– Ben Martens


Cord Cutting the Super Bowl

We canceled cable last summer and for the most part, our antenna has filled our needs. We get great reception on FOX, but not great on NBC. CBS and ABC are somewhere in the middle. Since we host a party every year, reception of the game is kind of important.

CBS had been working fine in the days leading up to the game so I wasn’t too concerned, but then it started snowing (for the first time this year) a couple hours before the game. Since we’re kind of on the fringe with our reception, the snow was just enough to start messing with the signal a little more. If it was just me, I wouldn’t have worried about it, but it’s not fun having 20 people watching a glitchy signal.

Thankfully CBS was streaming the game for free and they even supported Chromecast so I used that on the projector. Our experience there was generally good but it probably buffered 10 times and once I had to restart the stream completely. Downstairs I needed it on the Roku so I signed up for a free trial of CBS All Access. (I used a temporary credit card number so that I don’t have to worry about forgetting to cancel my subscription!) I didn’t watch that TV but the people downstairs didn’t ever see it buffer and didn’t realize that it wasn’t a “normal” TV feed.

So it was definitely not as easy as traditional cable, but it was pretty good. I think next time I’d use my Xbox to stream the game through a paid service (like CBS All Access) instead of using the free stream from the website and I suspect that would have gotten rid of the few problems that we did have.

XFinity For Roku

Earlier this year, Comcast launched an app for Roku, but I only just got around to installing it. It’s still in beta so you won’t get a full feature set, but it’s still an interesting move for the company.

Previously, if you have Comcast service and you want to add another TV in your house, you had to pony up $10/month or more for another box that sits with that TV. Ouch. Now they are offering you alternatives to that extra monthly bill.

For quite a while they’ve allowed you to stream to a browser window or a phone app. The main limitation there is that you have to be on your home network for it to work, but this has still given me a way to have football on out in the shop. I just connect my laptop to the TV and I’m good to go.

The Roku app makes this even easier. You can pick up a basic Roku for ~$30-40 if you don’t have one already. The XFinity app is free and voila, now you’ve got live TV via the Roku without an extra monthly fee. If you have their Cloud DVR service thenĀ  you can access those shows through the Roku interface. (Note that I haven’t tested that since we don’t have the Cloud DVR service.) The only downer for me right now is that I only get standard definition on most of the channels. That doesn’t happen for everyone and it should change when the app is out of beta.

This feels like a direct response to the rise in popularity of non-traditional TV services like DirectTV Now, YouTube TV, Sling TV, Playstation Vue, etc. Compared to those services, Comcast is coming at it from the other side (moving from traditional cable to internet) but it’s good to see them making moves in that direction.

Hulu Plus Review

huluplusI was happily enjoying all the Parks and Recreation episodes (great show!) on Amazon Prime Instant Video when suddenly that stopped being available as part of Prime. I was about halfway through the fifth of seven seasons. What to do?

I didn’t really love it enough to pay ~$25/season to watch the rest of it, but it was available as part of Hulu Plus for only ~$10/month. I found a coupon for a two week trial instead of the normal one week and fired it up.

It was my first experience with Hulu Plus, and, while it was nice that it worked on all my devices (Amazon Fire TV, Xbox360, Xbox One, and Windows Phone), I wasn’t impressed. First of all, the ads are annoying. Yes, it’s less than normal TV, but I don’t watch ads in normal TV because I DVR it. Here I’m forced to sit through a small selection of commercials over and over again. They do have a new price tier that lets you get rid of commercials for a few extra bucks. That would definitely be worth it.

The commercials were annoying but I knew I could pay money to get rid of them when the trial was up so it wasn’t horrible. What really annoyed me was the failure to remember not only where I was in an episode when I stopped watching but even what episode I was watching. I switched from device to device regularly and it seemed like it worked properly only about half the time. The other half of the time I’d have to flip through all of the episodes, figure out which one I was on, and then fast forward through the episode until I got to the point where I stopped before.

In a world where we are talking about 4K high dynamic range content coming soon, Hulu still streams their content in stereo like it’s 1950. Where’s the 5.1 that every other streaming service offers?

And finally, when I watched from a desktop PC, the video would stutter every few seconds. This PC is a beast and it easily handles YouTube, Netflix or Amazon Instant Video. Why does Hulu have to stink?

Hulu was around before Netflix or Amazon Instant Video and what do they have to show for themselves? It’s the same story they’ve always had: it’s almost something awesome, but it’s still not there yet.

I cancelled my subscription before the trial ran out. Thanks for letting me watch Parks and Rec.