Monday, December 22, 2014

2014: The year for streaming media

Personally, 2014 was a good year for me. I switched jobs mid-year and have been working on enjoyable projects with really really smart people. My wife and I traveled to Budapest and Prague, which was absolutely amazing as well as San Francisco, Portland, Iowa, and Richmond (VA). We got to see one of my lovely cousins get married and meet the new 2nd cousins. We spent Thanksgiving with my sister-in-law and got to met our new and very beautiful niece Eleanor. I've kept up with blogging once a week which, honestly, I wasn't sure I would actually be able to do. But the best thing that happened in 2014 for me was that my wife and I are found out we are expecting our first child. I'm both terrified and excited at the thought of being a dad, but I can probably predict the future and tell you that having a child is going to be the highlight of 2015.

2014 was an interesting year for technology and there were a lot of new products announced and released. But from the perspective of what affects my everyday life most I've been interested in what's been happening in the streaming media segment.

While Apple has had a media streaming solution for several years their competitors (other than Roku) have struggled to come up with any interesting alternatives. There have been may solutions over the years for home media centers like Windows Media Center, XMBC on a Raspberry Pi (Raspmbc) or XBox to say the least. But in my opinion, none of these solutions other than Apple TV or Roku have had the teeth to take off in the mass market. And, unfortunately, without mass adoption the quality of content is not very good.

2014 saw two entries into the streaming market which I believe will help drive competition and innovation in a category of software and hardware which has been pretty stagnant. Amazon announced it's Fire TV, which was received very well and Google announced the Nexus Player which seems to be a legitimate reboot of their efforts to get into the streaming TV market. Amazon also announced the Fire TV Stick.

We've got a Roku, Chromecast and Fire TV Stick in our household. We don't have an Apple TV because we don't own any Apple mobile products and Apple is a pretty closed ecosystem and I really really really don't want to encourage that. That's not to say they don't make beautiful products because they do.

The Roku is a simple and easy to use device with a pretty decent interface. But to me something just doesn't feel right. When I use the Roku I put down my everyday tech (phone/tablet) and pick up their remote and use their software. I'm aware that I'm using something that isn't customized to me. Their interface doesn't feel like "home" to me like my own tech does. The Roku feels slightly foreign. Also, streaming media from my phone or tablet directly to the Roku has been clunky at best.

Up until December the Chromecast has been my favorite device of 2014. I really like how easy it is to use. I can just open the YouTube app on my phone and start queuing up clips. Or I can open Netflix, WatchESPN, Comedy Central or HBO Go, find what I want to watch and then just fling it to my T.V. Really my biggest complaint with the Chromecast is that the app developers have to integrate it directly into their mobile app and apps have been slow to adopt this additional API.

I say that the Chromecast has been my favorite device up until December. That's because I got my Fire TV Stick this month and so far it's been pretty incredible. The interface is great and very intuitive if you're already familiar with Amazon Instant Video. I downloaded the free remote app and the voice search is very very accurate and fast. One of the things I really liked about the Roku is that the apps are right on the device and the Fire TV Stick followed a similar path. It has all of the apps I use today with my Chromecast except HBO Go. But I can even stream HBO Go directly from my phone to the Fire TV Stick using display mirroring.

While display mirroring is a battery drain on your phone/tablet it's pretty useful for me. Traditionally I've used it to stream to the Chromecast when an app hasn't implemented the Chromecast API. It's been nice being able to use it with the Fire TV Stick out of the box. I think my biggest complaint with it is that I have to enable it on the Fire TV each time I want to mirror.

I have big hopes that 2015 will bring more innovation to streaming media.

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