Google PlusFacebookTwitter

Netflix vs Lovefilm Instant: my impressions on streaming services in the UK

By on Nov 28, 2012 in Reviews, Tech Takes | 0 comments

I am a cord cutter. I live in a house of other cord cutters. By that, I mean that we don’t own a television in our house, instead opting to watch all our video content on our computers or portable devices. The obvious advantage of this is that none of us need to pay for a TV license. While I haven’t been able to find any market research to back this up, anecdotal evidence that I know suggests to me that a sizeable number of students are like me in that they consume a majority of their video content streaming rather than on television. The UK is different from the US television market in that a lot of the original TV content produced here is made available online quickly. There’s BBC iPlayer, Channel 4’s 4oD, and ITV Player – from the top three British broadcasters – that make their content available for free-of-cost (without a subscription or a TV license). The exception is Sky, which uses exclusivity of its content as a unique selling point for its own services. What remains then, for the viewing needs of cord cutters in the UK is a) streaming movies b) on-demand playback of older content no longer active on the broadcasters’ own services. This is the gap that online streaming services such as Netflix or Lovefilm Instant fill in. Now, I could easily pirate the content but I these days I try to do the right thing. I buy all my books from the Kindle store rather than pirating PDFs. I subscribe to Spotify‘s premium service. I genuinely believe that content creators deserve to be compensated for their work. (Reading Paul Carr and Monday Note has convinced me that digital content needs to be paid for to create sustainable businesses which will continue to amuse and entertain us.) So even with films and television, I want to get my content from legal sources rather than pirating them. There simply isn’t any excuse when the price for such services is so affordable: £5-6 a month is something that can comfortably fit into any student’s budget. Although I’ve been a subscriber to Spotify’s premium service for years, it’s only recently that streaming video services have launched in the UK have become mature enough to use. I only make an exception when there’s no legal avenue at all to obtain something I’d happily pay for; that’s when I pirate. I totally understand why they don’t make it available because at the moment, they don’t want to cannibalize their existing business. Even making it available on a paid basis gives an incentive for people to cancel their satellite / cable subscription, and that revenue it far to worthy for them right now to risk it to online services which is a more price sensitive market and won’t accept higher prices. (Read this Fast Company piece on the struggle Hulu is facing in the US along these lines.) What’s good for the customer is that most streaming service companies offer month-long or longer free trials that give you a fair amount of time to test how good their service is. This is exactly what I did. Here are my thoughts on the ones I tried out. Lovefilm Instant Lovefilm Instant (£4.99 / month) is Amazon’s play in streaming services in the UK. (In the US, this is branded as Amazon Instant Video.) I tried out a 45-day free trial of Lovefilm from a voucher I got along with an Amazon purchase. My first impression of the service was that it’s a confusing mess. DVD / Blu-Ray titles are mixed in with streaming titles. The ‘Instant’ bit essentially lives on a section of the main Lovefilm site. Discovery is primarily done through ‘lists’ created within Lovefilm according to genre and lists created by users such as ‘Best of Lovefilm’ or ‘Staff picks’. This feels odd. I remember a time, many months ago, when Lovefilm also used to make films available for a payment and some included within the subscription package, so the whole ‘With Package’ section these days – when it no longer offers films on payment – feels like they tried to stuff the current titles into the old interface. The search function does not have autocomplete. You’re flying blind as to what’s available and what’s not – or if you don’t know how to correctly spell a film title or actor / director name. The hangover of the legacy business of renting DVDs becomes quite apparent whenever you search for a title: results thrown up show a mix of DVDs as well as streaming titles. If I’m a streaming-only customer, why make things more complicated by showing me results that I cannot possibly access on my subscription plan? Perhaps this is a ploy at upselling you to their costlier plans, but for someone like me who doesn’t even have a DVD drive, this is completely pointless. While it’s possible to filter the search results according to ‘lists’ again to show only Lovefilm Instant titles, my point is a user shouldn’t have to do this extra step themselves. Okay, so let’s say you don’t have a particular film in mind and just want to browse titles they have according to genre. So I clicked on a list, and to bring some sanity into sifting through the results, choose the option to order results according to ‘Member rating’....

Yabba dabba dead

By on Mar 30, 2011 in On A Whim | 0 comments

A Collegehumor take on the Flintstones opening theme. Reminds me of childhood – all those Hanna-Barbera toons that I used to watch on the Cartoon Network.

An idiot abroad examines his tiny tendrils of guilt

By on Jan 7, 2011 in Personal | 18 comments

On most days, I’d reserve these thoughts for my private blog. I have been vacillating since New Year’s Eve whether to publish this publicly or not. Maybe you’ll understand why as you read on. This is a disjointed, admittedly incoherent account of my state of emotions at the close of 2010. Maybe it’ll mean something, to at least a few who read this. **** My stay outside India came to define 2010 for me. Sifting through my blog archives, I would say it is a continuation of what I mentioned towards the end of last year – but saying that would be undermining, in a way, what I have learned in 2010. My decision to go to Singapore for a study exchange had a greater impact than I ever signed up for. The first half of 2010 – the second half of my first year at University of Surrey – had moments I am going to cherish throughout my life. I’m not saying this for the sake of saying it. This is not like those misused cases of using the word ‘literally’. I made friends at Surrey who are the sort who stick around for life – and with whom you’d want to stick around for life. And then, I gave it all up to go Singapore. Mind you, I don’t regret that decision. It showed me the value of what I had. What I walked away from. Singapore is that milestone I will look back to, as the place that made me fundamentally rethink friendships and relationships in my life. While I have enjoyed my cultural experience and made good friends in Singapore too, it made me realize how it isn’t the same. I was sad in 2009 that I wasn’t as frequently in touch with my Indian friends as I would have liked to. In 2010, I found myself out of touch with my Indian friends as well as the friends I made in my first year at Surrey. I have looked on with a certain despondency as friendships that mattered a lot to me get reduced to Facebook’s loose definition of a ‘friend’. I have had relationships strained as meaningful communication lost its hold, stretched by space and time displacement. Sometimes, I wonder how different things would have been had I not made the choices that I did. Sometimes, I wonder how things will turn out to be once I am back in the UK – or even India. When I meet my friends there again, maybe in 2011 or in 2012 when we’re back in university after placement year, I wonder whether things will be same. **** …every being in the universe is tied to his birthplace by tiny invisible force tendrils composed of little quantum packets of guilt. If you travel far from your birthplace, these tendrils get stretched and distorted. This compares with an ancient Arcturan Proverb “However fast the body travels, the soul travels at the speed of an Arcturan Mega-Camel.” – Douglas Adams, in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy **** I realize for the past half-decade, I have behaved as a social nomad. Changing school, taking a gap year, going to university and then deciding to do a year abroad – at each stage I had memorable experiences, but I know realize every time I did so, I wanted more. Many a kid who had parents with transferable jobs might have faced the same, but then, you sort of grow up knowing your primary school friends will drift apart, you are with family, and even then the displacements are a few years apart. I, on the other hand, have become part of vastly differing social circles in a span of less than five years. (Someone suggested I do this because I am an only child; that an only child of a parent fishes for independence and uniqueness. I thought…it’d be the other way round? I don’t know. Freud probably has written about this.) I fear that this urge to immerse myself in a new environment has come to define my way of living now. I assume this is what happens once you’ve learned BASE jumping or freehand rock climbing. After a while, it becomes the only way you get excited about life. After a while, it becomes the only way you can dream. **** Most of my friends in Singapore were exchange students; exchange students who usually stay for semester. I am not, I am one of the handful who chose to stay for the whole year. In addition to the obvious bonding among exchange students, I also made great Singaporean friends through my work at the TV station. All people who are excellent company to hang around with. Yet, the fleeting nature of our acquaintance came as a rude jolt to remind me at the end of the year that this really isn’t the same. Singapore itself is diversely multi-ethnic; this is especially true of Nanyang Technological University. You’ll find native Singaporeans, Malays, Indians, Chinese, Indonesians, citizens of other neighbouring countries; then you have exchange students from every country imaginable – the UK, USA, practically every country of the European Union, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan, Korea, China, Africa. And yet, despite all this diversity, there is no unity. I don’t know why, but everyone just defaults to staying in their comfort zone of hanging around with folks of the...

History of canned laughter

By on Jul 25, 2010 in On A Whim | 1 comment

In an interview, Ben Glenn II, a television historian talks about canned laughter. Fascinating read. I’d heard of the ‘Laff Box’, never read a comprehensive account of it. How did canned laughter come about? The concept actually goes back at least five hundred years. History tells us that there were audience “plants” in the crowds at Shakespearean performances in the 16th century. They spurred on audience reactions, including laughter and cheering—as well as jeers. How about more recently? Canned laughter was used to a certain degree in radio, but its first TV appearance was in 1950, on a rather obscure NBC situation comedy, The Hank McCune Show. Remarkably, there are a couple of clips from the show on YouTube. (I’ve previously ranted about canned laughter in comedy...

IPL, YouTube, and Cricket in UK

By on Apr 24, 2010 in On A Whim | 4 comments

So, the Indian Premier League 2010 extravaganza is finally coming to an end tomorrow. Nothing really causes as much upheaval among the masses in India as cricket does. This year, it has resulted in a minister in the Indian government having to resign, income tax raids, and the head honcho of the IPL potentially getting sacked too. Over the past weeks, the amount of space Indian media devoted to this event has been staggering – as always. Let’s take a few steps back, for the sake of my UK visitors. IPL is a Twenty20 cricket tournament held annually in India, run somewhat along the lines of EPL. Privately-owned teams consisting of players from most of the cricket playing nations are signed on to these teams and knockout type sporting event proceeds. Why do I bother to explain this? Because I’ve realized in my stay here that nobody really gives a shit about cricket in UK. You see, cricket in UK is a bit like hockey in India, i.e., nobody really gives a shit because everyone is busy following a more popular sport (cricket in India, football in UK.) Here’s the typical demographic of sports fans in UK: Posh chaps, Barmy Army members, and Indians follow/play cricket. Cricket fans in UK are, as a rule, fucking annoying. Consider, for instance, this chap who write in The Stag on our university’s cricket team’s ‘achievements’. This involved crashing out in the first stage of a tournament – and still having the balls to write an annoying article where he changed the nicknames of his players every. fucking. time. I was so fucking annoyed copy-editing this article that if I ever meet this guy, I’ll beat him to death with a spoon. Everybody follows soccer football. Goes without saying. Hooligans who can afford to buy match tickets are often posh chavs. Any visitor of YouTube would at least heard of IPL though, thanks to the loud flashing ads. If you’ve been unlucky enough you’d even have been bombarded with this video-as-an-ad the moment you opened YouTube’s frontpage. Take a moment to see this video I’m talking about. Jai Ho is a song that has captured a niche similar to that of All The Young Dudes in semi-urban Hollywood movie trailers. You know, ever have those days when you really wanted to make an ad that said ‘India’ but couldn’t figure out what to put as the soundtrack? Why, just use Jai Ho! Also, going by this video, IPL is the bastard child of a one-stand between cricket and dance reality shows. I’m not a follower of cricket. Never bothered that much about IPL when I was in India. However, when you’re so many miles/mules away from home, nostalgia draws you towards clinging on to whatever you can get. Such as (sometimes) watching IPL matches being live streamed on YouTube. For most normal videos, YouTube automatically adjusts video quality according to connection speed. Naturally, having oodles of bandwidth here I expected to get a high quality stream. What do I actually get? A rectangular box filled with pixellated mess whenever any sort of action is happening on-screen. You can vaguely make out that a colourful blob is moving from one end of the screen to another, but precisely what’s happening is unclear. High speed broadband isn’t that common in India, so a lower quality stream for slower connections is fine, but if you want to attract viewers overseas you need a decent, viewable broadcast! YouTube has a lot to prove, since this is the first time it’s live streaming any sporting event – that too with an event on the scale of IPL (duration, money involved, audience, et al). You’d think that with so much riding on this, YouTube would hire competent editors to see the webcast goes smoothly. Unfortunately, ‘competent editors’ is one of other items on their budget that faced cutbacks. I mean, look at the video below. What they’ve done is they’ve taken standard 4:3 aspect ratio video and squashed it into a widescreen 16:9 format. Listen r-tards, squashing the bejaysus out of a (pixellated) 4:3 video into widescreen doesn’t automatically make it better quality. Nobody at YouTube HQ seems to’ve bothered to notice and rectify this either. So far, watching IPL on YouTube has been like watching six hours of a Pac-Man game video interspersed with obnoxious ads. Maybe switching the camera angle will help? I thought that this would show the same match from a different angle – that would indeed be neat, but instead it turns out to be a ‘fun feed’. Blinking arrows on the streaming page exhort you to view this ‘fun feed’. Intrigued, I clicked on a ‘fun feed’ video. This is so much phun. You have to see this video! From what I gather, these ‘fun feed’ videos are supposed to be a recap of ‘fun’ moments from a particular cricket match. Going through some of the videos at random, I’d say that if these are the best moments of the match, then I feel sorry for the viewers. What you get is a poor quality video: poor quality because it mostly consists crowds not doing the Mexican wave (or pretty much anything); poor quality in the technical sense because you can ratchet it all the way up to 720p HD on and still get the same blurry pixellated mess that you get at...