SVOD: Stan, Presto, Netflix, Quickflix

I’ve been pondering Streaming Video On Demand (SVOD) services.

The thinking goes like this:

Let’s say I want to watch Breaking Bad. I’ve heard great things about it, and I love high-quality long-form drama that good television provides.

Blu-ray is the best way to watch this type of drama, for the ultimate in (domestically-available) quality picture and sound. But I don’t want to buy all the Blu-rays as I’ll probably only watch it once, then will have paid a bunch of money for a bunch of discs I have to find space for in the bookshelf.

And discs aren’t always perfect. I started watching my Newsroom season 2 Blu-rays, which I got last year. The first disc has a fault. Episodes skip. I have no idea if I have the receipt anywhere. Mind you, in a decade of buying DVDs and Blu-rays, this is actually the first time I’ve struck such a problem.)

Presto

The emergence of SVOD services offers a solution. Pay a monthly fee of about ten dollars (even a year’s worth would be a lot less than buying all 5 seasons of Breaking Bad on DVD) to watch video streaming onto my television.

Most of the services will work with computers, and also through Android/iOS apps via Chromecast onto a TV.

As it happens, I just bought a Chromecast. At $50, it’s cheaper than the official WiFi adapter for my television, and infinitely more flexible. Neat device. Youtube looks great on it.

I’ve also tried iView on it. It’s choppy — the ABC know about this, it’s only a beta version. Hopefully it’ll be fixed soon.

So anyway, which SVOD service to go for?

Stan (Fairfax/Channel 9)

  • $9.99 per month. Works with ChromeCast. Includes HD. Uses Silverlight if watching on a PC browser — ugh!
  • Includes Breaking Bad and the prequel Better Call Saul.
  • Looks like they’re considering original programming too.
  • There’s a 30 day free trial

Quickflix

  • They make it really hard to find the price, but it’s $9.99/month if you just want streaming, not the DVD rental option.
  • Includes HD. Great content, but most HBO material seems to be premium, eg $2.99 per episode.
  • Trial offer: 3 weeks free

Netflix

  • Set to launch on March 24th, and expected to be about $10 a month — at least for Standard Definition — there apparently will be HD and Ultra-HD plans as well.
  • Presumably will include Netflix exclusives such as House Of Cards — which I’ve started watching on Blu-ray, and am loving. It looks glorious in HD, by the way.
  • Safe to assume it won’t include HBO content, given they are competitors in the USA.
  • Unmetered on iiNet (which I use), as well as Optus and presumably more ISPs to follow

Foxtel Presto (Foxtel/Channel 7)

  • Apparently no HD. $9.99 for TV, or $9.99 for movies, or $14.99 if you want both. (I’m probably more interested in TV than film.)
  • Presumably a lot of channel 7 content will be on here, including a lot of ITV stuff, since they have content deals.
  • Also seems to have some Foxtel-produced television on it, such as the adaption of Cloudstreet.
  • Speculation this will include Game Of Thrones, but that’s far from certain, as HBO apparently doesn’t allow it on SVOD services. If it does I’m probably sold. It does seem to include older HBO material such as Boardwalk Empire, the Newsroom (season 1 only, drat) and The Sopranos (all).
  • I’m quite keen to see Tony Robinson’s (Australian) Time Walks, which was made for Foxtel — I can’t see it on there though. You’d think they’d put on as much Foxtel-exclusive content as they could, to differentiate themselves.

ChromeCast and Presto had a free 2 month subscription offer (it expired at the end of February), so I’ve signed up to Presto and had a little look. The range isn’t huge — there’s probably more shows on iView, though fewer episodes — but is growing all the time.

The playback quality seems okay. The iPad app is a bit beta-ish when using it with Chromecast though — normal playback onto the iPad shows, as you’d expect, a Pause or Stop button. When sending it to the Chromecast, all you can do is Stop Chromecasting. There’s no actual Pause — all you can do is stop, then if you want to start again, it’ll give you the option of resuming. Even skipping back doesn’t seem to work.

Which is/are worth paying for?

HD would be very nice to have, though bandwidth might be an issue with the services that offer it. Stan recommends 3.5 mbps for 720p, or 6.5 mbps for 1080p, and I’d expect the other services to be similar. (Hmm, I just ran a test: line speed 9.2 mbps, download speed 1.12 MB/s).

I’ll keep playing with Presto, and given Stan also has a free 30 day trial, try that out as well. But I’ll definitely try Netflix when it’s available too.

One more thing… if you like House Of Cards, I suspect you’ll love this Sesame Street parody:

Buying shirts online

As I’ve noted in the past, I no longer wear ties to work, and have a range of different shirts.

Apart from regularly stocking up with Van Heusen and Gloweave shirts when the sales are on, I’ve been trying out Charles Tyrwhitt shirts — you know, the online shirt company that at one stage seemed to be placing endless ads in newspapers.

Some observations on Tyrwhitt shirts:

The orders have come through within about a week. Be aware that once you order from them, you will receive a truly incredible amount of advertising in the mail from them.

The quality seems quite nice. The 40/41 neck, regular sleeve length, slim fit seems to fit me well. They also do an extra slim version which I suspect wouldn’t sit on my slightly pudgy body so well. Classic fit is also okay, but I prefer the slim fit.

Charles Tyrwhitt shirt label

Despite proudly boasting their Britishness on all their literature, and pointing out items in the catalogues that are made in the UK, none of the shirts I’ve bought from them have clearly stated where they are made on the packaging or labels.

And despite appearing at first glance to be steeped in the tailoring tradition of Jermyn Street, London, they have only been around since 1986. Mind you, that’s still almost thirty years.

My most recent order was made when I probably wasn’t paying enough attention — I accidentally bought two of the identical white with blue stripes design. Whoops, But given Karl Stefanovic’s little experiment wearing the same suit on TV for a year, which went unnoticed, I doubt it’ll be a problem.

It appears that Tyrwhitt takes the Kathmandu approach to specials, but moreso. Basically nobody in their right mind would pay full price if they can possibly avoid it. Shirts evidently go on sale at full price for a while, then are heavily discounted down to a more “real” price, which most people end up paying. As Wikipedia notes: Tyrwhitt uses a high MSRP, high discount model (also called high-low pricing).

That said, the strategy has me sucked in. I’m happy to pay $35-40 for a good shirt. You could pay a lot more, though I suspect you’d get better quality.

I’d be more reluctant buying other items such as suits and shoes from them, given sizing issues, though I have bought a few pairs of shoes from Florsheim online, as they seem to be pretty consistent in their sizing (and I hate shoe shopping).

But I’ve been happy with the shirts I’ve ordered from Tyrwhitt, and will keep using them.

The West Wing looks ahead to the 21st century

In my house, we’re re-watching The West Wing, after I bought the box set cheap last year as a present to myself.

It’s just as brilliant as it ever was, and once again leaves you wishing that Barlet actually ran the White House… or if he wasn’t in the White House, then maybe in The Lodge.

The show is full of snappy dialogue, but this bit from season 1, episode 9 struck me as particularly prescient, given the debate both in Australia and abroad around privacy, and specifically issues such as data retention.

Sam Seaborn on privacy, in The West Wing S1E09

In the scene, which comes during selection of a Supreme Court Nominee, Sam Seaborn notes the important issues of the past decades, but then says in the years we’re living right now what will be important will be privacy and data, especially online.

That Sam Seaborn (and more specifically, the writers headed up by Aaron Sorkin) are smart cookies.

I’m loving watching it again.

Taking up running (again)

Part two of my three part plan for weight loss… (Part 1 is diet via FebFast)

I’ve never been one for organised sport, but I’ve had a few failed attempts at an exercise regime over the years. In the late 90s, I would regularly go for a short morning run, but I kind of fell out of the habit after a few months. A couple of years ago I got a punching bag, but it hasn’t really stuck.

I do get a fair bit of walking in. But I was looking for something a little more intensive, specifically to lose belly fat, which over the Christmas period can be an issue, but which to be honest I’ve been picking up over the past few years.

Runkeeper charts

Googling around I found this page, which may or may not be reputable: WikiHow: How to Lose Belly Fat.

It suggests a number of things, but one of the exercise ideas caught my eye:

Exercise in small bursts. Research shows that interval training, or alternating short bursts of energy with brief resting periods, can improve muscle and build endurance more quickly than traditional exercise.

And it gives this example:

Sprint. Run as fast and as far as you can for 20 seconds, then slow to a walk until you catch your breath. Repeat for 10 minutes.

As someone who sometimes sprints to catch a train, tram or bus, this appealed to me. So I’ve got a routine going now, which I’ve been doing since mid-December:

  • Brisk walk or jog down to the local oval.
  • Do laps: run for 60 paces (which is about 20 seconds), then walk until ready to run again.
  • Repeat for at least 5 laps, which takes about 13-15 minutes. I’m trying to steadily increase this, but 5 is a good starting point. If you’ve done 1-2, you’ve barely started and can’t give up. If you’ve done 3-4 you’re nearly finished, and can’t give up. I figure it’s all about getting the heart pumping, which it certainly does.
  • After the laps, a brisk walk or jog back to home.

I’ve been doing this three times a week (Thursday night, Saturday morning, Sunday night — these are the easiest times at present), but more often in the past few weeks as I’ve had a bit of leave from work. RunKeeper is tracking my progress (hence the graphs above), and nagging me if I go more than three days between runs.

If I get a stitch, I gather there are ways to combat that, by taking care with what/when you eat, and warming up properly.

I’ve tried running with music, but I need to get earphones that don’t fall out… and the music means I can’t count the steps/laps properly. It would work by going at a slower, more consistent pace that doesn’t need counting.

Is the running having an effect? I hope so, but it’s a little hard to tell. Belly still round, but the “grab test” seems to be a little harder, so the signs are good.

I’ll try and keep at it.

Who else is running, or has a different exercise regime?

1978 film “Mouth to Mouth” includes scenes of Melbourne anti-freeway protests

The recent anti-motorway protests in Melbourne are nothing new. In fact the very same area was subject to protests in the 1970s, when it was proposed to link the Eastern Freeway to the Tullamarine Freeway by way of an aboveground link, by converting Alexandra Parade to a freeway, ploughing through neighbourhoods in Collingwood, Carlton and Fitzroy.

Film and television can sometimes provide little glimpses of these events. M told me that on Sunday night, Channel 31 as part of their classic Australian film series, was showing 1978’s Mouth To Mouth“, about four youngsters trying to survive on Melbourne’s streets.

Anti-freeway protest, from "Mouth To Mouth" (1978)

Anti-freeway protest, from "Mouth To Mouth" (1978)

About 43 minutes in, there’s a scene were one of the characters looks out of a window and spots one of the anti-freeway protests. I assume it was staged for the film, as they are marching to an audience of nobody, but the placards look to be directly inspired by real life, one criticising the then-Premier — partly out of shot, but I think it says “What about your 1972 promise – No more freeways, Mr Hamer”.

Others such as “Melbourne needs a transport plan!” and “Freeways – Money for jams” wouldn’t be out of place today.

Anti-freeway protest, from "Mouth To Mouth" (1978)

Anti-freeway protest, from "Mouth To Mouth" (1978)

I missed the scene on Channel 31’s broadcast, but found the DVD for the bargain price of $5 plus $1.30 shipping on Umbrella Entertainment’s web site.

In other scenes you can glimpse bright orange trams, safety zones, rows and rows of telephone boxes, a red rattler train, the old Coles cafeteria, and numerous old cars. There’s also a scene set in a plush hotel — possibly the Southern Cross.

And apart from the scenery, the film itself isn’t bad either. Apparently it got three AFI nominations.