Monday, June 18, 2018

Ad blocking

Ads, ads, ads.

Ads.

Pop-ups. Banners. Those darn things that cover your entire page.

Everybody hates ads.

Well, except the people that create them. And they still hate them when it's somebody else's.

We all hate ads. Or, are mildly irritated by them at times.

But, the other side of the coin is -- and you knew this coin had another side -- sometimes, those ads allow us to see content that we'd otherwise have to pay for.

Keep in mind, people aren't entitled to the fruits of your labors. If you create something, others have no right to it. It's yours.

If you're a tailor, people don't have the right to demand you make them a suit.

If you're a carpenter, people don't have the right to demand you build them a house.

If you're a farmer, people don't have the right to demand your crops.

And, if you're a Website owner or developer, or a streaming content provider, people don't have the right to your labors. Yeah, it kinda works that way.

So, what's this got to do with ad-blockers? Well, some of the content you view on the Web, or on your streaming device, is provided at no monetary cost. Sure, you pay for Netflix, but I'm not talking about that. I'm talking about Web pages that you don't have to subscribe to (or at least, it's optional) or streaming services that you don't have to pay for.

They are in the business to make money. That's the bottom line. They choose to make money by offering content for you to enjoy and then show you advertisements for which they get paid (or sell for inclusion in their content).

Yes, some Web pages have those popups all over the place. Or those videos that automatically start. Or ads that cover the page. Or other such irritants. That's why there are a bunch of ad blocker plugins that are extremely popular. Of course, they block by getting between you and the content, meaning they read all of your content.

All of your content.

All. Of. It.

Didn't think about that, did you?

So, how do I deal with it? Well, I avoid content that I don't like. If the Web page has annoying ads, I'll avoid that Web page. If an app on my phone has too many ads, I'll stop using the app. Or pay to remove ads, if that's an option. If the streaming service has more ads that I care to deal with, I'll not use that service. Or pay to remove ads, if that's an option.

How should you deal with it?

I'm not the boss of you. Deal with it as you see fit. But think how you'd feel if you were the other person. How would you want a consumer to deal with something that you did they didn't like?

That's actually good advise for many things: think how you'd feel if you were the other person.

I'm about to do just that. I think you're probably tired of hearing me go on and on about this.

So I'll stop.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Android TV (Mi Box)

Image: Xiaomi
I've tried different streaming devices over the years: Roku, Apple TV, Fire TV, Chromecast, and TiVo. They all have their good points and bad points. Any of them would be a good choice for streaming. One or another my be better or worse for any particular individual based on the where they want to get their streaming data from. For example, if someone is big into iTunes or has a lot of Apple devices, the Apple TV is probably the best option. If someone is totally immersed in Amazon, the Fire TV might be the best option. There's no one answer that's right for everybody.

Recently, I added another streaming device to my collection: the Android TV player, Mi Box.

It's a cheaper alternative to the Nvidia Shield, which is the Flavor of the Month for many of the Kool Kidz that stream. Personally, as intrigued as I might be by the Nvidia Shield, I'm not going to put out $180 just to test something. The $69 I shelled out for the Mi Box was the upper limit on that kind of silliness.

So, just to be clear, I haven't used the Nvidia Shield. However, it and the Mi Box are both Android TV devices. The Google Play Store apps for one will work on the other. I know there are ways to side load content onto the Nvidia Shield, but I'm not interested in that. If you are, you can find videos on The YouTube. I'm not interested. I'm looking for stuff that anybody can go into a store or purchase online, take the device, and use. No jumping through hoops. Simple. That's my focus.

Anyway, my point there is what I'm writing about the Mi Box is mostly applicable to any Android TV device.

What I like about the device is that it's easy to set up and use. It's very responsive. It supports 4K, though I don't have a 4K TV. It comes with some common popular apps already installed. It even comes with an HDMI cable included. It doesn't take long to get up and running.

But, what do I not like about it? Well, apart from the pre-installed or recommended apps, it's not that easy to get all the apps you might want through the standard interface. If you have the Play Store installed, you can browse the limited selections there. There are more apps available than show on the Google Play Store app on the Android TV device. While they do show many of the biggest, that's not always the case. For instance, Spotify doesn't show when browsing on the device, though Pandora does.

A slightly better option is to use the voice search to search for apps. For example, to install the Boomerang app, I couldn't find it when I searched for "Boomerang," but did when I searched for "Boomerang app."

Another option is to search for apps from the Google Play Store Website. As with the voice search, simply searching for the app name might not be good enough. I had to search for "Boomerang for Android TV" to find that app.

One major omission, at least in my opinion, is that DirecTV Now isn't supported on Android TV. Philo isn't either. Sling TV is, Hulu with Live TV is, and YouTube TV is, so it has most of the major live streaming services.

If you've used Chromecast, it may be useful to know that Android TV devices have Chromecast built in. You can stream from your computer, your Android phone or tablet, or iOS apps that support Chromecast.

If you're looking for a good streaming device, particularly an Android TV device, the Mi Box is a good choice. It's not my top choice, because of the limited number of apps, but it's a good little device.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Fox News streaming



Got a text the other day from our old buddy Paul at the Mean Ol' Meany blog. Turns out he finally got fed up with cable and satellite when the bill topped $160/month.

Actually, Mrs. Paul -- not the fish stick lady, but Paul's wife -- got fed up with it. And she tasked him to find a better solution. And it had to have Fox News. Live. Not some day-old videos of stuff, but live Fox News Channel.

So, Paul asked for some advice, and I gave it my best shot. He took my suggestions and information into consideration, made a decison, and now all is happy at Paul's house.

That's when it occurred to me that others might want to cut cable but still get Fox News, or some other news channel that isn't crowded with life-long Democrats, socialists, and other criminals.

So, if you are in the same situation as Paul and his lovely lady -- you want to cut cable but still want certain channels -- maybe I can offer some advice. Maybe.

We're going to primarily focus on Fox News, since that's what Paul was asking, and since it's probably the least leftist news channel.

Now, there are a bunch of streaming services that are basically small cable packages. Only you get them via Internet streaming than by cable TV or a satellite dish. They're cheaper than most cable packages, but don't have 500 channels.

Sling TV, Philo, DirecTV Now, Hulu with Live TV, PlayStation Vue, and YouTube TV are the ones I've tested. They all have their good points.

If you want Fox News, we can rule out Sling TV and Philo right now. All the others have Fox News Channel as part of their cheapest package. So, DirecTV Now, Hulu with Live TV, PlayStation Vue, and YouTube TV are all good streaming options when it comes to offering Fox News Channel.

YouTube TV and PlayStation Vue are both $40/month. Hulu with Live TV is, too, but that price includes regular Hulu on-demand service ($8/month). So, if you already subscribe to regular Hulu, you'd only be adding $32/month to the bill. DirecTV Now is $35/month.

So, it comes down to add-ons and other channels.

If you want HBO, DirecTV Now only wants another $5/month for that, the best HBO add-on price.

If you want sports, all the services except Philo include ESPN and ESPN2. That's important to me and is important to Paul. YouTube TV and Hulu with Live TV both include ESPNU and ESPNews. Hulu with Live TV also includes Fox Sports and SEC Network.

PlayStation Vue and DirecTV Now both require their $50/month package to get ESPNU and ESPNews plus SEC Network, Fox Sports, and other channels.

So, for viewing stuff like Paul and I do, the Hulu with Live TV package is probably the best package for the money. However, like most everything else, it really depends on what you're looking for.

If you've been thinking about cutting the cord, but didn't want to miss certain stuff, do some research into what these different packages offer. You might find you can save a buck or two.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Crash! Pop!

The late afternoon storms we have in southeast Georgia this time of year aren't usually anything more than an irritant. Sometimes, the storms will change plans, such as not going to an outside event. Most of the time, though, it doesn't really mean that big of a deal. We're used to them, after all.

Not so, this week. The storm got my Roku.

I've had a Roku device for some time. Not the same device. I've upgraded over the years. In October, I bought a new Roku Ultra. It replaced a Roku Premiere that I got free with a Sling TV subscription. The Ultra is a better device, and has a wireless remote. The Premiere (since discontinued), is a good device, but doesn't have all the bells and whistles of the Ultra, plus, it has an IR-only remote.

Anyway, I got an Ultra in October, and it's been a great device. Until this week, when the storm got it.

I was off work, and sitting there watching, I don't know, maybe something on The YouTube. The rain had started, and there was thunder and lightning, though not too close. Then, it was close.

There was a loud crash and flash, followed immediately by a loud "pop" from behind the direction of the TV and the screen suddenly going dark.

As I was thinking the lightning had taken out my TV, a "no signal" message came up. Okay, the screen was working at least. Maybe an input? Maybe the Roku?

I looked at the Roku carefully, and noticed there was no light. So, at least the Roku was dead.

I checked the other devices. I've got an Apple TV, a Fire TV Stick, and an Android TV box (MiBox), plus a TiVo connected to the TV. They were all working. Just the Roku was affected.

I pulled my older Roku Premiere out and hooked it up. It worked. That meant the HDMI input on the TV was fine.

Now, I needed to find out if it was the Roku Ultra, or simply the power supply to the Roku Ultra. Replacing the power supply is $10. Replacing the Ultra is $99.

So now you might be asking why didn't I use the power supply for the Premiere on the Ultra?

No, really. Go ahead and ask. I'll wait.

* * *

Well, since you asked, there's a simple reason: they don't fit.

For a while, all the Roku boxes -- first and second generation devices -- all used the same power supply, model number PW-01 for those keeping score.

Roku changed that beginning with the third generation boxes. They used the new PW-09 power supply, which had a different connector.

The Sticks had a different power supply, the PW-03, and the new Ultra (model 4660) had a still different power supply, the PW-11.

My current inventory? Roku Ultra model 4660 (PW-11); Roku Premiere (PW-09); Roku 2 XS (PW-01), and Roku Stick (PW-03). These different devices use different power supplies.

After some thought, I decided to not immediately replace the Roku Ultra. But thinking long term, I decided to move my Stick from the guest TV to the main TV, and put the Premiere in the guest room. After doing that, I was back up and running.

I did order a spare power supply for the Ultra. It was $10, but if that fixes the Ultra, I'll get off cheap. If not, I'll eventually buy a new Ultra and have a spare power supply for it.

[Edit: The new power supply arrived, and the Roku Ultra doesn't work. *sigh*]

For now, I'm using the Roku Stick on my primary TV. That means I can waste my time again with my Roku.

Speaking of which, Attack of the Killer Tomatoes is calling.