08 March 2012

the wild west of content delivery

in a flurry of activity this week, i signed up for Amazon Prime and hulu+, and bought a Roku and a new cable modem.

the ultimate goal is to cut down the monthly and outrageous Comcast bill, through which we currently get internet and tv.

the small part of the savings will be the cable modem, which we've been renting for $7/mo. replaced that with a Motorola SURFboard SB6121, which has proven to be about 15-20% faster on the downloads.

the larger savings will be eliminating the cable tv and getting our content via streaming. today started an experiment to see if the $79/year amazon prime and $8/month hulu+ covers enough ground.

i think the difficult transition for me will be going from a "what's on" model to "let's narrow down this incredible catalog to something we both want to watch now" model.

i've had the roku hooked up for less than 24 hours, but here are my initial impressions:

1. hulu+ shouldn't bother me with commercials
2. it's disappointing that i'm not allowed to stream certain shows through the roku (e.g. Good Eats), but am allowed to do so in a browser. wtf?
3. Top Gear (via Amazon VOD) has the full show, including the news! BBC America chopped it all to hell
4. there's an incredible disparity of what's paid content and what's free. i can see Top Gear series 15 and older for free, but Prime Suspect all the way from 1991 is $5/episode
5. interaction is embarrassingly primitive. browsing isn't well organized, and i'd like a way to indicate interest in items, e.g. Arrested Development, then have it organize my viewing history so i can easily tell what i've seen and what's left to see. Bonus points for putting together a single place to go to see what i should logically view next.
6. so far, the streaming has been high quality with no hiccups or sync issues. nice job that.
7. the roku box is actually *too* small and light -- it's in danger of being dragged off the shelf by the weight of the cables
8. some content we currently enjoy, like HBO shows and AMC shows, will probably be inaccessible to us for a couple years unless we feel like paying extra for them (which i don't). Walking Dead, Game of Thrones, Mad Men, Breaking Bad, True Blood, Boardwalk Empire, the Killing -- might be hard to basically give them up for a couple years.

despite the impressive libraries available, not to mention the impressive tech to make all this possible, i do wish the content providers would be just a little more consumer friendly and not make the licensing so absurd. being able to stream on one device but not another, despite paying for it, just seems anti-consumer to me. and needlessly confusing.


pyker said...

I haven't kept up, what's the difference between roku and appletv? We just use sky+ box. We are partially away from the "what's on" model simply by recording stuff we like.

Agreed that the landscape seems improving but still consumer-unfriendly. Especially the what you can watch when & where & how much.

zim said...

the big difference for me was that Roku supports Amazon VOD, which is what started this all (i signed up for Amazon Prime to save $9 on shipping some maps, figured it's worth it for the shipping savings alone over the course of a year).

was considering the Boxee Box, as well, but decided i wanted my appliance to be as easy-to-use as possible, and not require me to do anything computer-like (as the Box was looking to be).

if we ditch cable, we'll have no DVR capability, so streaming is a full switch from our cable model.

zim said...

btw, i opted for the Roku after reading this:


pyker said...

Interesting. Good comparison article.

DVR would be my main requirement if I wanted to switch everything. As I said, our digital sat with DVR works great. Still feels a bit clunky, though, to buy blu-ray disks to feed into the PS3, so would be nice to be able to source the HD content more flexibly and get it onto the TV easily.

pyker said...

Btw, I can no longer subscribe to comments via email from here. Drats.

And I am increasingly struggling with figuring out wtf the captchas are supposed to be. I may be a robot.

zim said...

yeah, i wonder if all of this is going to come together with a DVR appliance that's not rented from a content provider.

in other news, i went on monoprice and ordered $13 USD worth of cables that will allow my macbook pro to use the TV as its screen. meaning, those hulu+ titles that cannot be streamed through the roku, but apparently *can* be streamed through a browser, we can watch on TV. had to confirm my mac could carry audio on the same channel, and got the cable that allowed it.

clunky, but possible.

pyker said...

I've not been able to come up with a single reason why something should be ok to stream through a browser but not through the roku, from the same service, which you pay for. Makes zero sense.

JustJoeP said...

The capchas are getting annoying.

Zim, I've heard tech guru commentator after commentator say that within the next 5 years (or less) we are going to a "pay only for what you want to view" model, and that the endless shopping, spam, religious, and infomercial channels are soon to be extinct, with only high quality content channels surviving. In the last 6 months, I must have heard 5 or 6 radio discussions about this on NPR.

We are getting raped by Qwest (now Century Link) at $207 a month for phone & internet & satellite & DVR that includes HBO. The DVR remains 75% full, so we never watch "live content" anymore, bypassing all commercials. When there's a movie or episode we MUST see (like Red October, last Christmas) that is not DVR-able, Trac uses either iTunes or Amazon and a ridiculously expensive $50 cable from the iStore to connect her Macbook to the HD TV, and it works.. it's clunky.

I am curious what your previous (pre-Roku) CombobulatedCast bill was coming to, that inspired you to explore these work-arounds?e

zim said...

the full comcast bill (tv & internet) is $170/mo. (I get temp discounts when i call and complain, so right now it's about $140)

TV is about $105, internet about $65. internet has a bundle discount of $13, so that goes up to $78 w/o tv, but down to $71 once i return the rented modem this week.

replacement TV will be about $15/mo (Amazon VOD and hulu+). maybe another $8 for Netflix.

JustJoeP said...

sweet. Nice reduction.