We've tested SHOWMAX for the last month, and here's what we thought of it!

8 min read
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ShowMax-logo

Back in August, a brand new player in the online streaming market emerged with the launch of Showmax. We were lucky enough to score ourselves a free subscription and have been testing it out for the past month to let you know just what to expect, and whether it’s a worthy investment of your cash every month.

  • What is Showmax?

Let’s start with the basics. Showmax is a local video streaming service which allows you to stream content like movies and TV series straight to your PC’s browser, Apple and Android smart phones and tablets and the latest Samsung and LG Smart TV’s. The people behind it are actually Naspers, the parent company of DSTV (though the two entities are run entirely separately and will in fact be competing for the same client base).

We’ve had a few video streaming services launching locally over the last year or two, like MTN’s FrontRow and Times Media’s VIDI, although Showmax is possibly the most high profile. Naspers is reportedly making this a top a priority for its business and is planning to spend more than R65 million on the service before the end of the year.

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  • What about Netflix?

Now it’s fairly common knowledge that with just a tiny bit of technical know-how, you can use VPN’s or DNS relay services like Unotelly to get access to international video streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, etc., which are restricted to certain countries. There was of course the question of legality of spoofing your location to gain access to a service though, but it’s a bit of a grey area since you’re still paying for the content.

Netflix has stated last year that it will be officially releasing in South Africa in 2016, which will change all of that, especially for those people that felt a bit dubious because of that unclear legality. And hoping to get its foot in the door before that happens is Showmax.

  • What does it cost?

They currently offer two packages, Showmax Basic, which is free but has limited content, and Showmax Premium which gives access to all its content. Showmax Premium goes for R99 per month, which is not only cheaper than Vidi and FrontRow – which also still charge you movie rental fees on top of their subscription cost – but that’s about half of what you would pay for Netflix currently, if you add up the Netflix subscription and VPN costs.

If you sign up for Showmax Basic, which only gives you access to some older and local content, they immediately also give you a 7-day free trial to Showmax Premium to check it out.

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  • What is on offer?

Showmax Premium reportedly boasts over 10 000 hours of movies and TV series, with lots of local shows – including classic children’s programmes like Heidi and Interster – also on offer. In reality, browsing all content, unfiltered by genre, resulted in me seeing just shy of 400 movies and 400 TV series. Certainly a substantial, if not exactly mind-blowing number.

Also, as can be expected from virtually all streaming services, you shouldn’t be expecting movies that are currently in cinema to be appearing on Showmax, but the current selection is not too dated and at first glance appears to have some better (and definitely more) offerings than Vidi or Frontrow.

But while Showmax’s current catalog is much better than their local competition, and includes the very latest episodes of some of the biggest TV series like Game of Thrones, Big Bang Theory and Arrow (probably thanks to their DSTV connections), it still pales in comparison to the US Netflix catalog which boasts close to 8000 titles.

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Of course when Netflix launches locally next year, we can probably expect them to offer a much more slimmed down catalog, much like what they did when they launched in other countries outside of the US. In comparison, when Netflix launched in Australia and New Zealand in March of this year, they only had approximately 220 TV series and 900 movies, just slightly more than an eighth of the US offering. I would expect South Africa to get a similar offering.

  • How does it perform?

Due to local broadband limitations, Showmax content will only stream at a maximum resolution of 720p, which is still perfect for most shows/movies. Where it shines though, even in comparison to Netflix, is in how it streams that content: Really, really fast.

If you’ve ever used Netflix (it’s OK, you can tell us) you would know that when you start an episode/movie it buffers for a bit, before starting up in a very low resolution. That resolution then increases in quality as the episode plays until it hits the maximum res that your internet line can handle. All of this usually takes a few minutes depending on your line speed.

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With Showmax, on the 4Mbps ADSL line that I used to test it on, this process happened in seconds, as the data is actually being streamed from Showmax’s JHB servers. Picture and sound quality looked great (although a few people have reportedly had issues with out of synch sound, but these appear to be isolated cases). And it also ran very stable as I tested numerous movies and TV series.

PLEASE NOTE: If you still have Unotelly or the like connected when accessing Showmax, your content will be routed via international nodes which will hamper streaming. Even so, during my own tests I found that while the quality and speed was better when I disconnected Unotelly, the “lag” was not so much as to significantly affect the experience.

  • What do you need?

Showmax recommends that you have a 2Mbps ADSL line at the minimum, though 4Mbps and upwards is preferable. They are currently in talks with Wi-Fi service providers to negotiate ways of offering their services wirelessly.

Showmax also recommends that you have an uncapped ADSL account as data usage can be relatively high (Personally, I use a capped account with a huge cap as there’s no line shaping happening and I get the best performance). On average, one 720p TV episode running for about 40 mins will use approximately 500MB of data, and with movies often running for two to two-and-a-half hours, that can quickly chow through your internet data.

(This is where Vidi and FrontRow actually have a slight advantage, as FrontRow offers free streaming to MTN subscribers, while Vidi users get given free ADSL as part of their subscription)

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Showmax supports up to five devices being linked to one account, while you are allowed to stream from two devices simultaneously. To access it via a PC browser, you just need to install a small plugin (it does unfortunately still make use of Flash, although they are looking at alternative platforms in the future), while on Android and Apple devices, you can install the Showmax application via the respective app stores.

The same applies to smart TV’s but are limited only to Samsung Smart TV’s released since 2012, Samsung Tizen TV’s released this year, LG NetCast Smart TV’s released 2012-2014 and LG WebOS smart TV’s released 2014–2015. The application, like the browser interface, is fairly light on resources and has a very easy UI that has undoubtedly borrowed quite a bit from Netflix’s layout (hey, if it ain’t broke!).

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  • Is it worth it?

As things stand now, it’s undeniable that once you take dubious legality out of the equation, Netflix is still the better option for a video streaming service. However, among its local peers, Showmax certainly appears to be the leader here. We don’t know what the catalog will look like when Netflix launches in South Africa next year, but if it’s severely limited – as has happened in other countries – then Showmax may still come out tops, especially since I cannot see Netflix matching or bettering its price of R99 per month or boasting the local content that Showmax has.

If you haven’t made the sort-of legal jump to Netflix and/or don’t find yourself as a DSTV subscriber (also not into live sport), then Showmax is a very easy recommendation to make, especially if it keeps its catalog updated regularly. Either way, more competition is never a bad thing for the consumer.

Last Updated: September 29, 2015

Kervyn Cloete

A man of many passions - but very little sleep - I've been geeking out over movies, video games, comics, books, anime, TV series and lemon meringues as far back as I can remember. So show up for the geeky insight, stay for the delicious pastries.

13 Comments

  1. Kervyn Cloete

    September 29, 2015 at 10:50 am

    Test comment. Please ignore.

  2. Guild

    September 29, 2015 at 10:59 am

    I was looking to get this service but the one thing that turned me away from it was the amount of complaints on the Apple App store with server errors and time outs. I just checked again and it seems a new version was released which is more stable. The average rating though is still low.
    So just a couple of questions:
    What device(s) did you use to test?
    Was there a new version release during the month of testing and has it improved?

    • Guild

      September 29, 2015 at 11:04 am

      I got a DSTV subscription and my wife and I watch the on our iPads the DSTV Now App but I have some major gripes with that App. Half the time it just crashes for no reason so you cannot even start it, other times you busy watching a show then it’ll throw an error and won’t allow you to progress past the point. So it can be a frustrating experience.
      So I’m thinking of cancelling DSTV which is R850 pm since we don’t really watch the sports and its usually just watch the CatchUp. But I’d rather pay R99 pm for something like this or Netflix.

      • Kervyn Cloete

        September 29, 2015 at 11:13 am

        I would really suggest you make use of their 7-day trial to test it out thoroughly before committing. There are some different variables in people’s different setups that what works flawlessly for me, might be frustrating to you. The only way you can be sure is to try it out yourself.

        • Guild

          September 29, 2015 at 11:39 am

          Cool. Ill give it a try over the weekend and see if it will do well to replace our current setup.

    • Kervyn Cloete

      September 29, 2015 at 11:10 am

      I mostly used the web client, but also tested via the Android app on my phone, tablet and Smart TV, and they all worked pretty well. Unfortunately, I didn’t have any Apple devices to test on.

      There was an update to the app, but I only started using the app after the update and that performance was good.

      I know though that while the web client barely notices if you still have Unotelly connected, the apps are a bit more finicky with that. In fact, it won’t even show up on the store if you’re using a VPN.

    • Weanerdog

      September 30, 2015 at 3:43 pm

      Hey Guild, tried the 7 day trial for my kids who were sick at home. I am on a 2 mb line and it worked great on my laptop but when we tried on the Ipad it was a nightmare. It would buffer a lot and sometimes just not actually start. My kid gave up eventually and went back to YouTube . I am not sure if it was the new app or not.

      • Guild

        October 1, 2015 at 11:12 am

        This app fails miserably on the iPad. Hopefully they come right in the future but for the moment I’ll stay away

  3. Tarryn van der Byl

    September 29, 2015 at 4:46 pm

    “If you’ve ever used Netflix (it’s OK, you can tell us) you would know that when you start an episode/movie it buffers for a bit, before starting up in a very low resolution.”

    My line speed was recently (… mysteriously) boosted from 4Mbps to 5Mbps, and I don’t have this problem with Netflix anymore. It takes maybe 15 seconds to load a show or movie, but the resolution is probably around 720 from the start. Same thing with Hulu.

    So, I think it’s much more dependent on line speed than the server location.

    • Kervyn Cloete

      September 29, 2015 at 6:41 pm

      I’m currently on 4Mbps (stupid distance to the exchange won’t let me upgrade), but I’ve previously used it on a line that synched at 7Mbps and there was still a slight delay where it upscales it. Maybe Netflix just hated me though. That seems like a likely scenario, if you ask me :p

  4. Andy Long

    July 17, 2016 at 8:53 pm

    Hi There.

    We bought a Samsung Smart TV and received a free subscription to Netflix. We have a 20mb Fibre Line. In the beginning the service was pretty good, but of late there seems to be plenty of lag and its taking forever to start playing an episode. We have no throttleing and when doing a speed test on the line, we still getting our 20mb, so i fail to realise why the episodes wont play within a minute or two.

    Do showmax throttle the speed on their servers or to users? My three months is nearly up and im considering not renewing due to continued issues.

    Your thought?

    • Kervyn Cloete

      July 18, 2016 at 11:26 am

      As far as I am aware, there’s no throttling happening at all on either Netflix or Showmax. I personally run both on a 4Mbps ADSL line without any issues, so your 20Mbps fibre should be flying.

      Does the lag happen just when you’re running it through the Netflix app on the Smart TV? Have you perhaps tried accessing it directly via a browser/app on a PC?

      • Jagi

        October 31, 2016 at 12:09 am

        I have the same bad video quality with ShowMax ad will not renew my subscription. A big pain watching the latest Downton Abby! We have a LG Webos smart tv and 20mb/sec fibre.
        YouTube is mostly perfect with newer content.

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