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.

 

July This ‘n’ That

* Best Buy Upgrade & Save: Best Buy runs this promotion about every quarter or so. From 7/14-8/10, you can bring in any commercially produced non-pornographic DVD and trade it in for a $5 off any Blu-Ray $9.99 or more coupon. This is typically a great way to get those Blu-Rays that have FREE movie tickets on them. If you don’t have any DVDs to trade in, you can always hit up a dollar store for some.

Netflix

* Netflix has rolled out a new PS3 suggestion engine named Max. They have fine tuned their algorithms and are tryiing out a humorous front end to get you more engaged in the process. If it works out, expect it on the iPad next followed by the Xbox and Roku. I don’t have a PS3 to try this out but I will say that for the first time ever, Netflix does not have movies I’ve already watched and rated on their service in my Top 10 suggested.

Xbox 360* As the Xbox One nears its release goal of taking over your living room, Time Warner Cable and Microsoft have come to an agreement to allow you to view 300 channels live. Is this a test run for the always live Xbox One?

* If there are any aspiring filmmakers out there, head on over to FilmmakerIQ.com for a slew of informative articles and documentaries. Try this one on the history of aspect ratios.

Netflix for Kids & Some Movies You Might Have Missed

* Netflix just recently made an update to their Xbox 360 software enabling their new “Netflix for Kids” option. Even though I don’t have a child in the appropriate age range, it is a very neat set up. Netflix for Kids is designed for ages 12 and under. Rango still shows up so it will go through at least PG in terms of ratings. I loved the first category – it is simply pictures of children’s characters (Rugrats, Elmo, Spongebob, etc.) and all you have to do is select one to begin playing.

* While I was busy doing The End is Nigh week, a number of interesting films showed up on instant Netflix.

Bullhead (2011) – Rated R

“Tortured by his past and despairing of his stultifying present life, Belgian cattle farmer Jacky becomes entangled in a violent web of deceit involving local mobsters and determined policemen after he uses illegal growth hormones on his herd.”

Margin Call (2011) – Rated R

“An all-star cast shines in this engrossing drama about a critical 24-hour period at a high-profile investment bank in the early days of the 2008 financial crisis, when young analyst Peter Sullivan (Zachary Quinto) uncovers information that could destroy the firm. When he alerts upper management to the precarious position of their risky investments, an emergency meeting is held to decide if they should alert clients or abscond with the profits.”

Warrior (2011) – Rated PG-13

“Set in the violent world of mixed martial arts combat, this gritty drama follows two brothers at war with each other, who have pursued separate lives. But preparation for a championship bout soon leads the siblings back into each other’s paths.”

Immortals (2011) – Rated R

“In Ancient Greece, King Hyperion searches for a powerful weapon that will free the bloodthirsty Titans and enable them to overpower the gods and enslave mankind. Unable to interfere directly, the gods choose a champion to defend them: Theseus.”

The Devil’s Double (2011) – Rated R

Dominic Cooper stars as Uday Hussein — Saddam Hussein’s depraved, decadent elder son — and as Latif Yahia, the army lieutenant forcibly drafted to be his body double, in this drama based on Yahia’s autobiographical novel.”

Albert Nobbs (2011) – Rated R

“Having for decades disguised herself as a man while working as a butler in a posh 19th-century Dublin hotel, a woman calling herself Albert Nobbs reconsiders her charade when a handsome painter arrives on the scene.”

Wii U, Xbox 360, Smart Glass, and Blogging

* Nintendo’s new console, Wii U, will have Netflix, Hulu, Amazon and Youtube on launch. It is good that Nintendo is realizing that more and more consumers are using video consoles as media delivery systems. I hardly ever use Xbox 360 for games but I use it all the time as a large Roku box.

* Speaking of the Xbox 360, they are adding Xbox Music (streaming service with over 30,000 songs), NBA, NHL, and Nike+ Kinect. Maybe the Nike+ Kinect will finally inspire me to get a Kinect and exercise. Whew just thinking about that was exhausting. Really the only thing lacking on the Xbox is a Blu-Ray player but if you have one on your computer, you can always use Windows Media Center to push it to the TV.

* Microsoft also announced the full of potential Xbox Smart Glass. Smart Glass allows you to get extra content on your phone or tablet while watching or playing on your Xbox 360. One of the examples they showed was a map of Westeros on your phone while Game of Thrones was playing on HBO Go on the Xbox.

* The Playstation 3: I don’t talk about this much as I don’t own one but as a media center it doesn’t even come close to the Xbox 360, though it is much better than the Wii. The PS3’s only saving grace is that it has a Blu-Ray player. There were a lot of new PS3 announcements at E3 but not much for movies and such.

* In a repeating news story, every few years a DVR company comes up with a new technique or algorithm to eliminate those pesky TV commercials. Every time they do, the networks bring out the big guns and sue them away. Personally I find Hulu’s commercial interruptions to be relatively unobtrusive though certainly I prefer the Netflix no commercial standard.

* I managed my goal in May to publish a post every single day. I found however that it made me cranky as I am such a slow writer. It takes me about two hours a post (not counting watching a movie when I’m doing a review) and I just can’t sustain that on a daily basis. My expectation is that I’m going back to the 3-5 posts a week I did before May.

I highly recommend blogging to those who want to sharpen their writing ability. I started this blog with just that goal in mind as I felt my communication skills slipping. My wonderful wife has her own blog where she talks all about our personal life so that really just left movies for me to talk about.

Amazon’s Prime Directive

I would really like to see someone give Netflix a run for their money. Sadly Hulu, which has a great TV selection, only pays lip service to movies. Blockbuster’s service is a joke and all others are a la carte. The individual pricing model ($3-$7 per viewing) for streaming is ridiculous given the ubiquitous nature of Redbox kiosks (less than $2 for a 24-hour rental and many coupons and special offers). Digital distribution requires no physical item and no physical presence so why would it be more expensive?

All of that leaves Amazon as the remaining alternative. I had expected the amazon Prime service to grow by leaps and bounds when the Kindle Fire debuted but was disappointed. Unfortunately Amazon hamstrings itself. They are attached to the a la carte model so there is no incentive for them to put their utmost into Prime. This means that they are still running a distant second to Netflix in movies and third to Hulu and Netflix in television.

Two recent news stories are hopefully pointing to some beneficial changes. First they have reached a deal to finally put Amazon Prime videos on the Xbox 360. Presumably the difficulty there lay in the offerings from Microsoft’s failed Zune service. Amazon Prime is now available on Kindle Fire, PS3, Roku, Xbox 360, and many TVs and Blu-Ray players. Xbox 360 Gold members will be able to preview the Prime service from June 1st-June 3rd.

Amazon Prime has also debuted their new watchlist program on Xbox 360, PC, Mac or Kindle Fire (coming soon to PS3 and Roku). It is essentially Netflix’ queue system but is welcome nonetheless.

The second news story is that Amazon and Paramount have inked a deal to add Paramount’s back catalog to Prime. Fortunately I have learned that many of these announcements are little more than hype. What the announcement really means is that some select Paramount movies will appear on Amazon Prime. For example, the announcement mentions that Mission Impossible III will be available. I understand Ghost Protocol is too new but why wouldn’t Mission Impossible 1 and 2 be available?

Gizmodo recommended 20 films to immediately add to your watchlist, some of which I found rather dubious though it was still a good list. Additional comments to the list are mine.

Team America: World Police Really? Recommending puppet porn? Good first pick Gizmodo!

Into the Wild Please please please do not watch this – instead go read the far better source book by Jon Krakauer. Optionally, read the equally harrowing Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer. The film is not a bad adaptation but it does lose something in translation.

Nacho Libre Interesting especially because there aren’t many English luchador movies but not much more than that.

Downton Abbey Sadly this has been in my Netflix queue for a while but my wife and I have not gotten around to watching it in spite of numerous recommendations.

Grizzly Man

Iron Giant This is an absolutely charming animated film that is great for children and adults.

L. A. Confidential This is a fantastic story of three VERY different cops played by Russell Crowe, Guy Pearce, and Kevin Spacey very early in their careers. Won Oscars for Best Writing and Kim Basinger’s performance though I thought Spacey’s was better.

In the Loop

Last of the Mohicans This is one of my absolute favorite movies. Are there any other action movies set during the French and Indian War? Filmed in my beautiful backyard (the mountains of western North Carolina), this is a wonderfully romantic story with some of the best action setpieces made.

Time Bandits Can one ever tire of David Warner as a villain? How about Ralph Richardson as the Supreme Being? If that isn’t enough to sell you then how about John Cleese, Michael Palin, and Sean Connery? Another film that can entertain adults and children.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind Entertaining and a nice turn from Jim Carrey but overrated.

Good Night and Good Luck Wait you mean George Clooney can write, act, and direct? Yes he can and wisely gives a starring role to perpetual character actor David Strathairn.

Gosford Park

Melancholia

Braveheart A fine biography of William Wallace from your favorite (or perhaps least favorite) anti-semitic, misogynistic madman, Mel Gibson.

Elizabeth While not as intensive as BBC’s Elizabeth R, Elizabeth is still a great film with wonderful performances, particularly from Cate Blanchett and Geoffrey Rush.

Restrepo

Before Sunset

The Tudors Yikes I cannot get behind this pick as the history is pretty lousy and there are much better adaptations of the period, namely BBC’s The Six Wives of Henry VIII.

Page One: Inside the New York Times

 

 

 

More Idle Thoughts in May – Avenging Dawson’s Creek Through Music

* I hate the Xbox Netflix interface (which shares similar problems with the Roku and the iPhone/iPod/iPad). It is really nice that it automatically boots up the next episode when you select a TV show but if that’s not the episode you want then wow are you in for some juggling.

The search function is horrific. It works just fine if you know the exact title you are looking for but good luck trying to find a Clint Eastwood movie for example.

The genre headings work great on the computer – over 20 different categories that you can then pick different subcategories from. For instance I can choose Horror (you’re shocked I can tell) and then select Foreign Horror or Vampires.

On the Xbox, I can select many of the same categories but none of the subcategories. For example I can choose to watch foreign movies but I can’t tell it that I want to watch a Japanese film. Also you can only scroll through so many movies in each category – the full catalogue is not available.

Mind you this is still an improvement from the old days. In the previous interface, you could only watch movies that you had placed in your queue from your computer. Of course before that you could only watch on your computer so we have come a long way.

My daughter also pointed out that it would be really nice if you could sort movies by rating. I’d also love to see multiple field searches with designated operators but I guess that’s too complicated.

* A new batch of concerts showed up on instant Netflix including: Snoop Dogg: Puff Puff Pass Tour, Rick James: Superfreak Live 1982, Santana: Hymns for Peace, and more classic albums from Elton John, The Who, The Band, and Elvis Presley.

Dawson’s Creek (1998-2002)

“This thought-provoking nighttime soap about a group of close-knit teens, led by dreamer Dawson Leery, frankly portrays the issues of adolescence that obsess young adults as they navigate through high school and college — including sex, sex and sex.”

I really don’t have time for more TV but I thought I’d mention that the six seasons of Dawson’s Creek just showed up on instant Netflix. Kevin Williamson is a pretty sharp writer/creator.

Idle Chatter – Hulu and Xbox

Just a few things I was thinking about over the weekend but then I was sidetracked with a semi-coherent piracy rant.

* I have an Xbox 360 which we use for most of our Netflix and Hulu watching around here (Thanks Rufus!) but I haven’t broken down and bought a Kinect yet. Part of the reason is that we don’t really have the space requirement – you are supposed to be 6-8 feet away from the TV and Kinect but we sit about 3 feet away (an would completely block the front door if 8 feet away – small house).

I do like that Kinect allows you to scroll through movies with your hands or issue voice commands. It has also been reported that the Xbox is likely to get Internet Explorer this year and that it will have Kinect controls a la Minority Report or Iron Man.

Now where is my hovercar?

* Well it is only in the planning/rumor stage but not surprisingly cable companies are tired of customers cutting their cable. We cut it years ago and Hulu and Netflix give us more to watch than we would ever have time for (not to mention my fairly extensive DVD library).

Disney, News Corp, and Comcast (i.e. the bigwigs that own Hulu) are planning to require users to authenticate that they have cable before they can use Hulu. Now there is no timetable on this and it is uncertain whether this would include the paying users of Hulu Plus or just the plain Hulu users.

Personally I find it humorous that apparently Hulu has succeeded too well. I think it is a sign that the cable companies need to adapt or die (much like the record companies failed to do when music went digital) because once customers are used to not having to fork over $70-$100 for cable TV, how will you ever get them back?

On the other hand, how many people who have cut cable TV are shelling out the same money to the same people for their internet connection? Personally I am still thrilled to be able to choose from tens of thousands of movies and shows and watch them any time I want. When I was a kid, I can remember buying 8mm film clips of movies I loved – not the whole movie as that was ludicrously priced, but just the good parts.

 

Help! I am being replaced by Hulu!

I am proud to wear many, many hats in my family. I make drinks, dinner, bake cookies, and pack lunches. I clean, do dishes, do laundry and make the bed. I am the go-to guy for spider sightings (though in those cases my name is often pronounced “AAAAAAH!”). I am also the guy that gets to answer the question, “who was that guy in that thing with that girl?” I’ve become fairly prescient in such matters, standing ready with the answer before the question is asked.

Hulu has a new feature called Hulu Face Match. All you have to do is hover your mouse pointer over an actor’s face and the show will pause and a pop-up will bring up the actors name, a mini-bio, and a link to their wiki. This is set to roll out to all of Hulu but currently works on episodes of Glee, Lost, The Office, Wilfred and Modern Family.

Netflix: I love the new Netflix app on Xbox 360. When I select How I Met Your Mother from my instant queue, it automagically plays the next episode. After that episode ends, it gives me the option of playing the following episode with one button press. It also doesn’t wait for the episode to finish to bring up this option – it’s available as soon as the credits begin to roll.

In addition – I no longer get that annoying reload screen when Netflix detects a slower/faster bandwidth change. Instead graphic quality is adjusted on the fly. I’m looking forward to these changes being rolled out on the Roku.