Video On Demand Smackdown

There has been a lot of talk lately about Internet Video on Demand services. Everybody seems to talk the most about Netflix. But is Netflix really the best? What about Hulu? And let's not forget Amazon, which has been making a big push lately in this space.

What if you were to cancel your Cable/Satellite subscription today? Could you still watch all your favorite shows? And what about today's popular movies? Can you skip the video rental stores and services and just watch all your favorite movies online? I wanted to answer these questions, so I did a little comparison.

The table is below, but first here are some notes about this data:

  • I used Nielsen ratings from last week to pick the top 5 most popular TV Shows from the two categories (Broadcast and Cable). I ignored news shows and one time TV events.
  • I used the top box office numbers for the last year to pick the movies. Of course, I only chose movies that aren't still in the theater.
  • A lot of the TV shows are available on their publisher's website.
  • A lot of these movies are available to own, but I was only interested in rentals.
  • For Netflix, I only looked at instant streaming, not DVDs.
  • I only looked at services available in the U.S. I don't have access to services available in other countries.


NetflixHuluAmazon
Broadcast TV


America’s Got Talent
x
Big Brother


So You Think You Can Dance
x
MasterChef
xx
Wipeout
xx
Cable TV


True Blood (HBO)

x
Royal Pains
xx
Burn Notice
xx
Covert Affairs
xx
Suits
xx
Movies


Toy Story 3x

The Twilight Saga: Eclipse


Iron Man 2x

Alice in Wonderland (2010)x

Inception


Despicable Me


Shrek Forever After


How to Train Your Dragon


Tangled

x
Totals388

What I Learned

This was a very interesting study. Here are some things I learned:

  1. If you want to watch TV shows, Netflix is not your best bet. Hulu and Amazon have a pretty full catalog of current TV shows.
  2. If you want to watch recent Movies, Netflix seems to have the most available, but even they don't have many. The movie studios still seem to be holding onto their content to sell in DVD/Blu-ray format.
  3. Many TV shows and Movies just are NOT legally available to stream online.

I really hope things change in the near future. I personally love the convenience of instantly streaming TV shows and movies. More and more Americans are buying Internet connected home entertainment devices that come with Netflix/Hulu/Amazon (and others) pre-installed. And people seem to be interested in having a wide catalog of shows to watch instantly. But for now, Hollywood is still behind the times.

Don't assume that Netflix has it all

Over the last year or so I have become more and more dissatisfied with Netflix. The problem is not their DVD shipping service, I like that. The problem is their instant streaming service. Many tech journalists will tell you that you can cancel your cable/satellite subscription and just use Netflix. But if you do that, you will be missing many things:
1. Sports.
2. Most TV shows that are on air today.

Not to mention that their movie catalog is very small. If you want to instantly stream a movie, I hope you're content with independent and old moldy films. Because that's mostly what you'll get.

As far as TV shows, Netflix only has SOME of the most popular TV shows. Mythbusters? Nope. Chuck? Only one old season. Anything current (like, released last week?) Forget it.

But I've recently been trying to find the movie/show I want on other services besides Netflix. Amazon has a streaming video service, and I found that they have Mythbusters (and yes, even the current in-progress season!) Youtube also has a service that has some of the content you won't find on Netflix. And there is also Hulu and Vudu (not to mention lots of other lesser known services.) And many of those services are pay as you go (meaning, no monthly subscription...you just pay for the shows you watch.)

So I have not yet decided to cancel my Netflix subscription, but I may do that soon. And I am planning to cancel my Cable subscription later this year (after the contract runs out.) These services (and the fact that I don't watch much TV nor many movies these days) make that prospect a lot less scary.

Setup Linksys WRT54G as a bridge

I have a bunch of networkable devices in my entertainment center in the living room. I wanted to find out of I could buy a cheap wireless router and then set it up as a bridge to our primary wireless router, instead of running an Ethernet cable to the living room. I found a way to do this.

As the title says, I did this using a Linksys WRT54G (I found a cheap one on ebay). The primary router can be any brand/model, because you just connect to it like a normal WiFi client (you don't make any settings changes on the primary router). To make this work, you have to download and flash a 3rd party firmware called DD-WRT. This is free, and it adds some extra features to your WRT54G (it also supports some other routers on the market, btw).

After you've flashed the DD-WRT firmware, you can follow this tutorial for configuring the second router as a client-bridge.

Upgrading my wife's PC = My wife ROCKS

Ok, that title may sound cryptic until you hear this story. First a little background. When I met my wife, I was instantly attracted to her because of her brain. She told me she is interested in sci-fi/fantasy books, likes computers and games, and had a job doing PC support stuff. So I'm telling myself...how can I ever expect to find another girl like this? I've got to snatch up this opportunity! Our courtship was actually a lot more complicated than that, but you guys probably don't care to hear all the extra details. :)

Also, Dyany is not really passionate about nerdy PC stuff. She mainly uses her PC for games and web surfing/email. She never reads technical mailing lists/forums, doesn't keep up with the latest trends, and doesn't even have an IT job anymore (but she had one for a few years, a few years ago). But, her brain retains information like a sponge, so every little IT fact she's ever learned is still in there, for the most part. I have tried to talk her into learning ColdFusion, but she's not interested. Oh well, you win some, you lose some.

So anyway, last month my wife's PC hard drive was showing signs of imminent death. So we launched the process of getting a replacement and migrating all the data between hard drives. The reason I put "My wife ROCKS" in my post title is because of how this all went down.

First of all, she tells me she wants a 1 TB hard drive. Now that in itself is amazing. How many of your wives would even know what that means, let alone know that this is the amount of space she needs? I should note here that we use my wife's PC as our home "server", and we store all of our music, pictures, and videos on there, so that's why she asked for 1 TB.

So we buy the drive from newegg, and while it's in route my wife starts planning how we're going to migrate the data. Again, this fact alone is astounding compared to most other women out there. She knew that her old drive is SATA, and the new one we bought is SATA. So she asked me if we had an extra SATA cable. We did, but when the drive shows up I found out that her mobo only has one SATA port. So Dyany goes out and finds a free imaging utility and takes an image of the old hard drive (she stores it on a second hard drive in the machine). I swap out the drives for her (she's not a hardware person). Then she puts the image on the new hard drive. She even did some partition reorganization, with a little help from me.

So I ask you guys, how cool is my wife? :D

Do Computer Illiterate People Scare You?

My post title might make you believe I'm going to bash non-techies, or maybe I'm trying to be funny. But I'm dead serious. Thinking about people that don't use computers scares me. Literally. Let me explain.

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Lasso: Another CFML competitor

Many of you have probably heard of Lasso, but it was new to me. Which is sad considering that it was first released in 1996 (making it only 1 year younger than ColdFusion). Lasso is a web server language, similar to ColdFusion and PHP. One thing it shares with ColdFusion is that it's tag based, similar to HTML. However, with Lasso you use brackets instead of . Also, Lasso has a full blown scripting version of the language, for those that prefer coding styles similar to PHP and asp.net.

Another thing that Lasso shares with ColdFusion is that it's not free. In fact, Lasso has similar prices as ColdFusion. They don't have an Enterprise version, but the Professional version costs $649. However, they have a development studio (like ColdFusion used to) that costs $199.

One big difference between Lasso and ColdFusion is platform support. Lasso is cross platform, but it doesn't support as many operating systems as ColdFusion. Also, it doesn't support as many databases out of the box, but you can access any ODBC/JDBC datasource.

I also found it interesting that Lasso has ImageMagick built in to give full image manipulation capabilities, features that are just arriving in ColdFusion 8. Also, Lasso has built-in PDF generation capabilities. I'm not sure if you can work with PDF forms, as will be possible in ColdFusion 8.

An interesting historical footnote about Lasso, is that it was originally based on a C/C++ CGI written by Vince Bonfanti (as referenced in the timeline on their site). For those who don't know, Vince is the President of New Atlanta, makers of BlueDragon (another CFML server language).

CFFormProtect: invisible, accessible, automated spam bot killer

I just released a new version of CFFormProtect. CFFormProtect is a fully accessible, invisible to your users form protection system to stop spam bots, and even human spammers. CFFormProtect works like some email spam protection systems, in that it uses a series of tests to find out if a form submission is from a spammer or not. Each test is given an amount of points, and each test that fails accumulates points. Once a form submission passes the threshold of 'spamminess', the message is flagged as spam and is not posted. The points assigned to each test and the failure limit are configurable by you the developer.

Click here to download CFFormProtect.

CFFormProtect uses these tests to stop spam:

  • Mouse movement-Did the user move their mouse? If not, it might be a spammer. This test is not very strong because lots of people, including the blind, don't use a mouse when filling out forms. Thus I give this test a low point level by default.
  • Keyboard used-Did the user type on their keyboard? This is a fairly strong test, because almost everybody will need to use their keyboard when filling out a form (unless they have one of those form filler browser plugins)
  • Timed form submission-How long did it take to fill out the form? A spam bot will usually fail this test because it's automated. Also, sometimes spam bot software will have cached form contents, so the form will look like it took days to fill out. This test checks for an upper and lower time limit, and these values can be easily changed to suit your needs.
  • Hidden form field-Most spam bots just fill out all form fields and submit them. This test uses a form field that is hidden by CSS, and tests to make sure that field is empty. If a blind person's screen reader sees this hidden field, there is a field label telling them not to fill it out.
  • Akismet-All of the above tests can be easily bypassed if a spammer hires cheap labor to manually fill out forms. However, Akismet attempts to stop that as well. Akismet is a service provided by the folks that run WordPress. The free service (for personal use) takes form contents as input, and returns a yes/no value to tell you if the submission is spam. This test is disabled by default because you have to obtain an API key. This is easy to do, and CFFormProtect is easy to configure if you want to use Akismet.
The beauty of CFFormProtect is that any of the above tests can fail, and the spam bot can still be stopped. By default, CFFormProtect will stop spam if any two tests fail. One test, Akismet, is configured strong enough to flag form contents as spam by itself. And all of this is possible without making your users type in hard to read text, and without blocking the poor blind folks. And you don't have to maintain a black list or use an approval queue.

You can view the project page here at RIAForge.

Microsoft doesn't recognize their own OS

I've got a new Windows Mobile smart phone. It's been crashing and freezing up a lot (no surprise, it's Windows). I thought MS might have Windows Update setup to show updates for Windows Mobile, so I fired up Internet Explorer on my phone and went to update.microsoft.com. This is the error message I got:

You'd think Microsoft's website would be smart enough to recognize this useragent as their own operating system:

HTC-8500/1.2 Mozilla/4.0 (compatible; MSIE 5.5; Windows CE; PPC; 240x320)

Use Google Mobile for Accessibility Testing

Ever wonder how accessible your site is to blind people? Sure, you can follow all the rules out there, like adding alt text to images. But if you really want to see how well your site 'reads', you'd ask a blind person right? Well, there's an easier way.

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Should I Make CFQuickDocs Open Source?

I've been toying with this idea for a few months, and I decided to throw the question out to you guys. I have a lot of good ideas for CFQuickDocs, but I don't have time to implement them all. Also, I wrote the base code before I'd learned a LOT of better techniques, so it's a little cumbersome to work with. It's not horrible, I'm using CFCs and I tried to make maintenance as easy as possible. But particularly the code for scraping LiveDocs is pretty difficult to navigate. That piece needs some attention.

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