Streaming TV – a rant

Isn’t it great there’s so much choice for streaming TV and movies?

Well no, not really. Once again, competition hurts us. This week I’m taking a break from home automation to vent about a little home entertainment issue that bugs me.

I’ve got an Amazon Prime account, which probably isn’t much of a surprise with the number of gadgets I buy. I also have a number of films and TV shows that I’ve purchased through Google Play. I have a Chromecast and use that to play my Google purchases. I also use it for the BBC iPlayer and the other TV catch up services. I like the Chromecast approach – it’s easier to search for content on a phone than fiddle around with an onscreen keyboard using a normal remote control.

So far so good, but with the launch of American Gods on Prime I decided it was time to start making best use of my Amazon membership. One problem, though – Amazon does not play nice with others. Amazon have, very recently, added their Prime Video app to the main Google Play store but it doesn’t support casting.

Seriously, Amazon, why? Sure, I know you want people to buy your Fire TV streaming sticks and boxes, but why restrict the options? Why create unnecessary friction? It’s not always a convenient option. I have three HDMI ports on my TV. One is used for a DVR box, one for the Chromecast and one for a DVD/Bluray player. I don’t have a free port for another device.

So could I go all in on Fire TV? Nope, because it won’t play my content locked up in Google Play. Or Now TV, for that matter, which I use intermittently – largely during the Game of Thrones season.

My TV doesn’t have those apps either. While it is a supposedly “smart” TV, it’s a Panasonic and the number of apps is relatively limited. Samsung TVs have more apps available, but older models don’t always get the latest versions and sometimes apps go out of support on those models. TVs are not like phones – I have no intention of replacing my TV every couple of years to stay up to date with the apps. An external device such as a Chromecast or Fire TV is far more economical.

What about other devices? The only one that, as far as I can tell, supports all of the options I need is Roku.

The Roku actually works pretty well with all of the services I currently use. The only problem with it is that it outputs at 60Hz, which can lead to jerky playback when showing UK content that’s being broadcast at 50Hz. Both the Chromecast and Amazon have options to set the output to 50Hz, so the streaming content is passed through to the TV without the frame interpolation needed to output at 60Hz. It’s particularly noticeable with smooth scrolling scenes – the opening credits of Game of Thrones, swooping over the map, really show it, as does the Star Wars opening crawl. Less geeky viewers may also notice it with sports…

This can be mitigated to an extent with settings on the TV – on mine, playing with the “Intelligent Frame Creation” setting does help with the jerky playback. I’ve found that switching it off works best for content broadcast at 50Hz and switching it to the Max setting works better for 60Hz content. That seems counter intuitive, but it solves the problem well enough that I don’t really notice it – it’s just a pain having to switch the settings.

It’s particularly annoying when the Now TV box does support 50Hz and is basically a rebadged Roku that is unfortunately restricted so that it can’t use all of the Roku channels. Clearly Sky only want you using their paid services.

I can understand the commercial reasons for Sky and Amazon to want to tie you in to their services with their hardware. I just think it does consumers a disservice and could backfire on them – the flipside of tie in is barrier to entry. If you already have a Fire TV device would you try Now TV when you’d need another device to play it – or vice versa? Possibly not. Making your content available on as many devices as possible seems sensible to me, but presumably I’m wrong. Presumably Amazon have done the numbers and feel it makes sense to make it difficult to view their content on your TV.

Luckily the Roku does offer a solution, and I hope all of the content providers continue to support it. Despite its limitations, it’s the streaming device I’d recommend. Hmm… somehow my rant has morphed into a review…

in Random Musings

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2 Comments

  1. David Worton 26th September 2017
  2. seanbAuthor 1st October 2017

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