Tag Archives: Xfinity

Pandemic Binge Watching and the Big Three Channels

Let me just get out the obligatory “TV was a lot different when I was young” before we move on.  I tell my daughter about the days before DVRs or VCRs, when you had to be there and ready to watch at a specific time in order to see a show or movie.  A whole weekly magazine was devoted to the TV schedule, which was kind of amazing logistically because the channels were different in every major media market.  The LA TV Guide was useless in Chicago or New York.

And don’t even get me started on the pre-cable days and fiddling with an antenna to get the TV signal.  And I am just old enough to remember pre-solid state TVs, where you had to turn them on and allow a couple of minutes for them to warm up before a clear picture would resolve itself on the screen.  Or a fuzzy picture, if the antenna wasn’t just right.  It was a different time.

Today we have a Roku Stick that juts out from the side of our 46″ LCD TV.  I bought that back in December because there was demand in our house for the Disney+ channel and the PlayStation 3, our streaming device up until that moment, was just seconds from being completely out of support, so no new apps were being made for it.  And, when I looked at it a couple month later, all the old apps were dead too.  So it was just in time.

And, as the pandemic has gone on, we have spent more and more time streaming content over the Roku and very little time watching traditional commercial television.  I’d cancel the cable TV service, but Comcast would raise my monthly charge to just have internet.  So we just leave it there, idle, though I may go in and trim some features, like the extra we pay for HD channels.  The Comcast Xfinity HD compression algorithm was changed a couple years back and what you get now looks pretty bad.  If it even qualified as 720p I’d be surprised.  Maybe sports will come back and we’ll want to watch something like that.

Anyway, this will be a few posts running down of the channels in order of length and depth of investment in each, and I will start with the big three staples of our house currently.

HBO, or Home Box Office back in the day, is probably the first premium channel I ever ran into.  Our friend Gary had a bootleg HBO receiver on their antenna mast back in the day when it was broadcast via line-of-sight transmission from Mount Umunhum into the valley.  It was just movies back then, and the occasional filler 30 minutes of Video Jukebox, which might have pre-dated MTV.

I have subscribed to HBO as part of cable or satellite or streaming a number of times over the years, and I always end up cancelling it after a while.  They never have many movies that interest me, and for a long time they only had a few shows, and none of this was on demand.  But that has changed.

Upside:

Usually has a couple of recent release movies we might want to watch.

Has a deep field of good TV series that they have produced on which to binge like The Wire, Band of Brothers, The Pacific, Succession, Generation Kill, and a few others.  I could watch the first two seasons of The Wire on repeat.

Downside:

Priced at a premium tier.

Like a lot of movie channels, there are a bunch of movies you’ll skip right past because you’ve seen them or know you’ll never watch them.  Oh, and they come and go monthly, so you have to keep an eye on that.

Has some series that are decent but which got cancelled quickly, so you have a few episodes and a longing for more.

The UI of the app is not very sophisticated, though I will admit that the UI of none of the streaming apps are ideal.  We are once again up against the limitations of screen real estate and exactly how big things need to be to be able to see/read them from the couch.  But HBO, for all its prestige of being one of the elder services, is behind the pack when it comes to features, at least when compared to the two services below.

Has clung to the old school “episode every week” format for new show content.  This works for topical shows, like Last Week Tonight, and worked during Game of Thrones, when everybody was talking about that at the water cooler on Monday, but that was an exception, not the rule.  Most of the time it feels like they drag shows out week by week because they have nothing else new coming and just want to keep you subscribed.  Our general house rule is to let a series get at least six episodes in so we can watch them in pairs, though it is better still if we just wait until the season is over and watch at our own pace.

I also remain confused as to their branding.  I have HBO Now, or I did, but there is now HBO Max, which I cannot have because they are in a fight with Roku, though I can get HBO Max if I cancel HBO Now and subscribe to HBO via Hulu.  Or something like that.  I am not sure what I am missing by not having HBO Max.  Also, wasn’t there HBO Go for a while?

Current Status: Still subscribed.  Waiting for Lovecraft County to get further along.

Our original stop for binge watching, back when Netflix used to just send disks through the mail.  We burned through seasons of the show 24 three disks at a time.  With no commercials and using the chapter advance to get past the “previously” and the credits, each hour long episode boiled down to under 30 minutes, so we would watch a disk a night.

Eventually Netflix managed to get to the “net” part of its name and started streaming back before that was much of a thing.

Anyway, fast forward to today where Netflix is your prime location for streaming old episodes of Friends, a show we only used to watch because it was adjacent to Seinfeld at one point and the once place where you can watch Tiger King.

Upside:

Overall, lots of stuff available.

Lots of new and original content showing up all the time.  When they drop a new series, it is all episodes on the table, ready to binge.  And they have hit the mark multiple times with shows like Stranger Things and Tiger King.

Top of the class when it comes to features like “skip the ‘previously’ segment” at the start of a series show and “skip credits” so you can get straight into the content.

Tries really hard to flag content you might like based on your viewing, and isn’t that bad at it.  And it allows you to make profiles so when your daughter binges anime on her profile you don’t end up with the weeabo selection on your own recommendations.

Downside:

Has, over time, dramatically decreased the amount of third party content they have licensed.  There are still some good third party items in the mix, and of course Friends, but they are more about their own stuff these days.

A lot of their own content isn’t that great.  Some of it is okay.  I was good with a pass through once on things that otherwise got mixed reviews, but it can be really hit and miss.  A bunch of it is foreign television that has been dubbed in English and branded as “Netflix Original” and dumped into the listings.  Some dubbed stuff is okay, though a dubbed show really has to have a strong underlying plot for that not to become a distraction.

Really wants stuff playing on your screen.  The only service where I will leave something selected, walk away to do something, and come back to find myself starting episode three already.  You can tone that down some in the settings, but they don’t make it easy.

Current Status: Still subscribed, waiting for the next bit of binge fodder to drop while I get through Parks & Recreation.

Amazon Prime is the streaming service we sort of backed into because we had Amazon Prime for free delivery and suddenly it included a video service.

Upside:

Has content for Prime members, which occasionally has a movie I want to watch when I want to watch it.  I caught The Battle of Britain the other day.

Continues to ramp up some decent original content like The Man in the High Castle, The Boys, and Hanna.  If you’re going to dub something, Comrade Detective is how you do it.

Has caught up to Netflix on the “skip this” features without trying to start playing video at you every time you pause the cursor for a moment.  Also, just added profiles.

Can subscribe to a variety of other services like Showtime or Starz in their interface.  Also has a huge library of pay per view titles in its catalog.

Downside:

Not a lot of selection when compared to Netflix when you consider the price differential.  But maybe the free shipping takes a bite out of the content options.

Not as easy to navigate as Netflix.  Not that Netflix is great, but on Prime everything is smaller and less intrusive and feels like they are not trying as hard.  Prime also lists out each season of a show as its own entry, which feels like they are trying to look like they have more content than they actually do.

Searching for titles will lead you to a lot of things that are pay per view.  This sets it apart from the other two where everything you find on the service you can watch without additional payment.

The last time I tried a pay per view movie I had to get up from the TV and go into my office to order it on my computer before I could watch it on the TV.  I guess that keeps down the accidental purchases.

Some spotty or indifferent shows.  Also clings to the “one episode a week” idea of content deliver, except when it gets impatient and suddenly releases half a season, the doles out the rest more slowly.

Status: Still subscribed for free shipping, Twitch games, and other stuff, while finishing up Counterpart and waiting for all the episodes of The Boys season two to become available.

Next time I’ll look at Hulu, Disney+, and Starz.

Hardware Updates – Headphones, Video Cards, and Connectivity

A while back I wrote a post looking for recommendations for several real world things.

I haven’t gone with a new video editing package as yet, but I haven’t had the yen to do much in the way of new videos recently in any case.

I did, however, make headway with the other items on the list.  So it is review time I suppose.

This is a long block of text and not very gaming related, so I am going to put it behind a cut.

If you are not interested in a discussion of my experiences with headsets, video cards, and internet connectivity options, you are excused from going further.

Continue reading

Looking for Recommendations on Real World Things

I am going to lump together a few things I have been looking for into a single post to see who recommends what in the hope that it might help break a log jam or two.  Normally I save these sorts of “not quite gaming related” posts for the weekend, but I figured I would try to catch some of you bored at work on a Friday.

USB Headset Replacement

I have a five year old Plantronics .Audio 510 USB headset that performs very well.  The sound is good and the mic boosts my very quiet voice so that people can actually hear it.  And it kills background noise very well.  Using it was a requirement when appearing on podcasts, back when I was getting invited to appear on podcasts.

And as a unit, it remains simplicity itself.  One USB plug and you’re done.

For the visually oriented

For the visually oriented

The only problem with the whole thing is that they are a bit too small for my head in just about every dimension.  I can wear them for an hour at a stretch no problem, but after that they start to annoy, irritate, and eventually hurt at about the three hour mark.

I replaced the Plantronics set with a Turtle Beach Ear Force X11 set a while back.  The new set was very comfortable, I could wear it for hours on end.  The mic was decent and sound was okay, even if connections were a bit more complex.  It isn’t just a simple USB plug.

X11 Exposed

X11 Exposed

So I started using that at home while I brought the old set to work where having the USB powered mic helps with speech app work I do and lets people actually hear me on conference calls.

The problem is that the X11 has not proven to be a very durable unit, and less than two years down the road, the headset was coming apart, the mic was crackling (much to the annoyance of the rest of the instance group), and the volume adjust/mute fob on the cable was clearly on its last legs, feeling loose and likely to break at any moment when I used it.

So the X11 set had to go.

As a stop gap, I now drag the Plantronics set back and forth with me to work.  But I would really like to get a headset that works as well and is as durable as the Plantronics.  I would buy another one of the same model, except that they don’t make it any more (I am not buying used) and all of the new Plantronics models are different enough that I won’t buy them sight unseen.  And, of course, there is no place I can go to try them on.  I am not one of those people who can rip open sealed boxes at stores just to see if something fits, and my wife won’t return things to Fry’s for me.

So, I am looking for, high quality, durable, USB powered, headset with noise cancelling mic.  Comfortable for fat-heads like me would be a bonus.

Video Editing Software Upgrade

Over the last couple of years now I have have created a few video for YouTube related to gaming.  They have tended to be pretty simple  Part of the reason for that was because simple was what I wanted;  import video, trim video, add credits, add music, and upload to YouTube.   But another part is that the video editing software I use, Windows Live Movie Maker is really geared towards simple.  It doesn’t do much more than I have already done with it.

But now I feel I want to do more.

That means going out and spending some money on some better software.

However, within my budget, which is the ~$99 price range, there are a number of options, and choosing between them is hindered by my inability to articulate what the “more” I want to do really is.  I’ve only been in the video editing kiddy pool so far, so I am not sure what the options really are.  The only aspect I am pretty sure I don’t need is any high end audio editing, as I have a couple of such packages for doing just that sitting on my shelf already.  Audio I do at work.

And, of course, I don’t wholly trust the end user reviews (when did shipping problems become a reason for a 1-star product rating?)  or the glossy data sheets one finds at the company web sites.  So if you used a video editing package in my price range and are happy (or even unhappy) with it, let me know.

Should I Sell My Soul to U-verse or Xfinity?

I think I have a quorum  now that agrees that our seven year old DSL plan is not giving us the bandwidth we clearly need as a household.  Basically, even my wife is complaining about interned speeds now, while my daughter thinks YouTube is a radio and streams videos just to listen to the music while she draws on her iMac.

Due to where we live… Silicon Valley FFS… I cannot just call up AT&T and ask them to boost my DSL package.  I have all they offer for losers like me who dare live so far from their local CO.

So, to get a speed increase, I have to buy into one of the separate upgraded services.  This leaves me with only two choices at my address, AT&T’s U-verse and Comcast’s Xfinity.  Both can theoretically bring me an internet only upgrade, though I wouldn’t be surprised to find strings attached or other barriers in place.

Battling for my immortal soul...

Battling for my immortal soul…

The question is, which one to choose.  Having the phone company on one hand and the cable company on the other is clearly a no-win situation.  I have no love for either company, neither the reassembled AT&T deathstar nor the Comcast cable anaconda.

So the question probably is, which one will hurt me the least?  I have heard bad tales about both running with “up to” bandwidth numbers that are nowhere near what you end up getting or that either company will screw you on bandwidth if you try to order without their TV package.

Thoughts and/or experiences with either service?

Bonus Questions

Anybody have any experience with devices like the Lag Buster that Cringely wrote about a while back?

And, to totally leave computers and electronics, is anybody else in the market for a new dog kennel… I mean a new mattress?  My wife’s work and research has come up with the Simmons Beautyrest as the most likely candidate for us at this time.  But to me, buying a mattress seems to be somewhere just behind buying a car in anxiety about making the wrong choice.  The end result, in this case, is literally “you made your bed, now sleep in it!”