Hey You, Get Onto My Cloud: More Nails in the Coffin of Physical Media For Video?

In a previous post, I was commenting on the enthusiasts who continue to embrace physical media.

So, it spurred me to write when the man I bought my blu-ray drives from sent an email that he is shuttering his business selling Libredrive enabled hardware. Libredrive is a mode of operation that allows accessing the data on the disk directly, as opposed to the more ‘modern’ method of the firmware on the device restricting access. The drives I bought from him are being discontinued. There are other sellers, but it is proof that it is getting harder for those who want to own their own media and keep digital copies of their media to do so. The life expectancy of a DVD is anywhere from 30 to 100 years, estimated, assuming it was stored in a cool dry place, out of direct sunlight. Also, sleeves as opposed to cases can scratch them. Failures of well maintained discs in less time is rare.

When I shared this thought with someone, they commented it was because physical media is dead. But there will always be a market for dedicated hobbyists and enthusiasts. The Verge reported that for the second year in a row, vinyl outsold CDs, $1.4 billion versus $537 million. Physical media is still 11% of sales. But, while CDs and Vinyl are still 11% of the audio market, on the video side, in 2023, in the US, 86.3% of video watching was subscription streaming, 6% digital ‘sales’, 3.9% digital rentals, and 3.6% digital sales. Eventually, physical video media will likely see a resurgence…resurgence likely being where vinyl and CDs are today. A dedicated hobbyist market.

When the subscription services started, they started putting out classic as well as harder to find shows. But now, they are pulling things, not just older content, but new exclusive content they created for those platforms. Ad supported tiers are rising up, as are the monthly rates. They are cracking down on how many people can use the service. Why? Because these services are not making money. Netflix still is, Warner Discovery just started, but the rest are still in the red. But all of the services are cutting new production budgets and beloved shows to keep up. There may be a point in the future where your favorite classics aren’t available anymore on any subscription service.

Time to go raid the Walmart DVD bin before that’s gone too.

Home Media Servers and Owning Your Library

The Verge recently published an article on physical media, and they were not alone. It seems as if there are two camps. Those who have given up on physical media because streaming is so prevalent, and those who have embraced it. What is the difference?

Streaming is great, in that you get a large library of content for a set price. But, with streaming services raising prices, adding ads, removing content to save money…it isn’t a guarantee, especially if you have certain content you want to keep. Even if you ‘buy’ videos on a service, buying is a license that the service can revoke at any time and owe you nothing, as the people who had content in anime service Funimation discovered.

So, I have been, like the author of the Verge article, accumulating physical media, mostly waiting for sales and other opportunities. For one, I get extras like deleted scenes, director’s commentary, and such. But, I consider the DVDs and Blu-Rays to be the archival copies. I rip a digital copy of the media onto my home media server, and that is the production copy. This is some work, and I do tend to do it over time. But I am building a collection of classics I would rewatch in the future.

There is a lot of infrastructure that goes into a home media server. There is the software and the hardware. The hardware is the largest investment. You need something with some power, if you want to be able to transcode files, and with a lot of redundant storage space. Redundant as in more than one drive to ensure your data is protected in protection. Backing up media files is another cost. Fortunately, the collection won’t change that often, so even an external drive that isn’t hooked up to the same system can be an option there.

That just covers storage. Then there is playback to consider as well. What devices you want to play on, etc. Transcoding, as mentioned, can also allow you to generate smaller alternate versions of files for watching on different devices, if needed.

More on those things in future, but if you have favorites you want to be able to watch more than once…if you want to curate a collection, then you may wish to have your own server.

Fire TV Stick: A Review

It’s been a bit since I got a Fire Stick during their $20 for Prime Members sale.

I’ve used the Chromecast and Roku stick/box, and the Fire Stick has a lot going for it and a lot…not. Unlike the Chromecast, it does have a remote control, so it is most similar to the Roku stick in functionality.

Now, the difference comes in specifications. The Fire Stick has the best specifications of any of the three. That means smoother execution.

However, the issue with the Fire Stick, as with the entire Fire line, is the limitation of the Amazon App Store. The apps that are in the store mirror those developed on other Android platforms…Amazon’s OS being a fork of Android. However, many developers don’t develop a version of their application for the platform, leaving many gaps.

So, if you want the standard video providers…this is an excellent option. It’s small, expensive, supports many hours of video watching.

But if you expect to get a lot of independent development beyond that, you are going to be disappointed.


In Brief: HDHomeRun Prime Now Supports DLNA

SiliconDust has finally released the option of DLNA support for its HDHomeRun Prime. As of last week, this feature is available for general release.

SiliconDust HD HomeRun (HDHR) network dual-tun...

The limitation is that protected content can only be streamed to a player supporting DTCP-IP. This is a potential problem, as support is limited. SiliconDust does have plans to release an Android app. They did release an app(Link) for unencypted channels, which goes for $2.99.

Not much help right now, but if more devices can be made to support this, it could be an alternative to cable boxes, even for those of us unfortunate enough to be on Time Warner Cable. Imagine a single 4 tuner Prime and a series of inexpensive DLNA DTCP-IP devices could be a replacement for the $10-$15 per month cable boxes. The entire setup could pay for itself in less than a year.

Boxee announces Boxee TV

Image representing Boxee as depicted in CrunchBase

Boxee disappointed us a while back, when they discontinued their software in favor of their hardware solution. From the beginning, their hardware has suffered from problems, and software updates have been too infrequent.

Boxee has been at the forefront of negotiating for the future of unencrypted basic cable. As we previously have written, we aren’t thrilled with the solution the FCC came up with. But now, it is more clear why.

Boxee has announced the $99 Boxee TV. It is a DVR that stores recordings in the cloud(for $15 a month) and uses your antenna/basic unencrypted cable to do so.  It contains many of the Boxee apps, but not as many as the legacy Boxee box. By the way, they are killing the Boxee Box, except for maintenance updates.

This is just yet another example of Boxee pivoting again, and is bound to fail again. Not because some of their ideas aren’t good. But the Boxee Box attracted Cord Cutters…and it has a mandatory(not optional), $15 a month charge. In order to store in the cloud, you need to transcode and downgrade your HD signal.

And it relies on Cloudee, their cloud video service, to remain in business for the device to work. Boxee doesn’t have the best track record so far on continuing to provide service to its users. Tested did the math and estimated at 2 hours of recorded TV per day, that would be over 50GB uploaded a month at the estimated data rate.

So, to conclude. Don’t buy it. Don’t suggest anyone buy it. Because Boxee and its people will just dissapoint.

FCC Kills clearQAM – Everyone Needs a Box


The FCC has issued an order amending its rules to allow cable operators to encrypt the basic service tier. This tier consists of broadcast and a few other assorted stations.

Their rationale for this is that it will ‘benefit’ consumers who can have their service activated and deactivated remotely, reducing truck rolls and waits for service calls.  The problem is the “small number” of cable subscribers who will be adversely affected.

A few years ago, you could change channels directly on your TV. These were cable channels…channels you paid for. You are still paying for them, but now you have to pay to rent equipment from the cable company. The current cost of a box from our cable provider is $10 a month, plus a $4 fee. To rent a cable card is only $2.50, by comparison.

This is an issue. The $90 a year difference would pay for a cable box purchase in two years, or pay the additional cost to add a cablecard slot to the average television. This has not happened.

As a condition of the FCC Rule, operators must provide either a converter box with home networking capability that can provide access to basic channels or allow existing equipment access with software upgrades. But, we have some doubts as to the utility of these devices.

As a user of open-source software, it is unlikely that they will allow anything to be used that they cannot control. So, in the end, it is time to break out the broadcast antenna.

There is, of course, the cablecard option, however, Time Warner Cable, our local cable company, is the only company to make a cablecard essentially useless to a Linux user.

Maybe it is time to cut the cord. That’s still an option, right? You can get Internet without TV, right?


Shrinking Your Electronics by Thinking Embedded Systems

English: Extract from Raspberry Pi board at Tr...

Electronics are getting smaller.  People don’t have desktops in as large a number as they once did. Many have laptops, netbooks, tablets, etc.

This is an area we’ve been thinking about a lot lately, mostly due to the flood of inexpensive systems on a board, led by the Raspberry Pi. The Pi is a computer the size of a credit card, and the commonly sold version includes RCA video, HDMI video, two USB ports, and an Ethernet Port. The entire assembly is powered by a microUSB charger of the sort bundled with phones and other electronics. The GPU onboard is capable of blu-ray quality playback. There is no built in drive, the OS is loaded off of an SD card. You can hook in a USB drive, but not as a boot drive.

There is a special version of Fedora, Debian, and even an XBMC port to turn the Pi into a full-fledged media center

Now, this won’t be taking the place of a full-fledged PC for many things, but the Pi, and some of the competing devices are perfect for ’embedded system’ type functions.

An embedded system is a computer system designed for specific control functions within a larger system. With something like a Pi, with its pricing, even with the purchase of a case(we mentioned case not included, right?) you can buy multiple Pis and use them to do one thing.

This changes design conceptions a lot. When you are trying to figure out your connected home and life, you can build a Pi to boot, launch a function, and perform it well, just like your cable box(well, like your cable box could be), VoIP phone, etc.

We currently have a quad-core server, that does multiple functions. It does do CPU scaling when idle, but many of the functions could be taken over by a Pi. Using Wake On Lan functionality, the Pi could even wake up the full computer and transfer control to it.

There are a lot of good ideas here. Have a device that does one thing, and nothing else. This would mean incredible long term stability, and because the Pi loads its OS on an SD card, you could have different SD cards to change the Pi’s functionality.

What ideas do you have? We’re just getting started.

Feed Changes

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To All RSS Subscribers:

Due to the recent uncertainty regarding the future of Feedburner, we are removing all redirects to Feedburner. All links on the site will now use local feeds. If possible, please update your subscriptions.

If not, the Feedburner feeds will continue to be maintained for as long as Google continues to offer the service, but we feel that self-hosting all feeds is the more prudent long-term move.

Feed: http://www.gadgetwisdom.com/feed/

Amazon MP3 Drops Linux Support, Adds DRM-Lite

DRM Is Killing Music

As we’ve previously mentioned, we’ve been redoing our music collection. Now, after weeks of part-time ripping, and some cleanup, it is time to upload the music to various sites, as a test.

Amazon has discontinued its music downloader for Linux and is no longer allowing Linux users to download the .azw file for use with a third-party application. The AZW files are used to download an entire album when purchased.

This occurred concurrently with the rollout of their new Cloud Player product, which included one other fun feature. DRM. Not on the file level. Amazon proudly sells DRM-free MP3s, but to upload or download albums, you need to authorize your device. You are allowed a maximum of 10 devices, you can deauthorize a device and the slot will reopen thirty days later. This includes Android devices. If you don’t do this, you can only download albums one track at a time.

We wanted to see who else was pointing out that this is a DRM-like feature, and came up with an interesting analysis of same by The Leisurely Historian. His theories are: (Comments are ours)

  • Compromise negotiated with music labels over cloud player – This seems the most likely. But, is increased monitoring of download/uploads really an unreasonable restriction? We made a complete backup of all of our Amazon purchases locally and we can copy it anywhere(even back to Amazon Cloud Drive, ironically.
  • Back door to DRM – We agree that DRM on Kindle and Video has been good to Amazon. But they can’t reverse course on music. So, they’ve created this hybrid model to support keeping people in their ecosystem.
  • This is all about User Tracking – This is quite possible. We have the tab…”You listened to ___, people who listened to ___ also bought ____.” This is the classic Amazon upsell method of getting you to buy more, based on offering you things they think you will like.
Basically, Amazon wants people to use Cloud Player and the Cloud Player apps. This keeps people inside their garden. So, bad enough we are forced to boot up Windows, which we never use, to retrieve/upload our music…but there is no indication from Amazon that they plan to restore Linux support in the future.
Even if they do not want to write Linux apps, they could provide developers with an API to build support into their products, but third-party support is not what they want on any platform.
Just to be fair, the web player does work on Linux. And, while we gave them $25 for a year of service, it does not mean we will next year…although it would cost more to store the same amount as data on Amazon S3(although there is always Glacier). It is just disappointing.

Downstreamer’s Realization

TV Guide Network 

It’s been a while since we’ve updated our Downstreaming series. The concept of downstreaming was one of simplification, and how you can downgrade your paid cable


bill and look at internet based alternatives. Some people talk about cord cutting…but it is clear the alternatives aren’t quite there for everything.


The Wall Street Journal featured an article which was written as a tearful goodbye to the author’s cable service.


“Everyone’s getting their shows and movies through the Internet these days. I’m sorry. It’s just the reality of things… Yeah, I’ve changed, but you know what? You’ve changed more. I mean, come on. How many shows about housewives are there? I like chefs, but I don’t need to see them on television 24/7. Ghost hunters? Dancing celebrities? Talent shows? “Shark Week”? Celebrity ghost-hunting talent shows during “Shark Week”? It’s too much of too little. You’re full of a lot of inescapable crap.”


And we have to agree. Television is catering to someone, and it isn’t us. The Sci-Fi Channel is SyFy, and where’s the Science Fiction? The TV Guide channel no longer shows a tv guide. The Learning Channel….what the heck are we supposed to be learning on it now? There are so many channels, and how many of them do you actually want.


In a recent appearance on the MythTVCast, our editor was commenting on how hard it was to figure these things out. Too many channels, not enough package choices, and a resistance to changing with the time. And our own conception continues to involve. We continue to realize things about ourselves and our habits that we want to use to change what we do.

We’ll be back with more on this, including an analysis of how much cable we actually watch. Have you downstreamed? Cord Cut? What has your experience been? What realizations have you come to? Are you just emotionally hanging on to your cable?