Paying to watch Game of Thrones

March 31, 2013 ~ 02:53pm

For fans of the show, it should be no surprise that Game of Thrones was the most pirated show of 2012. Though I had absolutely NO interest whatsoever, during my seasonal cable usage I received 3 months free of HBO and decided to watch Game of Thrones. And ... now I'm hooked. I surprised myself, as I didn't expect to enjoy this genre of television.

So today (3/31/13) is the premiere of Season 3 of Game of Thrones. I do want to watch it, but subscribing for HBO (and the update to my cable) does not sound appealing. I thought through my options:

  • Subscribe to cable and HBO for 10 weeks. This comes out to apx $75 total.
  • Wait for the Bluray: This comes out to apx $45. However I have to wait till apx 1 month before the next season. So that would be around February/March of 2014.
  • I could purchase it through some streaming method (Amazon VOD/iTunes). This comes out to about $40 and has a similar delay as the Bluray.

The down sides to each of those options:

  • The cable companies are downright evil. Paying for cable annoys me.
  • I personally don't like to own unnecessary physical items. If I had Blurays I doubt I would actually ever watch them more than once.
  • Streaming, while great in general, is lower quality video. (Though to be fair some cable providers do a poor job encoding their HD television broadcasts.)

So my compromise is to sign up for HBO only for the last half of the season. Since Comcast provides OnDemand playback of episodes of the current season, I can easily watch all 10 episodes over the course of a month or so. The cost would be closer to $25-35 depending on when exactly I sign up. And overall, the delay of another month or so seems reasonable.

I'm not sure why I didn't consider this in the past. I've been paying for Showtime for 10 weeks out of the year to watch Dexter and probably will do the same.

Yes, I know that I could join the piracy, but I choose not to.

The Box Set

September 7, 2011 ~ 10:42pm

I recently went through the Sopranos Box Set (83 hrs over 30 dvd's). I could write novels on the subject matter, but this post has nothing to do with that. Rather I would like to share a greater frustration: Swapping so many discs is the most annoying experience when watching a full television show.

I would have rather spent a few days ripping all discs to some home networked media server or even paid $$ to have the episodes streamed online (but I can't since I have to subscribe to HBO). Swapping discs at the end of every 2-3 episodes created an artificial boundary to stop or continue watching. If there was 1 more episode on the disc I might continue but if I was at the last one, I would have to flip through the catalog to find it. Furthermore if I ever wanted to go back to an old episode - not even worth the hassle. Worse yet, when I was traveling I had to have the physical discs and managed to lose (and later recover) them on more than one occasion.

Compare this to Lost which is actually worse: 84+ hrs over 38 discs. But I never went that route, instead I watched all 120 episodes via Netflix. Some nights on a binge I could watch 4 or 5 episodes in succession. Other times I might start watching on my PS3 and continue days later on my laptop (if I were still watching now, I can even use my cell phone).

Watching a complete television show after it is complete in my opinion is much more satisfying than waiting till next week after a good episode or next season after a cliff hanger. You can set your pace. If you have all (or almost all) the seasons in front of you it can be pretty easy to just ignore cable and just watch a few episodes a night, like you can do with Netflix.

Currently I am subscribing to Comcast Cable, just so I can subscribe to Showtime, just so I can watch Dexter. I hate the arrangement. I will cancel cable after the season ends (but most likely repeat again next year). However with Comcast, you get "On Demand" where I can watch every past episode of Dexter for free with my Showtime subscription. Sounds great, BUT ... I can only watch it on my single Comcast HD box. I have to scroll through dozens of menus to get to the later episodes, then repeat those steps to get to the next episode. I can only pause for 1 day and fast forward at 1 speed. ALL using an interface that was outdated 5 years ago!

Watching On Demand cable shows are frustrating.

DVD Box Sets are a further relic of the past.

Sadly Netflix Streaming lacks the catalog of DVD's and the new releases of On Demand, but the experience and convenience are leaps and bounds ahead of either alternative. Netflix recently increased prices for customers with both DVD and Streaming subscriptions, but decreased prices for customers with streaming only. As annoying as price change is, it pales in comparison to the yearly price hikes I've endured from Comcast (e.g. "HD Technology Fee: $8.95/mo").

Imperfect as Netflix is, it is the future. I don't see a future in the DVD Box Set or Cable subscriptions. They both are becoming obsolete.

Server Upgrade, Technology and Bandwidth

April 15, 2011 ~ 07:21pm

My previous post was my first new entry after recently upgrading servers (I ran out of space on the old one and the software was getting too old). This switch compared to past occurrences was significantly more work and more costly. I say more work because I had over 5 years of different sites, tools, configurations and accounts scattered all over and I had to ensure that each piece migrated without disruption. I say more costly because for all the time I have not completely migrated, I need to pay to run 2 servers.

The cost issue is important because I chose a server from the same company at approximately the same price as I did in 2006. The only difference is that I now get 2x CPU, 2x Memory, 4x Disk Space and 10x Bandwidth. Someone might say: "good deal", but that would be incorrect, they should say: "good technology". As technology evolves in a free market, products and services should become less expensive over time.

My site went on-line in 2003, and I can recall when I first used 100MB bandwidth in a month. A few years later I was exceeding 1GB in a single day. While that order of magnitude may not be common, the observation is simple: "needs change". Demand can grow or users can grow.

Read the analysis from any ISP or TelCo about the bandwidth needs of their customers. They give so many (questionable) reasons about costs while intentionally ignoring a basic tendency: needs change. The bandwidth caps which meet the current customer usage will most likely last for years and are becoming more restrictive. New brilliant technologies (for example Netflix) will never flourish (some won't get off the ground), or advanced features like HD Streaming just won't work for more and more consumers.

I understand web-hosting and ISP bandwidth are not technically identical, but the illustration on usage change is the same. I cannot imagine setting myself limits for the next 5 years. I for one have a great deal of new ideas and different uses of my server. Hopefully a new reader won't hit their bandwidth limit before they make it to my site or the countless wonderful services that have come on-line recently.

Google, Apple and Smartphone Progress

June 18, 2010 ~ 11:05pm

In a half filled lecture hall in the fall of 2000, I heard an enthusiastic Compaq (now HP) engineer talk about his work with IPv6. He said eventually every single tiny device you own will have an IP address to connect to the internet. Most of the students passively dismissed this idea. I was among them.

I was fortunate to have the time and the means to attend Google I/O last month. This is Google's yearly conference known for engaging software developers on a deep level to both promote Google's technologies as well as openness on the internet. The demo for "Froyo" - Google's next update for their Android cell phones - is what really caught my attention.

I honestly beleive the the new features introduced are really what the customer wants and NOT what the manufacturer wants you to want. This is quite revolutionary in this age. Things in Froyo will deeply offend the cell service providers (who might charge extra $20/mo for hotspot) or even the media companies (who want to charge you to stream music). And the sad thing is that these things aren't really revolutionary take so long to get to the people.

When reviewing Apple's iPhone 4 presentation last week, it was pretty clear to me that the iPhone will be a dominant product for some time to come. But outside of the typically bigger and faster - I failed to grasp the features that make it so much better. Limited multitasking? Changing backgrounds? I don't see how iPhone users are much better off than they were one year ago. And even worse in some cases with Apple's strict limitations on what you can do on your phone.

I'm not a Google fanboy (I'm still using my Palm Pre - soon to be also purchased by HP *sigh*). I don't even care much for Flash. I'm just a bit disappointed by complacent Apple customers whose very purchase only contributes to denying progress in this market.

I am however making the plunge to Android. In a few weeks when I get a chance, I will be switching over to my new HTC EVO 4G. How to describe this phone? Impressive! And the best part? The "Froyo" update soon to come will only push that further.

When the Google I/O keynote emphasized how openness will rapidly progress evolution in smartphones - virtually no attendee dismissed this idea. I am among them.

An Avatar For My Credit Card

December 30, 2009 ~ 09:33pm

A few days before Christmas I decided to watch Avatar with my brothers. I don't visit theaters often, so I thought it would be fun to watch it in IMAX 3D (based on great past experience). Considering it was the holiday season with more crowds the box office, I opted to purchase tickets online for a reserved seating show (a first for me). For security, I used a temporary credit card number (like I always do) and printed my confirmation/receipt and went to the theater a few hours later. I didn't think much of it.

At the Showcase Cinemas I waited in line to get my physical tickets and was told that they could not give them to me unless I had the actual credit card with me. So, like any place, I had to talk to the manager. He politely informed me that my confirmation number is inadequate (useless) and he "can't release the tickets from the system". He could not even cancel the seats which were already paid and re-issue them. The system does not provide for that feature. Before he let us pass and get our seats, he asked me to call back later and provide the credit card number. Apparently, that is the only way the theater can actually get paid for the tickets that technically movietickets.com sold me. I agreed and saw the movie.

About the movie, quick synopsis: Attractive blue monkey-tigers in a computer generated paradise world who mind meld their appendages with nature have to fight off stereo-typical technologically advanced civilized people-soldier-strip-miners with the help of a crippled former soldier psychically connected to an artificial monkey-man hybrid which is known as an Avatar. Basically the plot of Furngully: The Last Rainforest redone by the guy who did Terminator 2 and Titanic (with the stuffings). Really good stuff really, however unoriginal. The animation was gorgeous. The only let down was the IMAX 3D did not even come close to exploiting its full potential. Fun and exciting movie nonetheless.

The great irony for me: the movie's theme was clearly anti-technology. I think the blue monkey's mother deity glow stick willow tree was trying to tell me something: pay in cash you moron. I got the message.

When I got back to my computer, I debated whether I should call back. Economically the theater chain should take a hit and fix their broken system they have with their sales and marketing partners. Why should I be punished for being responsible for my online security? But alas, its Christmas dontchaknow, so I called back with the number. On the receiving line the clerk basically said people forget their cards all the time. So no major worry for me. Hmmm.

The moral of the story is: you can't trust the system.