Problems with Cheap Smart TVs Powered By Roku?

Sluggish Roku menu navigation. It’s true. We bought a 65″ super cheap TV and sometimes navigating through the Roku menu is like walking through quicksand.

There is a reason for this — and it’s not entirely Roku’s fault — or is it?

Scanning reviews for inexpensive smart TVs from Roku-powered brands including not just TCL, but also Hisense and Westinghouse, a theme emerges. Users seem to complain about a preponderance of product defects, like cracked screens, as well as an overall feel of cheap build quality. That’s what you get with cheaper consumer electronics. But a more common theme is an overall sluggishness of the Roku OS on these sets. 

Roku’s Looming Problem? A Lot of Those Cheap Smart TVs Aren’t Any Good | Next TV

So, by targeting low-end, cheapest of the cheapest Smart TVs, Roku could be underpowered, which is likely causing some of the slow responsiveness.

TCL might be the ticket if you want a cheap, non-Roku-powered TV, see: Chinese Backdoor Scare in non-Roku powered TCL Smart TVs. Or maybe the answer for a faster streaming smart TV is to go with Sony, Samsung, etc.

HBO Max CEO Thinks When Dust Clears That Five or Less “Major” Streaming Channels Will Remain

This means he doesn’t think Roku will ever be a major streamer, because they are ad-supported. It’s a bit ironic, considering HBO Max is going to be releasing an ad-supported version of their service, similar to what Hulu, Paramount+ and Peacock all currently offer.

What defines a “major” streaming service? The CEO of HBO Max, Jason Kilar says “hundreds of millions of paying subscribers.”

Speaking at Morgan Stanley’s Technology, Media and Telecom virtual conference Thursday morning, Kilar said that there’s only a handful of major streaming services “that I think can ultimately get to scale, defined by hundreds of millions of paying subscribers around the world.” How many is a handful? “Less than six,” the former Hulu CEO said. 

HBO Max Chief Kilar: ‘Less Than 6’ Major Streaming Services Will Get to Scale and Survive | Next TV

Amazon Prime Video isn’t 100% paid subscribers, because they include their streaming service as a perk for joining their Amazon Prime service. Yes, they also sell subscription separately, but the vast majority of their 150+ million subscribers are not paying to only subscribe to Prime video, they’re getting it as an included benefit. Their service would have dramatically fewer paid subscribers if it was only the streaming service. We’ll probably never know these numbers but if we could guess, we’d say it was less than 10 million subscribers, maybe way less.

This leaves the elephant in the room, the king of the hill, Netflix as the only “major” streaming service currently with hundreds of millions of paid subscribers. That’s all. One streaming channel. Disney+ is paid subscribers only, but it’s nowhere near 200+ million paid subscribers.

What Kilar is trying to do here is position HBO Max as one of the three or four primary paid subscription streaming services so when households start budgeting and cutting, they keep his service. Although HBO Max have been targeted as being too expensive — after all, they are the second most expensive streaming service currently — the reality is their content makes them one of the major streaming providers.

Then there’s Disney, the second elephant in the room. They don’t have as many paid subscribers yet, but they are climbing — fast. Don’t count them out by any means, not with such lucrative IP as Star Wars and Marvel, not to mention their own animated kingdom of family films. Disney, if they don’t screw it all up by failing to produce more movies and TV shows based on their IPs that fans are clamoring for, has the potential to one day rival Netflix. They are crippled at the moment by a variety of factors, but counting them out is ill-advised.

We don’t need Kilar to predict the streaming future. There are currently three major streaming services: Netflix, Amazon and Disney+ — and then everybody else. I could argue that Disney+ isn’t as good as HBO Max (especially with movies), because they aren’t putting out anywhere close to as much new original content, but that doesn’t matter. Disney is working on changing that. Heck, they have like a dozen Star Wars projects in the hopper alone, not to mention the Marvel stuff. If even a quarter of these projects are as successful as The Mandalorian, they can ride this to hundreds of millions of subscribers.

None of the services, even Amazon, compete with Netflix on quantity of new content released. Netflix has been working that corner market for several years and their pipeline is bursting with new content. Everybody else is playing catch-up. Once other streaming channels catch up, though, who’s on top could change. Netflix might be all about quantity but they have some quality control problems. So will everybody else. Not everything created is a smash hit.

Bottom line: Kilar isn’t wrong with what he said. He just focused on “paid” subscribers which is more than misleading considering the many ad-supported “FREE” streaming channel options. Many people will suffer through ads to watch their favorite movies and TV shows, just as has been the case with traditional TV that is fading for streaming..

What Kilar should have pondered is how many will switch to HBO Max ad-supported version to save $5-10/month? That answer depends on how invasive the ads will be.

Disney Classifying Streaming as “Home Video” to keep 80% of Older Show Royalties

Is it just us or does it seem like Disney’s accounting department, especially when it comes to royalty payments takes creativity very seriously? Remember the issue recently with author Alan Dean Foster and others (see: Alan Dean Foster Isn’t The Only Author Not Receiving Royalties from Disney says The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America)

Get this:

For years, Disney has been keeping 80% of the revenue from older shows that it distributes to streaming platforms, leaving only 20% to be available to stars and other profit participants. It does so by classifying the revenue as “home video.” Under a formula dating from the introduction of the VCR, Disney subtracts an 80% royalty to its in-house distributor to cover the costs of distribution.

Disney Takes 80% of Streaming Revenue by Calling It ‘Home Video’ – Variety

No false illusions, Disney is a business and it seeks to make deals that benefits their business. It’s too bad that so much money is made off the backs of creative people. New technology rolls in, creative works seem to become less valuable except the biggest corporations that “own” the publishing rights.

I can see why creative people are fighting back, but it just bolsters the idea the only way to get around this is to keep your publishing rights. Self-publish. The minute you sign a pact with one of these major studios you’re giving up the lion’s share of profits from the publishing and distribution. Some deals these companies make benefit the creative people, but the older contracts don’t seem to have a way of dealing with new technology.

In time this will change.

Paramount+ LAUNCH FAIL (Fixed) – Automatic Update For CBS All Access Existing Customers Didn’t Allow Roku TV Activation Codes

It’s launch day for Paramount+ and while we’d love to tell existing CBS All Access subscribers that it’s a smooth transition, well, that was not the case.

As with too many things today, new customers are treated better than existing customers (see: Poor Technical Execution: Paramount+ LIMITED TIME OFFER 50% Discount for CBS All Access Customers).

When you visit Roku Smart TV channel lineup, the CBS All Access icon is gone and you must now sign in anew. The problem is the login points to CBS.com not paramountplus.com. So the activation codes for the TV don’t work.

This sent us back to the computer where our paramountplus.com account was functional.

We can sign into our paramountplus.com account and see the new paramount+ content there (Spongebob: Sponge on the Run, namely), but when we try to activate this perfectly working account on Roku it tells us to go to cbs.com and activate. When we go there, it doesn’t recognize the paramountplus.com account email.

Confused? Of course you are! So are we. CBS had months to get this figured out — work out how the transition process would work and it is one hot tech mess. I’m a tech-savvy customer and having problems, that means people who aren’t are going to be lighting up their 1-800 customer support line wanting to get their “automatically updated” CBS All Access now Paramount+ account working on their Roku-powered smart TVs — and not able to.

Looks like an app update will be coming soon.

Oh, and our Paramount+ login that works fine on the computer doesn’t work at all on the Roku. My guess is that it’s looking for a Roku account setup for Paramount+ and not an account that was activated through the computer. But, like I said above, everything points to cbs.com which seems to not have migrated the pre-launch existing paramountplus accounts. They didn’t even recognize our email as having an account. When I signed up with the same email address as our paramount+ account — it created a brand new FREE account. Sigh.

Guess for the time being if we want to watch anything from Paramount+ it will have to be on the computer?! Maybe I can get it to work on the phone and cast it to TV that way … a workaround, yes, but at least providing some way to watch Paramount+ on our TV.

HEY, THEY FIXED IT!

Tried again an hour later — after writing this post and tweeting my initial frustration (see here) — and the Roku smart TV app now properly points to paramountplus.com. We were finally able to make it all work. Those of you who don’t wake up first thing in the morning for these things will have missed the excitement.

This is the pain of being on the bleeding edge of anything. Kudos to the Paramount+ engineers that quickly noticed the problem and/or saw existing early riser customers were having these issues and fixed it! Thank you.

Off to check out what’s new …

Chromecast with Google TV Suffering Multiple Technical Issues

We had been using Chromecast with Google TV until recently when the remote crapped out and we were unable to re-pair it. Can use phone as a remote, but decided to switch to the Roku Smart TV instead. The main reason we were using the Chromecast was to get HBO Max but that channel has been available on Roku for awhile.

Apparently, we’re not alone in experiencing technical issues with the new Chromecast.

Again, this little streamer was doing great in October, but the software experience has fallen apart in the months since, causing the hardware compromises Google made regarding the storage, RAM, and USB-C port to be more visible than ever. If you’re using the Chromecast with Google TV with a 1080p TV and don’t mind using 2.4Ghz Wi-Fi, you probably aren’t seeing much of any issues, but the more advanced your TV and your network setup, the less likely you are to have a good time here.

Google’s software woes are holding the Chromecast with Google TV back from greatness | Android Central

Am sure we’ll try and update and repair the remote again someday, but for the time being, just less hassle and easier to stick with Roku again. The only channel we have to switch away is for Peacock, since we have the separate Flex box. If we wanted to go through with the effort of just adding the Peacock app we could have all the channels on Roku — which would be best for convenience.

After a few months using Chromecast, I prefer that menu to Roku. Liked the recommendations and layout a little better. We’ve been using Roku for a long time, though, so that’s a familiar menu system.

One disturbing thing I’ve noticed about our smart Roku TV is it seems to suffer a lot of latency issues. Despite having high speed internet and being plugged in via ethernet, not sure why the latency is there. This wasn’t present with our Roku 3 streaming device. It’s noticeable and annoying.

Terminator Still Alive Thanks To New Anime Series Ordered by Netflix

After the very underwhelming Terminator: Dark Fate, we proposed that the next most logical place for Terminator to continue would be as a TV series. After all, one of the last decent Terminator-related entries was The Sarah Connor Chronicles.

It seems Netflix was thinking along the same lines, going one step better and pushing the franchise into an anime series.

As the project is still in the early stages, plot details are being kept under wraps. Netflix has partnered with Skydance on the series, with Skydance having produced the last two “Terminator” films. The series is produced in partnership with Production I.G , who Netflix has had a production line deal with since 2018. Production I.G’s past anime credits include “Ghost in the Shell,” “B: The Beginning,” and “Eden of the East.”

‘Terminator’ Anime Series Ordered at Netflix – Variety

Have also read recently that James Cameron wants to get back full control of the Terminator IP. I don’t know if this means after he gets out of Avatar land, that he’ll be directing another Terminator movie, but suggests he’s still interested in the franchise. It seems like that cow has been milked and it’s time for some fresh perspectives which maybe with this anime TV series project will happen.

More Details on Paramount+ ad-supported tier: $1/month less than CBS All Access, but no local CBS channels

We already fought our way through to a full year subscription at 50% off of Paramount+ (see: Poor Technical Execution: Paramount+ LIMITED TIME OFFER 50% Discount for CBS All Access Customers), but as the March launch date draws nearer, we’re learning even more about what the rebranded, expanded service is going to look like — and if you like live TV, the less expensive ad-supported monthly plan might not be as appealing.

The base, ad-supported tier of Paramount Plus, launching in June, will cost $4.99 per month — a dollar less than the current entry-level CBS All Access package with commercials. The full Paramount Plus premium tier with no ads (except in live programming) will be the same, at $9.99 per month. There’s an important caveat, though: The $5 monthly plan for Paramount Plus, while it will include live sports including NFL games, will exclude local CBS stations.

Paramount Plus: What’s Streaming, Pricing Plans, How to Get It – Variety

For those who don’t care about the local channels, and if you have access to locast.org in your area or have your own antenna setup to get them free, you can enjoy there instead and save the buck a month.

Will you be signing up and checking out Paramount+ at launch, or waiting to see what sort of new content it provides that you can’t get elsewhere?

Tom’s Guide Article Declares HBO Max As Currently The Best Streaming Service

We’ve spent a lot of time watching HBO Max since it launched. The popular opinion seems to be to bash it as some kind of lesser streaming service compared to the top dog, Netflix.

When Warner announced they were releasing all 17 major films on both HBO Max and in theaters and were giving 20% off the six month rate, we didn’t complain, we subscribed (see: Don’t Count Out HBO Max in 2021)

The quality of movies and shows on HBO Max can’t be beat. But I should add a caveat that the nuts and bolts of the actual service still need a lot of work. The app and website can be buggy and crash. And HBO Max doesn’t offer many titles in 4K, though that’s not much different from other streaming services. Netflix does have 4K but you have to pay more. Advertisement The interface is so-so, but the HBO Max navigation does stand out in one way: the genre pages have an A-Z listing you can peruse. No other streamer has this feature; they all display titles within themed collections or by recommendations. HBO does that, too, but it’s so helpful just to see every movie on HBO Max by alphabetical order. 

Sorry Netflix, HBO Max is the best streaming service now — here’s why | Tom’s Guide

Netflix is sort of in a class by itself at the current time. They have spent multi billions producing so much original content that they can just continue to crank new original movie and TV series after another. During the pandemic, they’ve also been in on the bidding war for movies meant for theaters but sold to streaming instead.

Objectively, comparing Netflix to the other streamers for original content is challenging. From a quantity standpoint, there is no comparison. Every week on Thursdays when we do our What To Watch On Streaming posts, Netflix consistently outproduces the other streamers.

But quantity isn’t the same as quality. Is it better to have one great movie and/or TV series debut each week or have a half dozen or more of varying quality movie and TV shows to choose from? For those of us that want to watch the best movies we can see, not the most movies, the less is more strategy is more sound. We’ve talked about the quantity vs. quality situation with Netflix before (see: Does Netflix Release Too Many Originals? Maybe Ask New CMO Bozoma Saint John)

All that said, HBO Max might not be superior to Netflix in number of subscribers, but from what’s available to watch on it right now, even at the higher monthly price point, there are plenty of movies and TV shows to check out. It’s refreshing to read articles like this one that aren’t bashing HBO Max for not having 100+ million subscribers.

Whichever is your favorite streaming channel, it’s great to see movie lovers have multiple options to choose from. Disney+ has the family, Star Wars and Marvel corners covered. HBO Max has several great TV shows (Friends!), a bunch of great movies. Amazon Prime has its own slate of originals, some very, very good and Netflix has its originals. Then there are the others like Hulu, CBS All Access soon to be Paramount+ and Peacock, not to mention a boatload of niche streamers like Shudder, Discovery+ and so on.

And those are just the paid streamers, there is a whole bunch of FREE, ad-supported channels to choose from. So many, that we can’t even cover them all. The Roku Channel, Tubi, Pluto and so on.

Whatever you want to watch, you can probably find it playing somewhere. Good times for home movie watchers, anyway. The cinema landscape might be struggling, but these are active, productive times for streamers.

What’s your current favorite streaming channel? Or do you have multiple favorites?

Poor Technical Execution: Paramount+ LIMITED TIME OFFER 50% Discount for CBS All Access Customers

This morning, we converted our monthly subscription to CBS All Access to annual. The price is right, however, the deal is a bit confusing on the actual sign-up process for existing subscribers.

Let’s break this LIMITED TIME OFFER down.

CBS All-Access customers who sign up for a full year of Paramount Plus right now will pay $29.99 ($2.50 a month) for the base version, and $49.99 ($4.16 monthly) for an iteration with no commercials.  ViacomCBS is promoting this as 50% off the current $59.99 and $99.99 one-year price for Paramount Plus service.  The conglomerate hasn’t announced Paramount Plus monthly pricing. But with the promo, CBS All Access customers are actually paying 58% less on a monthly basis for the $5.99 CBS All Access base tier, while getting a 59% break on the $9.99-a-month ad-free version

Paramount Plus Discounted by 58% for Current CBS All Access Customers | Next TV

Firstly, I dislike articles and blog posts that talk about deals that don’t actually link to or explain the process. Cinemablend is guilty of telling us about the deal, but how do we actually redeem it?

I went to Paramount+ and clicked on the banner. It took me to the CBS All Access account area where the deal is showing in the subtext, but not in the bolded amount, see picture below.

The limited commercials option shows $59.99/year, but the text says “the offer of 12 months of $30.00/year) ?!?!

What are we actually paying? $59.99/year or $30/year? The $99.99/year commercial free option doesn’t show any discount.

Went ahead and pulled the trigger for the yearly option and immediately received an email saying we’d be billed $59.99 in February 2022. So, guess we’re agreeing to pay $59.99 a year from now. Have to check to see what we actually were billed immediately. Was it $30 or $59.99?

Argh. It was $59.99. So, then did what nobody wants to do: call customer service. After 10 minutes or so waiting, a rep came on the line and sighed that there were “issues” with the offer working for everybody who tried to redeem it. Some were not allowed to include the discount code PARAMOUNTPLUS, which triggers the offer. And he couldn’t fix it without canceling our subscription. He did.

Then we were refunded like $3, not the $59.99. This was the pro-rated amount of what remained of the monthly subscription.

Ultimately, they never went through with the charge of $59.99 and our account was credited again. The answer from the customer service rep was to “sign up with a different email address” for a new account. I sure hope nobody else reading that wants to sign up for this deal goes through the process like this.

Paramount+/CBS All Access has to get this process figured out better. Really.

Another Plus Branded Streaming Service Joins The Crowd: Documentary+

A new streaming service is available on Roku that focuses on documentaries. Of course it’s going with a plus in the title. Documentary+ (docplus.com) is the name and it’s ad-supported, no monthly fee required.

A joint project between Tony Hsieh (the former Zappos CEO who recently passed away) and studio XTR, Documentary+ launched with a catalog of films by several high-profile directors and filmmakers, among them Werner Herzog, Terrence Malick, Kathryn Bigelow, and Spike Jonze, to name just a few. At launch, the service has a pretty broad selection of categories to choose from, including politics, sports, comedy, music, and true crime, among other genres, with a focus specifically on premium content. The service has more than 150 titles available at launch.

Documentary+ Is the Latest Service to Enter the Streaming Wars

I’m a documentary fan. It’s not a huge genre of interest, but it’s somewhere in the middle of genres I enjoy watching from time to time. While writing this post, I watched the Netflix miniseries on disgraced NFL player Aaron Hernandez.

Am in favor of niche streaming services, but the selection so far at this site, didn’t jump out at me with a bunch of must-see documentaries. There are more on Netflix and Amazon Prime that I’d recommend others to watch.

Still, a decent concept for a niche streaming service and you can’t beat the price, as long as the ads aren’t too intrusive.