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Google Play Movies & TV review

Michael Passingham
11 Sep 2015
Expert Reviews Recommended Logo
Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
4.49
inc VAT for HD movie rental

A wide variety of supported platforms and useful extra features make Google Play one of the most fully-featured streaming services available

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Specifications

Platforms: Web, Roku, Android, iOS, Smart TVs (via YouTube) 

Content: Max 1080p quality including closed captions and 5.1 surround sound

Like Microsoft Films & TV and Apple iTunes, Google Play has a large customer base thanks to its presence on all new Android phones and tablets. You'd therefore expect the best experience to be when watching on the move on an Android handset or an Android-powered TV, but those watching on other platforms are also reasonably well covered.

Content

Google Play has a well-organised and easy-to-use library of films and TV programmes, with filters for the most popular content and the newest releases. You can also filter by age rating, genre, film studio and TV network, so it's easy to sort through the catalogue.

You're also shown user ratings for every film, and hovering over each item on the desktop website reveals a play button that lets you play a trailer, if one is available. This means you can shop around the storefront without having to navigate back and forth between the storefront and product pages.

Find the best movie streaming service for you with our indepth guide

Suggestions based on your previous purchases are heavily promoted, although until you've watched a lot of films you'll likely end up with a fair number of left-field suggestions that you're not interested in. You're also encouraged to rate recent purchases, which will also feed into the film recommendations.

Pricing is largely on a par with other streaming services, with an HD film priced at £4.49 to rent and £13.99 to buy. New TV series are slightly more expensive at £23.49 for popular programmes such as Game of Thrones, which is 50p more expensive than most other services and £1 more than PlayStation Video. You get 30 days to watch a rental, and 48 hours to finish it once you press play.

Films and TV programmes are available at a maximum 1080p resolution, although Google doesn't make it clear what quality you're watching or which resolution you'll receive on which device. At the very least you can expect 720p on most devices, providing your internet connection speed is fast enough. Where available, films and TV programmes are provided with Dolby 5.1 surround sound, and English subtitles are also available. This information is clearly marked on the store page before you buy.

Video quality

While Google offers Full HD streaming and downloads on certain platforms, we were a just slightly underwhelmed by the overall quality of the video on offer. The screenshots below are magnified to bring to light any discrepencies between Google Play and the benchmark Blu-ray.

As you can see, colours are less vibrant, outlines are softer and everything has a slightly smudgy look to it. It should be noted that we tested quality with a Chromecast, which has a maximum resolution of 1080p. In real world use, the difference will be noticable, especially if you're watching on a large, high quality TV.

Click on either image below for a larger view.

Platforms

Despite Google's heavy focus on mobile, its browser-based viewing options are satisfactory. Those on Windows using the Google Chrome browser are guaranteed 'HD' quality providing they're using a laptop or an HDCP-compliant HD display but, as mentioned above, it's not clear whether this is 720p or 1080p. Things get much more complicated if you're an Apple customer. Mac laptop users with Chrome get HD content, but those using an Apple desktop such as the iMac, Mac Pro or Mac Mini will only be able to watch in SD. iOS users aren't quite so well served; you can only watch in SD, although you are able to download content for offline viewing.

There aren't any native Smart TV Google Play apps. If you have a Chromecast, this isn't a huge issue, but those who want to keep their TV as uncluttered as possible will sigh at the prospect of adding another device to their home cinema setup.

Luckily, there's a workaround. If you have a PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Wii U or a smart TV from 2013 or later, you can watch your rented and bought content from within your device's YouTube app. To do this, you must sign into your account and scroll down to Purchases in the menu bar on the left of the screen. From here, you'll be able to find all your content and, if your connection is fast enough, you'll be able to watch it in Full HD. It's a bit of a convoluted process that Google fails to mention in its own help files, which is a shame. Furthermore, older TVs from 2012 and before don't have access to purchased content, so you'll need to buy a Chromecast, a games console or upgrade your TV to get access to your library. You could also buy a Roku streaming stick or box and install the Google Play app.

Google Play is undoubtedly at its best on Android, as this is the only platform on which you can download videos to watch later; you simply buy content from within the Play Store, and then use the Play Films & TV app on your device to watch them.

One of the best features of the Chrome, Android and Roku video players are the 'info cards', which resolve the age-old 'where have I seen that actor before' feeling many of us get when watching films and TV programmes. Simply pause a video, and any actors on screen will be labelled. Tap or click that actor and any production they've been in will be displayed. If you pause a fraction of a second too late, you'll also be told you 'just missed' any character that was featured in the shot before you paused, so you don't have to wind back to see who they were.

Google Play is an excellent video streaming service that works best in the Chrome browser and on Android devices. With Full HD video available to download for offline playback on Android, it's the perfect service if you're going on a long journey and want something to keep boredom at bay. Google Play is clunkier on smart TVs, and Apple owners are better off with iTunes, but it's still one of the best services out there.

Pricing
HD Film (rent/buy)£4.49/£13.99
SD Film (rent/buy)£3.49/£9.99
HD TV series (buy only)£23.49
SD TV series (buy only)£17.49
Content
Rental period30 days
Time to finish watching48 hours
SubtitlesYes
5.1 surround soundYes (not on YouTube)
Platform details
Web/PC/MacWeb: Windows up to 1080p streaming, Mac 1080p on laptops, SD on desktops streaming
Roku1080p
Amazon Fire TVNo
Amazon Kindle FireNo
Games consolesPS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One YouTube application: 1080p streaming
Smart TV/box manufacturer supportVia YouTube on smart TVs made after 2013
Smart TV/box quality1080p
iOSSD streaming and downloads
Apple TV/AirPlayNo/Yes (1080p via YouTube for iOS)
Android1080p streaming and downloads
Windows PhoneNo
Chromecast1080p streaming
UltraViolet supportNo
Detailsplay.google.com

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