Tag Archives: on demand

Roku: A New Hope

Even the Adams Family likes it!

Say hello to my little friend!

Today I would like to introduce Roku. I don’t often gush about electronics but this little guy has got me all hot and bothered.

I think it was maybe a year ago when my wife and I stopped by the local home theater store. Those are always fun places for me. We were looking for a nice set of speakers.

My current home theater consists of a $5 receiver my wife found at a garage sale, a set of used speakers that were a gift from my gerbil (also from a garage sale), and an older smallish TV since our ultra-cool 42 inch plasma died a few days out of warranty. The cable box from Charter Communications is also in there somewhere but I detest the bloody thing.

At the home theater store the salesperson gave us a demo of a device that would play internet music on your home stereo and even included on-screen menus. I believe it played Shoutcast radio stations. It was love at first sight!

Since then I’ve also fallen in love with Pandora and I pay the $3 a month for “Pandora One” which includes higher-quality streaming and removes the limitation of 40 hours per month that comes with a free Pandora account.

So, when my wife recently asked what I wanted for a present, I spouted off the usual logical and responsible ideas: A remote control helicopter that would fit on my hand, a gaming keyboard that glows in the dark, and bottles of Kahlua, Baileys Irish Cream and Grand Marnier – something I have affectionately have dubbed “The B-52 Kit.”

Aside from such practical ideas, however, another thought began to tickle my brain. Perhaps, just perhaps, the time had come to find one of those little devices to play Pandora music through my home stereo. That would be the bomb. I’ve seen Pandora boom boxes and such, and something like that would be cool, but playing Pandora music through my home stereo would be so much cooler.

My search criteria was simple: It had to work through my wifi, would not require my computer to be turned on, and would absolutely not require any subscription service with monthly fees. (Like a Tivo.)

I began to scour the internet but quickly became dismayed by how complicated things seemed to be. There were too many choices and too many horror stories of products that seemed to be almost what I wanted but also difficult to work with your computer, hard to configure, etc.

So I gave up. It wasn’t long after that when, completely by chance, I heard of something called a “Roku.” (Which is also the Japanese word for “six.”)

I quickly learned more and became very excited. This is a device that hooks into your home theater system (both stereo and TV) and grabs music and video from your local wifi router. (It also has a jack for a network cable.) And your computer does not need to be left on, either.

This thing does everything I wanted and more. So we got it.

It’s so small it was easy finding a spot in the cabinet. There is a power adapter and luckily I had room on the power strip. Then two RCA cables connect the audio out to my receiver. Lastly, a yellow “composite” video cable connects the Roku to my TV. (It also supports HDMI but does not include the cable. Unfortunately my TV is too primitive for that.) Installation done!

The thing hooked up, we turned on our TV. We selected our wifi using the remote control (also provided) and setup was a breeze. I did have to go to my computer to create a Roku account, and a computer was required to connect channels, like Pandora. But there were no glitches and it went amazingly fast. Within 5 minutes of power up we were listening to Pandora through my home stereo and never had to do anything excessively geeky. It was great!

The Roku account was completely free and did not ask for credit card information. I can understand why it is required. It is how they tie channel access to your device.

I love listening to music through the Roku. Not once has it ever glitched or paused to “buffer” or anything like that. I like to listen to music when I do the dishes and switching out CDs is a pain. Now my wife says I can do even more dishes! (Curse you, Roku!)

The extra fun, though, it how much other stuff the Roku can do. We were already Netflix subscribers and now we can stream Netflix movies right to our TV. And it works way better than Charter’s “On Demand” ever did. The only bummer is that only certain movies and content are available for streaming. If you can watch something from Netflix on your computer then you can watch it with your Roku. We watched an episode of Saturday Night Live and with no commercials!

There is also something called Hulu Plus. I’d never used Hulu before, but apparently Hulu Plus (which costs $8 a month) does NOT include all of the Hulu content. I signed up for a one-week trial and found very little that I was interested in. In my opinion most of the content is pure crap. Plus, even after paying $8 a month, the content still includes commercials. Yuck! I doubt we’ll be keeping Hulu Plus at this time. I think it still needs to improve.

We also found a free channel called Vimeo, which seemed to be a lot like watching someone’s home movies. We found a video of a family riding around in a boat. I think it might be like another YouTube, but it was a little hard to find anything interesting to watch.

Even more fun – there are lots of free channels. You just select a channel you want, and it adds it to your channel bar. One of those we found is called “Chow.” It’s a channel about food and has even won a James Beard award. And it’s completely free. We watched a show called “How to eat Sushi” and it was pretty good. Something tells me that more free content may show up over time, too.

There are three different Roku devices to choose from. Roku HD is $59.99. The Roku XD is $79.99. (This is the one we got.) And there is one called the Roku XD|S for $99.99. (Which is discounted by $10.00 if you order online for the next day or so.) You can learn more here.

We’ve only had the thing for a week now but we love it. I think it is one of the coolest electronic devices I’ve ever owned. We’re even buying another to give out as a gift. If you like this sort of thing I don’t think you can go wrong with a Roku.

Roku is going to enable me to dump my cable box from Charter Communications once and for all. Yeah!

Disclaimer: I am not affiliated with Roku in any way and received no compensation in any form for writing this post. These are all just my opinions and my actual experiences with the device.

Charter Communications: The Eat My Ass Trilogy

Charter Communications Sucks

One of my earliest photoshops

To start this post, first a quick definition. “Charter Communications” is a cable company who’s primary function is to run commercials for themselves using vast quantities of their own unsold ad space on their channels. Essentially customers pay for a service where they get to watch commercials for Charter Communications and sometimes, as a bonus, actual programming.

It’s time for Charter Communications, Episode 3, where it can finally be revealed that Charter Communications is my father…

In Episode 1, we learned about an asinine $25 fee that Charter slapped on my ass because my “Quick Pay” payment “didn’t go through” and they couldn’t tell me why. We also learned about Charter shipping jobs out of our country by closing call centers in the United States while opening them up in foreign countries. (In my case I got to work with Panama City, Panama.)

Then, in Episode 2, we learned how I cry at sappy shit. (I so love being pathetic.) But we also learned how Charter’s “On Demand” is one of the largest piles of steaming shit in the galaxy. It’s truly craptacular. A veritable Death Star of Crap.

Today, the rest of the story can finally be told. The saga continues…

Charter Communications: Eat My Ass – Episode 3

It is a dark time for the Charter rebellion. Although treated badly and provided with a horrible product and horrible service, the leader of the rebellion still remains a Charter customer. So far, threats of canceling service or changing companies have never actually been carried out.

We catch up with our hero at a time of service renewal…

Here’s a quick recap of events so far. We were Charter Communications customers. We hated Charter. We had problems with our internet, with our Moxi box, and every single interaction with them was always extremely unpleasant.

We moved into a new house. We found a flier on our door with the direct number to a guy who would help us with Charter. We called and he turned out to be a Charter employee. Since we had moved, he hooked us up with a deal to get internet and TV service for a discount. The discounted price is actually more like what I would call a fair price, not the vastly inflated rates they normally charge. Things were fair and basically worked for that first year. Yes, the box sucked but our internet was ok, so we lived with it.

After that year was up, Charter jacked our rate. For the slowest possible internet and a plan consisting of the smallest possible number of channels, they wanted about $90 a month. That included the “On Demand” box and about 70 channels that we’d always had. That price was simply too outrageous and unacceptable. We made preparations to live without TV and find someone else to provide our internet.

But first, my wife decided to call that guy who had helped us before. She still had the door hang. She talked to him and explained the situation. If we didn’t get relief on their outrageous rates, we would opt-out of Charter once and for all.

The Charter employee (I again confirmed this) said he would extend the rate to us for one more year and we’d continue to have “exactly” what we had now. We agreed to this plan.

This is where Charter starts to make The Empire look like a bunch of amateurs.

For some strange reason, for his plan to work, the Charter employee had to show up at our house and swap out our cable box with one that was exactly the same. He also had to replace our cable modem for the internet. None of this made much sense to me, but whatever. I was merely a hostage in the situation AKA the customer, so I went along with it.

I had to meet the guy after work to let him in the house to make the equipment swaps. He brought in the new box and the cable modem. He swapped everything out. Everything seemed to work. Then he handed me some paperwork to sign.

WHISKEY TANGO FOXTROT!!!

On the paper work was the name “Tom Wigglebottom.” I was like, “Who the fuck is that???” It was my first name with a different last name.

The Charter employee explained this was the way it was done. Our service had previously been in my wife’s name. He explained that to continue the special price he had to close the old account, open a new one, and that it had to be in a new name. So he had invented a person with my first name and my wife’s maiden name. “Everyone does it,” he said.

“Fuck that,” I said. “I’m not going to fucking lie to be your customer.”

He said it was too late. He’d already set everything up. He said I had to accept it or everything would be shut off. I reluctantly agreed, but I was seriously pissed off. (I guess this is the moment I sold out my soul and for fucking Charter?)

I asked, “What happens if we have to call in for tech support? There is no human being with that name. They won’t talk to us.” (I knew this because Charter never allowed me to call on my wife’s account.)

“You’ll always have to go through me,” he said. “I’ll be your point of contact.” That sure sounded suspicious to me. The whole thing was one smelly deal.

His deceitful work done, the guy left. Within a day we noticed that our 70 channels were gone. We were now limited to approx. 15 channels, and most of those were public access, shopping and religion. What a wonderful deal! Also, the “On Demand” service that had previously worked OK was now the steaming pile of shit as documented in Episode 2. Something was seriously wrong.

We called the guy back. We certainly didn’t have “exactly” what we had before as he had promised.

Lo and behold, the guy was unavailable and didn’t return our calls. Now we were fucked. So we waited and waited and waited some more.

Finally my wife bird-dogged him and got him on the phone. “It must be the box,” he said. And there began a process lasting a couple of weeks. The guy would come to our house every few days, swap out the box, nothing would change, he’d talk to the home office, then promise to be back with a new box. It was amazing how many times he tried this.

Eventually the guy got pissy with us. “Listen,” he said. “You were never supposed to have those channels in the first place,” he hissed.

What the fuck? He was the one that set up the original deal! And promised to give us the same thing again. “Exactly,” he had said. And now he was making us feel like criminals for having something we weren’t supposed to have??

“We never asked for those,” I said, “nor did I ever know they weren’t supposed to be part of our plan.”

“Take it or leave it,” he said.

And this is an example of a Charter employee? Someone who doesn’t keep his promises, lies, is unethical, and then disappears after saying he’s your only point of contact. And at one point he told me, “This is how it works. Everyone does it.

In closing, I’d like to thank Charter for making my asshole three sizes too large. That must be their version of The Grinch Who Stole Abysmass.

Epilogue – A New Hope

It is beginning to look like we may have the last laugh after all. For my birthday I wanted a device that would play Pandora music on my home stereo using our wifi. It took some time but we finally found such a device. And it does so much more than just music. (More on this device in a post coming soon.)

In fact, finally, we’re going to be able to fire Charter, at least partially.

It turns out the device can stream Netflix and all sorts of other programming directly to our TV. Charter’s “On Demand” service is now obsolete. (Cue the party in my pants.) And the little device works awesome. One simple little device comes along and makes everything Charter does look like a tinker toy. That’s neat.

This next week we will be turning in our Charter box. We are also considering turning off their TV service altogether. That will mean we’ll be paying their cheapest rate for high speed internet. That will probably be something like $60 to $70 a month without being in a “bundle.” What a rip off. But our overall monthly bill with them will still go down. And we’ll finally be able to put our account back in our own friggin’ names and terminate the snarky lie their employee established.

So, that’s it for now. The trilogy is complete. Originally I had envisioned a series of nine stories about Charter. Three more “prequels” and then three more continuing what happens next. But I don’t think I have that kind of energy. Maybe instead I’ll just be done with them forever…

Drop Dead Charter

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This is a post where you all get to point and laugh at me. Go ahead, bring it on. Make my day.

So, yeah. I went and did something stupid. I broke one of my cardinal rules and got interested in a television show. A TV SHOW!!!

I know! How dumb can I be?

I’m going to admit the ugly truth right up front. I cried in Titanic. I cried in Avatar. And now I find myself tearing up over a little show called “Drop Dead Diva.” And I’m going to admit one more thing: The only reason I was curious enough to check out this show is because Brooke Elliott is adorable.

So “Drop Dead Diva” is this show on the Lifetime network about a shallow model who dies because she’s too stupid to operate a motor vehicle safely. After a little mixup at the waypoint between heaven and hell she gets sent back to Earth and inhabits the body of someone who also just died. It’s all fairly formulaic in just the same way that Avatar was, and with the same result. Somehow it works on me. Ungh.

Yeah, the dead girl was about to get proposed to, yada yada yada. And, what a coincidence, the new body she gets just happens to be a nexus for everything from her old life: boyfriend, parents, etc. What are the odds of that? It also turns out the shallow model is now a giving, intelligent lawyer. (As if television hasn’t plumbed the legal genre enough already.) And, just for good measure, they throw in some chick stuff like fashion and body image issues. Every case this attorney gets involved with dovetails nicely to her unique situation in a touching and meaningful way. Her job becomes the vehicle for helping her with her transition and making her even better and more fantastic along the way. Then pop it on the Lifetime network. You got yourself a hit!

Gag me!

I’m still watching, though.

Spoiler: Margaret Cho plays her assistant and that woman is just covered in tattoos. I don’t recall actually seeing any of them in the show, though.

Here’s the rub. All 13 episodes of season one are available from the Lifetime network right now on Charter Communications “On Demand” service. They are available until Jun. 6th. The new second season of “Drop Dead Diva” premiers Jun. 6th at 9:00pm. So there is a bit of a deadline in play for those of us new to the series.

This is where Charter steps in. If you are a Charter customer, then you know one thing. Charter promotes the FUCKING HELL out of their “On Demand” service. They run commercials up the friggin’ ass about “why wait for movies in the mail” and that sort of thing.

What they don’t tell you…

Charter’s “On Demand” service is a steaming pile of poopy shit.

Honestly, it would be more fun to spend evenings in the living room sitting on the sofa trying to pick out your eyeballs with a fork than watch anything using Charter’s “On Demand.”

In theory “On Demand” is a great idea. Content producers make their programming available any time you want it (with a few commercials added, of course). It’s a win-win. Content producers get a little more ad space to sell and viewers can watch shows they’ve missed any time they want. Unfortunately the technology and prowess to pull off the feat is completely beyond Charter’s grasp. Charter is one of the worst companies in the history of technology and is also horrible at customer service and they are horribly overpriced. Charter sucks.

My wife and I spent the last three nights watching “Drop Dead Diva” (two episodes a night) using Charter’s “On Demand” service. We’ve now watched 6 out of 13 episodes of season one.

What we’ve seen so far from Charter’s “On Demand” service includes:

  • Random error messages rather than content
  • Non-stop visual glitches (when the service is running good) like little green squares that move around the screen
  • 1-2 second audio drop outs that occur about every 20 seconds or so
  • Visual glitches so bad it’s like trying to watch scrambled porn (when these happen you have to stop playback and restart because the never get better)

Through experience we have learned that if you stop playback then restart, you can buy yourself a little time to watch a few more minutes of programming before the problems begin anew and ramp back up. It almost feels like we’re being deliberately tortured as part of some sinister science experiment. And these problems have happened all three nights in all six episodes.

It’s actually one of the most incredible things I’ve ever seen.

The thing that gets me: The service is literally poop. Yet Charter is selling the fuck out of it as shit tartare on a silver platter. I guess we can add “baldfaced liars” to Charter’s list of accolades and achievements.

It almost makes me wish I could hire Jane Bingum to sue the bastards! All I have to do is figure out some special angle so my case can relate back to her unique situation in a compelling plot line sort of way.

Now someone please get me a new box of tissues. I’m out and it’s almost time to cry some more…