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Old 15th May 2017, 14:50   #1
Byron C
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HTPCs and streaming TV services

Why, for the love of all that is good and decent in the world, can I not have a flexible and future-proof device for playback of local and streaming video?

Before you all jump on me I already know the answer: because licensing and because DRM.

My little Roku 3 has worked brilliantly for the last 5 years or so. It's getting a bit long in the tooth now, so I'm in the market to replace it; the biggest irritation is that the remote constantly drops connection and I have to factory reset to get it to pair again - leaving me with having to use a smartphone app as a remote (which isn't exactly great - can you spell tactile controls?). None of the suggested fixes I've found make a difference, I simply have to factory reset then set everything up from scratch again. Even though the remote problem will likely go away with a newer Roku, I won't be going for another Roku because their "app" support is... not great. Layout in most apps is poor and many seem to be simply clones of each other with a different skin (I suspect they're all using the same SDK). For the most part that's something you just live with, but the biggest thorn in my side is the Spotify app - I use Spotify a lot. The Roku Spotify app, besides being utterly terrible to begin with, doesn't support playlists any more, doesn't support any of the "discovery" stuff, and doesn't support Spotify Connect. Spotify themselves couldn't give a damn about updating it because it's not a first-party app (although it is licensed/official), and they have no intention of bringing the app in-house or developing their own app. Realistically that leaves me with few options other than an Amazon Fire TV. Which means vendor lock-in: I'm reliant on Amazon and their app store for everything I want to do, and there's no guarantee that in 3/4 years time I won't be in the position I am in now with the Roku and it's apps. There's the Nvidia Shield also but that's very expensive and total overkill - it's primarily a gaming device, not a TV box, and I already have a game streaming device in the lounge (a Steam Link).

There are a plethora of dirt cheap Android TV boxes out there these days but they all fall short in one area: Netflix & Amazon playback. Unless its an "approved device" then you're stuck with standard def playback for Netflix & Amazon - forget about even 720P and 4K is simply a pipe dream. This is without even getting into the kludgy software or custom ROMs which these things so often have. Even if you overlook all of that they still suffer from the same longevity problems: eventually they will get to the point where the hardware simply isn't good enough or software support - if it even exists in the first place - is dropped like a sack of hot turds.

An HTPC, in theory, is a great solution. I can update the hardware and software when I need it, it can be infinitely flexible (limited only by my budget), and as long as I keep it patched and up to date it will never go "out of support". I don't have a 4K TV yet, but I want whatever system I buy to be capable of 4K and this is not a problem for a PC: whatever resolutions TV can do, a good GPU, even an iGPU, can do better. Except of course for one big fat problem: there is no realistic way to use streaming services like Amazon or Netflix on an HTPC without a browser or a mouse. I have tried many of the hacks that have cropped up along the way - custom launch scripts for browsers, some plugin that a 14-year old knocked up over a bored weekend, etc - and while they might work for a short time they are invariably: awkward to use, badly implemented, and eventually stop working. I've been a Kodi user since Kodi was XBMP - not even XBMC - back in the days of mod-chipped original XBoxes, and I've seen many solutions for streaming TV services come and go; they have all eventually failed. Netflix have released a Windows 10 app which could in theory be invoked by a custom launcher in an HTPC fornt-end like Kodi... except that the Win10 app only supports mouse or touch screen controls and keyboard controls are intentionally not enabled. Not exactly remote-friendly, unless you want some awkward "air mouse" type implementation (and I've even tried that in the past). Even if this app was a workable solution for Netflix, no similar solution exists for Amazon. And we haven't even talked about 4K streaming yet. Do you want to know what you have to do to watch Netflix in 4K on your PC, right now? Buy a Kaby Lake system, make sure your motherboard - and display device - supports HDMI 2.0 and HDCP 2.2, and use Microsoft Edge. For ****'s sake...

This is - at least partly - why people pirate films and TV shows. It's not because they are filthy freeloaders intent on starving actors and strangling original content, it's because they don't have a legitimate way of watching the content they have paid for on their own device(s). Specific issues with Amazon, Netflix, or A. N. Other Streaming Service are not the problem: the problem is the mindset behind the restrictions and DRM lockout. If you're going to continue to kick me in the balls with endless restrictions then I will continue to buy blu-rays and proceed to download pirate copies* of those discs in order to watch the content I have paid for where I want and when I want. Why in <insert current year> do I not have a better legal alternative than this?

*NB: This post does not advocate piracy; views expressed are solely those of individual members and not representative of bit-tech, it's affiliates, partners, or associated parent/subsidiary companies.
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Last edited by Byron C; 15th May 2017 at 14:58.
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Old 15th May 2017, 15:07   #2
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I gave up. I have an nVidia shield and a Plex server, along with subscriptions to bloody Netflix, Amazon, ad nauseum. It's significantly easier than farting around with an HTPC any longer.

I do agree though. DRM makes it unnecessarily difficult to watch media that one has legally purchased. I mean - blu-rays are a (p)fist but they're the only way of getting the decent bitrate audio and video. I can feel a rant coming on so I'm going to channel it into my work instead...
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Old 15th May 2017, 15:13   #3
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Is the Amazon Firestick totally out? At a glance it has the Netflix stuff, and Spotify stuff. I've only dabbled with the Amazon music because I happened to have some albums there, so I can't attest to its suitability for streaming over the 'tubes. But say it survives 4 years, 10 a year doesn't seem too terrible a cost burden. What do graphics cards get these days? Pretty sure my 280DD cost ~70 a year.

I only use my firestick for Kodi to stream from my NAS (I tried VLC, but the FireVLC is basically dogshit with the VLC icon. Plex can go **** itself too.) so I can't attest to the quality of Amazon streaming or Netflix, but the device itself seems capable while not being a total pain in the dick to set up and maintain.

For good audio/video I just buy blu-rays these days. The players are passable money and they're what, 10-15 depending on release?
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Old 15th May 2017, 15:17   #4
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Originally Posted by liratheal View Post
Is the Amazon Firestick totally out? At a glance it has the Netflix stuff, and Spotify stuff. I've only dabbled with the Amazon music because I happened to have some albums there, so I can't attest to its suitability for streaming over the 'tubes. But say it survives 4 years, 10 a year doesn't seem too terrible a cost burden. What do graphics cards get these days? Pretty sure my 280DD cost ~70 a year.

I only use my firestick for Kodi to stream from my NAS (I tried VLC, but the FireVLC is basically dogshit with the VLC icon. Plex can go **** itself too.) so I can't attest to the quality of Amazon streaming or Netflix, but the device itself seems capable while not being a total pain in the dick to set up and maintain.

For good audio/video I just buy blu-rays these days. The players are passable money and they're what, 10-15 depending on release?
Yes but you want 4K AND HDR? Amazon will see you right for 4K but not HDR. It's just silly!
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Old 15th May 2017, 15:19   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jinq-sea View Post
Yes but you want 4K AND HDR? Amazon will see you right for 4K but not HDR. It's just silly!
See, this kind of buggeration is why I don't fancy any streaming service. I'd rather pirate my weasely black guts out, and buy blu-rays for those times I fancy watching it with better everything. So far it's worked a lot better than any streaming nonsense I've tried in the past. Although my number of Amazon orders for the last year is kinda.. Through the roof compared to previous year.

Plus it works when there's no internet.
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Old 15th May 2017, 16:31   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jinq-sea View Post
I gave up. I have an nVidia shield and a Plex server, along with subscriptions to bloody Netflix, Amazon, ad nauseum. It's significantly easier than farting around with an HTPC any longer.

I do agree though. DRM makes it unnecessarily difficult to watch media that one has legally purchased. I mean - blu-rays are a (p)fist but they're the only way of getting the decent bitrate audio and video. I can feel a rant coming on so I'm going to channel it into my work instead...
Yeah, I've been running Plex Media Server for a few years now and it's great. It's served me very well so far, and the Plex Roku client is one of the few Roku apps that I don't have a complaint about. Now that I've switched from my MicroServer to a much more capable Xeon-based machine it's even better.

In terms of "streaming" devices it's looking more and more likely that the Nvidia Shield is going to be the best bet. I don't change TVs regularly, so I want whatever device I buy to support as many of the latest standards as possible (which right now means 4K HDR)


Quote:
Originally Posted by liratheal View Post
Is the Amazon Firestick totally out? At a glance it has the Netflix stuff, and Spotify stuff. I've only dabbled with the Amazon music because I happened to have some albums there, so I can't attest to its suitability for streaming over the 'tubes. But say it survives 4 years, 10 a year doesn't seem too terrible a cost burden. What do graphics cards get these days? Pretty sure my 280DD cost ~70 a year.

I only use my firestick for Kodi to stream from my NAS (I tried VLC, but the FireVLC is basically dogshit with the VLC icon. Plex can go **** itself too.) so I can't attest to the quality of Amazon streaming or Netflix, but the device itself seems capable while not being a total pain in the dick to set up and maintain.

For good audio/video I just buy blu-rays these days. The players are passable money and they're what, 10-15 depending on release?
The Fire Stick doesn't support 4K. The Fire TV does but there is also this:

Quote:
Originally Posted by jinq-sea View Post
Yes but you want 4K AND HDR? Amazon will see you right for 4K but not HDR. It's just silly!
If you want 4K HDR then - from what I can see - it's the Roku Premier+ (no thanks, not another Roku), Roku Ultra (no thanks, not another Roku), or the Nvidia Shield. And I'm not even sure if those two Roku models are available over here yet.

Quote:
Originally Posted by liratheal View Post
See, this kind of buggeration is why I don't fancy any streaming service. I'd rather pirate my weasely black guts out, and buy blu-rays for those times I fancy watching it with better everything. So far it's worked a lot better than any streaming nonsense I've tried in the past. Although my number of Amazon orders for the last year is kinda.. Through the roof compared to previous year.

Plus it works when there's no internet.
This is pretty much what I do now. Every film or TV series I buy I will also download; I'll still watch the blu-rays, because special features are sometimes worth it, but copies sitting on a hard drive are so much more convenient for beaming to whatever device I want. But there are times when I want to watch something I don't already own, and streaming services are ideal for this - this is where the HTPC falls flat. Plus there's a whole crapton of content on Netflix that both me and the other half watch, but won't necessarily want to buy.

If I'm going to buy another device to replace my creaking Roku 3 then I want to be sure it supports as many of the latest standards as possible and will see me through another 5/6 years of service.

My Roku 3 has done me proud over the years, but it really is starting to show its age now.
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Old 15th May 2017, 16:54   #7
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Xbox One - Has great support for all the apps has the ability to use IR remote, (although some apps support it slightly better than others). Only real downside is cost (and size)
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Old 15th May 2017, 23:23   #8
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Xbox One - Has great support for all the apps has the ability to use IR remote, (although some apps support it slightly better than others). Only real downside is cost (and size)
+1 Or XBox One S which I think does 4K HDR (it does in games, not so sure about apps).

Plus you can even play games on it! (30fps @ 900p)
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Old 17th May 2017, 08:27   #9
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I must admit that I basically do everything through my TV now. I used to use a combination of HTPC, PS4 and Xbone but my Sony TV running Android has all the apps I (we) use and everything just works. Are there better ways? Perhaps, but honestly I just prefer the convenience. Spotify is the only app I don't use on the TV. This isn't because it is bad but because I use my phone with a Bluetooth connection to our HiFi instead(the phone ending up like a glorified remote).
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Old Yesterday, 09:42   #10
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Originally Posted by liratheal View Post
For good audio/video I just buy blu-rays these days. The players are passable money and they're what, 10-15 depending on release?
At least here in Germany, Lovefilm still do a Bluray-flatrate-by-post

As we used to say about CD-Roms back in the days:
the mean data transfer rate of a truckfull of blurays on the motorway is not to be underestimated


Edit: the original quote was about magnetic tapes, but you get the drift
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Old Yesterday, 22:32   #11
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Am I in the minority here then ? I cope quite nicely with a keyboard and mouse on my HTPC in pretty much everything. Streaming/DVD/Blu-Ray music etc.

I do see the point in the post though as for some people they don't want to have to faff around and just require something that works. Its that pesky DRM that gets in the way that has already been pointed out.

Like has already been said I can see why people prefer to pirate their media and content as it would appear easier.

The thing I really hate about buying a DVD or Blu-Ray is when you come to play it you have to sit through all those copyright notices, usually some video about why you shouldn't download stuff from the net and THEN when you've had 5 minutes or so of that you then get another 10 minutes of trailers for movies your not likely to want to watch or have any interest in at all as they are not remotely the same theme as the one you just bought.
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Old Yesterday, 23:49   #12
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The thing I really hate about buying a DVD or Blu-Ray is when you come to play it you have to sit through all those copyright notices, usually some video about why you shouldn't download stuff from the net and THEN when you've had 5 minutes or so of that you then get another 10 minutes of trailers for movies your not likely to want to watch or have any interest in at all as they are not remotely the same theme as the one you just bought.
Video encoded to your preferences
No ads
No anti piracy notices
No menus
No loading screens
No searching for discs
No worries about discs getting damaged

Sounds too good to be true?

Thanks to format shifting, Rip the discs on your PC, then store them on a NAS.
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Old Today, 07:28   #13
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Old Today, 08:03   #14
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As said before, your only real option is NVIDIA Shield.

Roku was always horrible, and your complaint about apps being clones of each other ? That is Roku's doing. Roku apps are pretty much just very, very limited webpages linking to online content. Just look at their "SDK".
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Old Today, 08:27   #15
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I wanted PC steaming as well stream services. So I went with NVidia Shield TV and Plex media server was the tipping point for me, skipped the Steam micro-console. I bought it when there was a deal on for the 2015 version last year for 99.

The PMS and video streaming services makes it worth every penny. Works great. Game streaming is a bit hit and miss for me personally because I can't get use to the squinting distance to my 55inch TV, I need a bigger TV........ also the 2015 version controller sucks.

Having said that, do try to find a 2015 version, or go for 500GB pro. The 2017 16GB version has been shrunken down: the SD port and IR receiver has been removed. Making the box less useful and harder to integrate into a single remote environment.
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Old Today, 08:32   #16
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Single remote enviroment is not that hard - the remote Shield has is so limited, that CEC will do just fine to fix that part.
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Old Today, 08:40   #17
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Apparently, Amazon Prime is starting to add cable/satellite channels like Discovery & Eurosport.

My solution was a Raspberry Pi running LibreElec (Kodi - No "illegal" plugins), networked to my file server.

BTW - If a 55" is too small, it may be cheaper to get a projector than a larger TV.
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Old Today, 10:04   #18
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Video encoded to your preferences
No ads
No anti piracy notices
No menus
No loading screens
No searching for discs
No worries about discs getting damaged

Sounds too good to be true?

Thanks to format shifting, Rip the discs on your PC, then store them on a NAS.
Fully appreciate you can do that. My DVD collection now has grown to a size where it would take me months to do that - sadly I don't have the time or the hard drive space required for that.
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Old Today, 10:04   #19
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Quote:
Originally Posted by wuyanxu View Post
Having said that, do try to find a 2015 version, or go for 500GB pro. The 2017 16GB version has been shrunken down: the SD port and IR receiver has been removed. Making the box less useful and harder to integrate into a single remote environment.
Harmony now support Bluetooth control of shield, adding support for the 2017 non-pro and making the 2015 and pros far more responsive to boot.
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Old Today, 10:13   #20
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Originally Posted by Mister_Tad View Post
Harmony now support Bluetooth control of shield, adding support for the 2017 non-pro and making the 2015 and pros far more responsive to boot.
Oh nice! I didn't know about this change, I'll have to look into it. I already added Harmony hub as Bluetooth keyboard, I guess I'll have to delete and re-configure for it to use Bluetooth.

Quote:
Originally Posted by IanW View Post
BTW - If a 55" is too small, it may be cheaper to get a projector than a larger TV.
I'm limited more on the TV corner space. It only fits 55inch, bigger and it will block doorways. I sit opposite corner so the distance is greater than average.

Although I can fit a retractable projector screen on the ceiling in front of the doorway.......
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