Thursday, November 25, 2010

I am thankful for....Roku, Hulu, Netflix and playon

Alot of interesting little factoids in the arena of streaming media these days.  Nothing too mind blowing, so here are a few in no particular order of significance:

1.) Netflix: When streaming content on a computer, Netflix now allows you to go into fullscreen mode with the option to stay in full screen mode until you hit escape.  Why is this significant?  Previously, if you were watching a netflix movie in fullscreen mode, any click of the mouse, or touch of any button on the keyboard, would revert the view to it's previous default screen size.  Imagine if you will that you have two monitors and in one, you're watching netflix in full screen movie and you are doing any number of things in the second monitor.  None of your activities in the secondary window disturb your fullscreen playback.  I personally play games and watch movies at the same time.  Hulu has had the "Pop out" option since day one, and now I am glad that Netflix has this new similar feature.

2.) Hulu is on the Roku!  Thats right, Hulu on the Roku! To get it working, they allow you to both use the activation link (similar to associating a netflix streamer to your netflix account) or just to log in using your username and password.  The menu's are slick and intuative and they also allow you to browse shows from A-Z.  Since my original purchase of the my first Roku device (which we primarily used in the bedroom) I picked up a second and placed it downstairs.  Its coming close to eclipsing the functionality of both my AppleTV2 and my xbox.  The only thing the Roku doens't do is stream content from my media server with all my movies.  If the Roku could do that, I'd have one under each TV and call it a day.

3.) Speaking of Hulu and Netflix, both services have just offered reduced pricing.  Hulu plus, which used to be 9.99 during it's beta phase, is now only 7.99.  Netflix similarly offered a reduced service (without any option to use their DVD services) for just their streaming content. I opted for the no DVD option because, quite frankly, I've only ever gotten two DVD's and after having them for over 6 months, returned them unwatched.  Netflix just signed an agreement with the broadcast network that owns Syfy and now alot of the Syfy channels series season sets are avaialble for streaming.  Content for both Hulu and Netflix seems to be getting better and better...but so far...there isn't one service that seems to be better than the other.  Having both services pretty much covers the gambit of both current content and tv shows and older, hard to find movies and shows.  This is why I am so excited that the Roku can now do both.  The Roku also has the streaming service...but other than using up the $10 free credit that I got for getting a roku, I havn't felt it necessary to try and look for something to watch there.

4.) If you havn't heard of playon, it's a media server application that runs on your desktop.  What it does is sling web content from websites (which it does either by it's built in "Channels" or by a script you can download off of a plethora of sites) to any compatible UPNP media player (Windows Media Player or XBMC).  This has come in pretty useful for watching Hulu content on the televisions while we waited for Hulu to come to Roku.  But that isn't all.   You can also do, Youtube, Netflix and other media streaming websites via 3rd party script.  The usefulness for the scripts really didn't strike me until I was able to find one for the "CW" so that Ericka could watch vampire diaries (a show not on hulu, apple tv, or amazon). After finding that, It led me to discover a bunch of other scripts that significantly increase the amount of avaialble content we can get to our television without reaching for a computer.

So thanks to all these things, Ericka and I have been cable free for over two months and we're really not missing it all that much.  I'm definately not missing handing $130 to charter every month.

::Here is where I'm going to shift from praising, to complaining::

Lets talk about Apple, and specifically, Apple's airplay.  What really is the hype all about for this?  What they say it can do is this...."Stream content from your ipod touch, iphone or ipad devices to your apple tv".  Seriously, how usefull can this be?  What content is available on these smaller devices that isn't already on the apple tv?   It seems more hype and gimmick and less of a function to me.  Can anyone think of a practical and useful application for this service?  And keep in mind, I'm talking 'new' functionality, not something the apple tv can't already do. I'm really having a hard time comming up with anything...but recently news articles are buzzing about this new feature.

And has anyone tried the apple homesharing service?  I'll honestly say that I havn't even been able to get this working.  Does itunes have to be running on a computer already?  How is this more useful then opening up a share on a media server and just sharing content to a media player like Windows Media center or XBMC?  Apple tends to hype up little nuggets of "reduced capability" functionality.  It's like the mentally challenged version of standard home networking sharing and media center use, but has a gold star of awesomeness just because it's apple.  In an effort to make things easier for the user, they've made it absurdly more complicated than it needs to be.  Share content, play content.  If you have a windows machine and a media player like XBMC or Windows Media Center, you're all set. Set it and forget it!  Here's another thing i never understood about the Ipod synchronization...why encrypt the music into unreadable directories on the ipod?  Every other mp3 player in the world lets you just drag and drop your content.  I think it's really because they want you to use itunes and nothing else.  Honestly, what could be more easier than drag and drop?  With DRM on mp3's gone the way of the Dodo, I think Apple can afford to do away with this unnecessary complication.  I use an apllication called Sharepod to move music off and onto my ipods and iphone.

Thats enough out of me.  Hope everyone is enjoying their thanksgivings!

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