Saturday, January 28, 2017

Roku Express Review – Setup and Usability of the Streaming Player

Streaming tv has started to become very popular as many people are looking to cancel cable and dish subscriptions in favor of lower cost streaming tv which offers more freedom to watch what you want, when you want it. I had put it off for a long time, but recently I had a chance to try out the Roku player in combination with Netflix, and I was surprised at how many shows and movies were available.

I ended up getting the Roku Express which is very affordable at just $30 and allows you to stream tv shows and movies by connecting it to your wifi internet. The Roku offers many free channels as well as the option to view additional content and channels for a fee or monthly subscription.

First Impressions
Upon taking it out of the box, I was surprised how small the device is, which meaures about as big as a fun size candy bar. It plugs into the tv by HDMI cable and is powered by a USB cable that can be plugged into an outlet using the AC adapter, or into the tv itself using the USB for power. The cables included are rather short but I found they were long enough to set up the Roku in a good position near the base of the tv.

Once it is plugged in, the Roku must be connected to your wifi internet and then registered online either by computer or by phone. This was a bit time consuming and not as easy as it could be. Also, upon registering the Roku, they require a payment method such as credit card or PayPal. This was something that was not made clear before purchasing. It does not even mention anything on the box about having to enter a payment method.

Upon doing some research, apparently there are ways to get around having to enter in a credit card, but when I was setting it up, it did not have any option to skip this part, so I had to enter the credit card. I found out later, once you have an account and are logged in, you can remove the payment method. Still, this should have been optional upon setup. I understand they want to make it easy for people to be able to purchase content using the Roku, but many people may just want to use it for the free channels available.

During the setup, they will ask if you want to install channels such as Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon. It was not clear if they were setting it up with an actual subscription or if they were just adding it to the Roku menu so I unchecked most of the options. I found out later, this is only for adding them to the menu, but it will not actually sign you up for paid services. It needs to be more clear especially considering they already have your payment information on file.

Another thing I noticed is the terms of service and privacy policy are not great. I looked them over and they collect a lot of personal information and data and are able to share it with 3rd parties so you do not have much privacy with the Roku.

Using the Roku Express
Once it was set up, I starting playing around with the settings and exploring the channels. It does have some ways to customize the menu and there are a fair amount of options available. For channels, there are hundreds available to choose from and you can add them to your main menu if you find some you like.

Most of the best channels have a monthly fee. Free channels usually have ads or commercials or they are just not very good. I noticed a lot of the free channels are basically like Youtube channels, which is ok, but to really make use the Roku to its full potential, you will probably want to get at least one of the paid services.

Navigation using the remote provided is pretty easy, but it would definitely help to have a keypad option when try to to search by name or title. There is also an option to link it to the Roku app with a phone, but I will probably just continue using the remote.

Also it seems there is no way to turn off the Roku Express. They mention that it is meant to stay on at all times and does not use much power. It will go to a screensaver after a certain amount of time. Still it would be nice to have an option to be able to turn it off.

Final Recommendation
So far it has been working pretty well and despite the some of the shortcomings mentioned above, it is still a great deal at the $30 price point to get streaming video for your tv. If you are looking for an affordable way to get a lot more content to watch on tv, I recommend trying out the Roku Express.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Publishers Clearing House $5,000 a Week For Life – Good Thing or Bad Thing?

I recently saw some commercials for Publishers Clearing House advertising a sweepstakes to win $5,000 a week for life. I had heard of the company but didn't know too much about it so I decided to look into it to see what it is all about.

PCH makes money from advertising as well as from selling magazines and merchandise but they are most well known for their sweepstakes giveaways. Their current promotion is the $5,000 a week for life in which the winner will be announced on February 24th 2017. It seems to be a legitimate contest and there is no purchase necessary to enter. There's not much of a catch other than you may end up on mailing lists and get more junk mail.

Whenever there is a big money giveaway like this, it is easy to start daydreaming about what it would be like to win. $5,000 each week would be pretty nice on first thought. At that rate, you could be a millionaire within about 4-5 years with your income continuing to grow every year. The fact that they spread it out for the lifetime could make it easier to manage verses being given millions of dollars all at once. It seems life would be pretty great if you won, but with more money comes more problems.

As many lottery winners will tell you, winning is not all fun and games. There are a lot of negatives and stress that come along with winning a large amount of money. One thing that is always mentioned is how everyone wants a piece of the pie. Relatives, friends, and acquaintances all of a sudden may show up looking for some action. You might try to help out as many people as you can, but you have to draw the line somewhere. It could cause relationship issues with people who feel like you are not helping them out enough.

Often people overspend when they get into this kind of situation and actually end up going broke. There are many stories like this of lottery winners and pro athletes who had millions and are now in debt because of poor financial decisions. People forget about things like taxes and before they know it, they have spent more than they can afford and get themselves into trouble.

I started thinking more about this specific PCH sweepstakes and how it offers $5,000 for your life, and then continues the $5,000 payouts to someone of your choice for their life. Because it is tied to life, that could really cause some serious issues. It means that as long as you are alive, the company is losing money, and the longer you live, the more the 2nd person has to wait before they can get any money. It is millions of dollars we are talking about so I don't know about you, but I would be worried about personal safety if my life was tied to a sweepstakes like this.

Of course, the chances of actually winning are incredibly slim. It's fun to think about how nice it would be to win, but you also have to keep in mind everything that comes with winning a lot of money like this. In case you are feeling lucky and want to give it a try, PCH is accepting entries now for the drawing which will happen February 24th. Good luck!

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Hunted TV Show – Investigative Techniques and Privacy

A new reality show called Hunted is now airing on CBS which features 9 teams of 2 who are on the run from professional detectives. Their goal is to remain fugitives and not get caught for 28 days. If they manage to make it to the end, they win a large sum of money.

So far I have watched the first 2 episodes and it is a pretty good show. It is fascinating to see the different strategies on each side as the fugitives try to stay hidden while moving from place to place while the investigators try to find out everything about them and track their every move.

One thing that surprised me was how much technology and investigative techniques the professionals really have access to. We all know things like cell phones and credit cards can be tracked, but they go even further into detail by seeking out any digital footprint available, not only of the fugitives, but also those with any relation to them.

They are able to track vehicles, get surveillance from cameras at ATMs, even track paper mail that has been sent. It seems in this day in age where everyone is so connected to the grid, it is impossible to vanish and not get found if they are looking for you.

This raises the controversial debate on if the professional investigators or government agencies have too much access to this information to the point where it compromises the privacy of individuals. Personally I think it is ok and a good thing as long as it is used for the right reasons such as to track down criminals and prevent potential bad events from happening.

It does make you question how much information is ok to put out there on the internet. It seems every day there is news about some celebrity or public figure that tweeted something that they shouldn't have. You really have to be careful about what you put out there these days because as they say, once it is out there, it can never really be deleted.

In case you have not seen the show Hunted, I recommend checking it out as it is educational as much as it is entertaining! It airs Wednesday nights at 8/7c on CBS.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events TV Series Review

On a whim, I recently decided to check out the new series on Netflix called A Series of Unfortunate Events. It is based on a books series by Lemony Snicket which also had a feature film adaption in 2004. I had not read the books or even seen the movie, so I did not know what to expect but overall I was pleased with this series.

The show revolves around 3 children whose parents are thought to have died in a fire. They are put into the custody of an evil relative who is only interesting in getting their fortune which they will inherit from their parents. The children try to get by each day under poor conditions and try to find a better living situation.

What makes this series unique is the visual styling. It has a very surreal look and feel which makes it seem like an imaginary world. The tone of the series is playfully dark with a mix of humor. The narrator is Lemony Snicket who frequently cuts away from the story to address the viewers and try to dissuade them from watching as he warns, this story is not one that will have an happy ending.

The kids in the story include Klaus who is a reader and very smart, Violet who is also smart and a gifted inventor, and their baby sister Sunny who likes to bite things. They are all great characters, especially Sunny who does not speak words, but often gets subtitles for what she wants to say which is quite funny.

The main villain of the story is Count Olaf who reinvents himself throughout the series as he tries to figure out ways to get the fortune from the kids. There are also many interesting characters they meet along the way, some of whom are helpful, most of whom are not.

Overall I enjoyed the series and watched all 8 episodes. The first season covers the first 4 books of the series. It is expected to have 2 more seasons to cover the complete set of 13 books. If you are looking for a new show to watch that is visually appealing and has a mix of wonder, humor, and mystery, I highly recommend checking out A Series of Unfortunate Events. 

Check out our review of the 2nd season here.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Haters Back Off Review – Miranda Sings Netflix Series

Recently I watched a series on Netflix called Haters Back Off, which is based on a Youtube character named Miranda Sings. It is the creation of Youtuber Colleen Ballinger, who plays the main character Miranda. I had been familiar with her character prior to watching the series, but never really got into it enough to subscribe. Nevertheless, I decided to check out the show to see what it was like.

The series is centered around Miranda who dreams of being a famous singer. The only problem is, she cannot sing and is really not cut out for being a performer. Despite this, she is oblivious to reality and still believes she is the best singer who is destined for greatness.

Her family includes her recently unemployed uncle who is determined to help Miranda achieve her dreams, her mother who has more of an understanding of her daughter's limitations but still tries to support her, and her sister who comes off as very normal in comparison to the rest of her family.

The series is a mix of comedy and drama as we watch Miranda try different methods to become famous despite the haters telling her she has no talent. Her uncle seems to think she can make it and goes to great lengths to manage her career to help her succeed. Her mother who claims to have “un-diagnosed fibromyalgia” plays sort of a sad role as someone who is unfulfilled and stuck in the situation she was dealt with. Her sister tries to live a normal life while trying to avoid embarrassment of being associated with the odd characters that make up her family.

Overall, I enjoyed the series. It may not be for everyone, but if you like quirky shows with a mix of comedy and emotion and don't mind suspending belief, it is definitely worth checking out. The series has 8 episodes and is available now on Netflix. You can also check out Miranda on her Youtube channel from which the series was based on.

Also, good news, Haters Back Off has been renewed for a season 2 so look for that hopefully later this year! 


Update 1-19-18: I just finished season 2 of Haters Back Off and it was great! It looks like it will only have 2 seasons, but I think they ended it pretty well. I recommend checking it out if you are looking for a quirky comedy with lovable characters.