Category Archives: Uncategorized

How To Pay Less For iTunes Videos

If you’re using iTunes videos to ditch the cable company, it’s always great to pay a bit less for it. One strategy to do that is to pick up iTunes gift cards for a discount and have the credit in reserve for when you’re Jonesin’ for your next video fix. But how to do it? Say hello to Granny.

What is Gift Card Granny?

So, how does Gift Card Granny work? Well, let’s ask Granny:

Gift Card Granny is a gift card marketplace site that connects buyers and sellers of discounted gift cards. We don’t ship or sell any gift cards ourselves… instead, we do the research for you. There are literally thousands of different sites where you can buy and sell gift cards. Our staff works hard to find out which brokers have the very best deal of the day on each specific card – and we list the different deals for you to choose from. If you like the price on the card you see, you can click on a link and you’ll go directly to the broker’s site. If you decide to buy it from that broker –  they will send it to you with no taxes and no shipping fees.

So, Granny helps people locate gift cards sold online and get them at below face value. Excellent. But who are the sellers?

Gift Card Granny pulls information from different gift card resellers (Card Pool, Gift Card Castle,, Plastic Jungle, and Giftah to name a few) as well as eBay. Each seller has different gift cards that they buy and sell, making it hard to find what you’re looking for. Granny aggregates together all the information about how much is available on various gift cards and the size of the discount. The dedicated gift-card websites have been around a while and have a loyal following. Ebay is, well, Ebay.

What Can You Save On iTunes Gift Cards?

I have now purchased iTunes gift cards from two places, Plastic Jungle and Gift Card Castle. For Plastic Jungle, it was $25 for $23.xx (7% off). The gift card arrived as an e-mail with a code in it. I logged into iTunes, entered the code, and my iTunes account was credited $25. Gift Card Castle sent me a $25 gift card for $22.50 (10% off). I had to wait for it to be mailed, but, once it arrived, I used the same process to enter the code and get iTunes account credit. Overall, it was very satisfying to get anything Apple at a discount.

One thing i did notice is that, occasionally, Granny isn’t up to date. The 10% off Gift Card Castle one was not indexed by Granny. I just happened to be wandering through and found a good deal.

What About Amazon Instant Video Discounts?

One last thing to mention is that while Granny will index Amazon gift cards, the only ones that turn up are on Ebay. This is because Amazon only sells “electronic” gift cards. I have not been brave enough to wander onto Ebay and take a chance with this. For the other dedicated sellers, they have clear methods to resolve disputes. I’m going to stick with them for now.

If you have bought gift cards on Ebay and had it work out, please leave a comment.

Streaming Video Linkfest For 6/19

It’s been a busy week for news about cable companies and internet streaming since The Cable Show 2011 conference happened last week. Let’s see what turned up.

Update: Title was changed to be, you know, right…

How To Stream The Daily Show To A Roku Box

I have satisfied my dream and found a way to get the Daily Show through my Roku box onto my TV. It’s a round-about way, but it will cover me until Hulu and Comedy Central come to some kind of deal. It relies on the Comedy Central website, my laptop, PlayOn, and my Roku box.

What is PlayOn?

PlayOn is a media server that can run on a computer in the house. What PlayOn does is transcode videos from websites like Comedy Central, Hulu, CBS, PBS and so on. It then sends the video on to the Roku box in a format that Roku likes.

This setup has a few downsides two it. First, there needs to be a computer up and working to use PlayOn. I happen to have a laptop that doesn’t get much use while vegging out to John Stewart. Second, the computer is downloading video from the web and transmitting it to the Roku box, which requires a beefy home network. It appears that 802.11n or better is the minimum to pull it off. The full requirements can be found on the PlayOn website. Here’s my abbreviated list:

The following are the minimum requirements for the PlayOn PC software.

  • Microsoft Windows XP (Service Pack 2 or later), Windows Vista, Windows 7, or Windows Server 2003/Windows Home Server (Service Pack 1 or later). 64-bit versions of Windows are also supported.
  • Pentium 4 3.2+ GHz, Pentium M 2.0+ GHz, or any multi-core x86 processor
  • 512 MB RAM (1 GB recommended)
  • 100 MB of available disk space for installation, plus recommended 4-5 GB extra space on the same drive where Windows is installed; click here for details on using a different drive
  • Internet broadband connection of at least 1.5 Mbps, and home network with wired, powerline, or 802.11n connections (for wireless home networks with 802.11g, it is highly recommended that either the PC or device be on a wired connection)

Installing PlayOn

PlayOn installed onto my PC about like I would expect. I downloaded the software and double-clicked to install it on my Windows 7 laptop. PlayOn asked for an e-mail address, and we were up and running. One thing that was slightly unnerving was that there’s no icon in the taskbar for it – it’s all in the background.

The application that “runs” is an interface to the background server. It provides a method to connect in to multiple services like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Instant Video, and so on.

After installing the PlayOn software, I needed the PlayOn Roku plugin. PlayOn provides instructions that amount to “click on this link:“. The link logs you into your Roku account (you remember that don’t you?) and tells your Roku box to download the channel. Roku advises you to go into and out of your “Channel Store” to force a refresh on the channels.

Giving Roku And PlayOn A Try

When I return to my Roku channel line-up, there it is

On entering the plug-in, it goes in search of my computer, find its, and we’re off. I did notice that I had to select my computer once, hit the back arrow button after it starts thinking, then enter it again to get the channel line-up. This shows that the channel is rough around the edges. Not a good sign. This roughness continues as I navigate down to the Daily Show using lots of clicks. Finally though, there’s John Stewart’s smiling mug looking back at me.

Mission Accomplished!

PlayOn & Roku: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

The Good: I’ll hand it to them. They did what they said they’d do. I managed to get the Daily Show on my TV using the Roku box.

The Bad: The integration with various content channels is a bit rough, and some channels (like Comedy Central) have ads. Everything about this feels like a band-aid. The intro price is a monthly $4.99. They have a yearly price ($39.99 or $3.33 / month) or a buy-it price of $79.99. All are required after the 14 day trial period.

The Ugly: The Roku plug-in is rough. Very rough. The navigation is bare-bones at best and the larger channels (like Hulu) are painful to navigate. It’s obvious that the Roku box is one of their red-headed step-children. I don’t blame the PlayOn folks. After all, there are more than 75 million iPhones, 50 million PS3s, 25 million XBoxes, and 1 millon Roku boxes out there. Which one would you develop for?

PlayOn feels like a last-ditch effort to get something to work, and I suspect I’ll drop it once any more robust service licenses the Daily Show for set-top boxes. Is watching the Daily Show with my honey on our comfortable couch worth it? That’s a good question.

Imagining The Media Ecosystem

When I got motivated to get rid of my cable company, I went looking for alternatives. During my search, I had to think through all the pieces that the cable company took care of. This hurt for a while, since I had never cared before. I wanted the TV show on my television and cable was the only way to do it. Not any more. The shows are ours to watch if we can find a way to do it, but it isn’t always easy.

To map the path, let’s talk about four pieces that have to be in place to get the shows to the TV.

The Content (aka The Shows)

After hunting across the internet and various corners of the world trying to satisfy my cravings, I’ve broken content up into four groups:

  • TV Shows: These are the 1/2 hour to 1 hour network shows. Think Law & Order, Surviver, NCIS, Bones, Burn Notice, or the Bachelorette
  • Movies: Get your bag of popcorn and settle in for a few hours of cinematic goodness. Snow White to Silence of the Lambs to Inception.
  • Sports: College football, NBA, NFL, NHL, and the joy of watching the Cubs lose from anywhere in the world. Sports fans want their sports.
  • Live TV: The catch-all for breaking events, news, weather, and press conferences

The Media Distributor

I need my media crack. How do I get it? The content distributors are folks that get the shows (aka content) to our homes. This used to be the cable companies. Now, it can be someone with a business plan and an internet connection.

  • The Old Guard: these are our media personalities of yore. The local TV station, the cable companies (think Time Warner, Comcast, Bright Stream, Chartered), some telephone companies (think AT&T and Verizon), and satellite companies (Dish Network, DirecTV)
  • The New Generation: Here is the first group that rose to the top in internet distribution.  Netflix, Hulu, Apple, and Amazon come to mind.
  • The spunky Up and Comers: This is the group that really have a business plan and an internet connection. These are companies like Vudu and Crackle.
  • The Boutique Players: A catch-all for specialty groups that cater to certain groups and couldn’t care less about internet streaming domination., HBO Go, and other individual websites like Comedy Central play here.

The Destination

It used to be that TVs were the only way to go. It’s called a TV show, right? Well, not any more. There’s a variety of places people watch shows, and everyone has different needs. Hulu did a great summary as part of their Hulu Plus subscription details. Among the choices are things like:

  • PCs (and Macs),
  • TVs via set-top boxes or game platforms (think XBox or PS3),
  • smartphones
  • tablets.

While people cutting cable out of their house will probably gravitate toward TVs as I did, all the devices around us are valid.

The Delivery Method

The delivery method used to be rolled up in our devices, but set-top boxes have proliferated and it’s a whole new game. This device enables the distributor to get content to the destination.

  • Physical media: VHS, DVDs, and Blue-ray. Yup, they’re still around.
  • Digital tuners: ahh, yes, digital over the air (OTA) transmissions and a digital tuner (possibly in your TV)
  • Cable set-top boxes: the boxes from Tivo or your neighborhood cable company and a coax or fiber optic cable
  • Streaming internet boxes: things like Roku, Apple TV, and Boxee and the internet
  • Smart televisions: TVs are incorporating set-top box like functionality and, again, the internet

Creating An Internet Streaming Solution

To truly replace cable, the coax cable needs to be replaced. All the TV shows and movies I was looking for were available on a cable channel somewhere. If I was really fancy, I could add a DVR set-top box to make sure I could always find what I wanted. The shows went from NBC, CBS, USA, and other channels, through the cable company coax cord, and into my TV. No questions asked. Now, it’s much more complicated.

If I want to watch a show TV via internet streaming, I have to find a provider. The Daily Show is my great example. I want to watch the Daily Show. I’ve found two content providers, Comedy Central and Hulu, but they play to PCs, not TVs, and spending several hundred dollars to hook a computer up to my TV isn’t why I got rid of cable to begin with.

When we see a path for Distributor(s) to bring all the Content someone wants to the Destinations they want by an inexpensive and easy to use Delivery Method, internet streaming video will take off. Some people are there already able to navigate their needs through the maze. Most are not. The challenge for the New Generation and the Up and Comers is to enable the easiest path.

Shocker: Netflix Causes People To Buy Less Cable

I’m sure this is a shock to everyone out there, but The Diffusion Group believes that Netflix users decrease the amount of PayTV (TM) services that they purchase. In other words, they’re cutting the cable and ditching the dish. And they have a study titled Profiling Netflix Streamers 2011 to prove it.

From the press release:

Though Netflix has gone to great lengths to reassure PayTV operators that its offerings are additive to regular TV viewing and thus not a competitive threat, research now suggests that the ‘Netflix Effect’—that is, growing use of Netflix will lead to PayTV service downgrades and even cancellation—is gaining momentum.

This is the direction of things to come. I’m glad to see it’s getting here as fast as possible.

Update: I like this reply to the study – Who are we kidding? Of course it’s Netflix vs. cable.

Angry Birds Fly Into Roku Box

It’s been on the net that the Roku team is working with Rovio to bring Angry Birds to the Roku box (also from Bloomberg). For the few people that don’t otherwise have access to Angry Birds (it’s on about every platform out there at this point), it’s one more vehicle to get your birds flying at pigs fix.

This caught my attention because it highlights that Roku is looking for ways to breakout on the set-top box front. Roku started as a Netflix spin-out when Netflix punted on making their own hardware. Hitching wagons with Netflix has been good for business so far, but Roku will need to stretch further to survive against Apple and Google. To enable Angry Birds, Roku would’ve had to mature their API and programming interfaces enough to allow more advanced third party development. I’m also struggling with how they’ll control the game. After all, the Roku remote isn’t a joystick by any stretch of the imagination.