Category Archives: Netflix

Finally Mobile Streaming Becomes Truly Practical

I remember driving around back in the early 1980’s dreaming of what it might be like if I could listen to what I wanted when I wanted to. Back in those days, in many areas of the country, there was nothing to listen to but farm reports and hog prices. AM and FM stations would quickly fade in and out. Driving cross-country it was necessary to constantly change stations as they faded in and out, often vainly searching for something worthwhile to listen to.

When podcasting came along in 2004, in many ways it was the answer to that dream. Suddenly there was new content to listen to, on demand, on a wide variety of topics. It had to be downloaded and put onto a player in advance.

The past few years I’ve been experimenting with mobile streaming. For a long time, it just wasn’t practical in rural areas. Pandora would generally work better than all the other streaming services, but attempting to stream regular radio stations or even podcasts was generally not going to work.

However, now things have changed once again. With the widespread deployment of LTE mobile networks, successful casual streaming all kinds of different audio is not only possible, but practical in most of the areas I’m driving in. This opens up yet another new world of possibility.

Podcasting itself is a good case in point for something that came together because enough bandwidth was available. MP3 files had been around for a long time. Computers had already had the capability of recording digital audio for quite a number of years. RSS had been around for a while. All of these things converged and became something new.

Today I’m spending a lot of time with the Stitcher app on my Google Nexus 7 here in my truck, suction-cupped to the truck’s windshield and connected to stereo speakers via Bluetooth. Stitcher makes a great streaming mobile radio service. Now that the mobile data network is good enough in most areas to make streaming practical in the real world, new possibilities have opened up.

All of these things have been around a while. Stitcher is not new. The streaming concept has been around for quite a number of years. Podcasting as well has been around for probably at least nine years. What is different is now I don’t have to fuss with downloading them ahead of time. I really like the way stitcher lets you search for a keyword or two and then sequentially plays the different podcasts that showed up in the search. I find myself on a voyage of discovery, bumping in to podcasts I’ve never heard of. Because everything is on demand, like watching Netflix or Amazon streaming video, if I find an audio podcast I don’t like I simply skip ahead to the next one.

I can’t predict exactly how this will eventually develop. However, I can say, now that the mobile data bandwidth is a reality, there’s something here, and it’s pretty interesting. It beats the heck out of listening to farm reports or hog prices. It also beats having to fumble around with an iPod and auxiliary audio cables.

Behind the scenes – Netflix on the Wii U

You probably already know that Netflix is available on both Nintendo consoles — the Wii and the Wii U. However Netflix pointed out the Wii U version marked the first time the company has ever built an app for a brand new game console.

Now, the DVD giant has produced a behind-the-scenes video that shows a bit of what went into all of this. It is especially interesting given that Netflix claims that “it was also the first time we worked on a second screen experience, for the Wii U GamePad”. If you want even more geeky information then UI Engineer Joubert Nel has written about building Netflix on Wii U over at the Netflix Tech Blog.

In the meantime, you can check out the video posted below to get a feel for how this works.

Amazon Prime Video announces move to stay ahead of stiffer competition

amazon prime logoAmazon today announced a new partnership to bring even more content to its Prime video service. Prime is, of course, more than just video — it is also free second-day shipping on all orders (which often arrive next day) and a lending library for Kindle customers, allowing for one free book per month.

Now, in the face of growing competition from rivals, the retail giant has snagged a deal with TV network A&E, which will bring “popular series from A&E, bio, HISTORY and Lifetime to the Prime Instant Video service.”

Amazon announces these deals fairly regularly, but there are a couple of reasons why this particular one is a bit more important. First of all, it is a slap in the face of rival Netflix, who previously had, and lost, this deal. Second, there is a looming problem on the horizon and it is, potentially, a big one.

Redbox, the company who brought us those irresistible kiosks, has teamed with Verizon and plans to launch a competitor in early 2013. I have been among the early beta testers for the service and, I must admit, it is compelling.

So, is this enough to keep Amazon ahead of the market? Certainly Netflix still seems to be the dominant player, but Amazon is moving steadily up and now Redbox is coming. Competition, of course, is good for all of us.

Netflix Adds New Features to Android App

This morning DVD and video streaming giant Netflix announced major changes to their popular Android app.  Netflix Director of Product Innovation Chris Jaffe, who made the official announcement, called the update “a completely new Netflix experience for Android-powered phones.”

The Android phone app is now much like their tablet app, which has been available for some time.  It now displays more titles and galleries than ever before.  The title bar features the ability to pick up watching TV shows and movies where you left off and the home screen now features the Instant Queue and TV show and movie recommendations.  Tap on any title to find out more information about it and double-tap to begin playback.

“Tapping the browse menu gives you access to an extensive list of genre galleries that show even more titles organized into categories. Parents–like me–will really appreciate the children and family gallery with many titles organized by age.”

The new features require users to be running Android version 2.3 (Gingerbread) or newer.  It will apparently be rolling out today, although the Google Play Store doesn’t yet reflect the update as of this writing.  To find out more you can watch the demo video below and also head over to the Netflix announcement.

Why Cable TV Subscribers Are Making It Miserable To Cut The Cord

This is what I look like waiting for TV shows to be released on Netflix. Not really – this is what I look like all the time. Image Credit – BigStock

There’s a new report out this week (to be filed in the “Duh” folder…right next to “No Kidding”) showing that some 2.6 million cable television subscribers cancelled their service in favor of Internet-based streaming services between 2008 and 2011.

Reported by Slashdot, Yahoo and others this morning, Canadian research firm Convergence Consulting Group summarized the following from their…well, research:

“We estimate 112,000 TV subscribers were added in 2011, down from 272,000 in 2010, and forecast 185,000 TV sub additions for 2012. 2000-2009 annual TV sub additions averaged 2 million. Based on our TV Cord Cutting Model (takes into account economic conditions, annual subscriber additions, digital transition), we estimate 2.65 million (2.6%) US TV subscribers cut their TV subscriptions 2008-11 to rely solely on Online, Netflix, OTA, etc, 1.05 million (1%) in 2011 alone. We forecast cord cutters will reach 3.58 million year end (3.6%) 2012.”

So, essentially, folks are fleeing traditional television for streaming services in decent numbers, but those numbers seem to be slowing. News reports on this are rounding up the typical line-up of culprits for this dialing-back on the rush to streaming – content limitations of streaming services (a.k.a. ‘ I can’t believe Netflix doesn’t have so-and-so) based on sluggish deals being struck by Netflix and others with studios and networks; and the ultimate price-tag of achieving a more robust catalogue of content will break the cost model for places like Netflix and their service will become prohibitively expensive. Continue reading Why Cable TV Subscribers Are Making It Miserable To Cut The Cord

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

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

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

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

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?

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.