Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett’s Good Omens is undoubtedly one of the best TV shows released this year. But despite the promise of a physical media release filled with extras and audio commentaries, I will not be buying it.

Over the past few years, 4K UHD televisions have been slowly invading people’s homes. And streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime Video have been upping the ante over traditional broadcasters and releasing shows in 4K. But, as I’ve mentioned on this blog before, Amazon makes it unnecessarily bloody difficult to watch 4K content on their service.

And now they’re releasing a DVD and Blu-Ray of Good Omens. Which was shot in 4K UHD. But they’re NOT releasing a 4K UHD Blu-Ray because heaven forbid, it might cost them a lot more money to produce a 4K UHD Blu-Ray master and duplication. No wonder post-production companies such as Deluxe are in trouble. Will Technicolor be next?

The Blu-ray and DVDs may well have lots of extra features such as audio commentaries and featurettes, but you’ll also be paying for a lower resolution version of the content that you already have access to (providing you pay your subscription).

So. Why the bloody hell do streaming companies such as Netflix and Amazon Prime Video not do away with physical distribution of their content completely and offer extras such as audio commentaries and featurettes within their service? Punters would have to keep paying access to it, thus generating near-guaranteed returning subscribers and thus revenue, plus you get it in the highest resolution possible. Additional content can be updated as and when too.

Amazon HAS released audio commentaries online. For season one of Transparent. But nothing else has ever been released. Was it a failed experiment? Difficult to know. Only Amazon has the answer to that.

Netflix has stuffed extra content in the Trailer section their titles. For example, the Star Trek Discovery Shorts were hidden away – no announcements made – in the show’s Trailer section where most people wouldn’t think to look.

If physical media is to retire gracefully, we need the streaming services (and especially Apple who, along with their TV studio partners, STILL have not released any purchasable TV show content in 4K UHD or provided any extras with it) to up the ante. That means original content gets audio commentaries, featurettes, etc. as physical media releases would – and in the highest available quality and resolution possible.

Releasing 4K UHD TV content on DVD (standard definition) or Blu-Ray (high definition) is being cheap, miserly, and uncaring. It serves little benefit to the consumer, and even less so to the TV studio that makes it. Why even bother?

In the I.T. world, the acronym “SSL” means “Secure Sockets Layer” which refers to a protocol that’s used to encrypt content between two endpoints (typically a web browser and a server).

Along comes Amazon Prime Video and this appears (along with many other warnings) relating to their superheroes-gone-bad series, The Boys (which is really rather good, though the critics aren’t as keen as regular folk):

As the Internet has progressed, we now tend to refer to SSL as TLS (“Transport Layer Security”). I reckon it’s only a matter of time before Amazon comes up with their own acronym to describe their content:

TLS – Tender Loving Sex

First, it was Good Omens. Now it’s The Boys. Amazon Prime Video has been available on Apple TV devices for a while now. Not long, but long enough. I bought the 4K version of the Apple TV because I have a 4K TV.

I have the Amazon Prime Video app on my LG 4K TV, but I don’t tend to use the built-in apps for the TV because the TV is getting old now and the app and WebOS updates are few and far between. An Apple TV device should continue to receive OS and app updates regularly for many years to come – and one only has to replace one component when Apple stops supporting that device, rather than having to replace an otherwise good working TV. This is why I despise the “smart” in Smart TV.

Amazon’s 21st century equivalent of adjusting a TV aerial

Amazon, like Netflix, has been commissioning original TV shows in UHD (4K). With Netflix and the right subscription, you’ll get the highest resolution out the box without any fuss. If it’s 4K, you’ll get 4K. If it’s HD only, you’ll get HD only. With Amazon, you’re relying on them to put the 4K version of the title on the home page. Except they rarely do. No, with Amazon, you have to dig deep to find the bugger and then add it to your wishlist so that you don’t lose it again.

I had tremendous difficulties playing Good Omens in 4K when it was first released. Error galore. And I had even more difficulty trying to find the link to get help with Amazon (though it turns out when you do find the help page, the contact us section is bottom left-hand side – it’s not as obvious as you think it is when you’re trying to look for it). We then spent about an hour going through a scripted support process before the case was escalated to Amazon Prime Video’s specialist support team.

The thing is, the LG TV could play the 4K version of Good Omens just fine. Yet the newer Apple TV running Amazon’ s own app couldn’t. Eventually, Amazon managed to fix it, but it left a bit of a bad taste.

And now we have a new Amazon series called The Boys. It’s a very good black comedy about a world where superheroes are vile and managed by a massive agency who look after their PR, which comes in handy whenever collateral damage from a superhero rescue comes into play. It’s an exceptional series, but again, I can’t play it in 4K on the Apple TV.

Here are things I’ve tried:

  • Signed out of Amazon, then signed back in again
  • Restarted the Apple TV
  • Signed out of Amazon, deleted the Amazon Prime Video app, restarted the Apple TV, downloaded the Amazon Prime Video app, and then signed in again
  • Sacrificed a small goat to the tech god, “Sodslaw”
  • Admired the extremely impressive Apple TV 4K screensavers when attempting to escalate the issue with Amazon

The reason I got angry about this in the first place was that the TV app on Apple TV made it clear it was a 4K show. But when you clicked on the link to open it, an error from Amazon’s Prime Video app popped up.

I tried to search for The Boys within the app. No joy. And I tried on the web site – again no joy – until today (one day after the release). I added it to the Watchlist so that I wouldn’t lose it again.

I’ve been in touch with Amazon, and I think they’re escalating this – but they also wanted me to restart my router. I said that I didn’t think that was going to be necessary, but they insisted. And that’s when I lost my temper and left the chat.

Some thoughts:

  • Apple and Amazon need to work more closely together
  • Amazon needs to put more developers onto the tvOS app
  • Amazon needs better QA testers for the tvOS app

If these so-called “cord-cutting” services are to succeed, they need to work flawlessly across the many platforms that they’re on. And support for these services needs to be beefed up. Streaming is only going to get more complex – especially if 8K is around the corner (my prediction: won’t see anything serious for the next 2-3 years and even then we’ll still be struggling with 4K like we are right now).

I recently swapped all my Amazon Alexa devices for Google’s equivalent. I signed up for a family Spotify Premium account for one month just to get a Google Home Mini (RRP £49.99, I got it for £14.99 along with a month’s Spotify Premium).

It’s small, cute and stupid as hell – but I like it!

But I was keen on replacing Amazon’s Echo Show which was about as much good as a donkey parade on the moon. It couldn’t play YouTube videos (in fact it was practically restricted to its own Prime Video service), and I had to remember to ask Alexa to ask Hive if I wanted to perform any Hive related functions. You should NOT have to remember syntax with these devices at all. As I had it in my kitchen, I tried to use it to help me with cooking and recipes. That was a disaster. So Echo Show went away.

With the Nest Home Hub, it’s much smaller than the Echo Show. It’s extremely small and cute, in fact. With the just the power cable trailing at the back, the Home Hub is barely there. But you’ll soon notice it – especially as it can work with Google Photos to display a photo album when the Home Hub isn’t doing anything.

Getting my photos from Apple’s Photo service into Google Photos was a bit of a pain, but with the Backup & Sync app for MacOS, I disabled RAW files and other things and just let it do its stuff. And it seems to work well enough. So every time I take a photo with my iPhone XS, it’ll be uploaded to iCloud Photo Library and then downloaded to my Mac when I next use it. Google will then detect the change and upload any new photos or videos to Google Photos.

Controlling smart devices with the Home Hub is a much more pleasant experience than Alexa. I can just ask it to turn the living room lights on or off and it’ll do it. Or ask it to set a temperature and it’ll instruct my Hive thermostat to turn the heating on or off as appropriate. The only problem I stumbled across is that I had the smart plug for the Hive controller in my living room. If I instructed Home Hub to turn off Living Room, it’ll turn EVERYTHING off in the living room – including the plug – and there goes the Hive system. So I moved the smart plug out of the Living Room category and it sits by itself where I can’t accidentally turn it off.

As for other things, watching YouTube is fine. All4 is supported, so I can watch Channel 4 TV shows too. And Channel 5. It’s like having a very small TV in the kitchen. If I were to get to the Nest Hub Max, it’d make for a much better kitchen TV with its 10 inch screen, but for the moment this is fine.

Radio is fine too – just ask Home Hub to play X channel and it’ll do so. The biggest problem I have with the Home Hub is G Suite integration. I’m using the beta integration right now, but like its consumer cousin, the Home Hub is not able to inform you of all-day events.

As for other things, it either works or it doesn’t. I’ve found that the Google Assistant is not intelligent enough to figure out many things and you do need to be very specific in the commands you give it. In that sense, it is at the same level as Alexa’s comprehension. Google Assistant also misunderstands me from time to time and there have been some quite hilarious “conversations” as a result. A simple “hello” translated into “Get You” for some reason.

I’ll give you an example of trying to find information. My dad recently told me the origin of the phrase “time immemorial”. Now, we know this to be something so long past that people have forgotten. But the origin of that phrase comes from 1275 by the first Statute of Westminster, the time of memory was limited to the reign of King Richard I, beginning 6 July 1189, the date of the king’s accession.  Since that date, proof of unbroken possession or use of any right made it unnecessary to establish the original grant under certain circumstances. Wikipedia can tell me that, but Google Assistant can’t.

I think Digital Assistants have got a loooooooooong way to go before they can be considered truly useful. But I have faith in Google. Their Duplex technology looks intriguing (even if restaurants aren’t taking Google identified calls) and they’re going to be making the Google Assistant small enough to work from a mobile phone, so data is never transmitted back to Google. I only hope that the same is going to be said with these devices too – privacy is everybody’s right and processing on the device would go some way to prove Google is being consumer conscious.

On the other hand, I can see how great a device like the Nest Home Hub would be in the office. Assuming limitations are removed by the type of calendar entries it can process, the Nest Home Hub would make a very good personal desk assistant. The Nest Hub Max will feature a very cool video conference system through Google Duo – but I hope Google will also consider supporting Google Meet (for G Suite) as well.

I like books. I collect books. But my small house cannot hold very many, so many years ago I resorted to buying a Kindle and buying my books electronically wherever possible. I now have over 400 books in my Kindle library and it’s constantly growing (in part due to many Kindle cheap deals).

Previous to the Kindle Paperwhite, I had the 2018 Kindle Oasis – fully tricked out with the free 4G connection. It was meant to last me for several years. But alas, as I wasn’t doing as much reading as I had hoped and that I needed the money instead, I had to sell it.

The Kindle Oasis was a great e-reader. It had a 7-inch screen, small bezels, but with an overhanging edge with two physical buttons which allowed for easy handling. The downside was that the 7-inch display was big enough for easy reading, but not as portable enough for shoving it in a jacket pocket.

So I had to replace the Oasis after selling it, and the obvious choice was the Paperwhite. It has pretty much all of the features of the Oasis, but with a 1″ smaller screen and bigger bezels. The screen itself is, I think, a little less bright than the Oasis, but not by any significant amount.

The Paperwhite 2018 introduces a couple of features from the Oasis, including IPX68 waterproofing – this means it can be immersed in fresh water up to 2m deep for 30 minutes without damage. The other feature is the ability to play Audible books directly – though you’ll need a pair of Bluetooth head/earphones for this.

I bought the official waterproof case to go with it, and it doesn’t look at all bad if I do say so. It keeps it nice and safe, and the overall size also ensures that it fits in my jacket pocket just fine.

Currently reading: The Accidental Adventures of the Hundred-Year-Old Man

I opted for the 32Gb version to ensure that I have a significant number of books at my disposal if I am ever outside the reach of easy Wi-Fi access. I’m not entirely convinced the free 4G option on Kindles is entirely worth it if you’re not moving outside of common travel routes – many phone companies offer EU and US/Canada roaming included. The Amazon free 4G is incredibly slow in the UK, that’s all I can say about it. And it can drain the battery if it’s left on.

I’m very happy with the Paperwhite – perhaps more so than the Oasis. I’m getting my reading groove back, and even starting making use of my Goodreads account again (which is also a feature within the Kindle OS).