Geek News: Latest Technology, Product Reviews, Gadgets and Tech Podcast News for Geeks


Dear Netflix, Please Be Careful. Signed – A Faithful Subscriber

Posted by AndrewH at 2:15 PM on March 8, 2012

Oh, Netflix.

Still staggering from the one-two punch of the infamous 60 percent price increase for unsuspecting users in July, followed by a sloppy September move to break off its mail order business and call it Qwikster – Netflix has been looking a little weak in the legs.

Angry subscribers and jittery investors do not a good combination make.

Let’s hope their latest announcement – conveniently broken the same morning as the Apple show was dominating another couple of news cycles – isn’t the knockout punch.

According to Reuters, “Netflix Chief Executive Reed Hastings has quietly met with some of the largest U.S. cable companies in recent weeks to discuss adding the online movie streaming service to their cable offerings, according to sources familiar with matter.”

Most see these talks as a short term development in a long-term conversation that could bring Netflix to cable television as an on-demand choice. Some even see Netflix as a future rival to HBO. Perhaps Netflix is feeling the heat of a crop of competitors with deep pockets (Google, Amazon and others).

But whether it’s a bid to regain lost confidence or a nod to future partnerships aimed at satiating shareholders, Netflix might just be ignoring the one party that made this all possible – current subscribers.

Should talks with cable companies lead to cozy deals, maybe customers who likely view Netflix as the best option for “cutting the cord” will head elsewhere for streaming content. In other words, simply associating with the cable monopolies will taint the flavor of the entire service.

Last year’s debacle cost Netflix 800,000 subscribers (although they gained back 600,000 by year’s end). They got raked over the coals in a very public way by subscribers, industry watchers and more. Combine that with the fact that you could fit the number of people who feel love for their cable provider in a bouncy castle and you’ve got Netflix looking like they might be poised to step in it again.

Here’s another potential deal that might look great for the bottom line, but alienating to the subscriber base. A subscriber base (myself included) that knows the future of video content and entertainment streams wirelessly across the living room – not through a cord.

Android Causing WiFi Router Lockups

Posted by tomwiles at 12:38 AM on January 3, 2012

I’ve had an Android phone for about a year and a half (the HTC Evo from Sprint) but primarily because of battery use issues I’ve never used it on my home WiFi network.

In the interim, a few months ago I purchased a Barnes & Noble Nook Color, which runs a custom version of Android. I’ve also experimented with dual-booting the Nook with CyanogenMod 7, an open-source version of Android. When I dual-boot into CyanogenMod 7 and connect to my Apple Airport Extreme router, the router will loose Internet connectivity after only a few minutes, requiring me to cycle the router’s power off and back on to restore connectivity.

Now that I’ve been able to install the authorized version of Netflix onto the Nook after Barnes and Noble’s latest Nook OS update, I tried running Netflix on the Nook on my home network. After watching video for 15 or more minutes, my Apple router loses Internet connectivity.

My youngest brother has a newer HTC Android phone, and after he connected to my local WiFi network almost immediately the Apple router lost connectivity. It happened so frequently at one point that I was beginning to think the router was dying.

However, after futher experimentation I’ve determined that if I don’t connect any Android devices to my WiFi, the router seems to work as flawlessly as ever.

Time to check Mr. Google. Using the Google-suggested search term “android crashes router” (the term pops up immediately after I start typing “android cras   “ so I know plenty of other people are looking for a solution) 4,730,000 results come up. After reading through a number of posts by people experiencing the same issue, I have yet to come up with a definitive answer. What is it about a variety of versions of Android connecting to WiFi that is causing many different brands of routers to lose Internet connectivity? The problem is by no means an Apple Router/Android WiFi incompatibility – it therefore seems more likely an issue with Android itself, or at least certain Android builds.

The suggested fixes range from people suggesting that they try to update their router’s firmware to trying to confine the router to Wireless “G” only.

Ironically my HTC Evo phone can also be used as a WiFi hotspot. I can connect any Android device to the Evo’s WiFi hotspot feature and transfer all the data I want without issue. In other words, Android cannot cause my Android phone’s hotspot feature to lose Internet connectivity.

It would be logical to assume that this problem is an Android software issue. The problem seems inconsistent, most probably because of the patchwork-quilt variety of Android hardware and custom OS builds.

So far, the problem hasn’t even seemed to be officially acknowledged as an issue. I suspect that bad Android battery life has prevented a lot of people from trying to connect their Android phones to their home networks via WiFi, so mass numbers of people likely haven’t experienced the potential WiFi router crashing problem.

Of the people that do connect their phones to home WiFi routers, some people never have a problem, while others are constantly plagued by it.

Android crashing WiFi routers is enough to cause me to veer away from future Android devices, unless and until the problem is solved. Phase one of the chaos of the Windows desktop has spread to smartphones.

Welcome to the new Windows fractal – it’s name is Android.

On The Net, Less Can Offer More

Posted by tomwiles at 9:59 PM on December 5, 2011

For some time now I’ve been using an iOS/Android app called “Heytell” to communicate with a number of friends and relatives. Heytell’s appeal is that it offers reliable asynchronous voice messages that are quick and easy to send to people when you don’t want to invest the time in a phone conversation. Heytell’s success as an app is that it offers something that’s less than a phone call but does it very well indeed.

Text messaging is successful and popular because it offers the opportunity to send quick and easy messages directly to the cell phones of others if you don’t want to invest the time or effort into writing a full-fledged email. Text messaging’s success is that it offers something that’s less than an email but does it very well indeed.

For some time now, I’ve been experimenting with various set-top boxes, including the Western Digital WDTV as well as built-in apps in a couple of different brands of Blu-Ray players, the software version of Boxee, an Apple TV, and even a Mac Mini connected to my HDTV. All of them had their strengths, however, it still felt as if something was somehow wrong or missing from each one of those experiences and user interfaces.

Over the weekend I bought a Roku 2 XS. The Roku is by far the best set-top box experience I’ve ever had. Roku has got it right. They’ve currently got well over 100 apps to chose from, with many more constantly being added. Roku has a tremendous amount of content provided by those third-party apps, and content drives success. Content is king and always will be.

It hit me what the appeal of a box such as Roku is with its third-party apps. These streaming apps, such as Crackle, Netflix, etc. are something less than a full-fledged cable or broadcast TV network. They can have lots of highly-specialized content to choose from, such as Netflix, or such a small amount of highly-specialized content that it’s only updated once a week. Big traditional cable and broadcast networks provide only one program at a time that the viewer has to make an appointment to watch. Roku video streaming apps provide specialized content that in many cases could never make it on a traditional broadcast network because the audience would be too small. That same specialized content begins to have tremendous appeal in a Roku app venue where it’s something less than a full-fledged network environment, yet delivered very well indeed.

On the Internet, less really can be more.

Netflix Finally Meets Android

Posted by tomwiles at 8:22 PM on May 14, 2011

Netflix is finally coming to Android devices, albeit slowly, to specific devices at a time. So far, the free Netflix app will show up in the Android Marketplace on the HTC Evo 4G, the HTC Incredible, the HTC Nexus One, the HTC G2, and the Samsung Nexus S.

I have (and still love) a Sprint HTC Evo 4G, so upon discovering that Netflix was available I immediately installed it. The app appears to have a design very similar to the iPod/iPad/iPhone/iOS version, which I also have installed on my iPod Touch 4.

Check the Android Marketplace on your device as well as the Netflix.Com website for additional Android devices as they are added.

OTT: Are We There Yet?

Posted by tomwiles at 2:36 AM on February 19, 2011

It’s been a while since dumping my $100-dollar-per-month Dish Network habit. Ominously for the existing broadcast/cable/satellite structure, I haven’t missed it – not even one little bit. Sorry guys, that money now goes for other discretionary things.

Save Our Buggy Whips!

I saw an article about the traditional broadcasters in Canada saying they needed to somehow “get ahead” of the Netflix/Hulu phenomenon before the inevitable hits them, before what is happening in the USA happens to them. Like most dinosaur products and services, instead of talking about how they can come up with better ways to serve customers in an ever-changing, innovative marketplace, they are essentially discussing how they can somehow entice or even force customers to maintain the status quo.

A primary reason that market and business conditions change over time is improved, innovative products and services come along that better serve the end consumer. Organizations and individuals that grow fat and lazy consuming cash cow largess naturally start whining when market conditions change and the cow has no more grass left on which to graze because the stagnant field has been stripped bare.

I Want My Set Top Box

I’ve been experimenting with several different TV set top box solutions. I’ve got an Intel Mac Mini set up as a DVR with an HDTV USB tuner stick. I’ve got a couple of Western Digital WD TV Live Plus boxes. I’ve got Playon TV software running on a an HP Windows Home Server box with about 30 different plugins that give me quick organized access to a ton of different on-demand streaming video content, including Hulu and a fair amount of network programming. I’ve got an original Mac Mini running a $50 software hack that includes Boxee and XBMC software. Finally, I’ve got an LG Blu-Ray player that has a number of different on-demand video services built in, including Netflix, Vudu, and a new recently-added service called Divx TV.

So far, none of these solutions is perfect for every viewing situation. My biggest complaint about on-demand video is that it’s virtually impossible to set up a video play list where I can start the video playing and get it to automatically continue to play without any further intervention. This is especially frustrating when I have a bunch of two or three-minute-long video podcasts to watch through and each file has to manually be started playing. Why can’t someone solve this problem? Every past successful form of media has been able to go into a continuous-play mode. Coming up with a solution to this problem of being able to start a group of video files playing and have them play continuously is ultimately critical if OTT is to be widely adopted.

Divx TV Comes Closer

Divx TV, which is currently available only on select LG Blu-Ray players, actually attempts to solve the continuous play problem. It has a channel up/down feature that immediately begins to play streaming podcast content in a window from a number of different content partners. As you go through the categories and drill down into the sub-categories, the video will immediately change to the newest one selected, just like changing a TV channel. The content is categorized in a number of different ways. Revision 3 is one of the content providers. If a Revision 3 podcast is selected, the latest episode will immediately begin to play in the window. At any point in the process, a “swap” button can be pressed to instantly make the video full-screen (or vice versa) without having to restart the video from the beginning. After the latest episode plays, the next-latest episode will play, etc. If left playing, it will eventually go through all available content and start playing the first episode.

Additionally, Divx TV has a search function where it’s possible to save search terms for future use. One of the problems I’ve ran into when using the search function to find videos from their database that aren’t in the packaged categories is file sizes are inconsistent. Since I’m using a point-to-point wireless Internet provider, my home Internet connection isn’t as fast as traditional cable or DSL connections. Larger video file sizes tend not to stream over slower connections so well and buffering can occur. The pre-packaged Divx TV category content providers provide a more consistent video streaming experience on less-robust Internet bandwidth connections and the video looks pretty good.

Eventually all of these problems must be solved.

What would be an ideal system for me? I’d like to be able to play the hundreds of video podcasts I’ve downloaded on every TV in my house and have them play continuously without intervention. I’d like to be able to mix and match custom streaming content, again with minimal intervention on my part. I’d like to be able to play any video I’ve recorded on my Mac Mini DVR on any TV set in my house via my wired home network. So far, none of these solutions I’ve tried can quite combine all of these features into one sleek package. By the way, the Mac Mini DVR can be a bit of a pain in the rear, since the on-screen computer screen text can’t be read from 15 feet away even on a 58” screen.

Are we there yet? Not quite, but the journey has definitely started.

Movies & Documentaries On iOS Devices

Posted by tomwiles at 9:13 PM on February 16, 2011

Since getting the latest version of the 32 gigabyte iPod Touch a couple of months back, one of the uses that has surprised me has been late-night movie-watching after I’ve gone to bed but am not yet drowsy enough to go to sleep. The iPod Touch works extremely well for this task. I am able to pair the iPod to my Sprint HTC Evo’s WiFi hotspot feature and generally get very good Internet connectivity.

By far, Netflix is the best on-demand movie service available. Netflix has the most and best content available. The Netflix app for iPod/iPhone works great. It gives me the most relevant features of the full Netflix service in a tidy little package. So far, I’ve watched dozens of movies right on my iPod.

But are there other iPod/iPhone movie and documentary apps available? It turns out there are, though the quality can vary tremendously. One of them is called “NFB Films” which is an app created by the National Film Board of Canada. You can watch over 1,000 movies, including documentaries, animations and trailers.

Another app is called “Big Star TV.” The app itself is free to install, but if you wish to watch any content, like with Netflix, you have to pay a monthly fee. Big Star’s movies don’t seem to be up to the high quality level of Netflix.

B-Movies is a free app that presents Internet Archive (www.archive.org) films in an organized, easy-to-use format. It should be noted B-Movies is not associated or a part of the Internet Archive. Among other things, the Internet Archive contains an incredibly rich and diverse set of older classic corporate, school and government documentaries.

Apart from these choices of course is YouTube. Certainly YouTube has a tremendous amount of content, but therein lies the rub: there’s so much YouTube content, it makes it difficult for any single app to categorize, let alone try to catalog what’s available. With YouTube it’s best to simply search on a keyword or phrase that interests you and then start surfing.

The promise of the future that was held up when I was a kid has in many ways arrived, but as always there remains a lot of room for improvement.

Netflix and Vudu Now on the D-Link Boxee Box

Posted by Mike Dell at 6:49 AM on February 15, 2011

D-Link and Boxee have announced that the Boxee Box will now support Vudu and NetFlix.

This will bring even more choices to the Boxee box and let it’s users have access to the 1000′s of movies and TV shows available on NetFlix via their subscription service. NetFlix subscriptions start at $7.99 for streaming only and $8.99 for 1 DVD by mail at a time in addition to the streaming. Go to NetFlix.com to check out their service.

Vudu brings HD movies, on demand for rental. They have first run movies that are available on the Vudu service the same day the DVD’s are released. Standard rentals are priced at $2 for 2 nights and HD New Releases rent for $4.99. Check out vudu.com for more information.

The D-Link Boxee box can be ordered for around $200 just about everywhere electronics are sold. The Boxee service also includes a plethora of other streaming content from various media creators around the internet (including Tech Podcast Network and Blubrry channels)

The Boxee Box itself features an SD card slot, two USB ports, optical digital audio, HDMI output, 802.11n wireless, and an Ethernet port. It has a double-sided remote featuring a built-in QWERTY keyboard and simple browsing interface, consumers can kick back and watch virtually anything. It also integrates social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, Right from your remote!

For more information on the Boxee service, check them out over at boxee.tv and check out the boxee box by D-Link at dlink.com/boxee

Netflix 1080p And 5.1 For Everyone?

Posted by Alan at 6:52 PM on October 18, 2010

Today it was announced that the Nintendo Wii will finally get Netflix streaming without a disc.  This goes along with the announcement a few days ago that the Sony PS3 would also get disc-free Netflix along with some content in 1080p with 5.1 surround sound.

So, now the question is, will all Netflix apps get the 1080p, 5.1 treatment?  Netflix is everywhere these days – on set-top boxes, DVR’s, Blu-Ray players, and Windows Media Center.  But the announcements seem to indicate that only the PS3 is getting the special treatment.  Obviously, the Wii is not a high-def player, but many other places where the app resides are.  Netflix has said other platforms will eventually get 5.1, but I haven’t heard about the 1080p part.

I, for one, am an audio freak, but not so much a 1080p fanatic.  That may be because my TV is 1080i, but I don’t think so.  I just don’t see the difference as much as some claim to.  But I am a complete surround sound nut.  My TV’s speakers are set to zero volume and always have been.  For all I know they don’t even work.  My sound, for all devices, goes to my Yamaha AV receiver and if my TV is on then the receiver is on.  And content without 5.1 annoys me.  About a year ago I bought a movie from Amazon and it came with stereo sound – I have not bought another since.  I’ve heard, though, that they are also releasing some content now with surround sound.

But, there are many 1080p people out there and the two (1080p and 5.1) should probably go together.  Netflix has been a pioneer in this streaming field so it seems logical that they will lead this upgrade also.  But, why not more announcements?  Did Sony pay for an exclusive launch?  If so, for how long?  Maybe over the next few weeks we will get some of these answers.  I and my rear speakers will be waiting.

OTT Tsunami

Posted by tomwiles at 10:28 PM on September 28, 2010

We’ve been hearing quite a lot about Internet-delivered video content lately. Trends sometimes seem to advance slowly over a long period of time but then tumultuous market shifts seem to happen overnight.

Blockbuster just filed for bankruptcy. Blockbuster was unable to reconfigure their business structure to compete effectively with Netflix. It seems that Netflix has won the ongoing war.

Streaming video and video podcasts have been around for several years – these are not new ideas. However, what is new is the proliferation and increasing popularity of set-top boxes.

Back in the 1980’s backyard satellite TV dishes were a hobby among people that were looking for something different and as many choices as possible. That quest for choice ended up going mainstream in the form of commercial cable and satellite providers offering hundreds of channels.

Starting in 2004 people began experimenting with Internet-delivered content in the form of podcasts. I believe that podcasting happened as a direct result of broadband availability getting to a certain critical mass, combining the existing elements of RSS, MP3’s, etc. into a new form of communication. This new form of communication offered something very different along with unprecedented levels of choice.

Internet-delivered content of all kinds is rapidly becoming mainstream.

I believe 2010 is the year of the app. Apps suddenly seemed to have come out of nowhere to seeming to pop up on every device imaginable. Why the sudden popularity of apps? Desktop and laptop computers have been around for a long time, along with full-blown applications. What has really happened is that computers have now shrunk down to the point where they not only are in our pockets in the form of smartphones, but they are also showing up in HDTV sets and plenty of other devices. These devices we are running these apps on are actually quite powerful computers in their own rights.

There is now a wide variety of content that is heading for every computer-enabled screen you own, especially your HDTV.

The Long Tail

Posted by tomwiles at 8:06 PM on August 13, 2010

In the world of blogging, podcasting and social networking, much has been said about the so-called “long tail.” The concept of the “long tail” revolves around the idea that available content living on the Internet gets a lot of extra audience over a long period of time, as opposed to traditional print and broadcast content which has a much more limited lifespan.

As services such as Netflix gain popularity, yet another form of content is experiencing the benefits of the long tail – movies and TV shows that are available for long-term streaming. An excellent example of how the “long tail” benefits movies in particular are obscure documentaries that in the old pre-streaming days would have a limited initial audience and then end up on a shelf somewhere or be sold in consumer video release one at a time.

Now more obscure movies and TV shows that had a limited lifespan and limited impact are able to take a new lease-on life that used to simply not exist.

I am particularly enjoying streaming documentaries on Netflix. There are some real gems out there. One documentary I really enjoyed in particular that I’d never heard of before I found it on Netflix is called “Cowboy Del Amor.” It’s about a Texas matchmaker who specializes in matching up American men with Mexican women. If you haven’t seen this gem, I highly recommend it. “Cowboy Del Amor” is but one example of movies that have a very limited promotion budgets and therefore are unable to make much of a publicity splash when they are released, yet they can be absolutely fantastic movies to not only watch yourself but to share later with friends and family.

I dropped my Dish Network account in July 2010 and have not looked back. Streaming videos via services such as Netflix forces me to take a much more active role in selecting something good to watch. Having literally tens of thousands of movies and videos available for instant streaming on demand is a far superior way to find and consume commercial content.