Is my Apple TV still relevant to my home?

A few years ago I bought some Apple TV’s to fill a need which was to stream Netflix, YouTube, and other stuff on a big screen rather than trying to view it on my iPhone or iPad.  I actually have 3 of them, only 2 of which are actuallly hooked up to TV’s but they aren’t used very often.  I guess my use cases have changed a little bit but I think it’s the capabilities of my Xfinity cable box that has really killed them off.

My Xfinity X1 cable boxes support Netflix and YouTube natively so that has eliminated most of the need for the Apple TV’s.  The other use I would have had for Apple TV was for my Plex server but in reality Plex works better with Chromecast than Apple TV.  To use Plex with an Apple TV I need to cast from an iDevice and it’s pretty hit or miss and not consistent.  An annoyance is when the mirroring is interrupted on the Apple TV so I also have the Chromecasts hooked up where possible to the same TV’s.  I can technically use my Xbox 360 for Plex too but it takes too long to boot.

I’ve looked at the newer Apple TV’s in the store but I don’t see how I would use it.  I would still have the same problems that I have with the old one.  The Xfinity X1 has largely replaced my use of the Apple TV and the Chromecast does the rest.  I’m considering unhooking the Apple TV’s to see how long I can survive without them.  I think I won’t even know they are gone.  I know my wife and daughter don’t use the Apple TV’s, they prefer using the X1 cable box.  The only feature I can see missing is screen mirroring which is useful for showing videos from my iPhone that can’t be seen using a Chromecast or Xfinity X1.

Anyway, enough musings for one night, maybe I’ll send a new blog post in later this weekend.

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Amazon Prime Video needs Chromecast Support

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I have a Chromecast that I bring with me on the road and I can stream almost anything that I want except for shows on Amazon Prime.  There are a couple of shows that I like watching off Amazon but I can’t see them unless I’m using my iPad or if I bring my older Apple TV 2 with me instead.   While thats really not that big of a deal, being able to bring a smaller device like the Chromecast is easier.  I know Amazon is trying to push their Fire stick but I don’t know that many people that own it since its so tied to Amazon.  At least with the Chromecast and the Apple TV, theres a little more flexibility but the major thing missing is Amazon Prime Video.

I know of a way to stream it to Chromecast but it requires buying an app for my iPhone and I’m not in the mood to spend the money just for something I use on occasion.  Right now I’m using a Chromecast for the downstairs TV and I can cast a Chrome tab from my desktop but thats not really that efficient.  I’m not using the desktop computer all that much anymore and my work computer doesn’t really support casting tabs and I don’t want to cast Amazon Prime from my work computer anyway.  Work knows enough about me already, they don’t need to know more.

I don’t think that Amazon will give me Chromecast support any time soon, I’ll just have to use an around about approach for the time being.  Maybe the Fire Stick will be a bomb (kind of like a Fire Phone) and they’ll start to support other devices but thats not likely given that the price of Amazon’s stock is sky rocketing so there is plenty of cash to push their devices even at a  loss.  Maybe I’ll break down and buy the app that I found, but I definitely won’t be breaking down and buying an Android tablet or phone.  Thats just too much money and I’m already invested in the Apple ecosystem too much to change now.  It would be interesting if they actually came out with an Amazon computer to compete with Apple and Microsoft.  Amazon owns the cloud, I don’t think its too far fetched for them to try at some point.

Time to watch some movies using Xfinity service, its pretty cool that I can watch TV and movies using the Xfinity app, I just need a way to stream it to a Chromecast or an Apple TV but watching it on the iPad really isn’t that bad.

Netflix on Chromecast is a terrible experience

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I have 2 Chromecasts, one for my home and one for work.  The second one I won while at a conference so I decided to make it the travel one.  I’ve never had good luck streaming Netflix to Chromecast while traveling for work and I thought for the longest time it was the Chromecasts fault or the fault of the network at the hotel.  I’ve mostly dispelled that by trying to use Netflix with my Chromecast at home where I know the network connection is reliable and the TV is supported and doesn’t have any funky software on it because it is MY TV after all.

I was trying to stream Jessica Jones from my iPad Mini 2 and for some reason it would just choke and not stream or load for the longest time.  I tried using my Apple TV 3 and it streamed the content like a champ with no problems at all.  This leads me to believe either that the Netflix app is poorly written for casting to a Chromecast or the Chromecast itself isn’t capable of handling Netflix streams.

I’ve started to take my older Apple TV 2 with me on my trips since some of the places I stay have HDMI ports that let me hook it up so I can watch Netflix and also stream local content from my iPhone or my iPad. I still take the Chromecast with me but its only used if I don’t feel like packing my Apple TV (it takes up way more room and is kind of heavy).

YouTube seems to be streaming just fine on my Chromecast but maybe its because the hardware and software are both made by Google so they ensured that it would work correctly and more than 50% of the time.  I know I’ve unplugged the Chromecast out of frustration more than once during a hotel stay and just resorted to using my iPad to watch my videos.  That habit might actually push me to getting a newer iPad (hopefully they’ll come out with an iPad Air 3 that can use the Pencil) and that might be my next tablet upgrade although I am still quite happy with my Mini 2.

I’m not going to worry too much about not being able to watch content on the big screen in my hotel if Chromecast doesn’t work, I’ll always have my iPhone or my iPad to fall back on and frankly the app on the iPad for Netflix is pretty good so I actually watch Netflix on my iPad more than I do on my TV even at home and especially not on a computer since the interface isn’t the best.  I guess Netflix really is more for mobile than for home viewing.

Apple TV wins over Chromecast for hotel rooms

I’ve been traveling with both a Chromecast and an Apple TV for a while now and I have to say that in my opinion the Apple TV is winning over the Chromecast.  I don’t have a fancy setup like having a Plex Server at home to stream stuff but I do have Netflix and I can airplay from different websites which is a big plus in my opinion.  Hotel networks are notoriously slow so while most of the time the Chromecast works ok, it sometimes stutters or doesn’t engage at all when trying to use Netflix.

I actually ha that problem 3 weeks ago when I was trying to use my Chromecast at the HIlton Garden Inn.  I finally was able to find a way to get my travel router working and I was trying to get Netflix to work.  It would just constantly say “Casting” on my Netflix app but nothing woould ever happen on the TV.  I tried using YouTube which was just fine but it doesn’t have the stuff I want to play which is on Netlfix.  The following week I brought my Apple TV and I’ve been bringing it ever since.

I think it all comes down to personal preference and even though there is more stuff to bring for the Apple TV it just works better.  I use my iPad or my iPhone as the remote but I have a regular remote as a backup whih helps things along if I can’t get the other devices to work.  The fact that I can Airplay my local content is a huge plus, I have lots of movies that I’ve bought or otherwise gotten that I want to play while I’m away from home.  In that way the Chromecast is limited that I have to stream everything from another service and it has to be a supported service by Chromecast.  It might be different if I had a Plex Server where I could stream from my house or something but I have a 128GB iPad so I can carry locally a lot of content.

This will be one of my new requirements when I travel, I need to have a hotel room that has a TV that can support my Apple TV and my travel router.  This way when there is nothing to wath on TV (which happens a lot), at least I can be entertained by things that I want to watch.

Apple TV on the Road

In my constant hunt to be entertained while on the road I decided to take one of my Apple TV’s on the road with me to see if I can use it at my hotels. I decided to bring my Apple TV 2 since it’s the older model but technically it’s the same as my AppleTV 3. There is a little more involvement in the amount of equipment that I have to bring with me compared to the Chromecast. The Chromecast is fairly simple, it’s a dongle and power cord that attaches to the HDMI port on the back of the TV. The Apple TV has the unit, power cord, HDMI cable, and the remote.

The hardest part is trying to get everything connected to the same network. To get around this I got a travel router but I think the past few times I’ve used it I was using the wrong mode. Out of the box the router is set up as a wireless access point. I tried this at first but I was unable to get my Apple TV online to stream Netflix. I was able to use AirPlay just fine but only for stuff that was stored on my iPad or my iPhone. What I ended up doing this morning as I was messing around with my setup was to change the settings to make my wireless router act as a router. Surprisingly this is what made everything work. I was able to connect just fine to Netflix and start streaming movies. I also only had to login once using my iPad mini to the hotel network and then my router started broadcasting a signal that all my other devices could take advantage of.

I’m going to try it again tonight to see if the setup will still work and I’m pretty sure it will. I left my Chromecast at home so I don’t know if it’s the TV or the network that was the problem. I suspect it’s the TV since it keeps on saying there is nothing hooked up to the port. I think I’ll bring the Chromecast next week just to be sure of my suspicions. If that’s the case ill wait until I have enough points at Amex to get another Apple TV. Technically I’m waiting for the next Apple TV to see if they made any significant changes that would compel me to buy it for my house first. In the mean time, the Chromecast will remain a fun toy. I heard that they just opened the SDK so there could be a lot of new apps that are available for the Chromecast to use in the near future. Too bad I don’t own any other Android devices, I’m sure it would be epic!

Maybe a cheap nexus tablet is in my future? I guess that depends on how good Chromecast gets with their new apps.

Messing around in the Googlesphere

During the holiday break from work, I’ve been messing around in the Googlesphere just for fun.  This Christmas my sister-in-law got me a Chromecast which is Google’s answer to the Apple TV… sorta.  I wanted the Chromecast to take to work with me so I can actually watch something good on TV while I’m sitting in my hotel room.  I tried it out here at home and it works pretty well for Netflix and YouTube but thats about it.  I haven’t tried casting from a computer yet but thats because I don’t have Chrome installed on my MacBook Pro.  I did discover that I can’t really cast anything from my tablet other than YouTube and Netflix so thats kind of a bummer since I have a lot of movies on the actual devices and being able to stream it to the Chromecast would have been pretty bad ass.  I even got a portable wireless router to make sure that I can stream from all my devices.

 

The next piece of Google tech I’ve been experimenting with is Google+.  I’ve generally written off this service as a social network since no one I know save maybe 1 person is actually posting on it.  I did finally find a good use for the service though, photo and video backups from my MacBook Pro and my iPhone.  I think the service needs a little work since the uploads are super slow (its going to take a few days for my MacBook to be totally backed up) and its almost random on what its uploading to my account but it is cool to see my pictures up online automatically.  I’m using it in conjunction with iPhoto and Apple’s Photostream which is still also very useful but I have to turn on my MacBook every few days to download all the pictures since I know I’ve missed a few here and there.  I’ve attempted to use it as a social network but there still aren’t enough people on Google+ for me to use it beyond cloud picture storage at the present moment.  If they keep on making awesome improvements though, I might start using it more and more.

Lastly, I’ve been messing around with Hangouts which is a mashup of Google Talk and Google Voice.  I’ve been using the legacy services for a while but since they recently combined them I’ve been experimenting with it sporadically.  What I do like is that I can start a voice call on one device and continue it on another one.  I tried this out when I needed to talk to tech support at work.  I was able to start the call on my work computer, monitor it on my iPad Mini, and then finish the actual call on my work laptop when they finally picked up.  What is difficult is trying to use it on the computer, the dedicated app for iPhone and iPad are way better so thats an area of improvement right there.  It’s also difficult to send SMS messages to people like I used to be able to on Google Voice.  I still have a Google Voice app on my iPhone but I hear that the API will no longer work pretty soon.  I’ll be sad when this happens because that was some awesome functionality that I hope they are able to replicate in a future version of Hangouts.

I’m not sure how much longer I’m going to play in the Googlesphere but I do know that I’m not going to switch to Android anytime soon since I’m too invested into the Apple one.