Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Video Services

A long time ago, I cut my cable.  I bought a pair of rabbit ears and, within 3 months, I was ahead financially and I found that I really didn't miss it.  Then, a few years ago, I subscribed to Netflix (this is when I realized that I was spending about $15.00 per month renting movies and I could get more movies for less money through Netflix).  Soon after that, I found that I wasn't really buying movies any more.  If I wanted to watch a movie, I'd just have it mailed to me.  Then Netflix introduced streaming video and I found myself watching TV series without any commercials and the kids loved all of the kids stuff on there.  I was getting a lot of entertainment for an excellent price.

Then came along some competitors.  Hulu came out with recent and current TV shows and Amazon started their instant video where you get free movies and TV shows (with a Prime membership) and the option to purchase or rent most others.  Well, over the past month or so, I've had the opportunity to try all 3 and here's what I found:

Netflix


Netflix has great streaming content but their selection is not up to date.  Most new movies and TV shows won't show up on Netflix for a while.  In fact, even with the DVD service you usually end up waiting for a few months after it's out before you can get it.  However, their kids library is very strong, the service is easy to use and a navigate through, there is enough entertainment to keep me mostly satisfied (until I catch up on a series that Netflix doesn't have all of).  Overall I'm very happy with Netflix and don't see myself discontinuing the service any time soon.

Hulu


I signed up for Hulu Plus for one series:  Warehouse 13.  My wife and I finished up seasons 1 and 2 on Netflix and found that it was starting season 4.  I looked on Hulu and found they had the last 4 episodes of season 3.  I signed up hoping the get the entire season.  No luck.  Not only does Hulu Plus have commercials but I didn't get the extra episodes I wanted.  I was very disappointed.  Also, their user interface isn't very intuitive.  They have a queue that I can't seem to find most of the time and favorites that I'm still trying to figure out.  However the worst thing is commercials.  I guess I'm spoiled but I can't stomach paying $10.00 per month for a service and still having to deal with commercials.

Amazon Instant Video


Amazon has a pretty good service going here.  You can sign up for Prime which is a Netflix like service and they fill in the gaps with the option to purchase content that you can't get for free.  Their free content isn't as good as Netflix (my opinion) and their user interface is also not the best.  However, the worst thing is they don't support subtitles.  My wife is a bit hard of hearing and the subtitles are necessary for her to enjoy a show.  I've gotten used to them to the point where I prefer them because I tend to not miss any of the dialog.  I can honestly tell you that we didn't use the Netflix streaming very much until they added subtitles.  Also, Hulu (for all it's other foibles) has excellent subtitle support.  When I saw what Amazon had to offer, I figured I would use them to supplement anything I couldn't get from Netflix.  However, until they offer subtitles, I'll look elsewhere.

Google Play Movies


Google seems to be limiting their TV and Movie content to Android devices (phones and Google TV).  Since I don't have any of those, it's a non starter for me.

iTunes


I'm not an Apple fan and I don't use iTunes so I don't know how good it is.

How Do I Get Content


So, how to I get my Netflix, Amazon, Hulu content?  I'm a huge fan of the Roku streaming device.  It does a great job of streaming my content from Netflix and Amazon (I haven't tried Hulu yet) and it has custom channels that are a great bonus for me.  Specifically BYU TV and the Mormon Channel (for all you Mormons out there, you CAN get General Conference from the Roku - although I can't remember if I used the Mormon Channel or BYU TV).

So there you have it.  I use Netflix for streaming and DVD rentals.  I don't see myself using Hulu too much (I'll most likely cancel before the free trial is over).  I will most likely use Amazon for what I can't get on Netflix but, until they support subtitles, I'll probably just wait.  And I watch it all from my Roku.

Easy :)

Sunday, August 05, 2012

Pick Your Poison

Sometimes people ask me for my advice on technology.  What kind of computer to get, should they get a tablet, what smartphone is the best, etc.  As I have tried to answer both honestly and personally (I don't recommend the same thing every time) I have found that it all comes down to ecosystems.  While most gadgets will interact with most other ecosystems, they work the best (and with the fewest headaches) when they're in their own.

For example, when you buy an iPhone, you're not just buying a phone, you are taking a step into the Apple ecosystem.  iTunes will be used to move music and applications onto and off of your phone.  You will be able to purchase music and TV shows and movies through iTunes.  Is that what you want?  I was recently asked about whether a couple should get iPhones or Android phones.  I asked, "Do you own any Apple products?"  They owned a couple of iPods.  Then I asked, "Do you like the iTunes environment?"  They said they were fine with it.  Based on that, I recommended iPhones.  They had already bought into the Apple ecosystem and liked it.  The iPhone would just be an extension of that.  In addition, an iPad is a further extension as is the Apple TV, etc.

Another possible route is with Android.  Google has also built an ecosystem around their Android phones.  They have music, movies, and apps available for purchase.  They work great with gmail and other Google services.  If you enjoy the Google environment, you should be buying Android smartphones - they will fit in the best.  However, as a caution, the interface with an Android phone varies from phone to phone.  If you are getting an Android phone for yourself and a significant other (a spouse for example) and you'll be swapping phones every now and then - my wife will grab my phone when she doesn't have hers on her and visa versa, make sure you get the same phone so you will have the same look and feel.  It will save you a lot of headaches (I recommend a Nexus phone in that case as it always has the default look and feel).  There are also a lot of tablet options as well but I would probably recommend the Nexus 7 tablet or maybe something by Samsung or Asus.

The route that I took was with Windows Phone.  As with the others, there is a ecosystem that I bought into.  Windows Phone is deeply integrated with Microsoft Office (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Notes, etc.) which is great.  It also has a service called SkyDrive that allows you to synchronize your files among various computers and the cloud.  This means that I can create a document on my desktop, update it on my Windows Phone, and then print it from my laptop without going through any extra steps (after SkyDrive is set up).  It also integrates with Hotmail (soon to be Outlook.com) and Microsoft's online Word, Excel, Notes, and PowerPoint applications.  As far as tablets, there really isn't one for Windows yet but the Surface is coming this October and looks to be a great tablet that really complements the Windows ecosystem.

All of these routes have positives and negatives.  Usually I recommend that if you've already bought into one, continue on.  If not, you need to weigh the pros and cons based on how you will use technology.  Don't just "follow the crowd" find what works for you and go with that.