Tag Archives: netflix

Canceling Netflix – And They Don’t Care

After over a decade of patronage, I am canceling my Netflix account. Yes, price is a factor – they are raising my subscription fee by 40%. But I have a pretty high tolerance for this sort of thing, already paying $20/month for Tivo,1 and keeping Netflix despite having a “free” streaming video source in Amazon Prime.

What irks me is that what attracted me to Netflix at first, and held me all these years, was how they catered to film buffs. This has ended. Example: for years, I’d rent the Harry Potter movies to prepare for the sequel, and really enjoyed watching all the extras. I’ll admit, I’m a huge Potter fan, so I appreciated that Netflix made available the extras disc. With great disappointment I discovered that for Deathly Hallows Part 1, only the rental version of the disc is offered. This version has only the movie and a personal invitation from Netflix to go fuck yourself. I’m kidding about the invitation – they couldn’t be bothered. I’ve been seeing an increase in these rental versions, which have zero extras, but tons of trailers and commercials that you can’t skip.2 The Deathly Hallows rental includes a 6 minute commercial for the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. I can tell you that if you’re on the fence about visiting that wondrous place, being forced to watch a 6 minute commercial may resolve you to boycott it.

And I’m not being melodramatic when I say they don’t care. For one, their subscriber base has gone from 10M to 25M in the last few years, so they assume they’re doing the right thing. If you want concrete proof, go to their cancellation page. They threaten to charge you for discs you don’t return within 7 days, and let you know that even though you’re paid up through the month, you won’t get a partial month refund or even be allowed to continue streaming until it expires! But the most callous part is that they don’t even ask you why. No short answer box, not so much as a multiple choice question with lame answers. And there’s no other form on the site for critical feedback. They really don’t care why you’re leaving.

Well, good riddance. In place of Netflix, I’ll start renting from Amazon or PPV, and even though it will cost me more, I’ll make a greater effort to see films in the theater.3 With the money I save, I’ll invest in a nice collection of films on BD, which I frequently find on sale at SlickDeals. I think I’ll start with the Harry Potter Ultimate editions…

Update: I’m not the only one, as Netflix has revised their projections for this quarter downward, causing their stock to tumble. Sounds like they already factored in the massive subscriber exodus, which proves my point that they don’t care about it.

  1. Although now that I’m on Cox cable, that will also be canceled when my contract is up. []
  2. Well, you can with some software, which you can read about here. []
  3. Note that all major theater chains allow you to buy premium discount tickets in bulk (50+), typically for less than $9 each. I go in with friends and split it. []
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Skipping Trailers and Warnings on Blu-ray Discs

There has been an increase in crimes against consumers. They are being held hostage. By what? Warnings and trailers on Blu-ray discs! I don’t steal movies off the internet, I rent them via Netflix, and rental discs1 are the biggest culprit.

Yes, you can fast forward, but on my PC’s BD player2 only goes so fast, so I’m still stuck for several minutes. Worse, I often need to stop the disc and get back to work, which means closing the player since it disables the Windows Aero interface and color scheme. When I start the player again, I’m back at square one! I’ve been looking for a player that allows me to skip anything, much like VLC Media Player and Media Player Classic (the open source version) allow me to do for DVDs. Unfortunately, I’ve seen no open source BD players and the commercial ones won’t dare allow you to perform a “user prohibited action” as defined by the disc makers. How they have the balls to charge $100 for that crap I’ll never know.

But we have a savior! It’s called AnyDVD HD. It sits between your BD ROM drive and your software player software and presents the disc as decrypted. It will also disable all your warnings and trailers.3. I just installed it and put in a disc and it immediately went to the main menu. It’s exactly what I was looking for and it’s currently going for about $75, with a 3 week trial so you can check it out first. Yes, a little pricey, but still cheaper than the other software players and I’ll make up for it in time saved. The bummer is that it only works on Windows, so when I have a home theater set up with my PS3, I’ll be back to slogging through trailers, or schlepping my laptop over to the coffee table.

  1. Denoted by plain grey discs featuring only the movie title. []
  2. HP MediaSmart DVD, which is just rebranded Cyberlink. []
  3. Of course, you can get to the trailers through the disc menu if you like. []

Finding Movies to Watch

TV shows are in limbo, making this a good time to catch up on those movies you’ve missed. I’ve tried to use Netflix, but it’s recommendation engine is still sub-par.1 Here are two resources that are actually reliable:

Ebert Search: Just select 3.5-4 stars in 2008. You’ll find some interesting stuff from the best film critic in the world.

2008’s Oscar-Eligible Films: Going through the 281 films that can be nominated for the 2009 Academy Awards, I found a lot of interesting films I didn’t have a chance to see.

  1. No matter how I browsed, it never suggested Step Brothers, even though I haven’t rated it, I want to see it, and Netflix predicts I’ll really like it. []

Mediocre Movies, Good Song

This weekend I watched Meet Bill and Cashback on Netflix downloads. Meet Bill has a great cast, but they’re tied to a messy plot with an unfulfilling ending. It’s also a bit gayer than was strictly necessary. I would have been better off watching American Beauty for the seventh time. Cashback has some hot naked chicks, and while I can relate with the protagonist’s (and director’s, I’m sure) obsession with the beauty of the female form, there wasn’t a lot of there, there. Here, I should have rewatched Art School Confidential. Neither are terrible films, but you can find better. Even on Netflix downloads.1

But coincidentally, both films included Royksopp’s What Else Is There? in their soundtracks. This is a great mid-tempo electronic song with ethereal vocals, so I include it here for your enjoyment:

  1. Netflix’s download selection is notoriously subpar, especially if you discount the classics. Illustrating this, one commenter on IMDB, complaining about Meet Bill, wrote “now I know why it was available for download”. []

The Internet TV Survival Guide

So the writer’s strike is raging and there’s less and less scripted TV to watch. And the cable bill is past due, and the TV is broke, or at the very least, it’s all the way in the other room. Too much damn walking. What to do, nephew?

I have cataloged here all best the ways to legally obtain video entertainment on the Internet. So no jackbooted stormtroopers from the MPAA will kick down your door and haul away your computer. And your children.

Note: As much as I love Firefox, I find most embedded video players perform far better on IE. Many won’t work at all in Firefox, even with IE Tab.

Crack TV!
The Crack Team has been pointing you to great videos since this site was launched. Through the miracle of tagging (and the back-breaking labor of back-tagging over 400 posts), you can now see an archive of all video posts on TCT. Try to find good stuff sites like YouTube and you’ll end up slogging through one mediocre video after another – even when you stick to the popular and highly rated ones. Save your time and watch Crack TV!

Netflix
Netflix is awesome. Without a doubt the biggest DVD selection anywhere, including HD-DVD and Blu-Ray.1 They also have a streaming service. While the selection of downloads is limited, it’s still good. I just finished season 1 of Dexter and next is Dead Like Me. They also have several NBC shows and a bunch of crap shows from the 70’s and 80’s. Best of all, they now allow you to download as much as you want! The quality is high, too. I’ve had no problems since signing up several years ago and they even give me an early adopter discount.

Broadcast
If you can, you’re probably best served by getting a good TV tuner card2 and using DVR software like Windows Media Center. This way you can get everything and skip all the commercials.3

All major broadcast networks have some video content online, but vary widely in the quality, selection, and commercial content. It’s a great way to try new shows now that so little new stuff is produced. Journeyman would be a great example, if you didn’t watch it before it was canceled.4 You can now watch the entire series. Similarly, I recently discovered Life at the suggestion of a friend and now I’m all caught up.

Cable networks are much more conservative, choosing to only offer video clips like you might see on YouTube. Full episodes (for the cable channels I watch) are nonexistent.

Fox
Most TV shows I watch are on Fox, and they’ve done an awesome job with Fox On Demand. The selection is great:

New shows appear 1-8 days after airing; it depends on the show. The videos are high quality; some are even in HD. I find that cranking up the resolution to 1280 x 1024 on my 21″ monitor gives a great HD image for shows like Terminator.5 And most shows are commercial free! Rupert Murdoch is my homeboy.

NBC
NBC is the #2 network for online viewing. The video quality is excellent. The bad news is that all their shows run commercials during the normal spots for commercial breaks. The good news is that they only run one 15-30 second spot. The bad news is that it’s the same commercial, over and over. Better than watching it live, but not as good as a DVR. Like Fox, NBC also has a great selection:

ABC
The only ABC show I really watch is Lost, but they seem to do a great job with it. Amazingly, they have all 4 seasons online in HD (1280 x 720), and when I boosted my resolution, full screen looked fantastic. Lost is easily the best looking show on the Internet. I thought I might try Pushing Daisies, as I heard that was good, but I found they only offer a few episodes of their other series.

CW
Smallville is one of my longtime faves, due in no small part to Kristin Kreuk. And Reaper is great. But CW’s online video offering is weak sauce. Very few full episodes and what they have is low quality. I have to admit, I am surprised they put online the director’s cut of the next new Smallville episode before it even aired. But it still wasn’t enough to get me to watch.

CBS
It sucks. First, I didn’t watch it when I had a TV. CBS has picked up Dexter, which is an awesome show, but they’re just airing censored versions of the Showtime series. When it’s all on Netflix, what’s the point? The only current CBS show I’m interested in is Jericho, as it was recently suggested to me by a few friends. When I went to watch past episodes, however, I found the video quality sucked. Full screen is almost unwatchable; it’s just stretching the original size, which is only 9″ diagonal on my monitor.

Headline News
I used to watch this more often to get a quick feed of major stories. This is still possible online through their Prime News segments. Personally, I can’t stand Nancy Grace, and don’t often bother with their other shows.

Discovery, TLC, Animal Planet
Decent quality full episodes, but very few shows (3 total at this time, none of which I watch), and only a couple episodes per show.

Comedy Central
More of a video clip outlet with no full episodes. Do you really need to see every second of The Daily Show or Colbert Report? Maybe not, especially now that the strike is affecting them. But I would like to see full episodes of South Park, Reno 911, and, should they ever return: Chapelle’s Show, Dr. Katz, Stella, Strangers With Candy, and Upright Citizen’s Brigade. I won’t be holding my breath.

Cartoon Network
They’ve produced some fantastic animated series, especially their superhero adaptations (Justice League Unlimited) and Adult Swim (Harvey Birdman, Sealab 2021). But the site seems very much geared towards kids, and only provides video clips. Nothing to see here.

  1. If you tell them you have either player, they just automatically send you those. []
  2. Make sure it’s ATSC for HD []
  3. Except for the upcoming Agent Mystery-produced So You Think You Can Dance. Be sure to watch it live and soak in all the commercials. []
  4. Thanks for killing a great show. []
  5. They do force you to download a proprietary video player, but it seems harmless. And yes, I know it’s a tragedy to watch Terminator on anything less than a 50″ 1080P screen. []

Heroes, 30 Rock, The Office Hits Netflix

Variety reports that Netflix will be offering Heroes, 30 Rock, and The Office the day after being broadcast. It appears you’ll be able to view them on your PC through Netflix streaming or rent them on DVD. You can already view them at NBC.com, but with commercials you can’t skip (and rewinding will play them again). I’m assuming the Netflix versions will be commercial-free. I already watch these via DVR, but it’s a nice backup plan if I miss one.

Netflix Streaming

So I hadn’t rented from Netflix in a while, and thought it was time to remedy that. Especially with most TV shows having a season finale in May. I was actually surfing the site for a while before I noticed the “Watch Now” tab at the top. It turns out that Netflix now has over 2,000 movies available for streaming. I was amazed that they never sent me so much as an email about this major new feature. I can only guess that since I wasn’t costing them any money, they didn’t want to remind me I had a subscription, which is pretty lame of them. So I now must punish them by making up for my dormancy.

The feature is pretty simple, find a movie and hit play. You need to download a proprietary player, but that’s all quick and painless. Harvey, a 4:3 black and white film looked good in full screen on my 21″ monitor. The Italian Job (Marky Mark version) also looked good (certainly Charlize Theron did), but at 2.35:1, it used maybe 1/3 of my screen. Video quality is based on bandwidth; my connection rated “high”, which is the best offered at 1.6 to 2.2+ Mbps.

There is a limit on viewing, you get 1 hour per dollar you pay monthly. So my discounted 4-DVD plan gives me 20 hours of viewing per month. A nice, cost-free bonus.

Update: Looks like there’s an 18 hour cap, despite their wording. And another problem is that I was “charged” 1h50m for The Italian Job, even though I watched at most 10 minutes of it. So know that you’ll be dinged for the whole movie, even if you watch just a part of it.

The selection is pretty small by Netflix standards, but if I hadn’t already seen so many films, it might appear better. Here’s a partial list of movies I gave 5 stars to, which are available for instant playing:

The Bridge on the River Kwai
Casablanca
Chinatown
A Clockwork Orange
Cool Hand Luke
The Day the Earth Stood Still
The Dirty Dozen
Harvey
The Jerk
North by Northwest
Run Lola Run
Strangers on a Train: Special Edition

Now some movies, if you watch them on a computer screen, should get your subscription canceled. I mean, The Matrix? But many shouldn’t suffer at all from small screen viewing. And if you really cared about quality, you would have seen it in the theater.

Gamefly = Superfly

The marketing people at Gamefly probably are trying to figure out how to send me a check for that one, but anonymity is far too important for an ass like me to give up contact info on a public forum. Instead, I would ask that they donate the money to a young aspiring nurse, cuz the world needs more nurses. I suggest going to a local strip club, cuz I met a bunch of ladies there who were going to college to be nurses, naughty, sparkly nurses.

If you own an XBOX 360, with the exception of Call of Duty 2 and Elder Scrolls: Oblivion, I haven’t found a single other came that required more than a few days of my time to be finished with them. In the 3 weeks I had Oblivion with Gamefly I saved an assload of cash (though I am sure I will buy a used copy some day to play it again). For all the other games I got on Gamefly, there was not a single one that had any replay value in my opinion. Most of them I would have actually been quite mad about if I had purchased them at full price. Before Gamefly I researched purchases quite a bit, and was much more cautious with the games I tried, so on the plus side I guess, I tried some games that I would not have considered otherwise, and, of course, they sucked.

This is leads me to what really what makes Gamefly rock. See, most reviewers are soulless whores of the gaming industry. Then only decent reviews I have read in quite a while were at Penny-Arcade, while reading their comics. Seriously, their comics are one of the only sources of decent game reviews I have found, which is kind of like watching the daily show for news. For some reason, the idiots at all the major game sites figure you won?t remember the steaming pile of crap that they gave an 8.5 out of 10 to when you are reading their next ?review?.

The bottom line with Gamefly is that it saves a ton of cash. For $15 a month, I avoid buying $60 games. Simple math is that in 4 months I have spent what it would have cost for a single game, but I played 10 of them, which would have put me back $600. I would have played fewer games if some of them had been a bit better, but that hardly makes the service less compelling. The only ?downside? of Gamefly is that it is a bit slower than NetFlix, but then I live like 40 miles from a regional NetFlix center, so I usually have single day shipment from them (yes, I send a movie on Monday, it gets to them Tuesday, and I get my next one on Wednesday, which is pretty cool).

In the extended entry (if it works) are some mini-reviews from some of the games I played from Gamefly (not all were for the 360, but I need to fill in between their release schedule):
Continue reading Gamefly = Superfly