Our run as cord-cutters has come to an end after several years though it wasn’t by choice; the apartment complex where we live has made a fee mandatory that includes the cost of cable and since there’s no point paying for cable and not using it we decided to cut some of the online streaming services that we’ve been using and get a DVR from our cable provider.
Living as cord-cutters for over six years worked great but that’s a post for another time.
I opted to get an X1 DVR from Comcast so we could record shows (we chose to drop Hulu and HBO) that we would have watched via Hulu as well as some other series that we’ve been purchasing through iTunes over the years.
My wife and I decided to pre-order an Amazon Fire TV Stick for her parents, which we gave to them for Christmas. While visiting with them I had the opportunity to setup the device and use it for an extended period. Overall, I’m impressed. The cost is relatively low, performance and stability seemed good (at least during the time I was using it) and the interface was easy to use.
We were both impressed enough that we decided to order one for ourselves, though they’re currently on back-order so it may not be until the end of January before ours ships to us. I was able to pre-order the Stick for my in-laws for $19, but it regularly retails for only $39.
A few months ago I picked up a Google Chromecast from Best Buy. I was curious about them for a while and at $35 I wasn’t going to be out very much cash if I didn’t find it useful.
It turns out that $35 is an excellent price point for this product and, compared to most similar devices, I think you may actually get a bit more than you paid for. In some cases it can be very convenient. If you already have a device such as a Roku or Apple TV this may not be very impressive, but that all boils down to how each person chooses to use it.
Last weekend I made a couple of purchases for the living room, which I’ve been planning for a while. One of these purchases was a Toshiba Blu-ray Player (BDK33). We’ve been able to watch Blu-ray movies on the PS3, but it’s in a different room and I’ve been wanting to be able to also watch Blu-rays in the living room (the other room has a larger television but it’s currently lacking comfortable furniture).
I looked at several different models in Best Buy and Target. I didn’t bother with checking Wal-Mart this time. I was surprised to find a real deal in Best Buy. It’s rare that they have anything, aside from movies, that I would purchase there.
It only costs $59.
I considered it a good deal because it has wifi capability built-in (unlike many that are “wifi ready”, meaning you’ll need some kind of adapter to use them on wifi). It also supports Netflix, Hulu, and some other services.
I was actually just looking for a plain Blu-ray player without those bells and whistles. After all, I already have an Apple TV in the living room. The price convinced me to go ahead and get it. Sometimes it’s difficult to find a regular Blu-ray player even for $59.
So far I’ve been happy with the purchase, though I haven’t used it much. We’ve only watched a single Blu-ray movie and though I do have it on the wifi network I haven’t tested Netflix or Hulu. It’s connected to my older 32″ TV via the HDMI switch. The movie played without any problems and it looked great on my older HDTV.
This is one of my more rare opinion posts. I usually try to provide useful information, but I can’t resist publishing some comments about the recent changes to Netflix. I think the change in their business model is unfortunate. Netflix was positioned to remain a leader in streaming and rentals, but I’m very doubtful that will continue to be the case.
A few weeks ago I adjusted our Netflix Instant Watch streaming quality to the medium setting. My ISP doesn’t have a data cap, at least not yet, but I figured it might not hurt to conserve bandwidth.
Today I logged in and changed it to the lowest quality setting. It’s possible that the Apple TV is ignoring the setting, but as far as I can tell the quality is actually still good. I’m going to try leaving this setting in place and wait to see how it works out. Going from the medium setting estimated to use about .7 GB/hour down to the low setting of .3 GB/hour may help keep our video streaming under our ISP’s radar, which is a greater concern now that we use video streaming in place of cable/satellite TV.
Last week I reduced the quality of video from Hulu, though it had less to do with conserving bandwidth and more to do with the fact that our Tivo seems to have trouble maintaining the Hulu stream from time-to-time.
Updated 10/09/2011: I’ve been using these settings for several months and have hardly even noticed a difference.
I have three projects for the ASUS EeeBox PC that I have yet to spend much time on: speech recognition, text-to-speech, and serving media files as an HTPC. Tonight I finally spent a few minutes with Boxee. This was the first night that I attempted to play any kind of video using Boxee and in this case I only used the Netflix app. I have yet to try ripped DVDs or other video content in Boxee, iTunes, or XBMC.
The Netflix Boxee app didn’t perform well on my system. The audio didn’t sound great, though I had set Boxee to play audio through the HDMI connection but for some reason it only used the speakers. The video streaming was very bad. It was choppy and stuttered a lot.
It’s difficult to know whether the problem is the Boxee Netflix app, using Boxee itself, or simply the fact that the ASUS EeeBox PC just may not have enough horsepower. After all, the ASUS isn’t a high-end system and running additional software on it probably doesn’t help.
I’ll continue this experiment and post updates as I learn more. However, I may jump ahead to working with XBMC and go back to Boxee if I don’t like the results.
Updated 08/24/2011: I briefly tested Netflix Instant Watch from Internet Explorer on the ASUS EeeBox PC and it seemed to run fine. The streaming problem I experienced appears to be limited to Boxee or the Netflix plugin for Boxee. There may be other factors involved, but it’s unlikely I’ll spend any time in the immediate future to identify the specific problem.