Providers and Devices
"Cutting the Cord," the process of ditching traditional cable and satellite content providers for cheaper online-based services, is nothing new. For years, consumers have cancelled their cable subscriptions (or declined to even subscribe in the first place), opting instead to get their entertainment from companies like Netflix, Hulu, and YouTube.
But the recent introduction of online streaming TV services like Sling TV, new technologies like HDR, and the slow online adoption of live local channels has made the idea of cord cutting more complicated. While cord cutters who are happy with just Netflix and YouTube need not worry, what are the solutions for those who don't like the idea of high cost cable subscriptions but also want to preserve access to things like local channels and the latest 4K HDR content?
This article is the first in a three-part series that will look at this "high-end" cord cutting scenario. We'll be taking a look at the options for online streaming TV, access to local "OTA" (over the air) channels, and the devices that can handle it all, including DVR support, 4K output, and HDR compliance.
There are two approaches that you can take when considering the cord cutting process. The first is to focus on capabilities: Do you want 4K? HDR? Lossless surround sound audio? Voice search? Gaming?
The second approach is to focus on content: Do you want live TV or à la carte downloads? Can you live without ESPN or must it and your other favorite networks still be available? Are you heavily invested in iTunes content? Perhaps most importantly for those concerned with the "Spousal Acceptance Factor" (SAP), do you want the majority of your content contained in a single app, which can prevent you and your family members from having to jump between apps or devices to find what they want?
While most people on the cord cutting path will consider both approaches to a certain degree, it's easier to focus on the one that's most important to you, as that will make other choices involving devices and content easier. Of course, there are those of us out there that are open to purchasing and using multiple devices and content sources at once, giving us everything at the expense of increased complexity. But most cord cutters, especially those with families, will want to pursue a setup based around a single device that accommodates most, if not all, of their needs. And that's exactly what we set out to find.
Subject: General Tech | November 28, 2016 - 01:44 PM | Jeremy Hellstrom
Tagged: Raspberry Pi 3, plex, pandora, Netflix
***This is your own personal Netflix seeing as how you are no longer able to access Netflix on "unofficial" devices. Check the comments for great info.**
Over at Linux.com you can find instructions on making a very inexpensive headless Plex Media Server. You will need a working PC to start up the installation by formatting an SD card and setting it up with NOOBS. A little configuration work on the Pi, linking it to your locally stored video libraries and online content such as CNN and Netflix and you have a media centre ready for use, for well under $100. Maybe you could consider making one as a gift for someone deserving. The full instructions and parts list can be found here.
"No, you don’t have to buy an expensive, bulky PC. All you need is a Raspberry Pi 3, a hard drive, an SD card and a mobile charger. It should all cost less than $100."
Here is some more Tech News from around the web:
- Google's Chromecast is causing boot-loops on some router models @ The Inquirer
- Azure glitch allowed attackers to gain admin rights over hosted Red Hat Linux instances @ The Inquirer
- Ransomware locks up San Francisco public transportation ticket machines @ Ars Technica
- 2.1Gbps speeds over LTE? That's not a typo, EE's already done it @ The Register
- iOS 10.1.1 Is Causing Battery Issues For Many iPhone Users @ Slashdot
Subject: General Tech | December 15, 2015 - 01:16 PM | Jeremy Hellstrom
Tagged: Netflix, encoding
In what must be one of the most impressive encoding projects in recent memory, Netflix will be re-encoding their entire catalogue to try to reduce the bandwidth required to stream their content by 20%. As we mentioned last week, 70% of the downstream bandwidth on the internet is streamed content and you can expect that Netflix accounts for quite a bit of this bandwidth. The reduced traffic will help Netflix provide content to those with data caps as well as reducing the associated costs Netflix incurs when storing and sending data so the investment is well worth it.
The project itself will be quite interesting, they cannot simply switch to H.265 as most of the hardware connecting to their services still use a dedicated H.264 decoder. Another challenge is the size of their catalogue, they can't sit down and encode each video separately as a whole, instead they have to find a way to spread the tasks over multiple servers, each taking a small portion of a show. Additionally their are challenges specific to certain videos, fog and darkness suffer when they are encoded poorly and must be dealt with separately from content which does not show as much noise when encoded to a low bit rate. Check out the links from Slashdot for more information on this project but be warned, the discussions include My Little Pony references.
"Netflix has spent four years developing a new and more efficient video-encoding process that can shave off 20% in terms of space and bandwidth without reducing the quality of streamed video. With streaming video accounting for 70% of broadband use, the saving is much-needed, although the advent of 4K streaming, higher frame rates and HDR are likely to account for it all soon after."
Here is some more Tech News from around the web:
- Controlling charge carriers in 2D semiconductors @ Nanotechweb
- AMD GPUOpen Initiative – 3 New Developments @ TechARP
- AMD's GPUOpen; Power to the Developers @ Hardware Canucks
- Tips and Tricks to Get the Most out of Your Linux WiFi @ Linux.com
- Mac anti-malware app maker stored 13 million customer details in plain sight @ The Inquirer
- IBM launches Watson IoT APIs and new European HQ @ The Inquirer
- Microsoft extends Internet Explorer 8 desktop lifeline to upgrade laggards @ The Register
- 'Devastating' flaw found in Windows' authentication system @ The Register
- Seagate wears dunce's cap in hi-cap disk ship slip @ The Register
- TRENDnet TEW-824DRU AC1750 Dual Band Wireless Router Review @ Madshrimps
Subject: General Tech | September 5, 2014 - 12:35 PM | Jeremy Hellstrom
Tagged: linux, wine, htpc, Netflix, ubuntu 14.04
As with all things Linux, nothing is impossible but that doesn't mean it will be easy but compared to many projects the steps at Linux.com to set up Ubuntu, Linux Mint or Deepin to run Netflix are not overly onerous. By following the steps in the article you can get Wine, Mono, msttcorefonts and Gecko installed and then continue on to install Netflix and in very little time you will be streaming videos. There is another way for the more experimental and seasoned Linux user, with the latest beta or dev build of Chrome an updated libnss3 and a little tweaking of your browsers user agent string you can also launch the latest version of Netflix. Enjoy your streaming.
"This is Linux, though, so as always the adage ‘Where there’s a will, there’s a way’ very much applies. With just a few quick steps, you can have a Netflix client on your desktop. This client does require the installation of the following extras:"
Here is some more Tech News from around the web:
- Intel reveals Core M specs, performance @ The Tech Report
- IFA: Intel launches 14nm fanless Core M processor for 2-in-1 devices @ The Inquirer
- Hey hipsters: Tabs are so last year, fat phones are where it's at @ The Register
- Galaxy Note 4 release date, specs and price @ The Inquirer
- Twitpic Shutting Down Over Trademark Dispute @ Slashdot
- 4th Century GOBLET could REVIVE CORPSE of holographic storage @ The Register
Subject: General Tech | August 25, 2014 - 12:16 PM | Jeremy Hellstrom
Tagged: chromecast, root, streaming, hulu, Netflix
Chromecast and some of its alternatives have been covered previously on PC Perspective, not just their capabilities but also ways to gain more control over your content stream. The market is quite saturated making it hard for a new user to pick which peice of hardware to pick up though thankfully many are inexpensive and you can actually afford to try more than one. The news from Hack a Day this morning makes Chromecast a little more attractive, especially for those with a technical inclination and a love of rooting devices. With a Teensy 2 or 2++ dev board, a USB OTG cable, a USB flash drive and just a few minutes you will be able to modify your DNS settings so you can watch geographically locked programming as well as load custom apps which might protect your ears from a certain type of torture.
"Now the Chromecast has been rooted, allowing anyone to change the DNS settings (Netflix and Hulu users that want to watch content not available in their country rejoice), and loading custom apps for the Chromecast."
Here is some more Tech News from around the web:
- Intel, CHT ink IoT cooperation pact @ DigiTimes
- Stiffed by Synolocker ransomware crims? Try F-Secure's python tool @ The Register
- Red Hat: ARM servers will come when people crank out chips like AMD's 64-bit Seattle @ The Register
Subject: General Tech | April 8, 2014 - 01:01 PM | Tim Verry
Tagged: streaming box, Netflix, media streaming, html, fire tv, Android, amazon
Amazon is making a play for the living room with its new Fire TV. The tiny box offers up mobile gaming along with movie and music streaming. Users will be able to tap into Amazon’s own Prime Instant Video collection in addition to various streaming video and music services from partners (see below). The box runs an operating system based on Android and HTML and is powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 SoC which makes it about as powerful as today’s mid-range smartphones. At $99, the Fire TV is, ahem, a shot across the bow of devices from Apple, Roku, and Ouya.
The box measures 4.5" x 4.5" x 0.7" and comes bundled with a remote small remote control. Amazon provides hardware ports for HDMI, optical audio output, Ethernet, and USB. The remote has basic playback controls along with a microphone used for the voice search functionality. The Fire TV is powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 SoC with four Krait 300 CPU cores clocked at 1.7 GHz and an Adreno 320 GPU, 2GB of DDR2 memory at 533 MHz, and 8GB of internal flash memory. Networking includes wired Ethernet and a 802.11n + Bluetooth 4.0 radio. A large heatsink is used to passively cool all of the components.
The Fire TV is launching with a number of applications from partners. Users can stream video from Netflix, Hulu Plus, Vimeo, Vudu, Flixter, NBA, and YouTube among others. Music apps include Pandora, iHeartRadio, and Vevo. Finally, users can play back music and photos from their Amazon Cloud Drive storage. Amazon further offers up an app store for free and paid games. For example, users will be able to play Minecraft Pocket Edition, The Walking Dead, or Sev Zero using the included remote or optional $39.99 game pad.
For media junkies with children Amazon has added the FreeTime functionality from its Kindle tablets to the Fire TV. FreeTime restricts the device to kid-friendly programming and a new optional $2.99 per month FreeTime Unlimited subscription offers up a catalog of kid-friendly media for streaming. Other software features include X-Ray (in-media information, such as identifying an actor) and ASAP which attempts to determine what programs you are likely to stream next and begin caching it in the background. For example, it will begin to cache the next episode of a TV series so that when you go to watch the next episode you will not see any loading screens.
The FireTV is a compelling alternative to the Roku (latest being the $50 Streaming Stick) and Apple TV (so long as you are not already invested in the Apple / iTunes ecosystem) while also offering up mobile gaming on the living room TV in a more-polished way that the Ouya ever did. The $99 Fire TV is available from Amazon immediately.
I think the Fire TV has real potential to catch on with most consumers, though the real test for enthusiasts and readers of PC Per will be to see if the extra features and Amazon polish will be worth the price premium over cheaper options like the Chromecast and Raspberry Pi setups.
Stay tuned to PC Perspective for more information and hands-on experience with Amazon's latest bit of hardware.
Subject: General Tech | March 8, 2014 - 02:13 AM | Tim Verry
Tagged: streaming stick, roku, Netflix, media streaming, chromecast
Roku has launched a new Streaming Stick for HD TVs with HDMI inputs. The small USB flash drive-sized device is powered by USB and plugs into the HDMI input of your television. From there, users can access the Roku app store to get thousands of streaming media channels including television, movies, sports, and music. For example, users can access media from Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, Hulu Plus, HBO Go, VUDU, Pandora, and Spotify.
The Roku Streaming Stick can pass up to 1080p video and 7.1 channel digital audio to the TV. It can be controlled via a physical remote or an Android or iOS smartphone application. Roku is using RF for the hardware remote and Wi-Fi direct for the smartphone-to-Streaming Stick connection, which means that line of sight is not necessary (which is important since most TV HDMI ports are recessed on the back panel). Speaking of wireless, the Streaming Stick pulls its media from a Wi-Fi network connection, with support for dual band 802.11 a/b/g/n networks (2.4GHz or 5GHz).
Using the smartphone application, users can browse for and queue content. In general, the Roku stick can go out and fetch media on its own without a smartphone or computer intermediary passing the content. However, it does support limited “casting” functionality similar to Google’s Chromecast. In this mode, users, can pass YouTube, Netflix, and personal (on device) media over to the TV from the smartphone. Roku has stated that casting support for other media streams and casting from a PC is coming in the future.
Roku’s new Chromecast competitor is available for pre-order now for $49.99 with availability expected in April. The price is on the high side, but it does offer access to all of Roku’s channels, a physical remote for basic playback and navigation controls, is able to stream media on its own, and is also able to do media push functionality similar to the Chromecast (but in a more limited fashion at the moment). More devices and competition in this space is a good thing though!
Will you be picking up a Roku Streaming Stick or holding out for something else?
Subject: General Tech | August 21, 2013 - 02:25 AM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: silverlight, Pipelight, Netflix
Netflix is moving away from Silverlight just as Pipelight chases down Microsoft's web framework. Pipelight is actually two applications: a plugin for native Linux NPAPI-compatible web browsers (four common ones are Firefox, Chrome, Konqueror, and Opera) and a fake web browser for Windows run within Wine. These components form both ends of a tunnel between Silverlight and many Linux web browsers.
The project directly acknowledges other solutions for Netflix on Linux, such as Netflix Desktop, right within their announcement post. Prior workarounds required web browsers, themselves, to be compiled as Windows programs and run, whole, within Wine. This approach permits a native web browser to siphon the results from outside virtualization.
Netflix, the driving purpose for this project, is moving towards HTML5 for its content delivery. W3C defines standards for DRM to hook natively into the web browser but that does not mean every browser will be able to implement all the components for that DRM. Content "protection" providers often require a royalty for their implementations even if the browser is set up to accept it. Unless each component of the DRM are released under a permissive license and free of patent royalties, moving away from Silverlight could make it even harder for Linux users to experience Netflix than it is now.
It will either become default or immensely more hard, once again. Pipelight is available now from its project page.
Windows Media Center Add-ons and Plugins – Page 1
Missed any installments of our Cutting the Cord Series? Catch up on them here:
- Cutting the Cord Part 1: The Assessment
- Cutting the Cord Part 2: Building your HTPC – The Hardware
- Cutting the Cord Part 3: Building your HTPC – OS Install and Tuning
- Cutting the Cord Part 4: Building your HTPC – Installing and Configuring Windows Media Center
- Cutting the Cord Part 5: Wrap up - Media Center Add-ons and Options
Now that we have our Windows Media Center up and running, we can investigate a few additional add-ons and plugins that can further improve upon the experience you can get from your Media Center. In addition to discussing some great add-ons, I’m going to discuss how well our HTPC build has done with our power efficiency goals, so without further ado let’s jump right into it!
My Experience: The add-ons and plug-ins that I’m going to walk through are by no means all that’s out there. There are tons of add-ons that will add anything from Local Weather to full overlays for your movie collection. One thing to keep in mind is that any add-on or plugin can completely bork up your Media Center. Always test the add-on on another box first, or even better, do a full image/backup of your Media Center before you try any new add-on or plugin. You do have a full image of your brand new Media Center build on another machine that you can re-image yourHTPC with right? (Check out Clonezilla or Acronis True Image if not…)
Windows Media Center Add-ons and Plugins
Windows Media Center is excellent right out of the box, but there are a few add-ons and plugins I like to add to our Media Center to give us some additional functionality and increased usability. By a wide margin, the one we use the most is Netflix.
Back when Netflix was a scrappy newcomer, trying to get subscribers, they were putting their client on every device and platform that would talk to them. They worked out a deal with Microsoft to have the Netflix client pre-installed right into Windows Media Center menu.
My Experience: The built in application was apparently a joint project between Microsoft and Netflix, which may seem great, but has actually turned out to be a quagmire of finger pointing. Since it was originally released, the application has not been updated since and both companies have washed their hands of it and point to the other as being responsible for the application. The UI badly needs a facelift, in particular with the way you navigate through titles that have multiple seasons. While all seasons of the title will show up as a single entry in your Instant Queue, there is no way to easily jump from season to season and the only way to navigate episodes is to pull up episode lists that starts at Season 1, Episode 1, every time you open up the episode list. While this may not seem like a big deal, if you watch a show with a lot of episodes (like Cheers with 11 Seasons and 275 episodes) you have to scroll past every single prior episode to get to the next one you want to watch. Clicking the down arrow on your remote over 200 times to get to the next episode you want to watch not only gets old real fast, but eats batteries like mad.
Episode list problems aside, we still use Netflix on a daily basis and it’s relatively easy to setup. First, scroll up to the “Movies” line and select the Netflix tile.
You’ll be greeted with a full Netflix splash screen. Put a check in the “I have read and understand the Terms of Service and Privacy Statement” checkbox which will then activate the “Install” button. Click on Install and off we go.
Subject: General Tech | November 17, 2012 - 05:53 AM | Tim Verry
Tagged: wine, windows, ubuntu, silverlight, Netflix, linux, firefox
One of the major hurdles preventing me from switching to Linux completely (despite my love for Mint) has been Netflix support. While there is a Silverlight-equivalent called Moonlight for the Linux operating system, it does not support the necessary DRM aspects to facilitate Netflix Instant Streaming. Aside from installing VirtualBox and booting an instance of Windows (which basically defeats the purpose of switching), Linux users have not been able to stream Netflix shows.
Thanks to a Linux developer by the name of Erich Hoover, there is a ray of hope for Linux users that want to take advantage of the streaming side of their Netflix subscriptions. Using a patched version of WINE (Wine Is Not An Emulator), Firefox, and an older version of Microsoft Silverlight, he was able to get Netflix streaming to work without breaking the DRM. That’s good news as it means that even though it is not officially supported, Netflix is not likely to actively break or fight it.
Netflix Instant Streaming running on Ubuntu 12.10 (32-bit).
Currently, it has been tested on the 32-bit version of Ubuntu 12.10, but other distros are likely to work as well. Users will need to compile WINE from source, apply five patches, and then install Firefox 14.0.1 and Silverlight 4. Right now, there is no GUI or pre-compiled version, and at least the first few steps require the use of the terminal. Thankfully, I Heart Ubuntu has put together a step-by-step guide outlining exactly what you need to type into the terminal to get Netflix streaming up and running. The site notes that the WINE patching process could take a good chunk of time if you are on an older computer. Further, Silverlight 5 does not work, so using the older version is necessary.
This is great news for the Linux community, and along with the Steam for Linux beta things are definitely looking up and moving in a positive direction for the open source operating system. Obviously, this is far from native support, but it is a huge improvement over previous workarounds. A PPA is also reportedly in the works to make the installation of the patched WINE version even easier for those not comfortable with the terminal. Until then, check out the I Heart Ubuntu guide for the full setup details.
The developer asks that you donate to the WINE Development Fund if you find his Netflix support patches useful.
Image credit: iheartubuntu