Netflix Roku Hulu Plus This ‘n’ That

Roku 3* We recently replaced our Xbox with a Roku 3 because we got tired of paying Microsoft $60 every year for the privilege of watching Netflix. We hardly ever played games on it and when we did, it was not online. I love that you can plug earbuds into the remote to watch movies quietly while others are sleeping. I haven’t actually used that feature yet but I think it’s cool.

* It also comes preloaded with Angry Birds Space. Is there anyone out there who thinks of the Roku 3 as a gaming platform? They also sell, via their channel store, versions of Pac-Man and Galaga for $5 a pop.

Hulu Plus* That said, Hulu Plus’ interface on the Roku 3 is horrendous. I always tell Hulu my favorite shows and put them in queue a la Netflix. This is what I have to do to watch the latest Daily Show in my queue:

The top 2/3 of the screen is taken up by the shows Hulu is currently promoting. Going down to the menu below, I skip past TV, movies, trailers, and kids before scrolling offscreen to queue. I select queue which brings me to favorites (seriously). I go down to queue (again) and select The Daily Show. It puts me on Series Details (again seriously). I go down to a queued episode and select it. Even after all of that, it wants to know if I want to play it or remove from queue or get more details or go to the series page or even see some suggestions from Hulu.

Well, I have some suggestions for Hulu. The printable one is, get me out of this design hell. I swear that the designers of this are probably the sort who would like to bring back rotary phones for the sheer joy of watching people dial a ‘9’.

Netflix* Netflix is doing an admirable job of trying to address the complete mess that is their recommendation system. They now have profiles you can set up for the various members of your household. Hopefully that means that at some point, it will stop recommending all the Disney movies I watch with my granddaughter.

On the other hand, they still haven’t fixed the easiest part of their recommendation system. If I have both watched AND rated something, how can Netflix call it a recommendation? Once upon a time my entire set of ten recommendations were all movies and shows that I had both rated and watched on Netflix. At least now it is down to one, Supernatural.

Another one is that if I have put it into my personal queue, it isn’t really a recommendation either.

/rantmodeoff

* OOPS Department: ActionFest’s August offering is I Declare War on Thursday August 15th at 7:30 p.m. For some reason I listed July’s ActionFest date.

 

Warner Archive Final Report

WB Archive Instant

The Warner Instant Archive FREE trial is a great deal. Despite some technical issues, there is a lot to like here if you like movies from the 20s-80s (fans of more modern fare need not apply). The Roku setup is simple though you must follow the instructions on Warner’s website to add the private channel.

Roku

Sadly this does not mean the channel itself is a good deal. Unless you are a devout cinephile, you can probably blow through all the content you want to see on Warner Archive during the trial. Price after that is $9.99 a month. I can imagine revisiting this in a year as Warner has an extensive back catalog that is much larger than their Warner Instant Archive.

Man from UNCLE

They do have a number of television shows available that I did not sample. The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Cheyenne, The Jimmy Stewart Show, Hawaiian eye, Jericho (1966), 77 Sunset Strip, and The Adventures of Superman are all on tap here. Their currently most popular movies are (strangely in alphabetic order) Attack of the 50 ft. Woman, Bachelor in Paradise, The Carey Treatment, Give a Girl a Break, Harper, Kansas City Bomber, Keeper of the Flame, Lone Star, Madame Satan, The Mayor of Hell, The Prize, The Racket, A Slight Case of Murder, Strange Cargo, What’s Up, Doc?.

If you do try Warner Instant Archive, do watch Time After Time, a very entertaining story of H.G. Wells tracking Jack the Ripper.

The Mummy

The Mummy (1959) – “In the 1890s a team of British archaeologists discover the untouched tomb of Princess Ananka but accidentally bring the mummified body of her High Priest back to life. Three years later back in England a follower of the same Egyptian religion unleashes the mummy to exact grisly revenge on the despoilers of the sacred past.

I own this Peter Cushing/Christopher Lee classic on DVD but Warner Archive has it in HD. I watched it and, if you have the bandwidth, it does look much prettier. They also have Curse of Frankenstein and Horror of Dracula in HD.

More Sherlock, Tiger Blood, Netflix and Roku

* First off woohoo! The second season of Sherlock featuring the brilliant Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman is available on instant Netflix. I hope to watch this straight through this weekend. Martin Freeman will next be seen as Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit and Benedict Cumberbatch will be in the new Star Trek movie next summer.

* Netflix has also significantly updated their iPhone and iPod Touch interface. It now lets you pick up where you left off on shows, supports instant queue, has recommendations, a better browse function, a children’s section, and lots more. This brings it in line with the new Xbox interface. An Android update is in the works.

* Tired of waiting for the long-delayed Red Dawn remake? Try the Australian film, Tomorrow When the War Began, now streaming on Netflix.

“After spending a holiday in the countryside, seven Australian teens return home to find that their country has been invaded by a foreign power. With the help of another local, the kids band together to become guerrillas and rescue their families.”

Alternately just go back and watch the original Red Dawn, uniting Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey before they did some Dirty Dancing a few years later. Look for wonderful turns by Harry Dean Stanton and Ben Johnson and even throwing Mr. Tiger Blood Charlie Sheen in the mix. Red Dawn is available on Netflix streaming and Amazon Prime.

* Do NOT watch American Warships. It is yet still another ‘mockbuster’ (aka ripoff) – this time ripping off Battleship. Although it will have to go far to be worse than Battleship, I am certain Asylum can accomplish that. Heck I am not even going to put a link to it – though you masochists can find it on instant Netflix.

* Roku will be adding a VUDU channel to the immense lineup they have as well as an app to stream your music and photos to the TV.

 

Sunday Musings – Netflix & Roku & Warner oh my

Ugh – first post of the new year and it’s already the 8th. I really have to get back to regular writing.

This is the face of the new Roku. Not content with making a media box the size of my hand, they have now reduced it to a stick that can be plugged into a TV’s HDMI port. It only works on “MHL” HDMI TV’s of which there are only a few currently but the concept is pretty neat. I am always in favor of decluttering, especially since my Xbox and Roku won’t play Blu-Rays and my Blu-Ray player won’t play Hulu or Amazon (yes I know spoiled first world problems).

Poor Warner Bros. They are having such financial problems. I’m not sure what their thought process is but instead of that four week window that Netflix and Redbox had to wait to rent out new titles from some of the major studios, Warner is now going for a 56 day blackout for not only Netflix and Redbox but Blockbuster as well. Warner is hoping this will boost DVD sales of new releases since apparently people were willing to wait the four week period and not buy.

Warner apparently doesn’t understand that it’s not the period of time that makes the difference but the paradigm shift in how movies are delivered. Fewer and fewer DVDs are purchased, particularly at the vastly inflated initial release prices. For most films, you can wait just a few months and get if for half-price (or far less if you are willing to buy used from Blockbuster). Add to that that I simply do not have the time to watch even most of the movies that are available on instant Netflix (and that I get unlimited streaming for a per month charge that is less than half of a single new release). Hrrrm tough choice – I can buy six new releases or I can watch UNLIMITED films on Netflix for a YEAR.

Warner and the other studios absolutely refuse to learn any lessons at all from what the music industry went through. Well okay they have learned a few lessons – movies are now available on home media in a mere few months instead of the previous standard of six (and before that 12). They also do some good tie-ins by putting movies on sale in the same week that their sequels are released theatrically. I especially love the free movie ticket promotions like the one currently on the Underworld Blu-Rays.

Apples, Rokus, Kindles and Netflix Oh My

I love my Roku box. The Xbox 360’s recent update for Netflix was wonderful but I still need my Roku for Amazon content – namely the current season of Walking Dead. Why oh why must I wait until February for new episodes? I also need the Roku for my weekly Revision 3 content (HD Nation, Film State, plus Epic Meal Time for my daughter). Roku also has hundreds of other channels to try if you get bored with Netflix and Hulu Plus.

Roku now has an app for your the iPhone, iPod, and iPad to use them as a remote. It can be used on all Roku boxes and even multiple Rokus if you are so inclined. You can use gesture control and add channels. For those of you with Android phones (or like me, have the new Kindle Fire), a version is coming soon (we are the redheaded stepchild).

Amazon has sold millions of the new Kindle Fire so I would expect big improvements shortly. This past week in addition to the daily freebie, they have been running daily 10 cent promotions on at least three different programs a day. I had to erase season 1 of The Walking Dead from my Fire just to fit all the games I’ve been trying. The downside is that Puzzle Quest 2 finally showed up on the Fire and I have a hard time justifying a $4.99 purchase when all my other games are $0.10 or free.

Netflix has also had a major update (2.0) for the iPad. This update is very similar to the one they just did on the Xbox 360 and is a nice little Christmas present for iPad owners.

 

Lazy Weekend Musings – ZOMG It is HOT!

Okay we have found quite a flaw in our plan. We have so many devices stuffed into one small room that our computer room is regularly over 100 degrees in the afternoon even with the windows open and a fan running. Owing to a few unexpected expenses in June, we have to wait until July to get a room air conditioner.

I expect this means that I will take this coming week off. This is just as well as for some reason our Morris Broadband connection has been exceptionally crappy lately. It was completely down most of last Monday as well as Tuesday and Wednesday afternoon. While it has been running since then, it has not been running well – like trying to squeeze a watermelon through a garden hose.

I tried to watch the current episode of HD Nation and hysterically it would only play in the lowest resolution available. That kind of defeated the point but I recommend this weekly online show.

Netflix now broadcasts much of their HD content to PCs now so yay for that.

Roku has updated their software to allow you to play movies that are not in your queue. You can now browse to your hearts content though not as efficiently as on a PC.

Lazy Weekend Musings – Netflix EVERYWHERE!

It certainly is no secret that I love Netflix and especially their instant play option.

90%+ of the time I watch instant Netflix on my Roku player. This is hooked up to my tiny high-definition TV that sits next to my computer monitor. This setup allows me to write about films while watching them or watch films while my wife and I surf the web on our respective computers.

Currently the Roku box only allows you to play movies that you have previously put in your instant queue. In June Roku is having an update that will allow you to surf Netflix for a movie before playing. I do not think this will be a good feature for me but I am sure a lot of people will appreciate it.

Recently I had Netflix send me a disc so that I could watch instant movies on my Wii. This too is neat but of course you cannot watch movies in High Definition off of the Wii. Still it is another nice update for those of you who use the Wii as your gaming system. Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 owners have enjoyed Netflix for a while but I do not have one of those.

My Samsung Blu-Ray player plays Netflix, Youtube, Amazon and Blockbuster but it is one of the earlier models without built-in internet and I have not bought the adapter. If you buy a Blu-Ray player now try to get one that has built-in wireless.

Still I am so spoiled that now I want Netflix for my iPod. I rarely travel but I sure would like to be able to watch what I want on hotel nights. It is coming soon so I am looking forward to that.

With all of this variety and the astounding number of instant movies available, there is no reason not to have Netflix. I find it to be much more entertaining than cable (which we no longer have) and far cheaper as well.

Roku Part Two

Since this is Thanksgiving week and I’m not feeling well, I thought I’d take the week off from reviewing instant Netflix movies and cover some somewhat related topics instead.

Roku Player

Yesterday I covered the Roku player for Netflix. I mentioned that the one thing it really needed was access to Hulu or Youtube. Well, lo and behold, I received an email from Roku this morning that they are updating their channel choices. They are not including Hulu or Youtube but in the next few weeks, Roku owners will be able to stream the following channels to their TVs in addition to Netflix and Amazon.

MotionBox

MotionBox: “Watch your personal videos instantly on your TV with Motionbox.”

Mediafly

Mediafly: “Your source for daily video podcasts from news sources like CNN and NBC.”

BlipTV

BlipTV: “blip.tv hosts and distributes the best original Web shows.”

TwitTV

TwitTV: “Netcasts on the latest tech trends from people you trust.”

Facebook Photos

Facebook Photos: “View your Facebook photo albums, as well as friends’ photos.” – This carries the implication that full Facebook viewing is not available but check out Mobile Tribe below for that.

Revision 3

Revision 3: “Home of Diggnation, Tekzilla and tons more original shows for the Internet generation.” – I have only used this site to watch HD Nation on occasion but will likely use it more once it is integrated into the Roku player.

Frame Channel

Frame Channel: “FrameChannel is a free service that allows you to gather and display your photos on your connected device. Use FrameChannel to view your photos and select from 1000+ channels of custom content like news, traffic, weather, sports, financial data and much more! FrameChannel brings your connected device to life!”

Flickr

Flickr: “Browse your own photos and public photos on Flickr.” You can use Flickr to create prints, posters, calendars and the most marvelous photo books or just browse your uploaded photo collection.

Pandora

Pandora: Free service that plays music personalized for you. It uses the music genome project to help pick music specifically for you. I’m not much of a music person but my wife and her friends use this service.

MLB

MLB.com: “Watch all out-of-market baseball games live and on demand.” This is currently available on Roku in beta form. This does require a MLB subscription and starts in April 2010.

Mobile Tribe

Mobile Tribe: “Now you can enjoy online social networking from your TV! MobileTribe helps you stay in sync with your online communities with a single, low cost application. Easily access your existing accounts on Facebook, Myspace, Orkut, Yahoo!, Flickr, Picasa and Google, without getting off the couch.

What better way to share your photo albums with friends and family, no more crowding around a laptop. MobileTribe makes it easy and fun to check out your friends and their friends’ latest picture albums and status on a big screen!”

This service also supports over 500 phones for those of you who can’t bear to be away from The Book of Faces.

Roku Player

Since this is Thanksgiving week and I’m not feeling well, I thought I’d take the week off from reviewing instant Netflix movies and cover some somewhat related topics instead.

Roku Player

While the last two days I’ve covered FREE, today’s topic is the Roku player which is most definitely not free. All 3 varieties of Roku player are available from Amazon and they range from $80-$130.

We have the $100 version (Roku HD) and it is one of the best gadgets I have ever bought. Jen and I often spend our evenings computing while watching an instant Netflix film on the TV between us – all thanks to this marvelous device. It’s basic value to us is that it frees up my computer. I can type up a review while watching the film as our TV is next to my monitor.

The Roku SD is  $80 and features:

* Start watching movies on your TV in seconds using your high-speed Internet connection

* Instantly plays the entire Netflix Instant Watch library with your Netflix membership – no additional subscription cost required, and viewing is unlimited

* Plays DVD-quality video on any TV

* Built-in wireless (Wi-Fi) as well as wired internet connectivity

* Sets up in 5 minutes

The Roku HD is $100 and features:

* Start watching movies on your TV in seconds using your high-speed Internet connection

* Instantly plays the entire Netflix Instant Watch library with your Netflix membership – no additional subscription required, viewing is unlimited

* Instantly plays over 45,000 movies and shows from Amazon Video On Demand

* Built-in wireless (Wi-Fi) and wired internet connectivity

* Plays High Definition as well as DVD-quality video; works with any TV

The Roku HD-XR is $130 and features:

*Start watching movies on your TV in seconds using your high-speed Internet connection

* Instantly plays the entire Netflix Instant Watch library with your Netflix membership – no additional subscription cost required

* Instantly plays over 45,000 movies and shows from Amazon Video On Demand

* Extended range wireless (Wi-Fi N dual-band) built-in the latest standard

* Plays High Definition as well as DVD-quality video; works with any TV

Our unit was very easy to set up and of course you get the best picture quality if you use HDMI cables. You can pick up HDMI cables for under a $1 on Amazon or you can spend $30-$80 at Best Buy or Target. Buying cables at a store is a complete ripoff. Amazon offers a bundle with cables but it is cheaper to buy them separately.

While it is nice that the latest version (Roku HD-XR) uses Wireless N technology, you will not get any of the N speed boost unless all of your devices on the network run at that speed. If one of your devices runs at G speed (computer, game console, etc.) then all devices on that network will run at that lower speed.

Another tip is that if you play one of the many HD titles from instant Netflix, I have found that it is best to start it and then pause for a bit while the buffer builds up. You may not need to if you have a faster connection or if you have less of a drain on your network. We have 4 people all using the internet pretty consistently so this tip is pretty much a necessity for us.

Personally while I love this little device, if your TV is close to your network connection then you can purchase a Blu-Ray player that has a wired connection and plays Netflix for about the same amount of money. Many of the Samsung and LG models have Netflix capability.

Because of the relatively high price of the Roku player and the rapidly dropping price of Blu-ray players, this is a very niche product but we’ve gotten a lot of use out of ours. The Amazon connection is nice but I seldom use it as Amazon’s Video on Demand is rather exorbitantly priced. Roku really needs to come up with a way for this device to stream Youtube or better still Hulu to stay viable against the cheap Blu-Ray players. I should also note that this is a tiny tiny box and fits anywhere.