NetFlix Wins Content Deal with CBS

February 22, 2011 · Posted in content, entertainment, Gadgets, NetFlix, new media, Roku, TV Apps, video · Comment 

NetFlix appears to have scored a major win, as they now have a two-year content deal with CBS. And while this is not a stake in Hulu’s coffin, it is an indication that NetFlix is probably going to continue to gain more traction among paying subscribers.

Roku streams NetFlix, which now has programming content from the CBS and ABC networks.

To the average user, this may not mean much. But moving forward, more people are going to discover the Internet button on their new televisions. When they do, they will be hunting for quality content.

That’s not to say that the content on channels like Blip.tv and CNet isn’t good. Many of the offerings that you get free on a Roku can be quite good. As a comic geek, I love watching iFanboy on my Roku.

But sometimes you just want to watch a well-produced network television show, since the conversation around the watercooler tends to be about those shows. NetFlix now has CBS and ABC content, which makes it a bit more competitive with Hulu, which has ABC, NBC, and Fox.
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Apple TV vs Roku – UX + UI For Senior Citizens

February 21, 2011 · Posted in Apple, entertainment, Gadgets, itunes, NetFlix, new media, Roku, TV Apps, Usability, video · Comment 

Apple TV streaming device.

I have a Roku and I love it. But for my father, the only web-enabled device he needed was the the Apple TV.

Here’s why.

Several years ago, my dad (a senior citizen) wanted a computer. I knew I should get him a Mac, but he became convinced that he needed a PC. A trusted family member  (an IT professional) stressed that a Windows PC was the best option. Plus, it was cheaper than the iMac I was hawking. So we bought an IBM-brand PC (before it became Lenovo), loaded it with RAM, and connected him to the Internet.

For about a year, it was a great little machine. And then it started being a PC. It got fussy and occasionally crashed. It would do odd, PC-type things. I’d come over every couple of weeks to fix it up with new patches, defrag, and perform other minor maintenance. It was a lousy user experience (UX) and user interface (UI).

After a few years of frustrations, my dad broke down and bought a new computer. This time, a shiny new iMac. Two years later, I’ve only had to go to his house to download a few patches and install some games. That’s it. No crashing, no quirky personality traits. Just a computer that he uses to connect to the Internet and play his games. Nice UX and UI.

Apple TV vs. Roku
Flash forward to now. I’ve had my Roku for a month or more. My father is impressed and wants one. I show him how easy it is to use. He nods and says, “I heard that Apple makes one.”

I tell him that in my online research, Roku is getting better reviews. It is more flexible and open and may eventually be one of the online leaders.

And although the Roku has a USB port for pictures and videos, he wants something easier. The Apple TV does something that the others currently do not, which is connect with his iMac.

Yes there’s WiFi and of course he can use NetFlix on both of them, but my father wanted something much more utilitarian. He wants to show photos from his iMac on his television. He wants it to be easy and instant. No USB keys, no file transfers, and no wires. And if you’re already a Mac user, you want Apple’s ease-of-use. It’s all about UX.

Roku views pictures, but only if you tap into streaming Facebook. That Roku Facebook channel is fine for the pictures that you’ve uploaded, but we have too many family photos to upload for that to be practical.

Tapping directly into iPhoto is something that only Apple TV can do right out of the box. There’s no need to run cables or copy files to a USB. Apple’s closed ecosystem makes a lot of sense, particularly when the user is a senior citizen who just wants to use his stuff. Apple’s walled-garden approach offers a level of comfort, consistency, and compatibility that you cannot always achieve buying components.

For me, the flexibility and scalability of the Roku is perfect. It’s exactly what I need, since my primary interest is NetFlix and web-video streaming. I am a digital power user who blogs, tweets, uses TV apps, and reads ebooks.

For my father, the Apple TV is ideal because it becomes part of a series of networked devices that work well for people who want it to work with the minimum of technical experience.

If you’re in the market, I hope this little story-based scenario was helpful to you. Good luck and drop me a line if you have any specific questions about what you should buy.

Roku Enables USB Port

February 1, 2011 · Posted in fun stuff, Gadgets, Roku, TV Apps, video · 2 Comments 

Roku USB Port - MainFlipped on the Roku tonight and discovered a new channel. The Roku XDS box had added a channel to enable access to the USB port.

It took a few seconds to add the channel and then another minute or so to download the required software. Plugged in a USB with some media, and that’s all it took.

Navigation is streamlined and intuitive. The Roku interface stresses simplicity over options, so it’s easy for beginners, but maybe a little dull for advanced users.

The Roku doesn’t come with an internal hard drive, so many of the other manufacturers including Western Digital have played up that feature. I’d seen the Boxee and was impressed with the external-media capabilities. So far, for me, that hasn’t really been an issue. I mainly stream NetFlix and a few select channels, but that’s about it.

Even though I doubt I will use the USB port to stream movie files, I wanted to give it a try. The Roku easily displayed the MP4 files, but seemed to choke on the WMV files. Photos saved as JPEGs displayed with no problem, although Roku struggled with the thumbnails.

Roku USB Port - MoviesIn the end, it was a good user experience. Although, I must admit, I had low expectations, since I planned to use the Roku primarily for streaming. I don’t own many downloaded video assets. But new features — especially ones that don’t cost extra — are always welcome.

On a side note, a new channel for the Adam Carolla ACE podcast network also became available on the Roku. I like the podcast for my iPod Touch, but didn’t see the need to add it to my television because it’s only audio.

NetFlix Ideas – Improving a Streaming Experience

January 25, 2011 · Posted in content, Gadgets, Marketing, NetFlix, new media, Roku, technology, TV Apps, video · 2 Comments 

NetFlix LogoYou have to be impressed with NetFlix. Seriously. It’s a terrific service, particularly the instant streaming on the Roku XDS. Excellent picture quality, crisp sound, and a solid catalogue of ever-changing content. At CES, several companies announced that they would include a dedicated NetFlix button on their remote controls. This is a company that is getting it right.

That said, here are a few of the features I would like to see NetFlix introduce:

More flexible parental controls. Right now, NetFlix has some basic parental control settings. You can set it so that videos under a certain rating — like PG — are unavailable to your NetFlix enabled devices. But that’s sort of a problem, since it blocks both you and your kids. So after the kids go to bed, forget streaming Rated PG-13 and R movies through your Roku. It’s locked. Even the Wii has a setting where you can block certain games. Allow parents to set profiles so that you can limit access based on user profiles.

Better control of the Instant Queue. This ties back to the parental controls. If you watch a regular R-rated movie, your kids can just click the “resume” button and pick up where you left off. And even if they don’t, they may think that a movie like “The Human Centipede” is a nature flick from the Discovery Channel. (It’s not.) It would be nice to be able to block kids from even seeing certain movie boxes, while allowing you to surf what you want with a pass code.

Spoiler alerts. It’s interesting to skim reviews when deciding if you want to add something to your Instant Queue. Too many people include critical spoilers in their write ups. It would be nice to give the authors (and the community) a little button that notes that the review includes spoilers. Heck, maybe you can even allow people to highlight the spoiler section, so that it just comes up with the section blocked out. That would allow reviewers to self-censor sections without deleting their entire reviews. And then, after the movie, you could decide if you wanted to go back and read those sections. There are actually some interesting discussions in there that you can read after you’ve seen the movie.

Social sharing. It’s really surprising that they haven’t incorporated any social features into the NetFlix site. I mean, most people want to know what their friends think of a particular movie. If our taste matches their tastes, we may be more likely to trust their movie recommendations. Even the Apple iTunes store has a service like Apple’s Ping. I want to find my friends and share reviews and recommendations with them. They already have a sizable following on Facebook and on Twitter.

Marketing Perspecitive

Not only are these features well within reach of NetFlix, they would derive clear benefits from exploring them. Now, I put on my marketer’s hat and offer a few suggestions.

First off, they already crowdsourced their recommendations engine. This famous NetFlix contest raised awareness…and created a fantastic resource for their service. People suddenly became interested in NetFlix and for good reason. NetFlix showed that they cared about their core service and did something creative to improve it. They could steal a page from their own book and crowd source the development of certain features. If done properly, they could continue to innovate, provide improved service, and incentivize and reward innovation.

Second, they could add parent-friendly features and earn crucial support from DVD-exhausted parents. Ever try to organize a massive collection of Disney and Pixar DVDs only to discover that some of them are either lost or scratched? Heck, you’d have me sold just by telling me that the movies start instantly. And that my kids won’t get bombarded by trailers and commercials. Rolling out parent-friendly features — and promoting it aggressively where parents go for information — would get people to explore the affordable streaming-only option. If you have the right content (and at this point they do), parents would be comfortable about streaming content into their homes.

Third, they could mobilize their existing fan base using social media. Allow people to interact with their peers, form groups, and personalize their NetFlix experience. It doesn’t have to be as complicated as the Facebook privacy settings, but a little bit of customization and socialization would be welcome to some folks. Plus, they could give existing NetFlix fans ways of sharing their enthusiasm with people who don’t subscribe. Yet.

NetFlix is an important service that is helping to pave the way to a world media is paid for by consumers and, back catalogues are still valuable, and distribution isn’t limited to retail stores. Between services like NetFlix, Hulu, Apple TV, Roku, Boxee and others, the streaming world is just starting to get truly interesting.

More to explore:

Roku XDS Week 1

January 17, 2011 · Posted in content, entertainment, fun stuff, NetFlix, new media, Roku, technology, video · 1 Comment 

Roku LogoWe’re a week into it with the Roku XDS. Let’s take a moment and review a few of my initial impressions of bringing Internet video into my living room.

NetFlix experience is quite good, but I find myself playing with my Instant Queue almost as much as I watch actual movies. The NetFlix recommendation engine is amazing, and it exposed me to several movies and documentaries that were right on target. Streaming NetFlix through the Roku is a pleasure.

Hulu Plus is definitely attractive, since I am a big fan of well-produced television shows. Something about a serialized story appeals to me in both comics and TV. However, adding another $7.99 monthly subscription on top of the NetFlix sub is going to get expensive fast.  At this point, NetFlix seems to have an adequate collection of TV shows, so I’ll stick with that for a while.

Adding custom channels is pretty easy, so I have updated the Roku XDS with Blip.tv and Revision3. Here the experience is rather uneven. The connection and content are fine, but some of the programming is barely a step above cable access. It’s too bad because I like the idea of watching long-tail TV shows.

That said, I am happy to watch iFanboy on Revision3 much more than I do on my laptop. Big improvement.

NetFlix LogoIt’s worth noting that this whole Roku and NetFlix upgrade traces back to the local movie theater raising prices last year. The ticket price of a first-run movie increased one week from $9 to $11. Just to be clear, I typically went to the movies on a Tuesday and the price increase was on regular 2D films. I can understand the price increase on 3D movies because there are special projectors, glasses, and good stuff like that.

It’s not like I couldn’t afford the $2, but it was kind of annoying that they skipped over $10 and went right to $11. Product pricing and perceived value is certainly a psychological game in every industry. In this case, the price jump bummed me out, and I was in the habit of seeing a new movie just about every week.

But I still need my movie fix…and good luck trying to find a local video rental store. Okay, we have a RedBox near us, but for whatever reason, I just never remember that when I am in movie mode.

So NetFlix on the Roku has filled the void left by regular movie theaters. It’s not quite the same, but the combined depth and variety of their library of movies, TV shows, and other content is truly impressive.

I’m looking forward to exploring more channels on the Roku, just to see what’s available. There are a few premium paid channels, and if the content is good and the price is right, I may give them a try.

Well, one week in and I am pretty happy with the Roku. I haven’t really explored it fully, nor have I tried plugging anything into the USB slot. Check back again for more Roku, NetFlix and other streaming reports.

More good readin’:

Roku XDS – Day 1

January 12, 2011 · Posted in entertainment, facebook, Gadgets, new media, old media, Roku, TV Apps · 1 Comment 

Today is Day 1 with the new Roku XDS. Right after the CES 2011 announcements, I surveyed the new technology and determined that the Roku was the right technology for me. Well, for now, at least.

For those not familiar, the Roku is one of many devices that streams Internet video to your television. NetFlix and Hulu are among the best-known streaming sources, but there are others out there. The actual Roku is just a small box that connects your television to the Internet with a pretty menu. If you want to learn more, read the New York Times series on The Sofa Wars. I wrote a piece called Web Meets Living Room, if you want to check that out too.

Two important points influenced my gadget buying decision:

  1. First, the device had to work on an analog television. Most devices, including the Boxee and the Apple TV were strictly for televisions with HDMI connections. Roku offers both HDMI and RCA connections, and I needed RCA.
  2. Second, it had to be easy. Really easy. Reading reviews suggested that Boxee was a little more challenging than Roku because it offers more options. That’s fine for me, but the rest of the family wants easy.

I bought the Roku XDS, which is the top of the line model for $99.

So, setup was easy. You plug it in, it boots up, looks for a connection, and you’re ready to go. You do have to register for a Roku.com account and give them a credit card, but there is no Roku subscription fee. The credit card is for making purchases, I suppose.

Connecting NetFlix was also really simple. I’ve already linked NetFlix to the Wii, the iPad, the iPod Touch, and obviously my computer (iMac). Adding it to Roku was just as easy and within minutes, we were watching movies in our Instant Queue. Simple.

There was a weird problem with a connection error. NetFlix offered a live chat option and Steve, the customer service guy, was able to help me fix it within about 15 minutes. He instructed me to hold the reset button on the bottom of the box for 60 seconds and then let the system reboot. That worked, and I haven’t had a problem yet.

So far, I have hooked up a bunch of widgets that help you stream content. So far I’ve added an application that allows me to see photos from my Facebook account, something that gives me the local weather, and a really nice app that pulls news from different television channels.

Initial impressions:

  • Video quality is better than expected. Nice clear picture and sound with no problems syncing.
  • Control panel on Roku.com website is too basic. NetFlix is a better model because you can add and remove content from your computer or your television and it all works together. I’d like to see my apps and other resources through my web login, so that if I had to, I could add and remove features remotely.
  • So far, I haven’t found a way to search for video content beyond the offered channels. There’s a site called Clicker.com that has an amazing service, but I haven’t really figured out how to get it to work on the Roku. I read that you can make it work through NetFlix, but I really think it would be nice to have an actual widget or app of Clicker.com. There appear to be other widgets that provide similar resources, so I will be checking those out for sure.

We’ve had the Internet in my living room for a long time now, streamed through my PowerBook. But now it’s up on the TV screen, which is a natural and comfortable way to consume video content. A nice sofa beats an office chair any day.

At one time, the most advanced technology we had in our entire house was the television. But then the computer came, and the television felt like a relic of the past. In a reversal of fortune for the humble television, video streaming devices like the Roku — and some really impressive new TVs — are pulling people back into the family room.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I am going to hop off the computer and go watch television. For a change.

More good readin’:

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