I finally found a two friends with an interest in photography that are willing to be photographed and they have free time! Whoooopppieee!!!!!!!
We are about three months in to the new TV experience at our house and I thought I’d give you an update. I can’t call it a final solution because there are still some rough edges to this plan but it is working for the most part.
Is this system as effortless, pleasurable, and reliable as cable + Tivo? Nope. I always liked Tivo before but in dealing with this new system I really see some stark contrasts. Is the savings worth the hassle? For us, I think it is. I don’t see us going back to cable ever again.
Using the chart I made for the previous article, I’ll comment on each service:
Comcast We have stuck with Comcast for our internet service and we continue to rent the modem from them.
Hulu Plus Haven’t used it. Haven’t wanted to. We get Hulu through PlayOn which provides more content than Hulu Plus for no additional cost.
Roku 2 XS Use it all the time to watch TV shows. A good little device for the price. The remote works well. The player does a good job. About the only times we don’t use this are when we are playing a DVD or watching something directly on our computer.
Plex Never could get it working.
PlayOn/PlayLater Use it for 95+% of all TV shows we watch. Unfortunately, this is the biggest glitch in the system. We have access to TONS of content through the Roku but the stuff we *want* to watch is almost always only found through PlayOn. The glitch is that this is the worst user experience on the Roku. Some of it may be PlayOn’s fault but it is obvious that most/all of it is on the media providers end. How can I tell? Because any content that you pay extra for to directly access (such as Amazon on Demand for movies) works flawlessly. It proves to me that it isn’t the hardware or my internet connection. Also, any commercials that play during a show viewed through PlayOn look great and play without problems. It is only the content itself that will sometimes stutter, show artifacting, fail to play, etc. There is a noticeable picture quality difference between networks with CBS being the worst offender. I have read that the media companies don’t make it easy for software like PlayOn because they don’t like their media being streamed. I don’t understand this. They now have people like me watching their commercials where before I never watched any. They also get “free” views of old content that would have just been collecting dust or stuck on some obscure channel late at night. Case in point: More than once I’ve found Melanie watching an old Brady Bunch episode. Overall, the software works and it seems to be getting better all the time (slowly) and without it our TV-watching solution would fall apart.
Redbox Surprisingly (to me) we still use this option. It only happens when they have something we want to see and we are going to be driving near a RB anyway.
Amazon Instant Video This has been the most pleasant surprise of the entire process. Anytime we watched videos through the Tivo, we always downloaded them and then watched. With the Roku player we just pick a movie we want to see, press start, and within a few seconds the movie begins. The picture quality is as good (probably much better) as our old CRT TV can provide. Pausing, rewinding and even fast forwarding work well. You are able to see what is going on in the movie while you do all this with a little thumbnail image so accuracy isn’t lost. We even had a brief power outage once and the movie resumed exactly where we left off once it came back on.
Netflix Streaming Never tried it. The biggest problem is that none of their content is new enough for us. We also don’t watch enough movies to make it cost effective. Amazon Instant Video and Redbox meet all of our needs and do so closer to the movie’s release date.
How has our day to day viewing changed?
With Tivo You pop on the TV and look at the menu of all the stuff Tivo has recorded for you (both things you tell it to record and things it thinks you’ll like) and pick what you want to watch. You can pause rewind, FF very accurately so all commercials can quickly and easily be skipped. There are almost never any problems and you don’t have to remember to record anything. You will only have issues if you want to record more than two things at once (at least with our Tivo).
With Roku and PlayOn You pop on the TV and select PlayOn. Then you hop through a series of menus to get to the show you want to watch. It is up to you to find out when new episodes are posted. Press play and wait from a few seconds to a minute for the show to start. Occasionally it will fail to play in which case you can either watch it from a computer or select something else to watch. The choices of shows are pretty overwhelming so you probably won’t browse stuff. Rather you’ll know what you want to see before you sit down. Fast forwarding and rewinding is a pain because you are doing it blind so you just end up watching the commercials instead. This can be maddening as anyone who has watch TV online will tell you because commercial blocks online must be sold differently. It is not uncommon to see the exact same commercial for every commercial break of a show. Also, because all of the different network formats have to be transcoded through PlayOn the download rate is slowed enough that it is very easy to outrun the download if you do choose to fast forward. Pause works just fine. You will find that when you pause a show that it tends to lock up at whatever point it was downloading when you pressed the button. This is easily remedied by going up one menu and selecting the show again and resuming right where you left off. It only takes a second so it really isn’t even an annoyance, just a weird quirk.
Directly Through Roku (not PlayOn) You pop on the TV and scroll through a series of menus to find what you want. There is a lot of stuff, but most of it is junk or you have to pay extra to watch it. However, most stuff that you watch directly through Roku’s service loads very quickly, has very good picture and audio fidelity and has little thumbnails when you fast forward and rewind. Fast forwarding works well with some items that allow you to fast forward past the point that you have downloaded (like Amazon Instant Video). I’ve even noticed with some channels like Crackle and Amazon it will remember exactly where you stopped watching a video even a month or more after you last watched it.
Summary The Roku hardware is ready for primetime but the content providers are dragging their feet making this an imperfect solution. With native Roku channels like Crackle and streaming services like Amazon On Demand, it is easy to see the potential of this system. It just doesn’t live up to that potential yet. For us, it is close enough for now. Our estimated spending on TV and movies has dropped from about $95/mo to $85/mo and that includes a lifetime subscription to both PlayOn and PlayLater amortized over this year. After this year it will drop to $74/mo.
If someone was looking for a way to ease into a video on demand set up and didn’t care as much about money or they just watched a lot of movies, I think the Roku player is a nice solution. They could keep cable for current shows and use the Roku player to access VOD or a large catalog of old programming.
We have more content with our new set up at a lower price. Paradoxically, we watch much less TV now. When the content isn’t being pushed to us we’ve found that we are not willing to go seek it out. I made a list of the shows we watched before we switched and now we are at exactly half as many. We also are finding that we read a lot more, which is a very good thing.
I know there are not that many pix from Half Dome. I was having a tough enough time just doing the hike without taking pix. I’ll get better at this the more I do it.
We were testing out some new equipment for this trip:
1. Gregory Z-30 daypacks – Awesome! Light, small, comfortable. The pack is held away from your back so you don’t get “pack sweat back” so easily. Lots of freedom of movement with these. Along with our tent, probably my favorite piece of outdoor equipment we own. Citron Yellow is a great color too. [Editor’s Note: In the three years since this article was first published, we have continued using these packs and still love them. The Z-30 in the link above is the newer version as our exact model is no longer available. We really like the longer narrower profile of these packs. They hold as much stuff as a standard day pack without limiting the range of motion of your arms. We still love the curved frame to hold the pack away from your back but have noticed it makes accessing smaller things in the bottom of the main compartment more difficult. They are sized right holding as much water and other stuff as you’d comfortably want to carry for a day. The well-designed shoulder straps and waist belt allow you to distribute the load comfortably across your torso. On the downside, these packs are expensive. For us, being able to hike with the stuff we want to carry for a day without ending up with a sore back, shoulders or neck has been worth the price.]
2. Camelbak 2L water bladders – Highly recommended. The biggest size that would fit our packs. 3/4 of the people we saw hiking had these and with good reason. They make drinking water fun and easy. 🙂 The weight stays centered on your body and you are more likely to drink more often because of the convenient drinking tube. Nice large mouth that you can fit your hand in for cleaning. Con’s: Still a pain to clean. No locking “off” valve (although you can buy one for it). I read that you can just toss them in the freezer rather than cleaning in between uses on longer trips. This is what we did and it worked great. [Editor’s Note: The link takes you to the newer version of this bladder. You’ll see that these now come with a locking on/off valve standard. We still love these bladders and have had no leaks with our bite-valve-only versions. Part of the trick seems to be pushing the tubing far in to the bite valve. This way the bite valve and the tubing must be compressed a little for water to flow (more resistance so more force is needed for a leak). We’ve come up with a pretty easy cleaning routine: 1. Fill part way with soapy water, shake, drain through valve. 2. Clean any dirty areas inside and out with remaining soap. 3. Rinse thoroughly. 4. Dry inside and out with a towel. 5. Stuff interior with two paper towels to hold it open for drying. 6. Remove bite valve and spin hose (like you are cowboy getting ready to rope a steer or a kid playing jump rope). 7. Let everything completely dry. 8. Replace bite valve and store with lid unscrewed. It sounds much more complicated than it is. It takes about as long as washing and drying a dirty dish.]
3. Marmot PreCip rain jackets – More affordable that the Goretex alternatives but much more breathable than standard nylon or coated nylon. Available in lots of colors. Cut large enough to cover a couple layers of clothing. Pitzips are nice for ventilation and work well. Stuffs in on itself with one of the pockets forming a stuff sack (handy). Overall this product was a good match for us. I’ve read that the waterproofing doesn’t hold up a super long time. Didn’t break the wind all that well. The hood works well but the feature to roll it up into a collar is a joke. If you are a woman, skip the lady’s version. The men’s design is better and available in more colors. [Editor’s Note: The link now takes you to a newer version of the same product. We still really like these jackets. The waterproofing has not failed, but that could easily be because we are intentionally babying them. They stay stuffed in our day packs and are only used when we are hiking. Since we try to hike when it isn’t raining, they see little use. We’ve probably only used them 5 or 6 times total. We’ve also added long rain pants to the ensemble. We usually hike in cooler weather and having dry legs is nice (in the summer we just wear shorts and don’t care). As noted in the Yosemite write up, nylon running or hiking pants don’t cut it. They let the water right in.]