Showing posts with label Netflix. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Netflix. Show all posts

Thursday, January 26, 2012

New Xbox 360 Dashboard

I have played with the updated Xbox 360 dashboard for a few weeks, and really am enjoying several of the new features.  The new additions that I like are better support for using an Xbox Live account on multiple Xboxes and improved support for  new video content sources.

Multi-Xbox support

We have two Xboxes in our house.  The second Xbox is upstairs, and has been used mainly as a Windows Media Extender and as a way to watch Netflix and Hulu content.  We haven't used it to play games because it was too much of a pain to either recover our Gamertags or copy the profile and saved games to a USB thumb stick.

With the new Dashboard update, Microsoft added two features that help with users with multiple Xboxes.

Roaming Profile

Microsoft renamed "recovering" profiles to "downloading" profiles.  With this you can "download" a profile on multiple consoles, with specifying the password.  This allows you to use the same Xbox Live account on multiple consoles (though not at the same time.)  With this functionality, I am able to play a game on the upstairs Xbox while my wife or kids are watching something else on the downstairs TV.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Downgraded Netflix Account

Netflix recently changed their account pricing for their accounts that include streaming and DVDs. Here is a snippet from the email that I received:
Your current $17.99 a month membership for unlimited streaming and unlimited DVDs (including Blu-ray access) will be split into 2 distinct plans:

Plan 1: Unlimited Streaming (no DVDs) for $7.99 a month
Plan 2: Unlimited DVDs (including Blu-ray), 2 out at-a-time (no streaming)
for $14.99 a month

Your price for getting both of these plans will be $22.98 a month ($7.99 + $14.99). You don't need to do anything to continue your memberships for both unlimited streaming and unlimited DVDs.

This got me thinking about how we have been using the Netflix service.  We love Netflix streaming, especially since we cancelled our cable television service.  Our kids can always find a kids show that they will like, and generally my wife and I can find something that we enjoy.  But we haven't been using the disc part of our service.

We have had the same two Blue-Ray discs sitting in our entertainment center for several months.  Obviously, this is the type of customer that Netflix like, as they don't have to pay for mailing costs, but are still receiving our monthly payment.

Often if we want to watch a recent movie, we will rent a movie through Amazon Video on Demand through our Roku box.  The selection through Amazon is pretty good, especially for newer releases.

With the change in plan, I have taken the opportunity to downgrade our Netflix account to streaming only.  Since we have been using Amazon Video on Demand for recent release, we won't miss the discs.  And in the cases that we want to get a movie on disc, we can always go to our nearest Redbox.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

E3 Xbox Announcements

Microsoft announced several things at the opening keynote for the 2011 E3 conference and in a release.  Personally, I am interested in some of the announcements:

  1. Xbox Live Cloud Storage

  2. Integrated search

  3. Live TV features

Xbox Live Cloud Storage

With Xbox Live Cloud Storage, you should be able to keep your profile, and some game saves on the Xbox Live servers.  This should allow you to go to any network connected Xbox, and log into your profile.  This is better than the Gamertag recovery that you have to go through now.  For users that choose to keep their profile online, I wonder what happens if the user tries to use the account when they aren't online.

Integrated Search

I have mentioned before that it is hard to find a particular piece of content that you are interested in, especially with the  various content provider.  For example, if my kids wants to watch a movie, I currently look on Netflix, then Hulu, then in the Zune Marketplace.  The new integrated search should make this easier.

Live TV

Microsoft is supposed to be providing access to live TV content. I don't know which content partner they will be working with, but I am more interested in how open they allow this to be.  For example, I want to be able to plug in the following sources into my Xbox

  • UPnP ATSC tuners

  • Windows Media Centers

Microsoft was promoting Kinect control of the Live TV experience.  I hope that they also improve the experience when using an Xbox media remote control.  This would reduce the barrier for switching to the Xbox in our house.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Parental Controls in Windows 7 Media Center

Our kids are getting old enough to be able to use our Media Center, so I have enabled parental controls to prevent them from seeing content that is inappropriate for them.  When we had used a TiVo DVR, we had used the parental control and were pretty pleased.  The Windows Media Center implementation of parental controls has several peculiarities:

  • With parental controls enabled, every time you start playing content, that has a rating higher than the specified threshold, you will get prompted for the PIN.  This happens even if you press stop, and then play on the same show.  (I like TiVo's implementation, where once you enter the PIN, parental controls will be disabled for a time, or until the DVR is turned off.)

  • While in the PIN entry screen, content is playing in the background.  So if you take a while to enter the PIN, you will have to rewind to not miss any of the content.

  • The parental controls setting is not applied to playing Netflix streaming content, even though Windows Media Center has had support for Netflix content for a while.  So it is possible that inappropriate content could be view through Windows Media Center's Netflix interface.  (One interesting thing is that the Xbox 360's Netflix streaming implementation respects the Xbox's parental controls setting.)

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Roku XD|S

I have been interested in streaming content for a while. I have installed PlayOn and the tubeCore Windows Media Center plugin to view TV content. This is not an ideal experience.

With tubeCore, the user interface to browse the list of shows and episodes is pretty simple. For example, the meta data about the episodes is not shown. Also, I was never able to get reliable streaming though PlayOn and tubeCore.  Often, I would need to try to play a stream twice in order for it to play successfully.

The Roku XD|S looked like it would be a perfect way to watch content that is available on-line.  With the Roku, you have easy access to Netflix streaming, Amazon Video On Demand, Hulu and other content.  I like the hardware, as it is very quiet, and is small enough for me to use on any of our TVs.

The setup was pretty painless, and I was up and running with several of the content providers within 30 minutes of starting the setup process.  Where the content partners provided HD content, the picture quality was good.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Interesting Kinect features/behaviors

We got a Kinect a few weeks ago, and have really been enjoying it.  There are some interesting features/behavior of the implementation:

  • You can sign into your Xbox Live account with facial recognition, but if you have a PIN on your profile, you will only be logged into your local profile, but not logged in online.

  • While some games let use your avatar while playing, and some will use facial recognition to log into your account, I haven't seen any game that will correctly choose a show more than one avatar, when two people are playing.

  • You are not able to use voice or hand controls to do everything in the dashboard.  For example:

    • You can't use voice or use your body to control Netflix playback

    • You can't open the DVD tray with your voice.

  • You should definitely plan on redoing the KinectID calibration multiple times, to make the facial recognition work well.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Xbox 360 in bedroom

A while ago, I mentioned that my wife bought me the new slim Xbox 360. I was trying to decide where I wanted to set up the old Xbox.  We have been using Linksys Media Center Extenders on each of the other TVs around the house, to give them access to the content on the Media Center.  But the Linksys extenders do not support other content like Netflix streaming.

I decided to set up the Xbox in our bedroom.  (And got the OK from my wife too.)  I have configured it to automatically start up in Media Center Extender mode when the Xbox starts up.  Since I want to access our Netflix streaming account from the Xbox, I created a Xbox Live Gold account for the Xbox, and associated my Netflix account to this Xbox account.

With this setup, I can access:

  • Live and Recorded TV from the Media Center

  • Netflix streaming content

  • DVD content

  • Content from the Zune Video marketplace

  • Hulu, Youtube, and other internet streaming content through the PlayOn server running on the Media Center

Also, we will be able to play games on this Xbox.  (Most likely only when my wife has her woman's group over)

Sunday, May 23, 2010


I have been using Remember the Milk and Evernote to keep track of things.  Remember the Milk is a great app to manage task lists, and Evernote is an application where notes, pictures or documents can be stored.  Both of these applications synchronize with cell phones, so you can access your data when you are not connected.

One way that I have been using these apps for is to keep track of things that I see or hear about will want to get later.  For example, when I see a video game, that I don't necessarily want to buy when it first comes out, I want to keep track of it so I can add it to my Goozex list later.  Also when interesting movies come out in the theater, I write them down, so I can remember to add them to my Netflix queue.

The problem with using Remember the Milk and Evernote is that, those entries are not typed.  So when I want to take a look at the items that I indicated some preference for, I need to remember what the item was from the name.  When I want to get one of the items, I need to manually do a search on various sites to get the item.

This post mentions Springpad, which looks like a very promising application.  I downloaded the application on my phone, and created an account, and was easily able to add items.  The best feature of Springpad, is once you add an item, it offers contextual actions.  For example, for a movie, you can purchase a ticket, purchase it from Amazon, stream it from Amazon or Netflix.  I also like the fact that I can choose to make my list public, and you can "follow" other people's list

There are a few things that I don't like, or I think could be done better.

  1. When you create an account, and add items, you start getting emails when some other Springpad user adds something that is in you list. I would want to opt-in to receiving the emails.  (You can opt out)

  2. By default, certain types of items in your list are public.  Once you add the items, you have to modify the sharing preference for each item already created

  3. I don't see why you would use Springpad for contacts or tasks.  I think that there are better tools for those data types.

  4. In the application on the phone, I would like it if it wasn't necessary to specify a data type to perform a search.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Deleted FriendFeed account

I just deleted my FriendFeed account.  When FriendFeed first came out, it was a great service to aggregate my online activity into a single feed.  I used this feature to aggregate my activity and post it to twitter and facebook.

I never really used the collaborative or social features of FriendFeed, mainly only a small subset of my social circle actually uses FriendFeed.

Now that pretty much any site, that I want to share activity from, supports Facebook or Twitter directly, there is less of a need to use FriendFeed.  In addition, sharing directly with Facebook from each site allows me to specify different permissions for each activity type.  For example, I can have my Netflix activity shared with my friends, and I can have my YouTube activity shared with everyone.  When using FriendFeed, I can only set the permission for all activity that is share via FriendFeed.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Windows Media Center Setup

I have now been using my Windows Media Center setup without cable television signal for a few weeks now, and I am pretty happy with it.  I am not missing anything not having a cable source.  This is the description of my setup.

Over the Air Content


We are using a HDHomeRun Dual for our ATSC source.  The HDHomeRun allows me to keep the antenna in the attic, and the PC downstairs, without having to run a antenna drop down the several floors.  It will also be possible for us to add an additonal HDHomeRun if we want to add extra tuners.  The tuners on the HDHomeRun can also be used on other computers in the house, though I am not currently using that feature.

My recommendation for anyone using an HDHomeRun is to use Gigabit Ethernet for the drop between the main network switch and the Media Center PC.  When recording two 19Mbs ATSC streams, you will want to leave enough network bandwidth, so if anything is happening on you network, the video quality is not affected.  For example, on our Media Center I want to make sure that I can record two shows, while the Media Center is backed up, movie that is stored on the Windows Home Server is being watched one the Media Center, and some recorded content from the Media Center is being watched on one of the Media Center Extenders.

I was seeing some degradation of video quality when using 100 Mb Ethernet, but haven't had a problem since upgrading to Gigabit Ethernet.  I haven't upgrade my whole network to Gigabit, but that isn't a problem as most of the other devices can barely saturate a 100Mbs drop.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Personal Rating Store

This week I installed the Slacker Android application on my phone.  This version gives the user the ability to "cache" stations so you can listen to them when not connected to a network.  I really wasn't using this functionality to handle lack of service coverage, but to save battery, since my phone's radio doesn't need to turn on while playing a station.

While setting up and listening to the Slacker stations, I had to mark songs that I liked and didn't like.  This is the same thing that have done on my Pandora and stations.  Unfortunately, Pandora and do not let you export your ratings.

The same problem also exists for video.  For example, Netflix has a list of ratings that a user has given to DVDs, and Flixster has ratings that users have given to movies.

This got me thinking that there could be a be a better solution for the user.  A user should be able to delegate a "preference service" to maintain their ratings.  When a user signs into a service that would like access to a user's ratings, like Pandora or Netflix, they are prompted to grant permission for the new service to access the user's ratings.  If the user agrees, the user's ratings can be imported into the service.  The user could also grant the new service the ability to update their ratings, so for example if a user gives a rating to a movie in Netflix, it could update the users rating in the rating store.

Since we would want this connection to be easy to setup, the user shouldn't have to manually setup this linking.  One way to solve this is to extend the frederated login services to contain the uri for the user's rating store.  For example, this could be easily added to the OpenID record for the user returned when the user authenticates.

We would have have to agree on the name space for the rateable items.  I propose using Freebase ids as the unique identifiers.  Then services that use the ratings can map these ids to its own name space.

This idea would allow the user to quickly train new services with their ratings, as well as the ability to export their data.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Netflix and Windows Media Center

For some reason, within the past couple of days Netflix streaming in our Vista Media Center stopped working.  The interesting thing is that playback worked from the browser and from PlayOn, both from that computer.  Nothing that I did solved the problem.  I was getting so frustrated that I wanted to just get a Roku HD, so I wouldn't have to deal with software configuration anymore.

As one last ditch effort, I wanted to upgrade to Windows 7 to see if would fix Netflix streaming.  If it didn't, I would go get a cheap Comcast DVR, and a Roku HD box for each TV.

The upgrade to Windows 7 went smoothly, and I am now able to stream Netflix content.  Also Windows 7 Media Center adds other Internet TV sources.  In addition to those things, the redone UI is very nice.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Media Center Extenders?

Now that it seems that support for Media Center Extenders is wanning, I need to figure out what I want to do about our setup.  I have been pretty happy with Media Center Extenders for thing that are recorded on the Media Center.  But, for other things the Extenders don't do that well.

I have not had good luck getting movies to play on our Extenders with MyMovies.  Also, I haven't gotten vmcPlayIt to work, in order to play Hulu and Netflix content on the extenders.

I was thinking ing that what I want is a simple DNLA audio and video player.  This would support playing content recorded via the TV tuners.  Also, since PlayOn is a DNLA server, these players could play Hulu and Netflix content. Also, with Windows 7, other content would be transcoded.

The only problems that I see with this solution are:

  • I don't think that it will be possible to play live TV, or control the tuners.

  • Hopefully it would be easy to configure the heirarchy of the content.  For example, I would want recorded content to grouped by series.  Also, I would want to see the meta data for the content.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Netflix on Windows Media Center

Microsoft just released the ability to stream Netflix movies to Vista Media Center.  This is something that Microsoft had implemented in the New Xbox Experience last year.

These implementations allow you to play videos that are on your Netflix instant queue.  It looks like Microsoft did a more functional implementation for Media Center, than what exists on the Xbox .  In addition to letting you play content that is already on your queue, you can browse the whole library of videos available for streaming.  Also, you can manage both your disc and streaming queues.

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