Media Player Appliances

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Fatwah on Western Digital
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My default recommendation is the FireTV. It's not the cheapest box, but it has a good overall Netflix and it talks to most of the other stuff I think of as major video services.
I'd never actually looked at how much original content Amazon was making available, but it's looking a lot like good work is being done on Amazon Instant now.
 

Handruin

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For whatever it's worth the roku 3 functions pretty well with Netflix. I don't have to use a computer to manage it. The load time for the Netflix channel is also fast which is nice. For certain shows that offer multiple episodes I've seen this Netflix app automatically skip the shows intro to save time and bandwidth. It's a subtle but useful feature.

Setup of a roku 3 seems pretty simple. I don't know how it compares to other stb devices.
 

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Fatwah on Western Digital
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The Roku OOBE is: Set up networking, to go to the web site, type in a code to ID your device, register an account if you don't have one, enter a credit card (mandatory), then hit the channel selection directory to find content, with stuff like Netflix and Youtube front and center. You have to pick the channels to put on your home screen. The only real annoyance I have is the requirement that you have some other way of accessing the internet during the setup; there are A LOT of people who just can't understand what is being asked when they're told to go to a specific URL. That's probably not a problem for timwhit's dad but what is a 10-second inconvenience for us is a half hour on a support call for others.

A FireTV, if you bought it from Amazon: Set up networking. Type in your Amazon password (it's preconfigured for the purchaser's account). Some stuff will be on the channel screen by default. You can pick more channels if need be.

I don't have a huge investment in what gets picked, but UI speed and better keyboard input and the voice search work in favor of the FireTV. The Roku is going to give more content options and has the headphones-in-the-remote trick, which might be of interest to some people.

The bad Netflix experiences I'm talking about are mostly found on Smart TVs, BD players and game consoles. The Wii has the bar-none worst Netflix interface I've seen, but a shocking number of people use the Wii as a Netflix interface. Last time I taught a media players class, that's how half the people in the room were using Netflix. The experience is at least "OK" on all the major STBs, though it's still richest on a PC, by which I mean it shows the most categories, titles in categories and it has sensible search options.

Oddly enough, it's also been pointed out to me that in some cases PCs don't get the best video and sound options from Netflix. One of my students noticed that while streaming a particular movie, he was only getting stereo audio watching the same movie in Windows where he got 5.1 AC3 out of an Xbox One, even though they were both connected via HDMI to the same receiver and his PC was clearly in a 5.1 speaker configuration.

Oh. Also: People who have a Plexpass can now use Plex on Xbox 360 and XboxOne.
Also, the second: Plexpass prices doubled effective last week. The lifetime membership is now $150.
Also also also: If you have a Chromecast, navigate to the "Offers" section. You can claim two free months of Hulu Plus. Ordinarily I'd yawn and move on, but just like Netflix and Amazon, Hulu Plus is starting to offer pretty decent original content.
 

timwhit

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I think you're giving my Dad too much credit, he has trouble operating his Android phone and his Chromebook. It would probably be best if I set it up and then shipped it to him. The only issue then would be getting it connected to their WiFi.
 

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Fatwah on Western Digital
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Google announced Nexus Player today, which has features very similar to the FireTV, right down to Voice Search and bluetooth gamepad support, but it's running on a quad core Atom with 1GB RAM and a PowerVR GPU. One thing I don't see is an ethernet port, but it does 802.11ac.
 

sedrosken

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I don't do streaming in general, too hard on our data limit. We hit it almost a week ago and its unbelievably slow. It's significantly faster than 56k, but that hardly matters when it's still slow enough for connections to time out.

It's a cool concept though, one I intend to get into when I'm out on my own with a decent internet connection.

Unltd data from 2-10 AM is confirmed though, it gets much faster then.
 

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Fatwah on Western Digital
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Plex Media Server is really more for organizing and presenting local media than for streaming. There are "channels" where it can act as a front-end for specific online content like Youtube and Netflix, though client support for those is considered optional and may not be implemented on every platform.

What distinguishes Plex from a standard DLNA server:
* Automatic, internal metadata scraping.
* App-store like channels (support for streaming online content) for non-local content and other extensibility options
* Flexible presentation of categories and content using scraped data. Third-party clients exist on some platforms (e.g. Serenity or the XBMC client)
* Support for direct play of source files rather than transcoding for sufficiently powerful clients
* For computer-based servers, transcoding options can be set at the client or server level.
* NAS-based servers exist but are not capable of transcoding. Hope you like making things into 1.5Mbps MP4s.
* Online, authentication-based service for sharing content outside of a LAN that's relatively easy to configure.
* Authentication-based client access for non-local servers is baked in to the client and the client is available for lots and lots of things.

It's a pretty nifty tool.
 
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Actually, is anyone else actually using Plex Media Server yet?
I have a server running at home and the client installed on my phone, but I may have used it twice? At home I have a PC on every TV/Projector, so I just play the media locally. When I am away from home I usually just find something entertaining on YouTube.

Similarly, Pandora has been good enough lately that I haven't accessed my MP3 collection in over a year.
 

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Fatwah on Western Digital
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Plex makes a lot more sense if you have houseguests, kids or travel. I don't use my server that much myself either, but I'm glad it's running if only so that whomever is staying in my spare bedroom can happily enjoy whatever they want without occupying my living room.
 
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My guest bedroom has a computer with the display mirrored to the TV and read-only access to my media files. My guests so far (in-laws, one at a time) haven't been the most tech-savvy, but have managed ok.
 

sedrosken

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I'm wanting to look into a RPi as a recipient streaming device, for streaming 360p MP4 video from some kind of network share. Being able to experiment with it would also be very cool and it's cheap enough (and powerful enough for being so cheap) that it piques my interest.
 

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Fatwah on Western Digital
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I had good results at 3Mbit/720p using it as a Plex client. Pushing up from that gave me occasional stuttering jumps. You'll get better results for around the same price with a Chromecast, though those aren't as friendly to tinkering.
 

sedrosken

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Raspian, probably. Apparently I'm getting a small TV for my room this Christmas. I've told them over and over that I don't watch TV, but they seem adamant. I figure that I could use it as a secondary monitor, and hopefully one capable of doing 1080p natively. Built in speakers = bonus. But the RPi sounds like something to ask about as well, esp. if I can force it to use the Sempron's HDD (over the network, probably going to turn it into a FreeNAS box as its a step above what I'm currently doing with it, that being using Windows 7 as a go-between). That'd be great. It'd be even cooler if I could somehow push the DVD drive over the network and use the RPi as a DVD player.

Bear in mind that a small TV from 10 feet away becomes a decently sized display from a lesser distance.
 

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Fatwah on Western Digital
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They seem to have become increasingly uncommon, actually. In the last couple years, I noticed that the 36"/37" size has largely vanished and almost all the sub-40" screens seem to have settled at 720p. I'm not saying they're impossible to find, but I think there were more options a few years ago.
 

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Amazon released a Bluetooth digital companion appliance called Echo today. Echo is a speaker and a Microphone that hooks in to components of Amazon's ecosystem so that it can play music, answer questions or interact with things like schedules and E-mail. It's $100 for Prime members or $200 if for some reason you'd buy one but not already have a bunch of things that say Amazon on them.
Like a lot of Amazon stuff, I think it's probably pretty cool for people who aren't techies and in this case I think it's something that will be a $30 stocking stuffer in a couple years.

Reviews on the new Nexus Player make me glad I didn't actually buy one. The first review I read seemed hung up on the cheapness of the remote compared to the AppleTV and I chalked that up to Apple fanboy-ism. But since 9 out of 9 reviews said the same thing, I'm going to guess it's a real problem. Apparently, the app and service selection is at the moment even smaller than the selection on the FireTV; it's more like an expensive Chromecast than a functional standalone device right now.

Finally, Roku added support for Play Video and Play Music this week.
 

Howell

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Comparing Chromecast to Nexus Player, what its supposed to make it better? Aside from the paltry 8G included memory. Where is the potential for differentiation?
 

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Fatwah on Western Digital
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The Nexus has a big boy Intel SoC, so there's a lot of potential. It can run apps and games independent of.an attending device and it DOES have some local storage and expansion for downloaded content.
The big thing between it and the Kindle devices is which ecosystems it's able to talk to.
 

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Fatwah on Western Digital
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Based on testing so far, it looks like one modern Intel CPU core on a Plex Media Server can handle one 3Mbps/720p stream at the default transcode settings.
When I tried the same thing using a Core 2 Quad, it couldn't quite handle 3 streams at once at those settings.
 

Howell

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Does screen mirroring continue to use the battery on the tablet/laptop once mirrored? Can you turn off the non-tv device once the screen has been mirrored?
 

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Fatwah on Western Digital
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Screen mirroring is pretty hard on battery life on everything I've seen that can do screen mirroring, including Airplay. You normally CAN'T turn off the device's screen during mirroring.
Some apps such as Plex and Youtube do allow for screencasting, which sends output to a screen and normally turns the local device into a remote control for the bigger screen. This seems to have negligible battery impact.
 

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I've been messing with nightly builds of Kodi v17 lately. They've completely reorganized it and made it more difficult to get third party addons installed or found once they are installed. "Third Party Addons" on Kodi mostly means illegal streaming services, but that's interesting to me because the primary application of Kodi as software is to manage a giant collection of downloaded or ripped content that in theory can't be legally possessed in most of the first world in the first place. It runs really well on Windows but the new Android build seems crashy.

I find the new organization scheme in the new theme requires more clicks or button presses to navigate than the old one in Confluence, but I feel like I need to use the new thing because it's what most people will wind up using once v17 moves in to common use.

It's sort-of amusing to me that I've been advocating for Kodi for a long time but the thing that has given it mainstream attention is its easy installation on Amazon Fire devices. It's also now synonymous with illegal streaming services as far as most people seem to be concerned. I hear a lot of "Kodi sucks because it takes forever to find a video that plays"; people don't understand the distinction between the presentation application and the streaming addon they're choosing to use and moreover, that illegal streaming services, especially ones that have cams of first run movies, are probably going to suck no matter how they're accessed.

I have a bunch of different boxes that can all do Kodi now, something that used to take a lot of doing to even install. FireTV*, Nexus Player, a generic Android STB and several Windows and Linux systems. The only huge difference (aside from alpha version crashing on Android) I've found is whether or not the stupid things will decode or bit-stream DTS and/or if they can handle HEVC or high bit rate files on their own. I think it's kind of nice that media players finally do have a common, standard interface.
 

Stereodude

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Music Pump for Android.
It works with Kodi's builtin web server and can also be used to share/cast media from a device to Kodi as a DLNA server, so there's no question of controller range or interface compatibility. It just works with all the Kodi systems you might have.
That may not have been what he's asking. He could be asking about a Bluetooth or IR remote.
 

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Fatwah on Western Digital
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And yet I have still provided the correct answer.

In a less flippant form, you really want an 802.11 interactive remove because bluetooth and IR suck at least some of the time and may not be compatible with the device you wish to use. I can operate Kodi on the TV in my living room while I'm sitting in my bathtub, well outside the range of bluetooth and without line of sight for IR. The remote app can also act as a streaming display for Kodi or content can streamed to Kodi from the remote. That's an all around better deal.
 

Howell

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I have more pedestrian needs. A smart phone based remote control is a huge pain to wake up and unlock when all you want to do is mute the volume and pause the video so you can answer the phone. I'm starting with a cheap mce ir remote to test cec before I sorting for a harmony.
 

Stereodude

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I have more pedestrian needs. A smart phone based remote control is a huge pain to wake up and unlock when all you want to do is mute the volume and pause the video so you can answer the phone. I'm starting with a cheap mce ir remote to test cec before I sorting for a harmony.
MCE receiver plus remote works with the x86 hardware. No idea about the Android HW.
 
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