Netflix has just moved to add Starz Play to its growing line up of 'Watch Instantly' titles. This brings about 2,500 feature movies and concerts to the service. This is a big deal. The biggest complaint with the service previously has been the lack of recent titles. No longer. The new content is included with your Netflix subscription price.
I am really excited by this. We are already using this service regularly and now I expect to use it even more. This totally justifies my Roku purchase, and adds tremendous value to the upcoming 360 dashboard update. Go Netflix go.
Netflix is expanding its list of supported devices. In addition to the Roku box and the up coming 360 support, LG has just announced that it's new BD300 networked Blueray player will stream Netflix as well.
Shortly after I got the 360 streamer working my Roku box showed up. This is a pretty amazing piece of hardware. It is small and light and fan-less. There is no on-off switch! I went to the web site and they basically said you can just leave it on all the time, it draws very little power. If you want to turn it off you have to un-plug it. It runs a custom version of Linux on a strong arm based embedded processor. It has all the AV connection options you could think of, Svideo, composite, component, HDMI, stereo out and optical out. It has both Ethernet and Wifi-G connectivity.
The setup was easy. I first configured it for my wifi network, then it ask for my Netflix credentials. After that it generated an activation code that I had to go online to Netflix's site and enter. The whole process took less than 10 minutes.
The user interface is about as simple as it gets. When you boot it up, it connects to your 'instant' queue. From there you can select a show, read about it and play it. It supports fast forward and rewind via a thumbnail preview. Once you find the spot you want it can take 30 seconds or so to cache up the data at that location before it plays. You can only select movies in your instant queue, you cannot browse for new movies to watch - this must be done from the PC. Originally I thought that this was a pretty major limitation, but now I think it is a pretty cool feature. I'm treating it like parental controls. If my kids use the box they'll only be able to watch the shows that I 'made available', instead of having instant access to all the R rated content I don't want them to see.
So I've been watching a bit of 'watch instantly' streaming content from Netflix. It is pretty handy and doesn't cost anything extra. But it only works with PCs, so when Netflix announced a set top box I jumped. I placed my order for a Roku box the day after it was announced. I figured it would be a handy way to get the content streamed to my projector without having to drag my laptop over. When it arrives I give a full account.
Of course what I really want it just to be able to stream Netflix through my 360. I figured if that ever happens I'll just move the Netflix box to another room. Well my Roku isn't even here yet and as of tonight I'm streaming Netflix through my 360!
George sent me a link today to a media center plug in called vmcNetFlix. This add on only works with Vista Media Center, but it allows fully queue management, streaming, searching, browsing as well as downloading the streams for watching later. It is the Author's first media center application, and it is currently pretty slow and a bit buggy. It is only beta, but it looks very nice, and best of all - it works. It 'copies' your DRM authorization to the 360 so it can play the content without using up another device slot on your account.
As for the Vista part, I guess the timing is right. My XP Media Center machine died last week and I'm in the process of building a new Vista box to replace it anyway. Actually to test this you don't need a full media center setup anyway. You just need Vista Premium or Ultimate - no tuner. You must first make sure your PC can play Netflix content, then make sure the media center app runs. After that get your 360 connected to it. And finally install the vmcNetFlix add on and follow the instructions.
In a preemptive move to Apples expected movie rental announcement, Netflix has removed the limits on their 'Watch Instantly' service. This means that subscription users can now watch as much streamed content as they want. Their streamable movie selection is still a bit stale, but they are getting more TV shows all the time. I really like this service, but it is not without flaws. Movie quality can degrade depending on your bandwidth. Also the need for a computer to view content is a restriction. Sure, these days you can hook a laptop up to a TV, LCD or projector easy enough, but it is still hassle.
The service is not perfect, but hey, it is free with your account.
Here is my wish list for the coming year:
1. More and newer content. Netflix needs to work harder with the studios to expand their selection.
2. Offer a download and watch option. Streaming is cool and all, but my ISP is too unreliable to make it a good experience. I'd trade a bit of wait time for better quality.
3. Allow the content to be streamed to the 360 to bypass the PC altogether. Hey if Amazon's unbox can do it why not Netflix? They both use MS DRM.
Continue reading "Adding HD QAM Support to MCE"...
The combination of Windows MCE 2005 and the Xbox 360 has totally transformed my home theater experience over the last year. Bit by bit all the pieces have been falling into place. The first phase was to add some large internal and external drives (1TB total) to my home built, dual tuner, MCE setup and then copy over most of my media. This gave me the ability to stream recorded and live TV wireless to my 360 and projector, as well as all my music, photos, FM radio, home video and a selection of my favorite DVDs ripped to MPEG 2. The second phase was the addition of Divx / Xvid support via the free Transcode 360. That brought the sweet ability to expand my online library to include my large collection of achieved TV shows and movies in Divx format. The third phase Microsoft did on their own, they added the ability to purchase TV shows and rent movies online and download them directly to the 360. Many of these are offered in fullHD! The selection is growing and the prices are on par with iTunes. The forth phase was the addition of the external 360 HD-DVD drive. I'm not going to predict who is going to win the format wars, but in the mean time I'm getting many of my Netflix selections in HD-DVD and they look and sound awesome.
It isn't exactly the huge roll out one would expect from a giant like Netflix. But Netflix has announced that they will start a staged deployment of an internet delivery scheme they call 'Watch Now'. From the limited information available this appears to be a streaming style service, with high-speed broadband users being able to start watching after 10 - 15 seconds. There is no additional charge for current members. Instead they will limit the number of hours of you can watch based on your current subscription level. They are bringing about 250,000 customers online at a time to control the demand. Only about 1000 titles of its massive library will be available at launch. The movies are only viewable on a Windows PC, no mobile, Mac or phone. Personally, now that I'm able to get downloads direct to my home theater (via 360), I don't find this sort of thing as exiting as I would have a year ago. I'll be watching to see how popular it is compared to Amazon's unbox which launch with a fizzle and has failed to pick up steam. As an existing customer however I'll be sure to check it out since it won't cost me anything.
The web is full of buzz lately about how HD-DVD is pulling ahead of Blu-ray. They point to Amazon stats on disc sales or the availability of cheap HD drives like the Xbox 360 add-on or HP's cheap HD-DVD drive upgrade for it's computers. The nets are blaming Blu-ray issues on the lack of PS3 availability and Sony's heavy handedness in general. Some are even going so far as to call the format war over. I think that is a bit premature. The Battle has just begun in a long drawn out war.
I did see something nice from the HD-DVD camp however. I just played my first dual format disc last night. Heads it's HD-DVD, tails it's DVD. Pretty cool. If more studios jump on this strategy, and price it aggressively, it seems like a win for both consumers and retailers. Consumers could buy 1 disc and have backward compatibility with all their existing DVD players (think, car players and portables), and retailers could stock just one version of the title instead of two (or three if you include a blu-ray version). Currently I believe only Universal and Warner Bros are doing this so far.
The fall 360 update brought with it the ability to stream video from XP to the 360 (via media player 11 or media connect.) Yes you can only stream video in .wmv format, but that is not the end of the world as I will explain.
Here is something different. It gives the term peer to peer a whole new meaning. Peerflix is an online DVD service that allows you to trade DVDs rather than rent them. The idea is that you list the DVDs you have that you are willing to trade, and the ones that you want and they facilitate the transfer for .99 a trade (mailing envelope included). For each movie you trade out you earn ‘peerbux’ toward incoming movies. You can even buy peerbux if you want to score up more movies than you trade. Their site is setup a lot like netflix. You enter your trading library using the UPC code on the back of the case. Pretty easy.
I’m not sure I would ever use something like this however. I tend to only purchase DVDs that I really, really want to keep, it’s netflix for everything else. But perhaps there are others out there with large collections that are willing to part with flicks they are tired of. Someone out there seems to think so, they just got $8M in funding. What is your opinion? Would you use something like this?
Moving always presents problems. Besides all the normal boring stuff like deciding where to put the furniture, a Geek is also presented with additional dilemmas like where to put the media server, what type of internet access to get, where to setup the home theater and the HTPC, and what type of TV service to use.
Since I've decided to move to an even smaller town than I lived in previously (much higher cow to people ratio), I can no longer get my precious Comcast. Millennium Digital serves my area and they are an 'unknown' entity to me - not to mention much more expensive than Comcast. I have decided to go with DSL this time around since it looks like I'll be able to get more upstream and roughly the same downstream bandwidth for about $20.00 less a month. So ISP decision made, that leaves TV...Continue reading "Time for HDTV?"...
Bluetake Aims to eliminate the wires to your rear channel speakers using Bluetooth. Tom's has a review at:
Bluetak Hi-Phono Kit
Hmm, it looks like this gen 1 product probably not ready for mainstream as it introduces a .1Sec delay due to the A/D conversion process. I think I'll stick to wires for now.