Digital video: renting vs buying, and why Apple is best for buying

With news that iTunes’ share of video sales and rentals are falling against competitors such as Amazon (Prime) Video and other services, I’d like to take a moment to reflect on why iTunes is the better platform for buying movies digitally, despite my brain screaming at me, “Look what happened to the digital BBC Store.”

iTunes offers iTunes Extras of which an increasing number of titles are including the same features as physical media.  Audio commentaries are regularly included, for example.  No other service offers this.

iTunes has one of the best device allowances of any service – and this includes the ability to download the content to a Mac, Windows PC, iPad and/or iPhone.

The UI of iTunes is much better than that of the competitors.  The Apple TV, not so much, but still considerably better than most.  Therefore it’s easier to manage existing titles.  And in all the years I’ve been buying movies from iTunes, I’ve never lost a single title due to film studios deciding to withdraw from the platform.  This could change, of course, but I’m sure if that happened, consumers would be lining up to lynch whoever decided it was a good idea to do so.

In terms of renting, Amazon (Prime) Video very narrowly outshines iTunes. There’s almost always a promotion which allows me to pay far less for renting an HD title via Amazon (Prime) Video than iTunes.  For example, I’ve just rented Hidden Figures (*superb* film) and T2: Trainspotting (also very good) – both in HD – £2.49 for both titles.  Amazon Video is baked into my LG television, making it very easy to access.

Don’t get me started on the UltraViolet digital platform.  It’s a completely useless pile of sputum devised by the film studios to make them look kind and generous by providing a non-physical digital copy of a film.  The truth is that it’s a massive pain in the arse to manage and I don’t bother with it anymore.   TalkTalk’s app (TalkTalk having bought Blinkbox which in turn is an UltraViolet partner) for LG televisions is awful.  I accept that one has to log in again occasionally, but the process is just stupid.  Look at what Google is doing for logging in to YouTube – much, much easier for televisions.  Entering a password via a remote control is the epitome of piss-poor user interface design.  But TalkTalk isn’t the only one guilty of this crime (NOW TV, Amazon, and even Netflix are guilty – but their TV apps allow for significantly long log in times).

BTW, I also hate the Amazon Prime Video UI too – it makes discovery difficult and it seems so random that I rarely watch anything on the service other than the really big TV productions.  I watched the German comedy, Toni Erdmann the other day (very, very funny – especially the nude party scene), but I had to manually enable the subtitles (found under CC for closed captioning – usually referencing subtitles for the hard of hearing – in my case, hard of not knowing enough German to understand the film without English subtitles).

The only other service I’ve purchased films from is Google Play.  I can watch the films on a tablet, my phone and even my TV through the YouTube app.  But those titles are generally either freebies or were heavily discounted.

Otherwise, I’ll be sticking with iTunes for future film purchases.  The next one, in fact, will probably be Hidden Figures because it was just such a great film, and there’s an audio commentary included in iTunes Extras which should give the film even more value.

Controversial move: smart meter installation!

Smart meters are pretty controversial at the moment.  If people aren’t dismissing them due to the potential for data abuse and/or hacking, other people are decrying that they cause cancer due to non-ionising radiation (since the meters contain a 2G/3G transmitter/receiver).  However, Cancer Research UK themselves state there is no evidence to this as yet.

Me?  I don’t think these things pose much risk.  At least not as much as your typical (properly configured) broadband router or mobile phone.  After all,  we practically all have Wi-Fi and mobile phones at home.  Some households multiple Wi-Fi hotspots and mobile phones – I have only one of each.  As for the security of the smart meters, providing they’re not using a global admin password (and the password is of sufficient strength) along with decent ACLs, then there should be little to be worried about.  I doubt British Gas and the other energy providers who are already aware of the potential for criminals to attack the national grid are likely to implement piss-poor security on these things.  Indeed, our very own GHCQ has been heavily involved with the smart meter infrastructure during the earliest stages.

As for the security of the smart meters, providing they’re not using a default/global admin password (and the password is of sufficient strength) along with decent ACLs, then there should be little to be worried about.  I doubt British Gas and the other energy providers who are already aware of the potential for criminals to attack the national grid are likely to implement piss-poor security on these things.  Indeed, our very own GHCQ has been heavily involved with the smart meter infrastructure during the earliest stages.

Anyway, British Gas came round to install my smart meters yesterday.  I’m on their new tariff which gives me free electricity between 9am and 5pm on Sundays – the ideal time for washing and doing hoovering.

The whole installation took less than 90 minutes – with around 30 minutes where the electricity supply was switched off, and about 15 minutes for gas.

Before the smart meter installation – the rotary dial meter was a pain in the neck to read each quarter
New smart meter installation – note the extra doodad in the far left corner. Not sure what that is – maybe external modem?

As soon as the engineer had finished, he set-up the wireless meter reader in the kitchen which updates the figures every half an hour (and sends that data back to British Gas at the end of each day).  It’s full of useful information including (based on my tariff) how much I’m spending on gas and electricity throughout the day in pounds and pence, in kilowatt hours, or by carbon emission.  I can set budgets per day and be notified if I’m exceeding them.

The doodad that does it all – no more trying to figure out dial meters ever again!

Already I’ve seen an interesting spike for electricity around midnight.  I suspect that it’s the variety of gadgets (Tivo V6, for example) performing nightly maintenance tasks.

Only time will tell if these smart meters save me money, but it IS making me think about the energy that I use.

I’ve got a brand new combine harvester washer-dryer..

.. and I won’t give you the key unless you pay me £3 a wash.

Last weekend, the Indesit washer-dryer that has lived in this house for the past eight years or so, died doing what it loved – washing.  It was making some pretty odd noises during the drying process before attempting a new wash where it just sat there doing nothing.

So I bought a new one from ao.com.  It arrived Wednesday, but not without a few problems.  The first is that ao.com delivery folk are uninsured.  So if you’ve paid for installation/disposal, just be aware of this.  The water taps under the sink were pretty stiff and the delivery lads (as nice as they were) were just going to leave it as they didn’t want to damage the taps/pipes.  I said that if this wasn’t going to be installed, the whole lot can go back to ao.com.   They didn’t have any tools but managed to loosen the taps and get the old machine out and the new one in.  They did a quick test and left.

Look how far washing machine tech has come – yet there’s still no app for that..

.. but alas .. they left me without any water to the bathroom and the sink was leaking.  So I called my bank’s home emergency service and got a plumber out who identified that the incorrect tap had been fiddled with – which restored hot water and water to the bathroom.  The leak was actually caused by a rotten waste pipe.  That didn’t classify as an emergency, so I will have to pay for that – and the bloke that came on Wednesday came back out on Friday to fix everything.  Not sure of the total cost yet – still waiting for an invoice by email – but it had to be done and I don’t think it’ll cost that much.

The new washing machine is taking a bit of getting used to.  Dials have been replaced with buttons and a display.  But one thing is definitely noticeable – it’s very, very quiet in comparison to the almost neanderthal aged washer-dryer I previously had.  It also takes a bigger load too.  Yet the overall size makes it a little smaller than the previous machine.  I’m very happy with it so far – not bad for £379.

Will I use ao.com again?  I’d like to – but I’d really like to see the delivery folk fully insured and carry the right tools.  But I may stick with John Lewis who is usually my go-to place for electricals.

BBC’s digital store to close in November

My biggest fear with buying digital only copies of films and television shows is if the provider goes away – whether it’s due to bankruptcy, change of direction – whatever.  As I’ve been sticking with the iTunes ecosystem for the majority of the time, I trust Apple to do the right thing and ensure I am able to download and watch my movies regardless of whatever happens to the movie or TV studio that supplied them with the content.  So far so good.

But, alas, the poor old BBC has announced that it’ll be shutting down its all digital BBC Store from 1st November 2017.  I’ve used BBC Store a number of times over the past 18 months, amassing a few titles here and there.  It was relatively cheap, and they often had many titles on sale.  My biggest complaint with the BBC Store, however, is actually watching the titles on my TV.  What a pain in the arse that was.  The BBC iPlayer baked into my LG TV, Apple TV, plus the games consoles I used to have, never supported BBC Store titles.  And there was no native BBC Store app for them either.  Thus I had to buy a Google Chromecast to be able to cast the content from my mobile phone to it.  No problem watching the content on my phone or tablet, but it’s not ideal – and this is why I think the BBC has failed – it felt as if it didn’t put enough resources into developing the BBC iPlayer integration or BBC Store apps across multiple platforms.

(Ironically, as the mega corporate AT&T is set to buy Time Warner, Inc. and take over HBO – AT&T’s boss has been semi-joking that he wants to provide 20 minute mobile friendly episodes of Game of Thrones – this sort of thing horrifies me – I’m all about choice, but the important thing is that television is television and should be viewed as (and on) such)

Another problem with BBC Store is that many of BBC’s titles are available on the likes of Netflix and Amazon Prime.  The BBC has said that it wasn’t able to compete with these services, but I still say they just did not put enough effort or resources into making the content available across platforms as easily as Netflix or Amazon Prime (which, BTW, should be coming to Apple TV next month if rumours are true).

Ultimately it’s a slap in the face for digital TV and movie consumption.  But I also ask: is TV and film going the same way as music?  Do people actually prefer to pay a monthly subscription fee to consume as much content as possible, rather than simply buy a title outright?   While the BBC is refunding those of us for the content we’ve paid for (plus, very ironically, a £20 Amazon voucher for similar digital content), it doesn’t make it easy for us to be able to repurchase the content elsewhere.  With content providers bemoaning that piracy is ruining the entertainment industry – it forgets very easily that if more effort was made to make the content available quickly and cheaply, and across as many platforms as possible, their rhetoric might be a bit more believable!

Damn it, Virgin Media, take responsibility for your services..

I’m generally happy with my Virgin Media package.  Okay, I’m not – I love the broadband, but the problem is with TV.  A number of artefacts appearing in recorded programs, along with a poor catch-up service, plus an app that constantly forgets my login credentials is making me regret my decision to move to Virgin Media in the first place.

Yet, Virgin Media keep rolling out the boilerplate, “Catch up is a free value added service” as if they are washing their hands of responsibility.  While I appreciate they get their feeds from multiple sources, it doesn’t mean they shouldn’t come down hard on their suppliers to ensure a hassle free service.

Sky’s catch-up service is/was practically impeccable in comparison – as was the image quality.  Sure, the navigation system was as weird as hell, but it worked.  I do seriously regret switching TV to Virgin – and come next year, I’ll be cancelling (and moving back to Sky[1]) unless I see a significant investment in time and money from Liberty Global in improving the service.  I gave up on Sky Cinema with Virgin because an increasing number of films weren’t available in HD.  I get better service with the NOW TV app on my LG TV.

Here’s a typical Virgin Media response: