Throwing Emby into the mix

In my ideal home setup, I’d have computers in every room. I’m not horribly far off, but it’s mostly via old laptops and computers that I’ve retired from regular use or had donated from family members. As more of our movie purchases become BluRay (and with 4k video around the corner), some of those old computers just aren’t up to snuff when it comes to 720P and higher. I have a Roku 3 in the basement for running on the treadmill and that’s capable of handling higher quality video, but it’s not compatible with the way I’ve ripped my media. After a bit of investigation, it looked like Emby might be the right choice for me. So I installed it on the CentOS VM that runs my homeserver. The first thing I had to do to get it to work well was to change the Mono garbage collection.

in /etc/emby-server.conf  I had to add this line:

MONO_THREADS_PER_CPU=500 MONO_GC_PARAMS=nursery-size=64m

Now a look at Emby:

Emby Home Screen
Emby Home Screen

The only real annoyance is that there’s so much overlap with Kodi. I mean, there doesn’t have to be: Emby can be the video source for Kodi. But, still, with how much overlap there is, it seems silly I have to have two programs instead of one. That said, Emby essentially ends up being more of a home Netflix than Kodi. It has a web page that allows the users to watch movies from the website. It also has apps for mobile and Roku.

When I set up my movies for Kodi, I split up the movie folders in a way that makes it easy for me to find movies if I have to browse the folders manually. This also potentially makes it easier for me to do some rudimentary splitting of the movies for my kids. That’s why you see all those folders across the top. When I go into the Disney movies section we can see the latest movies I’ve added there:

Emby - Disney Movies
Emby – Disney Movies

The good thing here is that if I add in some new live action movies, it’s still easy to find the latest Disney movies for the kids. The bad thing is the way the database views movies. Here are the recommendations I get:

Emby - Recommendations
Emby – Recommendations

Yes, they’re cartoons, but they’re not Disney cartoons. The same thing with Genres:

Emby - Genres
Emby – Genres

Because unless something is horribly mislabled, I don’t have any adult movies in Disney. Although, something has to be mislabled, because I don’t have any – except maybe some Kevin Smith movies?

Here are all the Disney movies:

Emby - Disney Movies
Emby – Disney Movies

Here’s the page for one of the movies:

Emby - Aladdin's page
Emby – Aladdin’s page
Emby - Aladdin's page (lower)
Emby – Aladdin’s page (lower)

Here’s what it looks like when watching (I’ve clicked on the info button):

Emby - watching Aladdin
Emby – watching Aladdin

And, as it’s playing you can change the language track (at least if you’ve saved them in your MKV):

Emby - watching Aladdin and changing language
Emby – watching Aladdin and changing language

Here are the latest TV shows (with a green circle and white number showing how many unwatched episodes there are):

Emby - Latest TV Shows
Emby – Latest TV Shows

Here’s the Animaniacs page:

Emby - Animaniacs
Emby – Animaniacs
Emby - Animaniacs 2
Emby – Animaniacs 2
Emby - Animaniacs 3
Emby – Animaniacs 3

The mobile app is more or less exactly like the website which is great for usability.

Emby Android - Libraries
Emby Android – Libraries

Here’s my favorites: (I’d clicked on a random episode and hit the heart)

Emby Android - Favorite Shows
Emby Android – Favorite Shows

I like the upcoming shows part because it lets you when shows in your library are playing on TV:

Emby Android - Upcoming Shows
Emby Android – Upcoming Shows
Emby Android - Resume
Emby Android – Resume

Here’s the menu (again, exactly the same as the website):

Emby Android - Main Menu
Emby Android – Main Menu

Android interface for watching a movie:

Emby Android - movie watching interface
Emby Android – movie watching interface

So, with my CentOS VM with 1GB RAM and watching over Wifi on the phone, it worked out very well with a couple times where it paused for a second to load a little more. I’m not sure if that’s because of Wifi or because you’re supposed to have 2 GB minimum to transcode the video.

So far the only issue I’ve had is that when the metadata is wrong it’s not quite as easy to fix as in Kodi. It took me literally an hour to figure out how to get Emby to see Archer as the 2009 show, not the 1975 show. I would tell it, “no, it’s Archer 2009” and it would keep screwing up. Eventually I had to save it with all the database IDs removed and then get it to scrape the metadata once again.

So, for the time being it appears to be a great solution for Roku (and my phone – but WHY would I do that?). I haven’t tried any of the features that allow me to watch it out of the house since I have a very low upload speed right now on my current ISP plan.

After I wrote this, but before it posted to the blog, two things happened. One, a video that was 720P that my laptop couldn’t handle was able to be watched via the web interface as it just transcoded to a lower bitrate that the laptop could handle. (Another way it’s more Netflix-like than Kodi) Second, they released an email saying their new client may eventually be cross-platform. If so, it may end up ousting Kodi from my computers. Kodi is an awesome idea when you have one TV or multiple computers that can handle the different resolutions. But in a situation like mine with a hodgepodge of equipment, Emby may end up taking the top spot.

The Socially Awkward Questions Have Begun

Scarlett has become hardcore obsessed with the BBC show Octonauts. Nothing she used to care about – Mulan, My Little Pony, Beauty and the Beast – can be put on the television for her. All she wants to watch is Octonauts. So for Easter we got her all the characters. She has two favorite characters/toys: Shellington, a koala bear, and Kwazii, a cat descended from a long line of pirates. This is what Kwazii looks like:

Kwazii from the Octonauts
Kwazii from the Octonauts

So, two days ago we went out to eat and Scarlett saw a veteran on a wheelchair with an eye patch. Silly me – I thought she was going to ask me about the wheelchair. She has a wheelchair-bound toy, but doesn’t see too many people in wheelchairs. Nope. She asked me, “Daddy, is he a pirate?”

“Nope”

And that’s all I had to say because they called us to go to our table and I don’t think the guy heard us. But, based on my memories of my brother David, I think we’re in for a slew of “Look, he’s fat!”, “Is she a witch?”, etc. Time for her to start learning public interaction manners, I guess.

When did Miss Universe Become Hunger Games?

Just in case you didn’t read it or watch the movie, each district has a fashion designer who designs the costume for its contestants representing the products the district produces. The narrator mentions that these fashion designers aren’t always creative. In the movie, the logging district girl is dressed like a tree. Then again, maybe Hunger Games was copying Miss Universe – I don’t watch beauty pageants. Either way I think the only way Miss Canada could have been more of a stereotype is if she had a jar of syrup in her other hand.

Miss Canada 2015
Miss Canada 2015

What would have happened if Salvador Dali had made a cartoon in the 2010s?

He’d have made Bee and Puppycat, Natasha Allegri’s latest surreal cartoon masterpiece. I think there’s something great about Allyn Rachel’s mumbling delivery that really sells it. I love this amazing world we have that allows for experimentation – I hope we don’t lose it through bungling of Net Neutrality issues. (I like eps 1 and 2 from the Kickstarter [second video] more than the pilot [first video])

I really enjoy the anime-like music cues. Also, Puppycat’s voice makes me think of the turrets in Portal.

Scarlett tries to watch TV

I come in from raking the leaves and Scarlett is standing there with one remote in her hand and the other two in front of her. She’s pushing buttons and asks me, “Daddy, what button do I need to push to watch a video?” I told here there were a lot of buttons to push. “But which one do I push first?”

Aereo: Is it Worth the Money?

I cut the cord and left cable TV about five years ago. I had tested the over the air (OTA) channels and they came in well enough. Plus there was innovation going on that might mitigate not having cable. The other day my sister-in-law’s boyfriend mentioned that Aereo was going to start working on Chromcast. They have a micro-antenna array technology that allows them to get the local signals clearly and then allow their customers to watch the channels on computing devices. I’d been following them for a while and checked to see if they were finally in Baltimore. They were! So I signed up for the free month trial.

Aereo has been in the news a lot lately. They’re at the Supreme Court arguing why their service should be legal. Good luck to them. The reason I wanted to look at Aereo is that, while my OTA antenna works very well most of the time, there are times when it glitches out and that is so annoying. On top of that, Aereo provides DVR functionality. I didn’t want to setup MythTV because it’s more complicated in our house than it was in our apartment, so this was potentially a great service.

Aereo - Featured Content
Aereo – Featured Content

Signing into Aereo shows featured content – shows you might want to DVR so you don’t have to worry about appointment TV. I don’t know if they eventually learn your preferences, but if not, it’d definitely be an area worth expanding into.

Aereo - The Program Guide
Aereo – The Program Guide

If you want to watch live TV, you want to go to the program guide. This shows all the local channels and the programs currently on (as well as future programs). At this point you can either choose to watch it live or change your mind and choose to record it.

Aereo - Guide - selecting a show to watch
Aereo – Guide – selecting a show to watch

And if you watch it live, you get this screen:

Aereo - Watching Live TV
Aereo – Watching Live TV

Awesomely enough, you also get subtitles.

There are many benefits to using Aereo’s service. First of all, you can use the tablet/phone apps to watch TV anywhere in your house. Second, since they have Roku and Chromecast apps, you can watch it on TVs that aren’t connected to a computer (how we watch XBMC and Hulu on our TVs). Third, you have a DVR without the complications of needing to setup and maintain a DVR. It’s a pretty neat value proposition.

Is it work the money? Aereo is worth $8 a month; close to Netflix instant streaming’s price (I think Netflix recently announced a price hike) and close to Hulu Plus’ price. I wanted it to make sure I got my channels clearly, and I did get them very clearly. However, with an over the air antenna (precisely what Aereo is supposed to replace) I can get channels from Baltimore, Annapolis, and Washington DC. That last one is important since it’s only 20-30 minutes away so it’s nice to watch DC news to know what’s going on over there as well as weather. Aereo only provides me with the explicitly Baltimore channels. They come in pristinely, but I’d rather get 30 channels that come in most of the time, than 10 channels that come in all the time. So on channel clarity, I’d say that Aereo is a win if you live far from transmitters and/or in the first floor of an apartment. Digital signals need as unobstructed path as possible, so the higher the better. I know this has to do with following the letter of the law, but I should be able to get the same channels as I would with an antenna, regardless of the media market. So that’s a no from me.

What about couch potato viewing? One complaint I read about on the internet all the time is that regular TV (cable or OTA) is better than Neflix, et al because you just sit there and flip channels. I know I discovered many things, like Monty Python, by flipping channels and being intrigued by what I found. Also, there’s the paralysis of choice with Netflix et al where there’s so much you want to watch that you choose nothing and turn it off. I only rarely suffer from that – usually when I’m stress or depressed and find the idea of picking the wrong choice to be too stressful. 99% of the time I am not affected by paralysis of choice, but others may be moreso. The problem with Aereo (as currently implemented) is two-fold. First of all, you cannot easily flip channels. You’d need to go back to the channel guide and pick a program and pick to watch it. Not conducive to flipping around during commercials. Second, Aereo currently does not provide seamless viewing. Say you’re watching Friends and after Friends the Simpsons is aired on the same channel. When Friends ends, you need to go back out and pick the Simpsons to watch. So for me this is a wash. I really don’t care either way. For others, this could be a deal-breaker.

A potential missed opportunity, although they’re doing it so they can survive court battles like the current Supreme Court battle is that you cannot access your channels if you’re not home. I could see Aereo being awesome if you’re out of town and want to keep up with local stuff. But it’s ok, if you setup a VPN at home, it’d probably work. Not a knock against them, just a mention of how current copyright sucks.

Time for the biggest knock for me. It’s $8 for one antenna. That means you are either recording or watching live. If you want to be able to do both, it’s more money; $12 a month. They don’t mention watching live on two devices at once, but they mention recording two at once and recording while watching live. So I’ll assume this means for $12 you can watch two at once. On its face, pretty fair. All the antennas I’ve looked at for OTA say they can power two TVs. Without an amplifier, that is. With an amplifier they can usually do at least four TVs. Whether or not this is a dealbreaker depends on whether you live alone. Once you start getting more people involved, it quickly becomes a lot cheaper to just get basic cable, an OTA antenna, or satellite.  So, for me this makes it not worth it. Again, if you’re a solitary person or live with people who don’t watch TV, it is worth it. If you have the typical 4-5 person family, it probably will just lead to arguments.

Having your own DVR/PVR isn’t as convenient as having it in the cloud; especially if you roll your own via MythTV. But once you go through the headache of setup and maintenance, you can do whatever you want with the recordings. You can keep them forever. You can put them on any device. You can use them for mashups and other fair use things. I am pretty sure you can’t do that with the Aereo recordings. Yes, they have Android and iOS apps. But that doesn’t get to the fair use cases.

I shall close with my wife’s evaluation. I think I’ve mentioned this before, but when it comes to the visual arts, my wife (and now my daughter as well) is the primary consumer. There are lots of TV shows and movies that I hear are are great. Most of the time I believe the tastemakers who tell me this. But I just can’t muster the interest. There are a few shows I enjoy – The Daily Show, Last Week Tonight, The Colbert Report, Game of Thrones, and Archer. For the most part, however, I just can’t bring myself to spend 20-40 minutes on TV and 90-200 minutes on movies. I’d much rather read, play video games, or create. I prefer my entertainment to require more creativity: reading requires imaging the visuals; video games require input and my favorites have player-determined narratives or are puzzle-based; and creation – writing, coding, drawing, etc – is inherently creative. So when it comes to deciding whether to spend money on visual entertainment, I tend to delegate to the wife. And her response to the description of Aereo was: what does Aereo give me that Hulu doesn’t? The only answer I could think of was – the ability to watch inherently live TV like the news, the Grammys, the Oscars, etc. She told me she didn’t really give a crap about those things and she could usually find the highlights on Youtube and elsewhere the following day.

So, in summation, Aereo is not worth it FOR ME. It provides nothing I cannot already get for free or am not already paying for. Sure, it provides DVR, but that’s inherent in Hulu. And for those few times I want to watch something live, I can make do with the antenna and its intermittent dropouts. Is it worth it for you? Do you live alone? Do you lack good TV reception for OTA? Do you enjoy watching inherently live TV? Then YES, Aereo is worth it.

It Shouldn’t Be This Way

Some things people don’t know because they weren’t taught. Or it was taught in a way that didn’t make sense to the way their brains work. Or it was beyond them for some reason. All of this is fine. It’s the prideful ignorance that is really wreaking havok with this country. The following Daily Show clip is what inspire this mini-rant:

 

Where’s the reciprocal nudity on Game of Thrones?

Today’s post is facetious – I know the answer is that men and men’s desires control Hollywood. But, as I watch Game of Thrones, I end up seeing so many breasts and so much female pubic area that it just ends up making the ridiculous absence of penises pretty abundant. Especially in the scene in which a guy is purposely taunted to get hard ….. no wait…this happens twice and both times with bad results. One time, the dude’s penis gets cut off and the other time a leech is attached to it. Neither time is it shown. Yet during a scene at a whorehouse, we see an acrobatic girl essentially put her vagina right into the camera.

I know at least 3 women are regular readers of this blog. Perhaps it would reveal too personal a bias to ask, but do you feel shafted? (No pun intended) Are you jealous of all the titillation on screen for male audience members or is that one way in which men and women are different? (Meaning you don’t desire to see a penis on screen in the same way we desire for breasts or pubic area – which is another area that isn’t fair, I guess. It’s certainly no big deal for a man to be topless…) (BTW – here’s a count of all the nudity in GoT S3)

How Best to Rip and Manage Your Own (legally purchased) DVDs to create your own Netflix Instant

I had two reasons for starting this project:
1) my wife and I like to collect Disney movies from our youth.  These movies are most likely to be watched by kids and kids are likely to damage DVDs.  I’ve heard lots of anecdotes on the net from parents who are on their fourth purchase of the same movie.  That’s just silly!  Also, Disney’s always putting their movies “back in the vault” so if your kid messes up one of THOSE movies, you could be SOL for up to a decade
2) Let me tell you a story of how ridiculous things have gotten in my house thanks to Netflix Instant.  My wife owns all seven seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer on DVD.  However, she does not watch these DVDs.  She watches it on Netflix Instant.  Why?  Because it’s easier for her to go on Netflix and find the episode she wants than to try and remember what season has what episode and go get that, take it out of its case, and put it in the DVD player.

If I can go off on a quick tangent – the movie studios might read #2 wrongfully conclude (as I’ve seen WB do before) that this means they should keep their stuff off of Netflix instant.  No, what it means is that people want the convenience of Netflix Instant with the movies they buy.  We would NEVER go look for a CD to play music anymore.  It’s all on our computers in Amarok or iTunes or Rhythmbox and we can easily search for an artist or a song and not have to worry about what CD it’s on.  This is what people want in their homes!  Yet the movie studios have killed every company that’s tried to do it.  Well, no wonder people are using Netflix vs buying movies nowadays!  Sheesh!  OK, rant over.

So the first thing you need to do is rip your movies.  Let me stress YOUR movies.  Do not do this with rented movies.  Don’t be a jerk.  Buy movies or borrow them.  OK, the best program for this is handbrake.  I’m not 100% sure, but I don’t know if it can handle ripping movies on Windows because it might be missing the decryption file.  But I know it works very well on Linux.  You want to use the Matroska (mkv) container.  The biggest reason for using this container is that it will give you all the features of a DVD!  That’s awesome, right?  You don’t have to give up anything – and that will technically make this a BETTER solution than Netflix Instant.  By choosing mkv you can have subtitles, different audio tracks, and chapters!  So don’t use those other containers that are more like going back to VHS!

For the video codec I use H.264 – it’s the latest and greatest and it’s what the industry uses in nearly everything.  In fact, it’s one of the codec standards for Blu-Ray.  I use the video settings constant quality RF: 16 to get a good balance between file size and quality.  I spent about a week playing with the settings to make sure I wasn’t losing too much quality.  In the audio settings I always make sure to get every single audio source and I do the same with captions.  Sure, you might THINK you don’t want french language and chinese subtitles now, but what about in the future when you want to use the movies to learn a foreign language?  This is a time-consuming process so you want to do it right the first time.  You may see “English” in there a bunch of times – usually that means one of those tracks is the commentary.  Again, include it – even if you never listen to them – you might want to one day.  Finally, go to chapters, tick the box and fill in the chapter names.  Now, this is a very optional step, but some video players (like VLC) will actually display these chapter names, so if you think you might want to reference a chapter by its name, fill it in – it usually only adds a couple minutes of prep time.  One more thing, change the filename to the name of the movie.  If it’s a movie that shares its title with a bunch of other movies, you might want to put the year after it.  For example: The Jungle Book 1965.mkv Then just hit start and go do something else – depending on the speed of your DVD drive and the speed of your processor, this might take anywhere from 1 hour to 5 hours per movie.  The good thing is that if you have a relatively modern computer, you can do other stuff while you wait for the rip to happen.

If you’re ripping a TV show, you want to do things SLIGHTLY differently.  For most American TV shows, each show is represented as a “title” on the DVD.  So you pick the first title and adjust the settings as above (by the way, you probably want to save it as a profile so you don’t have to fill it in every time).  This time you want to name the file like this: TV Show Name S01E01.mkv where the number after S is the season and the number after E is the episode number.  For maximum efficiency while you’re away, I suggest adding the video to the queue and then changing the title to the next title and changing the filename (say to TV Show Name S01E02.mkv) and adding that to the queue.  Going all the way until you’re done.  Some gotchas to watch out for:  Handbrake tries to guess which title you want to rip.  For movies this works well – it always picks the longest one.  For TV shows it might pick the third one, so make sure it’s the first one before you end up with mislabeled episodes.  Also, use some common sense.  For Buffy, for example, the episodes are ~45 minutes long.  So you only want the titles that are ~45 minutes long.  The ones that are 5 minutes long are either the FBI warning, the previews, or special features.  You can capture those if you want, but don’t name them episodes.

For Anime, they tend to want to just put all the episodes into one title. So there’s a LITTLE bit more work involved.  What I do is take a pen and paper and load the DVD up into VLC.  Then I skip through the chapters to see which chapters go with which episodes.  Then you go back to Handbrake and change the chapters that go into each episode.  For the last one, make sure you actually verify where it ends because, for example, on Tenchi in Tokyo, the last 4 chapters are the credits in English (instead of Japanese).

Alright, so you have all or some of your movies and TV shows ripped.  Excellent!  Now create two folders: movies and tv shows.  You can put all the movies into the “movies” folder and all the TV Shows into the TV Shows folder.  For the most part you can leave the movies alone, but I like to organize them into Disney movies, Live Action, etc.  That gives you an advantage later and I’ll mention that when we get to it.  For TV shows you want to put all the episodes of each TV show into it’s own subfolder, eg: Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Da Ali G Show US, Neon Genesis Evangelion, etc.  You can then create subfolders for the seasons if it’ll help keep long shows from being cluttered, but it’s not necessary because the program we’re going to use doesn’t care about that for finding information about the shows.

Now, the final step before we get to the program involved.  if you’re in a house like mine where people are going to be watching TV in multiple rooms, share out the folder to other computers.  If you don’t trust everyone else in your family not to accidentally delete your movies, just share it out read-only.

OK, now we’re ready for displaying our movie collection.  XBMC started out as a media center for the original X-Box.  Now, it no longer runs on the X-Box, but it runs on Mac, Windows, and Linux!  So no matter what type of computer you want to hook up to your TV (or watch at your desk) you’re fine!  It looks and works so great, that Boxee used it as the starting point for their product!  As I’m writing this, a new version is about to come out, but here’s how the home screen looks in the current version:

(image)

So, now we need to add sources.  Go to videos and add sources.   You set each folder as a movie or TV folder which helps XBMC know whether to look in IMDB or TheTVDB to find information about your rips as well as movie covers.  Here’s where it might have been useful to create subfolders for your movies and/or TV Shows.  You can add in folders anywhere on your computer as a source.  So if you’re creating an XBMC frontend for your kid’s room, you could just add in the folders that have Disney movies and until he or she is old enough to figure out how to add their own sources, you won’t have to worry about them seeing rated R movies – even better than Netflix!

So now that you have your sources added, you can go to your videos section.  It’ll take a minute or two for XBMC to grab all the information from your TV shows and movies, but that’s OK.  We can put the finishing touches on making this a Netflix-like experience for you and those less technically savvy members of your household.  You want to pick these settings: “view: media info”   And viola, it looks like this:

Default XBMC skin - media info view on movies
Default XBMC skin - media info view on movies

Not bad, eh?  Want info on your movies?

Default XBMC skin - media info view on movies - even more info
Default XBMC skin - media info view on movies - even more info

TV shows?

Default XBMC skin - TV Show list
Default XBMC skin - TV Show list
Default XBMC skin - TV Episode list
Default XBMC skin - TV Episode list

Want to search by all these categories?

Default XBMC skin - categories to search by
Default XBMC skin - categories to search by

Here are some views with the Back Row skin.

Back Row XBMC skin - showing latest movies added
Back Row XBMC skin - showing latest movies added

 

Back Row XBMC skin - showing latest episodes added
Back Row XBMC skin - showing latest episodes added

 

Nice, right?  But here’s where it’s better than Netflix.  When you’re watching a movie go to this menu to change the audio streams and the subtitles:

Default XBMC skin - choosing captions and languages
Default XBMC skin - choosing captions and languages

Also, you can skip chapters!  Can’t do THAT with Netflix!  And everything loads up so much faster than Netflix!  And that’s not even all the coolness involved!  You can control it with a regular remote (you need an IR receiver on your computer).  That’s OK.  Standard.  You can control it with a bluetooth remote like your PS3 remote – that’s neat….  But coolest of all, you can control it with your Android phone!

So there you go, your very own local Netflix instant.  You can put all those DVDs away in your basement so they can stop collecting dust.  Never worry about kids or pets messing up your DVDs again.

Boxee: Further Impressions

After writing my Boxee review based on my experience over the weekend, I tried to use it again Tuesday and Wednesday. There two shows that I watch Tues-Friday: The Daily Show and The Colbert Report. I’m not sure what API or screen scraping Boxee uses for these sites, but it needs to be improved. When I went to look for Monday’s episode on Tuesday, it wasn’t there. And Colbert didn’t appear to have any shows since mid-November. That tipped me off to check their websites and see that they did, indeed, have new episodes. Very disappointing. I don’t want to pay $200 for a device that works worse than a web browser on the shows that are important to me.

On the other hand, when I was able to watch the Tuesday episode on Wednesday (the Monday episode was still missing), performance was actually better than watching it on the website. I don’t know how or why, but the transitions to and from the commercial breaks happened more smoothly and with less wasted loading time than on the website.

So we have this unacceptable inability to find all the episodes combined with better playback when it does find the episodes. That complicates the decision a bit.

Using Boxee for the First Time

My wife enjoys watching TV a lot more than I do. I prefer interactive or creative pursuits like programming, photography, or video games. If, tomorrow, all the TV studios said we could no longer use the Internet to freely watch their programs (with ads, of course), I wouldn’t buy cable. Once I’d broken that shackle, it was gone forever. Even when I had Comcast and my MythTV, the hard drive was filling up with the shows I liked (Myth Busters, Dirty Jobs, The Daily Show, The Colbert Report) faster than I could watch them. But Danielle enjoys TV and I enjoy making my wife happy. So, when I read about the Boxee Box, I thought it might be something she’d enjoy.

Danielle has learned a lot about technology in the 10 years that we’ve known each other, but it doesn’t make her enjoy complexity anymore than she did before. She’s perfectly capable of learning to hook up the laptop to the TV and navigating to the websites that have the programs she wants to watch. But she doesn’t want to. After all, Netflix makes watching older shows so easy, so why can’t there be something like that for current shows?

Well, there is with Boxee. The Boxee Box is pretty expensive for something she might not like, so I figured I’d load it onto my laptop to see how she’d like using it. My laptop was crappily configured when we bought it a few years ago, so it’s positively sluggish by today’s standards. So there is a little bit of a lag to load Boxee and to navigate. I was worried about Boxee since commenters on Lifehacker have recently switched from fawning over it to crapping all over it. But I have to say that I was very impressed with what they’ve come up with. The Boxee team (building on XBMC’s work) has created an excellent 10 foot interface (one that can be used from across the room). It has the look/feel of a DVR. In essence, it *is* a DVR for the Internet.

The only trouble I had in using the interface yesterday is in intuitively figuring out how the content is organized. Why were “How I Met Your Mother” and “The Simpsons” near the top? How far would I have to navigate to find 30 Rock? I ended up just typing it into the search bar. It was very slow to scroll and load up shows on their long list, but I am about 90% sure that’s my slow computer. (If the Boxee Box ran like that I’d return it in a heartbeat) Once I got to the show I saw a nice interface with a selectable list of all the episodes available. I know that 99.9% of all the shows on the web only allow access to the current season, but I was curious how I’d switch seasons if it were available.

When I selected the episode we were to watch I was presented with options on where to get the show from. There were 3 choices for 30 Rock: NBC, Hulu, and some other site. Playback went well. It slowed for a little bit near the middle, but I’m not sure if that was from the overhead of running Boxee AND decoding video or if it was the site I selected. I liked that the Boxee interface told me how many ads to expect “Ad X of Y”. I wonder if that came from the source I selected or was embedded into the interface. Afterward Danielle watched South Park on there.

Overall I was quite impressed with the interface. I’d probably install it on my guest computer which is definitely beefy enough to handle Boxee. It would allow my guests to watch TV and movies when they come over – something my father-in-law loves to do.

Really, the question is – is Boxee going to survive vs Roku and GoogleTV? The problem with all these legit content players is that they are at the mercy of content providers. If any of these three makes a sweetheart deal with, say, Warner Bros, it could spell the death of the other two. Or we could end up in a horrible balkanized situation where you need to have all three to watch something. Google for Warner Bros, Roku for MGM, and Boxee for Disney. That would be horrible. My brother’s been keeping me updated on some animosity GoogleTV’s been getting from content producers. So it seems risky to sink hundreds of dollars into something that may not be around. At least one advantage that Boxee and GoogleTV have is that Roku appears to not have quite as comprehensive a look into the net. They seem to prefer an app-like channel interface.

For now I’m taking a wait-and-see attitude toward it all. Danielle’s interest seemed piqued by how many shows were available on Boxee – stuff she didn’t even know she could watch online because it was scattered all over the net. At the same time, it’s not as though her evenings are brimming with unused time. And she seems to have enough to watch between Netflix’s discs and Instant Streaming to keep her entertained. So we’ll see, but I think Boxee is definitely very well designed.

Do they really need to know this?

nyc- times square

I’m not often annoyed enough with mainstream news organizations to make a big deal out of it. Plenty of stuff they do annoys me, but I rarely get so charged up that I blog about it. Recently they stoked my fire when discussing the attempted terrorism on Times Square. Take, for example the following excerpt from a newspaper article:  “The vehicle identification number was defaced, but detectives found it stamped on the engine block and axle to get a lead on the current owner.” (Alison Gendar – New York Daily News)

Even if the police were dumb enough to brag about where they found the VIN, you should have been smart enough not to print it. This guy thought he was pretty slick, rubbing out the VIN from the obvious places. You just went and told future guys about the other areas the VIN can be found. They just barely caught this guy! He was on a plane to Dubai and the doors were closed – the plane was going to take off in the next 10-15 minutes. If they hadn’t had the VIN to confirm he was the buyer of the car, he might have escaped custody!

And then there’s the following. (Start watching at 2 minutes 12 seconds) (I know it’s risky to embed video because it could disappear at any time)

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
Explosive and the City
www.thedailyshow.com
Daily Show Full Episodes Political Humor Tea Party

For the day when this video clip is unavailable, it’s a montage of TV news programs where they mention how the guy screwed up his bomb and what he’d have to do next time to get it right. Thanks a lot! Don’t make them actually search the net for what they have to do, just tell them right there. “Oh,” Johnny Terrorist says, taking notes, “leave the propane tanks OPEN. Got it.” Seriously, why are you doing this? Most of your headquarters are in NYC. You’re increasing your chances of death. Can we have a little more common sense entering the newsrooms?

For the day when this video clip is unavailable, it’s a montage of TV news programs where they mention how the guy screwed up his bomb and what he’d have to do next time to get it right. Thanks a lot! Don’t make them actually search the net for what they have to do, just tell them right there. “Oh,” Johnny Terrorist says, taking notes, “leave the propane tanks OPEN. Got it.” Seriously, why are you doing this? Most of your headquarters are in NYC. You’re increasing your chances of death. Can we have a little more common sense entering the newsrooms?