With the Xbox app, Disney has launched its first console app for Disney+. This is an exciting time for the platform, which was currently limited to mobile devices, Apple TV and media boxes. Unfortunately, just like the other apps built on the Hotstar platform, the Xbox Disney+ app isn’t great. At first glance, it’s not hard to see that the Disney+ Xbox app is a straight copy and paste of every other app we have in South Africa. The layout is exactly the same and lacks the improved features found in the US version like IMAX Enhanced resolutions, proper codec listings and even special features for specific shows and movies.
When you dive into the app, the menus are sluggish and navigating the on-screen maps results in shaky motion. As you move, the menus stutter and the animations of the maps change from “smooth” to “blocky”. This is especially present when you first launch the app. I couldn’t help but notice the background images shaking as I hover over the top menu bar. It seems that the app struggles to build up a cache when you first launch it, but as you move around things get better.
The app especially struggles to run properly when you’re backing away from something you’re watching. Say I watched Andor. When I exit the show and try to go back to the main menu to select something new, the “B” button on the remote doesn’t work for about 5 seconds. You’ll have to be a bit patient and wait for the app to catch its breath before you can go out and select another TV show or movie.
Unfortunately, the real problems come to light when watching content. Like most other Disney+ apps on other platforms, this Xbox app does not stream in 4K. In fact, my Xbox Series X only runs the app in HD on my 4K Bravia TV. The streaming content itself shows 3840 x 2160, but the TV resolution is limited to 1920 x 1080. This means that while the stream is 4K, the app runs at native 4K, so the quality is greatly reduced and in some ways bottlenecking the content.
You can see the HD issues throughout the app. Text on menus isn’t as sharp as it should be in a 4K app, and posters are blurry too. I checked my Xbox settings again to make sure I was actually running the console in 4K and it was indeed in 4K. The app just chooses to only run at 1080p, which isn’t great. You can see it transition from HD to 4K if you exit and reopen the app to the Xbox Dashboard.
Another disappointment is the lack of support for Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos in the Disney+ Xbox app. While Xbox has some of the best Dolby Vision implementations in the industry and is the only console to support Dolby Vision games, the Disney+ app only runs in HDR. That’s not great either, as the highlights don’t hit the right peak brightness compared to true HDR content. Image quality is poor and the 1080p video doesn’t help with HDR either.
I also couldn’t get Dolby Atmos to work at all. Switching to the Apple TV app worked smoothly alongside Dolby Vision. However, the Disney+ Xbox app only uses stereo AAC. It seems that the app doesn’t offer true surround sound support and everything is emulated via stereo codecs.
While these results may seem like a disappointment, they are actually not very surprising. In fact, this Disney+ app is in line with most other Hotstar versions on the market. It matches the other built-in TV apps from Samsung, LG and Android. It’s a shame, especially considering the power of the Xbox Series X and the fact that it could easily deliver true 4K with Dolby Vision and Atmos. Instead, you get HD content in stereo with HDR – a similar experience to most apps.
What surprises me is that Disney+ has so far been best experienced on an “external” device like an Android Media Box or Apple TV. The Xbox Series X is also technically an “external device,” but the app is just awful. If you were hoping that this Disney+ Xbox app would salvage the major performance and quality issues on the Hotstar platform, I have bad news for you – it’s not. You’re still best off getting an Android Media Box or Apple TV device. These are currently the only ways to stream native 4K Disney+ content with Dolby Vision and Atmos.