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Monday, November 23, 2015

Amazon Prime v Netflix

Not a day seems to go by when someone, somewhere, is giving their views about which streaming video service is best.  So, I thought, why not me too!

In the name of full disclosure, I am an Amazon Prime member; although I don't have a vested interest in the company, I just give them my money!
My Netflix subscription is courtesy of a gift, for a year, so I've had the opportunity to use both and give my considered opinions.


Amazon Prime and Netflix are just two of the many streaming services, giving you the opportunity to tune in and watch at your convenience.  There is a big differentiator in that Amazon also have their own Fire TV (box and stick) that you can plug directly into your television to watch.  Bizarrely, you can download a Netflix app to the Amazon TV; as well as YouTube, BBC iPlayer and more.

For the purposes of this post, I'll concentrate on the services and not the hardware - a review of which I have previously written.


Let's start with television.  In each case, both offer a wide range of programmes and in both cases they have their own "Original" series.

Amazon has "Transparent", an Emmy award winning series, along with "Red Oaks", and the new "Man in the High Castle".
Amazon have their Pilots season, where, as a viewer, you can vote on programmes that you'd like to see made into full series.  Amazon are investing heavily in their own productions, and this is a terrific way for them to make something that we, the audience, want to watch.
To great fanfare, they also announced they are creating a brand new series of Top Gear, something which I think will ensure more people sign up for Prime.

Netflix are also investing heaving, and also have their own selection of Original programmes, notably "Orange is the New Black", "Daredevil", "House of Cards", and the new Marvel series "Jessica Jones".  Their catalogue of television programmes is very extensive indeed.

With the ability to vote on your favourites to be made into full series, then Amazon wins this round.

Feature Length Fun...

Moving onto movies.  This is where I believe Netflix has the upper hand.  Their selection of films appears to be non-exhaustive, unlike Amazon, which, whilst they have an abundance of films, doesn't seem to offer quite the selection.  I do think this is partly to do with the way Amazon organises its library, which makes it difficult to find something.  According to the filter criteria, there are over 1500 films currently, (and over 1000 TV shows) - so there is definitely something for everyone.

However, the on-screen navigation makes it easier to find on Netflix, so they win this round.

Bonus Point

There is one extra feature that is only offered by Amazon Prime.
The ability to download and watch offline.  When this was announced, Netflix immediately stated that this is not something that their customers would be interested in - as streaming is so straight-forward today, and it would mean helping people to free space on devices!  Really? Personally, I think they're wrong.
Having the functionality available to download a film or TV show, for me, makes this a winner.

Amazon gets an extra, bonus, point.

How much?

Last, but certainly not least is the cost.  This is where it really gets interesting.

Amazon - £79 per year.  For that, not only do you get access to a large library of films and TV, but you also have Amazon Prime Music, unlimited next day delivery, unlimited photo storage and, if you have a Kindle, access to the lending library too.
If you're not already a Prime member, you do get a 30-day free trial before they charge you.

Netflix have a range of options; starting at £5.99 per month, for standard defintion video; up to £8.99 per month for HD quality and multiple screens.
Again, they offer a 30-day free trial before they start charging.

Bear in mind that Amazon charge the entire year in one go; whereas Netflix charge on a monthly subscription basis.  This has the added benefit that you can stop at any time, without penalty, and also upgrade/downgrade at any time.


So there you have it.  A (brief) look at two of the major streaming services available in the UK.

There are plenty of others, that may, or may not, meet your needs.

Comparable in cost, on an annual basis, for me, it's easy.  Whilst I can see the benefit of Netflix, and its simpler-to-use menu structure, as I'm already a Prime member, and therefore taking advantage of the other services on offer, all for an annual fee of £79, then that makes the most sense.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Star Wars - The Saga Is Back

There is much anticipation for the new episode in the saga - Episode 7; The Force Awakens.
Much has been written.
A lot.
A complete smorgasbord of information about the making of the film not to mention the theories about the story and the characters.

At the end of April 2014, we were treated to this black and white publicity shot, as the cast were announced.  This was the first time we officially found out that Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill would be reprising their roles - and the excitement was palpable, as you could see them here, with the new generation of Star Wars cast.

The cast announcement of Episode VII - The Force Awakens

It was in a cinema, far far away (OK, the Gaumont Cinema in Bournemouth) when I first saw Star Wars, Episode IV, A New Hope, when it was first released in 1977.  I remember seeing it as a 9 year old and I totally remember the opening scene, as the Star Destroyer entered overhead.  The sound was startling and so were the images.  I, along with millions of others, were witnessing the birth of something special.

Ever since that day I have been fascinated with the technology used, not only in those early days, but also how they achieve the effects in the latest films.  I don't just mean Star Wars; but cinema as a whole.

I remember reading about how the lightsabers were created, how blue screen was used to shoot models of the various vehicles and the stop motion animation used too.  Compared to today, it was so antiquated.

Star Wars was a turning point in cinematic technology.  Indeed, Industrial Light and Magic; the special effects company, was created especially for Star Wars - it has since gone on to be a powerhouse in movie magic.
In fact, much of the technology was invented to make Star Wars.  The computer controlled camera, that allowed for multiple runs, to rehearse, the sequences.  There was the matt-painted glass, amongst others, the scene where Obi-Wan was turning off the tractor beam - in reality he was just a few feet off the ground; quite unlike the supposed metres high that it appeared in the film.

One thing I haven't been too keen on is the various versions of Episode IV that have been updated.  The first cinematic release didn't have an Episode title; that came later.
As did additional elements that were digitally super-imposed - such as the creatures as Mos Eisley spaceport.  All added when the technology became available.  Call me a purist - but that kind of ruins the sentiment made of the original.

The more recent episodes (1 - 3) were less "real" and made using almost pure green screen.  That is, much of the scenery was digitally imposed after the main shoot was over.  Personally; I think this was a shame.  Whilst there should always be room for creative licence; asking the actors to work in a plain environment I think somehow hurts them.  The same can be said the the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit films.  Epics in their own right, it adds extra pressure on the actors.

However; notwithstanding all this technology; I also concede that without it, we wouldn't see the spectacular space dog-fights and effects that are so entertaining.

The Force Awakens is the 7th episode; continuing 30 years from the end of Return of the Jedi.  We know that Han Solo and Chewbacca are back, as are Leia and Luke (although they haven't featured too much in the trailers).  The scene is set for an explosive return for one of the most famous soap space operas of all time.

I, for one, am very excited...

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Review - Amazon Prime Music

There are a number of different streaming music services available; from Spotify, Google Play Music, Apple Music and Amazon.

As a member of Amazon Prime, when this launched I was more than interested in finding out more.

Lots has been written about Amazon Prime, and the benefits that are bestowed upon you; to recap, they are:

  • Unlimited Next Day Delivery
  • Prime Video - Up to 15000 movies and TV shows to stream (including Amazon Originals)
  • Prime Photos - Unlimited photo Storage
  • Prime Early Access - 30 minute early access to Lightning Deals
  • Kindle Owners Lending Library - Over half a million titles to borrow on any Kindle device

Finally, Prime Music.
Over one million tracks available to stream / download, with no ads.
What more could you ask for.  Admittedly, the music available is not as extensive as Spotify or Google Play et al, BUT, and this is the point - that’s OK.

There is a huge back catalogue, and recently added albums include the latest from Little Mix and One Direction; in fact Amazon recently announced a deal with Universal Music Group, introducing artists such as Katy Perry, Maroon 5, The Weeknd, Ellie Goulding, and Jessie J.

For me, Amazon Prime Music offers the right balance, as I am quite happy with the selection available and the features also available.

There are hundreds of pre-determined playlists; of course you can create your own, you can skip tracks whenever your want, and it's completely ad-free.

I like the fact that their x-ray feature displays the lyrics to the songs (where available), which is an extension of the x-ray offered on their video offering.

With Prime Music, it’s possible to create playlists, change the order tracks within the playlists (something I was surprised to find lacking on Spotify), you can download tracks to your device (and select the location; internal memory, or external SD card - again, something that I wasn’t able to achieve on Spotify).
All of this is synchronised with the cloud, so your playlists can be accessed from all your devices.

If there is one feature I would really love, it's gapless playback, if not also cross-over.

So; as an Amazon Prime member, for the grand total of £79 per year (just £1.52 per week) you get ALL the above. If you have the Amazon Fire TV and/or the TV Stick, then you have a sublime entertainment experience.

What do you think? Do you have a favourite music service?

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Cubs - The Start of a Great Adventure

Are you at a loss about something for your son to do; outside of school?

Is he driving you mad, just sitting in front of the computer all evening, and not doing anything creative?  Does he take part in sports?  Does he have interests?

Are you looking for something to do, that takes your mind away from work?  Maybe you have skills of your own you'd like to share.

Next year, Cubs celebrate their Centenary. 100 years of Cubs, around the world.  From the age of 8, through to 10 and a half, boys (and girls) enjoy a really eclectic mix of education, action and adventure.

My personal story began back in 2008, when my oldest son, Ethan, started.

Scouting, in general, has seen a steady resurgence, and when my oldest son turned 8, he joined our local Cub pack.  As a parent who never went to Cubs or Scouts, I really didn't know what to expect.  At all.  So, I was pleasantly surprised to see the programme, and the activities the boys got up to.

I first helped out when we went on our annual camp.  The "main event" in the Scouting year, I was amazed; totally blown away by the organisation and preparation that goes into making a Scout/Cub camp successful.  You could liken it to a a small army - everything is brought to the site, and when we leave, it's as though we were never there!

It was very hard work, but extremely rewarding.  The boys had a fantastic time; and not an electronic device to be seen.  I was hooked.  I soon became a more regular helper at the weekly meetings, and at the following camp, I was invested as a leader.

Almost three years ago, I took over as Akela.  The leader of the pack.

Why is Akela the name for the Cub Leader?

If you didn't know, Lord Baden-Powell, the creator of the Scouts, was friendly with Rudyard Kipling, and so asked if he could use the characters from The Jungle Book as names for the Cub leaders.

I get such a buzz from seeing the boys grow and develop; and, as they get older, move on to Scouts.

Running a Cub pack is no mean feat.  I have the most amazing team in Shere Khan, Baloo and Bagheera; as well as three Explorer girls, who turn up each and every week to help run the meetings.  The parents get involved too.

There are plenty of badges to earn; from  Personal Safety to DIY, Cooking to Pioneering and Digital Citizen to Hiking and the great outdoors.  There's something for everyone, and it's an education too.

I've not even started to scratch the surface about what Cubs and Scouts is about.  There is so much; run by an organisation that I'm proud to be a part of.

If you are looking for something exciting and rewarding, where you get out just as much as you put in; where your son or daughter will learn new skills, increase their confidence and make new friends, then contact your local Scout group to see if you can help.

You won't regret it.

Take a look at the Scouts website for more information

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Pocket - How I Save The Internet

How do you consume your news?  Do you buy a traditional newspaper?  Do you just read the free newspaper on your daily commute?
Or, do you use your phone, tablet or PC to read the news?

I rarely read a newspaper; but I do read the news on my phone; each morning, as I wend my way to work, I flick through feedly and find articles of interest in my curated news feeds.  I also use Flipboard for more in-depth articles of interest.  When I find something I want to save for later, I add to Pocket.  This is how I "save the internet".

It's not just feedly.  It's possible to save articles from almost anywhere; especially by using the "share" feature, I select Pocket, and away it goes.

The next time I fire up the Pocket app on my mobile, or the site; all my saved articles are ready to ready to read.

Once I've added tags, I can then select tags to read, see where the videos are, or pictures.  Articles I want to keep handy I mark as favourites, others, when read can either be deleted for good, or simply archived.

Saving the internet has never been so easy.

Do you use Pocket?  Is there some other way in which you save articles for reading later?


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