Tag Archives: netflix

Netflix launches its own speed test website thanks to frustrating ISPs



Netflix_Web_LogoA big deal has been made of bandwidth when using Netflix, especially so after the streaming service had to arrange a payment agreement with Comcast because it was throttling customers — a fee that amounted to little more than protection money from a mob shakedown.

Netflix also publishes a monthly report that calls out ISPs for their speeds. Since that public shaming wasn’t really enough, the company is now releasing its own speed test so it’s customers can see exactly what it is they are paying for.

The new site, which goes by the name fast.com, is similar to some existing services. It’s the same, but different from what the company has been doing.

“This consumer speed test is different than our Netflix ISP Speed Index. Fast.com measures your personal Internet connection at any given time. The speed index measures average monthly speeds of actual Netflix streams during prime time hours”, Netflx claims.

The service works in every country and you don’t have to be a Netflix customer use it. It’s also free, which is always a plus for people.


Netflix Lets You Control Mobile Data Usage



INetflix_Web_Logot’s never good to go over your mobile data plan’s monthly limit. This can lead to higher bills as well as service slowdowns and suspensions. Tools have gotten better over the years for measuring mobile data use. But they still leave much to be desired. Consuming rich media media like streaming video on mobile devices can eat thru a data plan quickly. But by default, most mobile video apps don’t provide any indicator of how much data they’re using, and rarely are the default video quality settings in these apps configured to a lower setting that’d use less data. Netflix is hoping to take some of the pain out of mobile video consumption with new in-app settings that allow users to control how much data the app can use.

In the recently updated version of its iOS and Android apps, Netflix users will find a setting called Cellular Data Usage. This setting can now be changed from the default selection, which uses about a gigabyte of data for every three hours of viewed content, to a lower or higher setting. There’s even an unlimited data option for those who aren’t worried at all about how their video-viewing habits affect their data usage.

This change should come as a welcome relief to anyone who’s been burned in the past by Netflix-related overages. Hopefully, other video app developers will follow suit and add similar options to their own offerings.


Netflix Offers Unlimited Maternity and Paternity Leave



Netflix_Web_LogoNetflix announced a new policy that will greatly benefit their employees. They are introducing an unlimited leave policy for new moms and new dads. The unlimited leave policy enables a new parent to take off as much time as he or she wants during the first year after a child’s birth or adoption.

Parents can return to work at Netflix part-time, full-time, or return and go back out as needed. The point is to give new parents the flexibility they need to take care of their growing family.

I think the most noteworthy part of Netflix’s new policy is this sentence: “We’ll just keep paying them normally, eliminating the headache of switching to state or disability pay.” In other words, a new mom or dad can take as much time off of work as he or she needs, for a year, so that they can take care of their child – without having the added worries that come with a sudden lack of income.

There are some companies that offer maternity leave, but paternity leave is extremely rare in the United States. Some companies that do offer maternity leave place restrictions upon who can use it.

Those restrictions can include limiting it to women who have worked for the company for a certain amount of time, or only offering it to women who have upper-level positions. It is not unheard of for a woman to be denied pregnancy leave because the company considered her to be a “temporary” worker at any point in her career.

While some companies offer paid maternity leave, many only offer unpaid maternity leave. Netflix’s new paid maternity and paid paternity leave is extremely beneficial for their employees who have started a family. It’s time for more companies to follow Netflix’s lead.


Long Term Hulu Plus Thoughts



hulu_plusI have been using Hulu Plus for several months, and I have a few additional comments about the service.

I tend to watch lots of science documentaries. Over time, I’ve seemed to nearly exhaust the documentaries available on Netflix and Amazon videos. One of the things I really like about the Hulu Plus is that it includes shows from the BBC, Canada and Australia. This opens up a new world of high quality documentary material that isn’t available to me otherwise.

From a technical streaming point of view, the service always seems to stream well. I have encountered no server issues streaming either via DSL or mobile data connections.

The various Hulu Plus apps themselves do have a few issues. I regularly use the iOS, Android and Roku versions of the Hulu Plus apps. The interfaces seem mostly straightforward, though there are a few quirks and differences from one app to the next.

The biggest problem I’ve encountered is the service being able to remember where I’m stopped at in an individual video as well as a series of videos. For example, let’s say I’m in the 5th episode of a season. The service may or may not remember that I’ve already watched the previous 4 episodes.

Additionally, if I pause in the middle of a video, there’s at least a 50% chance that if I come back to the series later, instead of starting me out exactly where I was in the paused video, the service will kick me to the next episode even though I haven’t finished watching the prior episode.

These synching problems seem to be consistent across all of Hulu Plus’ apps. I can use only one app, say on my iPad Air, and will likely encounter the synching issue the next time I open the app to try to get back to where I left off. Moving to a different device entirely I will still encounter the same synching problem.

These synching issues are areas where Netflix and Amazon really seem to have this nailed down and leave Hulu Plus lagging behind.

Even with the synching issues, I really like Hulu Plus and make extensive use of it. In my view it is well worth the $8 monthly charge.


Roku Streaming Stick Review



This is Gonna Be FunRoku‘s streaming media boxes have been around since 2008, arguably taking the #2 spot behind the Apple TV. This is an impressive achievement considering the absence of a major brand behind the product line. Here in the UK, set-top boxes like Apple TV, Roku, and Google TV have a relatively low-profile: the BBC’s iPlayer catchup service is massively popular, but as the app is widely available on satellite decoders, cable boxes, games consoles and laptops, there is little demand for an additional streaming device. The latest generation of low cost, plug-in streamers from Roku and Google may well change this. Let’s take a look.

Roku Box

What I have here is the UK edition of Roku’s Streaming Stick, a thumb-sized streaming device that plugs directly into a TV’s HDMI port, bringing Roku’s wide range of content and 450+ channels to a British audience. We’re used to a high quality TV service from the likes of the BBC, so the content has to be there, and we’ll get to that in a minute. Let’s get it out of the box first.

Roku in Box

The Streaming Stick is presented in Roku’s trademark purple with neat packaging that promotes “This is going to be fun”. In the box is the Streaming Stick itself, a remote control (including decent batteries) and the power supply, which is actually a USB charger, connecting to the Streaming Stick via microUSB.

Streaming Stick and Controller

The remote control is slightly different to the previous generation – there are no game buttons, motion controller or headphone jack, and it uses WiFi Direct rather than Bluetooth to communicate with the Streaming Stick. Admittedly of little consequence unless you are an existing Roku owner expecting those features.

Getting started is easy – plug the Stick into the TV’s HDMI port, power it up with the microUSB cable and put the batteries into the remote control. Switching over to the HDMI channel, the Roku Streaming Stick initially asks for the password to a local wifi network. Once connected to the wider internet, existing Roku owners can can login with their credentials or new owners can sign up for a user name and password. Apart from having to use the remote control rather than a keyboard to do the finger work, it’s painless.

Roku uses the metaphor of channels to deliver media and content. For the smartphone generation, these are more easily thought of as apps which mostly deliver video content. In addition to programmes, there are games, weather forecasts and picture viewers. From the hundreds of channels available, you add favourites to your account to build up your collection. Some channels / apps cost a few pounds, but the vast majority are free.

My Roku Channels

From a UK perspective most of the major players are on-board with apps for BBC iPlayer, 4oD, Demand 5 and Sky Store. ITV player is noticeable in its absence. There are apps too for Netflix, Spotify, YouTube, Flickr and the Roku Media Player which does what it says, playing locally available pictures, music and video. There are lots of other apps and channels to choose from, categorised by type to help you find what you want.

Channel Categories

Many of the channels are US-centric and there’s a ton of faith-based programming, mostly Christian with a smaller number of other faiths. Local US TV stations are also present, which can be fun if you are going to be visiting an area on holiday or business.

US Local News on Roku

Of course, there are plenty of independent content producers as well. GNC is right at home on the Roku….

Geek News on Roku

To complement the content, there’s also an app for smartphones, which lets your device replace the remote control, both at a simple button pushing level and for more advanced features such as choosing new channels.

Roku App Remote Control Roku App

But the real trick is the “Play on Roku” feature which pushes content from your smartphone to the Roku, including music, photos and videos. All you do is select the content on your phone and, bang, it’s up on the big screen in glorious HD. It’s a great feature and a fantastic way to review photos and short videos on a larger screen, especially after a holiday. If you take a lots of photos with your smartphone, it’s almost worth getting a Roku for this feature alone.

One final thing…as I mentioned, the Roku Streaming Stick is powered by microUSB via a provided USB charger. I found that the Streaming Stick wasn’t terribly fussy about the power source and that you can easily run the Stick from other sources, such as a USB battery pack or even the TV itself, if equipped with a USB port. Could be handy to know if you are travelling or simply want a tidier entertainment unit.

MicroUSB Roku

Overall, the Roku Streaming Stick is a great little gadget that provides loads of extra content for UK viewers. It might be a more expensive at £50 than the Google Chromecast at £30, but there’s more content and the Roku has a remote control, which I think is a plus point. It’s handy too for a second TV that perhaps doesn’t have a satellite or cable connection, and can now use iPlayer or Netflix. It’s a neat, plug’n’play solution that is about as simple as it can be.

Thanks to Roku for the review unit.


Netflix New Years Gift? Drops 80 Movies, TV Shows from Streaming Subscription



Netflix_Web_LogoIf you are a fan of “Titanic”, “Top Gun”, or even “Breakin 2: Electric Boogaloo” — you have only a few hours left to watch them on Netflix.

More than 80 movies and a group of TV shows including “Saturday Night Live” will be removed from the service on January 1, 2014. Netflix adds and removes movies and TV shows on a regular basis. This is all due to licensing contracts.

Nonetheless, TV shows like “Mr. Bean”, “Dark Shadows”, and “Kids in the Hall” will be removed for the new year. Movies include “Platoon”, “Flashdance”, “Being John Malkovich”, amongst others.

These movies might come back with new licensing deals. In the meantime, new movies and TV shows will be added including “Jack Reacher”, “Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters”, and “The Talented Mr. Ripley”. TV shows like “Dexter” seasons 5-8 will also be added in the coming weeks.

The full list of Netflix titles ending can be found on this Reddit post

 


Say Goodbye to the DVD Player



DVD

I remember getting my first DVD player and the movie “The Waterboy”. I also remember streaming my first movie in “Hulk”. Years since, people have debated about losing the tangible disc and moving to streaming. Eventually we knew the DVD would become a thing of the past. As technology improved and new devices came out this year, we may have seen the last viable use for the DVD. Here is why:

Blockbuster
Blockbuster

Blockbuster Goes Bye-Bye, Streaming Video Grows

Blockbuster video rentals closed up in November. This was after a long run and competing with Netflix, followed by Red Box machines. When DISH network bought out Blockbuster, they gave it a home. Its apparent that DISH didn’t want to get into the physical video rental business. So the doors closed.

Netflix tried to close their DVD rental doors a couple years ago with the whole Qwikster debacle — a move that almost killed the company. Somehow they came back stronger than ever, pushing more streaming TV shows and introducing quality shows like House of Cards and Orange is the New Black. Add to that promotions — such as the launch of Chromecast: Netflix gave 3-month subscriptions to the first buyers.

I have to admit, I still have my Netflix subscription…

Since Netflix switch to TV show-based content over movies, newer movies take a lot longer to show up on the service. That is where Amazon is leading the pack. You can rent or own the home digital rights of a movie or TV show instead of going down to the store and picking up the box.

Well, at least, kinda…

This last week Disney made Amazon pull back owners rights of holiday movies. It brought up some issue about if you actually own a video. Will that stop millions from buying movies? Probably not.

ChromeCast

Streaming Getting Better

Google Chromecast did two things. They brought the streaming app device down to an affordable price (not that it wasn’t already with the Apple TV and Roku). Chromecast also extended the life of older LCD TVs.

Instead of spending hundreds of dollars on TV’s with apps inside, they could get a cheaper TV and a set top box to run their content. Sure, the TV is not 1080p 120 Hz, but how many homes care about that type of quality? Especially if the TV is in the bedroom or even since our generation spent years staring at a Cathode Ray Tubes with full satisfaction.

Ultimately, they just want to get Chromecast and Netflix, then possibly cut their cable.

Netflix_Web_Logo

Netflix and YouTube in 4K (2160p)

Time to move to bigger and better video quality. 4,000 pixels – or 2160p. At CES, we will definitely be bombarded with 4K television technology — and we will LOVE it.

Even though some home theater experts have adopted 4K, home Internet speeds don’t really take into account 4K streaming just yet. A 4K video will take 6-12 Mbps connection. DSL won’t be able to handle that, especially if you surf and watch at the same time.

Nonetheless, we move forward. Netflix announced earlier their popular “House of Cards” series will be shot and streamed in 4K. YouTube already has 4K video available, although if you try to stream via Roku or Chromecast, it will most likely try to push the 720p version first. 

iPad 2 Smart Cover

Tablets, Game Consoles, Computers Go DVD-less

Even the computer is losing the DVD drive. Current Mac models don’t come with any type of optical drive. Tablets and smartphones also are disc-free. As desktops lose ground to tablets, the DVD will join the floppy disk, Zip drive and tape backup.

The Pawn Shop Effect

The best way to watch the DVD market is to watch the resale of the DVD. Major chain Pawn America runs a special on Tuesdays for DVDs. In May, they started special events where DVD movies only cost $1.

While newer titles might fetch your more, if you pawn a DVD title, they will most likely buy it at .10 cents so they can make .90 cents.

With all these factors (along with others such as DVR technology and flash drives), 2014 looks to be the year we finally lay the DVD optical disc format to rest. Blu-Ray discs still have value, but the DVD player will definitely be placed with the old TV and VCR down in the basement or garage.


House of Cards Emmy Win: Further Validation of Netflix and Streaming



House of Cards
House of Cards

Last night at the Emmys, Netflix took a win by taking the Best Director prize for his original “House of Cards”. One of a few original shows you can get when you subscribe to Netflix.

Although they didn’t sweep the Emmys by any means, Netflix’s win shows an award winning TV program can be found through streaming media. It also means publishing a series all at once does not change the fact it’s an Emmy contender.

This Emmy could bring more original independent works to Netflix. It doesn’t mean they all can win Emmy’s – as Netflix’s store-bought “Arrested Development” and prison show “Orange is the New Black” shows us. However, Netflix now can show and compete with premium channel content such as those shows found on HBO and Showtime.

Binge Watching or Weekly Episodes?

Netflix_Web_LogoHouse of Cards was released all at once – causing people to “Binge-watch”. This might also cause people to go over to a friends’ house for 12 hours and not invest in the service themselves. If Netflix plans to put out a regular schedule of shows, will the same model be relevant? Will putting out 1-2 episodes weekly be a better alternative?

A couple years back, Netflix had a contract with Starz; along with that the rights to Starz original programming. At the time, Sparticus was in it’s first season. You could watch Starz live from Netflix (SD through Internet Explorer) or wait a couple days for the episode to show up in the streaming section.

There is one big advantage to weekly episodes – build-up to the next week. AMC has really taken the lead on this with their “Talking Dead” talk show right after the episodes air. New guests on the show make it for a great companion to the Walking Dead – and you stay on AMC for another 30 minutes.

Of course the other advantage to weekly episodes would be subscribers – instead of someone going to a friend’s house to binge-watch, they just pay the $8 a month and watch at their convenience.

So congratulations to Netflix and House of Cards for disrupting the Emmys. I can’t wait to see what other streaming content will be part of next year’s Emmys.


Print Magazine Sales Plunge



Single-copy print magazine sales plunged by another 10% in the first half of 2013 according to the AAM’s (Alliance for Audited Media) 2013 half-year report. Extensive details can be found on their website here at this link to their report.

I remember back in the 1980’s subscribing to print magazines such as Stereo Review, Digital Audio & Compact Disc Review, Popular Photography, Videomaker Magazine, PC World, PC Computing, Hot CoCo, etc. I originally came into contact with most of the magazines I ended up subscribing to via magazine news stands.

Somewhere along the way my interest seemed to wain and I allowed those magazine subscriptions to drop. Looking back, it’s probable that the Internet itself via desktop computers started consuming the time that would otherwise default to reading magazines, which in turn caused me to lose interest and allow those magazine subscriptions to drop.

Today, I subscribe to the digital version of Mac Life via the Barnes & Noble Nook app. I might subscribe to more digital versions of magazines if I could find some I really liked on a consistent basis. Though many magazines offer digital 30 day trials, I’m not easily enticed to take the plunge.

With movies and TV shows Netflix offers unlimited streaming for thousands of movies and TV shows, akin to renting unlimited access to their giant ever-changing movie and TV catalog . Services such as Google Music are offering unlimited streaming and downloading of millions of MP3 files for a monthly fee, sort of akin to renting unlimited access to a huge chunk of all available music, including most of the latest stuff. Stop paying the subscription and the movies and music immediately go away.

If someone were to offer a monthly subscription to a large catalog of digital versions of magazines, I would probably bite if they were an appealing collection of magazines. I don’t know if the print magazine business is desperate enough yet to move to this sort of digital magazine stand subscription model, but looking at the successful trends set by Netflix, Amazon Prime Videos, and services such as Google Music, it seems to me the handwriting is on the wall for the magazine business.

Smartphone and tablet time are encroaching heavily on time that used to be spent with desktop and laptop computers, and that encroachment continues to accelerate. We are therefore turning into tablet and smartphone consumers. Apps with good content are what generate much of the appeal of tablets and smartphones. Tablets in particular can offer a good, clean digital magazine experience via apps. I believe there is an opportunity for the print business to close the circle and reinvent themselves as the right digital magazine news stand apps, offering all-you-can-eat subscription access to the right racks of digital versions of magazines. It will happen sooner or later. The process can be more or less painful for the magazine industry depending on how long they are able to remain in denial, and how much they drag their feet.

We are now tablet consumers. The new name of the game is going after my tablet time as that tablet consumer. Content creators and sellers are now competing with things like Angry Birds, Netflix, Amazon, various music services, etc.

Offer me a clean, all-you-can-eat, easy-to-use package to a large digital magazine stand where I can browse through and skim through articles and adds just like I can in the real world at a physical magazine stand, and I will subscribe.


Netflix updates PS3 app



The PlayStation 3 may soon be getting replaced as the flagship console for Sony, but that does not mean customers will suddenly cease to use it for gaming and entertainment. Today Netflix gives customers of the device even more reason to stick with the aging platform, by announcing a major update to its PS3 app.

“The first thing you will notice an updated design that is more consistent with the Netflix player on the Web as well as our mobile and tablet applications” claims Chris Jaffe, Director of Product Innovation at Netflix.

netflix for ps3

The key feature in this update is the ability to easily manage audio and subtitles selections. customers can now do that directly in the player on the PS3, without having to return to the browse experience. For customers using the social features, there is now the ability to not share the current title available in the player. Netflix also claims improved design and performance.

Jaffe says “the updated Netflix player experience is available now on PS3 and will be coming soon to select Smart TVs and Blu-ray players”.