If you were wondering just how UHD those so-called “UHD shows” are on Disney+ in South Africa, you’ll be disappointed to know that the streaming service actually doesn’t run at 4K across most devices. In fact, after testing over ten devices, I discovered that Disney+ only streams at 4K on a select few devices. While Disney hasn’t been transparent with its streaming quality, unlocking the Stats for Nerds feature on the app reveals some disappointing stats when it comes to the resolution of its shows and movies across TVs and mobile devices.
It is even more disappointing to see that Disney+ runs at 720p on some of the latest TVs on the market and on others, the app doesn’t even have a 4K option at all. First off, accessing the Stats for Nerds on Disney+ Hotstar in South Africa isn’t done the same way as in other regions. While the US version of the app shows Stats for Nerds by tapping on the “quality” setting five times, the South African app requires you to hold down the enter button while hovering over the “quality” setting during a stream.
So in case you were wondering how to access your stats during a stream, that’s how you do it. Now once I had access to these stats, I made sure to test streams across a number of devices and TV brands. In the end, the best way to stream Disney+ in South Africa is through an Apple TV 4K device or an Android TV media box. DO NOT rely on built-in apps on TVs as they are horribly designed and restrict streaming to 720p in some cases.
While I want to blame Disney for this, it might actually not be the case. Most devices I tested actually showed that video tracks for the show or movie were available in higher resolutions but for some reason, the app only streamed at a limited resolution. It looks like the app hasn’t been optimised correctly. It uses so much RAM that often a 720p stream upscaled to 4K is only possible on certain TVs. As you can see below, even devices that showed 1280×720 streams had higher 4K bitrate tracks available for that content. However, the app just didn’t load these tracks. Instead, it went for the lowest possible resolution available at the worst possible bitrate.
It also doesn’t help that Disney+’s customer support has no clue what is going on either. Some recent interactions with them have left me giggling. In this latest one, they boast Dolby Atmos and the app features a “details tab” showing what codes the content supports which isn’t available on any of the app versions. They then dig the hole bigger by saying the service doesn’t support Dolby Atmos – Yes, this is the service we have here.
So knowing that tracks were available for 4K content made me curious to see just how many devices out there pushed out the highest track. Here are the results.
Mobile Devices – iOS and Android
While tech brands have spent millions investing in better displays for mobile devices, Disney+ doesn’t make use of this tech at all. When booting up Netflix on my iPhone 13, the phone automatically goes into Dolby Vision mode when watching supported content. This means the display’s brightness gets higher and the experience is as good as you could possibly get on a mobile device. Sadly, Disney+ doesn’t do any of this at all.
Disney+ on mobile devices is restricted to 1080p. Statistics show that even though my iPhone’s display is 1284 x 2778, shows and movies are all limited to 1920×1080. In fact, the stats also show that Disney+ doesn’t have any QHD or UHD tracks available for mobile devices at all.
Samsung QLED + M7
The worst experience you can have on Disney+ in South Africa is on a Samsung TV. The app is limited to 1080p across all content with no option for 4K quality at all on movies and shows that support it. When launching Obi-One Kenobi (and other 4K content), the app simply doesn’t give me any option to choose 4K at all. There’s only 1080p. I then noticed that the app doesn’t run at 4K either. The 4K TV is also listed as a 1080p TV which is probably why it doesn’t offer 4K quality settings.
The TV is 4K so why is the Disney+ app loading in 1080p and not scaling correctly? It just doesn’t make any sense. 4K TVs should use 4K apps.
Another strange test came from an LG C1 running WebOS. This TV is 4K but for some reason, the stats on a 4K stream showed that the TV was only HD and the stream was being sent in 4K. However, there were most definitely some strange artefacts on the image which clearly shows that due to the app loading in 1080p (because the app thinks the TV is HD), the stream quality wasn’t 4K at all. It was just HD.
I am not entirely sure why Disney+ would think two TV models so far were HD. One was streaming a 4K track on an HD app and the other didn’t even offer any 4K due to the app being loaded at 1080p.
Sony Bravia X90H
I then tested my Sony Bravia X90H which runs Android TV. This was also very disappointing. The Sony Bravia X90H streams 4K Disney+ content at 720p upscaled to 4K. Even though the TV is 4K and can support all Netflix streams in Dolby Vision 4K, Disney+ doesn’t seem to think the TV can handle 4K streams. Everything I tested showed that 4K tracks were available for the content but for some reason, the app didn’t load them. I left the stream running for ten minutes and it never went higher than 1280×720.
Watching Disney+ on a web browser streams at 1080p and that’s that. Doesn’t matter what display you have and whether or not it supports 4K or HDR. You’re not getting anything better than HD here.
Is it all Bad With Disney+ in South Africa?
So up to this point, everything I tested showed mediocre results. Apps that didn’t go up to 4K or apps that didn’t even offer 4K streams. But it isn’t all doom and gloom. There are actually devices out there that can stream Disney+ 4K content at the best possible quality.
Chromecast With Google TV
Chromecast Google TV showed some good results when streaming 4K content. Not only did the app and stream both run at 3840×2160, but streams also played at the highest possible track, 23226128, 3840x 2160. Keep in mind that this test was run off a Chromecast with Google TV and not by casting content to a Chromecast device without built-in Android.
When casting content from the app to an Android TV, there’s no way to see what quality the content is streaming in. There isn’t even an option to select the quality of the cast. Well, not on my devices anyway. It could be different for others.
Apple TV 4K
Another device that showed the best stream was on Apple TV 4K. The stream not only buffered quickly going from low-res to 4K within a few seconds but the quality also maxed out at the best track, 23226128, 3840x 2160. The Apple TV 4K showed all supported content at the highest bitrate with Dolby Vision and Atmos. Although, the sound wasn’t as great as it should be. Seems that even the “best” here isn’t really the “best”.
Android Media Box
The last devices I tested were Android media boxes. One was a Mecool Android box running Android 10. The other was the MediaBox Maverick also running Android 10. Both devices ran their app at 4K and the streams at 4K too. I tested these boxes on the Samsung 2018 QLED. You know, the TV Disney thinks is an HD TV. I had no issues with these streams. In fact, the apps were a lot snappier than the built-in TV apps I tested too. However, the 4K streams did run at a slightly lower bitrate than Apple TV and Chromecast with Google TV, 22971952, 3840×2160.
So by the look of things, while the “good quality” content is available across most app versions of Disney+, the app doesn’t work as well as it is meant to. The experience across the board is a mixed match of stream quality and the app really doesn’t have any constancy across the devices. Some TVs showed HD displays with 4K streams and others showed no 4K stream quality options at all.
I think this all boils down to the app being unoptimized and poorly developed. There’s no reason why Disney+ should not have 4K options on Samsung TVs and there’s no reason why some of the best TVs on the market like the Sony Bravia and LG OLED should not be able to stream the best 4K track available. This is poor on Disney’s part. Again, it boils down to Hotstar and its development cycle on the app. My hopes for a PlayStation and Xbox app are slowly dying.
A big thanks to everyone who helped me put this together by testing devices where I wasn’t able to.