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GuideDoc - Review 2021 - PCMag India

If you’re looking for the best of the best documentary films, look no further than GuideDoc, an on-demand video streaming service with tons of award-winning titles. The service covers many topics including art, the environment, food, music, people, and science, plus everything in between. You’ll also find plenty of historically significant movies from the 20th century. GuideDoc presents its content without ads, but not many titles are available in HD and the site could be better organized.

What Can You Watch On GuideDoc?

GuideDoc is the home of over 1,000 short- and full-length independent documentaries, with a new movie added every day. You can browse the site without subscribing to see if its films pique your interest. The homepage shows lists of award-winning documentaries featured at Sundance, Cannes, the Academy Awards, Tribeca Film Festival, and many more. 

From Oscar-winning wartime films directed by the likes of Frank Capra (Tunisian Victory, Why We Fight: War Comes to America) to a humorous look at a Belgian ghost town in the film DOEL, there are many top-notch documentaries in the GuideDoc library. Elegy of a Crime examines the life of a Brazilian murder victim, told through the memories of her son, who directs the film. Elegy of A Crime won Best Documentary EDT Award at the Festival Internacional de Documentários: é Tudo Verdade.  A short film of note is Featherfall, which uses gamers’ own words to examine the relationship between dream worlds and in-game worlds.

Unlike Netflix or Amazon Prime Video, GuideDoc does not produce original series or films. The service also doesn’t feature as many films or shows as competitor MagellanTV, which has over 3,000 offerings, or Kanopy, which dwarfs them both in terms of library size.

How Much Does GuideDoc Cost?

GuideDoc charges just $5.00 per month for a subscription, but it does not offer a free trial period or longer-term plans at a discount like MagellanTV. According to GuideDoc’s website, 50% of the money the site receives from subscriptions goes directly to the filmmakers featured on the site. The rest of the money goes toward the expenses of running a major website and on-demand video service.

For comparison, CuriosityStream starts at $2.99 per month and PBS Documentaries is $3.99 per month. MagellanTV comes in at a slightly more expensive $6.99 per month. Mainstream video streaming services are pricier than these documentary-focused services. Prime Video, for example, is $8.99 per month, while Netflix’s Standard tier is $13.99 per month.

Dedicated movie streaming services, such as Mubi and The Criterion Channel are also typically more expensive; both those services cost $10.99 per month. Those two options focus more on classic and indie films than documentary titles.

Of course, if you don’t want to pay for your entertainment, you can always turn to a free video streaming service. Kanopy and Peacock are our two top picks in that group. Kanopy is free to library cardholders and people with a university email; it has a top-notch collection of documentaries, modern films, and even a dedicated section for kids. Peacock is an excellent choice for watching mainstream movies and network TV shows.

GuideDoc homepage

Aside from streaming GuideDoc on the web, you can download apps for iOS and Android devices or watch via Google TV or Apple TV. The service notably does not have apps for Fire TV or Roku devices, let alone game consoles. PBS Documentaries, since it is an add-on channel to Prime Video, is available on far more platforms.

GuideDoc’s Web Interface

GuideDoc makes it easy to sign up for the service. I received a free login code for review purposes, but other users just need to provide an email address, password, and credit card. Once you enter all of your account and payment details, you can immediately begin watching all of the films on GuideDoc.

The homepage is divided up by film festival, not genre, so you may have to do some digging to find a film if you don’t have one in mind. If you’re interested in a specific film or actor, you can type that information into the search bar at the top of the screen. At the very bottom of the page, there is a big block of text links for various genres. It’s a different way to organize the site than what we’ve seen on other platforms like MagellanTV or Netflix, which tend to curate their film lists by genre first.   

GuideDoc movie landing page

Each documentary has a dedicated landing page where you can find information about the film, including the director’s name and production company. Before you commit to watching the entire documentary, check out the trailers included here. There’s also a button for adding the film to a watchlist and you can rate each film (on a scale of 1-10 stars). You cannot, however, leave comments or reviews on a film’s page, as you can with Shudder and Mubi. You also won’t find anything like the sharing tool that Kanopy offers; with that service, you can record and share short clips of films to social media platforms.

If you pause a film, you can catch back up by visiting the My List section that’s accessible from the top of the page. Here, you will find films you’ve added to your watchlist and anything you started watching but didn’t complete. Anything you finish watching gets organized into the Watched list on this page.

Canceling GuideDoc is easy. Click on your profile icon in the top right corner of the home screen and then go to the Membership & Cards section. Here, you can stop or pause your membership by clicking the Cancel button.   

GuideDoc my list

Mobile Experience

I downloaded the GuideDoc app on my iPhone running iOS14.4 for testing and had no trouble logging into my account. The mobile interface actually looks a little better than the website, as the dark gray background complements the colorful documentary thumbnails.

If you tap the search tool at the bottom of the home screen, the app takes you to a helpful search page that enables you to find films by genre, language, subtitle, decade, and film festival. Like the website, the app doesn’t include a ton of innovative features, but it’s serviceable for streaming. I would like GuideDoc to add a section for related films on each documentary’s landing page, similar to the one that MagellanTV offers. It would help subscribers discover more films on GuideDoc and get more value out of the service.

GuideDoc on iOS

Unlike PBS Documentaries and most other streaming services, you cannot download films from GuideDoc for offline viewing. Kanopy also has this limitation. If you are planning to watch a film on a mobile device, make sure you are using a Wi-Fi connection or have an unlimited data plan. Streaming video requires a lot of data.

Playback Experience

GuideDoc’s playback screen is functional, but slightly underwhelming. Aside from the standard playback and volume controls, you can toggle (but not customize) closed captions and select the streaming resolution. IFC Films Unlimited and PBS Documentaries, on the other hand, integrate with Prime Video’s IMDb-powered X-Ray overlay, which provides a wealth of information, including details about the cast.

Although GuideDoc’s documentaries are award-winning, most of them are not available to stream in HD. For instance, the popular Pablo Escobar documentary, Sins of My Father, is capped at 720p. 2018’s Shotgun was filmed on an analog hi8 camera and an iPhone, so it’s not surprising that it tops out at 480p. These films are lauded for their subject matter, not their life-like resolution, so this comes as no surprise. The audio quality was good in testing, but GuideDoc does not support surround sound.

If you want to watch 4K content, then MagellanTV and CuriosityStream are better options. Apple TV+, because of it its small library, also does an excellent job of ensuring its titles support 4K and the latest high-end video and audio standards. Both Netflix and Prime Video have substantial 4K on-demand collections, too.

GuideDoc supports up to two simultaneous streams per account. That’s somewhat below average. Kanopy essentially supports an unlimited number of concurrent streams per account. PBS Documentaries and MagellanTV, respectively, allow subscribers to watch on three and five devices at the same time.

GuideDoc playback experience

I tested GuideDoc’s streaming performance over a Gigabit Ethernet connection and a Wi-Fi connection (450Mbps download) on mobile. I watched a documentary called The Good Night without any problems. I resumed playback on my mobile phone partway through the documentary, too.

Accessibility and Parental Controls

Like most other streaming services, GuideDoc supports closed captioning. Unlike with Amazon Prime Video, however, you can’t adjust the font size or color of the captions. On the plus side, most films offer plenty of language options because they were originally released to worldwide audiences. None of GuideDoc’s films support audio descriptions for the visually impaired, which we would like to see added. Apple TV+, Netflix, and Prime Video are particularly good at supporting audio descriptions, but none of the other documentary streaming services I tested offer this accessibility feature.

GuideDoc does not offer any parental control options, even though some of the content on the site is being graphic or controversial. There’s no way to create multiple profiles on one account to monitor what your child is watching either. Other streaming services are better options for families with young children. Prime Video’s parental controls apply to content on PBS Documentaries, for example, and Kanopy includes a dedicated section for kids. Disney+ allows you to create up to six profiles per account and enable restrictions on any one of them.

GuideDoc and VPN

A VPN helps protect your privacy online, but some video streaming services block VPN traffic to enforce regional streaming restrictions. In testing, GuideDoc worked fine when I connected my devices to US- and Japan-based ProtonVPN servers.

Even if you find that your video streaming service and VPN work well together for now, that’s no guarantee that they will continue to do so. Video streaming services continue to find new ways to detect and block VPN traffic. We recommend you choose a VPN based on other factors such as its privacy practices, security tools, and trustworthiness.

Award-Winning Docs, Lackluster Features

GuideDoc is a suitable streaming service for people who are looking for much-lauded films and film directors. With hundreds of films on offer, you are certain to find something that justifies the inexpensive subscription fee. The service does make it difficult to discover everything available for streaming, however, and you can’t download titles for offline viewing on mobile platforms. We would also like to see more consistent support for HD streaming.

Netflix continues to be our Editors’ Choice winner for on-demand video streaming with its robust library of originals and movies. Hulu is also a great option for its combination of immense on-demand library and live TV channels. Kanopy and CuriosityStream are our top picks for streaming documentaries.

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