
Star India’s streaming service constantly surprised us. The app design is clean, with a swipe action required to move between TV Shows, movies and so on. The best part about Hotstar is watching Live TV on it and its Netflix-like smart algorithms do well in making sure that you get a seamless experience even while watching live television. 

Hotstar’s emphasis on mobile is apparent, but its desktop application isn’t shoddy either. The desktop version is almost a replica of what you get on mobile and content is easy to find. Just some good suggestions and more English content and Hotstar could easily become the best streaming app to go for in India. No, we aren’t kidding. 

That said, we don’t like the fact that the number of ads differ based on what you’re watching. One movie may have three ads in the entire length of it, but another may have more. This is because it’s free.

Features = 73.8
Content Search. ............................6.5/10 
Interface Design. ..............................8/10 
CONTENT LIBRARY 
Hollywood. .........................................7/10 
Bollywood. .........................................9/10 
Regional. ............................................5/10

WYNK MOVIES

The tie-up with Eros Now, Sony LIV and Hooq has given Wynk Movies a pretty good catalog to present to users, but being a mobile only service, we’d expect some more work on its app. While it has an impressive Search feature, integrating a suggestions feature would do well for this app. At first glance, the interface can look a little cluttered, but not unattractive and it needs to take less time to go from one screen to the other. 

In addition, while Wynk Movies does have an impressive algorithm working on the backend, it needs to put in more effort on mobile data and performance optimization. 

The best part about this app is that the subscriptions go down to as low as `5 for a single day, but we’d like more if there was a way to access all its content through one master pack. Airtel users would benefit from special services, but for others, it may turn out to be quite expensive.

Features = 50.9
Content Search. ................................8/10
Interface Design. ..............................7/10 
CONTENT LIBRARY 
Hollywood. .........................................6/10 
Bollywood. .........................................6/10 
Regional. ............................................6/10

WINNERS

BEST BUY: Eros Now
PROS: 
•    Huge Indian content collection 
•    Good performance 
•    Inexpensive

CONS: 
•    Limited Hollywood content 
•    Sub-stellar mobile performance

BEST PERFORMER: Netflix
PROS:
•    Best, consistent HD quality 
•    Attractive interface 
•    Exclusive content
CONS: 
•    Expensive 
•    Entire Netflix US content missing

EDITOR’S PICK: Hotstar
PROS: 
•    Free 
•    Live TV broadcast 
•    Very good streamingquality
CONS: 
•    Limited English content 
•    Below par desktop performance

HOW WE TESTED

To test we chose three different ISPs from Delhi and Mumbai region, running the tests on all of these services. We compared their performance on a Windows PC and Apple MacBook, while on the mobile platform we tested all of their supported Android apps on a One Plus 2. 

First, we took into account the obvious things, like the number of movies that each of these services offer, number of advertisements, if at all, that you have to see, the resolution they allow you to stream in, browsers and platforms that they support and whether you can cast them onto other screens. A lot of these apps also go the extra mile suggesting things that you may like, which is another thing that we took into consideration. In addition, downloading content for offline viewing was of course given extra points. 

The fact that all of these services offer mobile apps and run online in the form of web apps, is also something that was taken into consideration. How? We rated the apps, both on mobiles and desktops, based on their design. In the interest of full disclosure, it’s important to mention that the design elements were not always rated objectively. The reason for that is how good something looks may change based on who’s looking. To counter that, we picked representatives from our Mumbai and Delhi teams and told them to rate the appearance of these apps. We then took an average of all of these scores.

Other design elements, like Search, System Resources  consumed, how content is sorted, number of steps required to play stuff, were easier to rate objectively. 

The most important part of this comparison though is the performance. To test this, we started with how much time it takes these services to launch content. To do this, we timed them, playing sub-30 minute videos and over-60 minute long videos, rating them based on the time they take to launch each of these videos. This is important, since you won’t really want to pay for a service that buffers right at the beginning right?

Next, we tried jumping to different parts of the video, timing them for how long it takes them to seek and buffer then. In addition, we also observed whether the content quality stuttered after seeking to a certain point, deducting points based on how often that happened. The same was also done on mobile. 

Lastly, the video quality was rated, based on how often the resolution drops, whether the app starts streaming at the highest quality throughout or plays catch up, whether it buffers too often and so on.

This comparison was published in the February 2016 issue of Digit magazine. To get the comparisons first, subscribe to the Digit magazine or download the Digit e-magazine app.​ 

Prasid BanerjeePrasid Banerjee

Trying to explain technology to my parents. Failing miserably.