Den of the Cyphered Wolf

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

My Thoughts on HBO Go and Xfinity for XBox

Okay after about two months I think that it is about time I review the HBO and Xfinity Xbox 360 apps. I'm going to say a lot but here is the gist. The Xfinity apps is basically Comcast's TV OnDemand service with a better interface, which I find frustrating. The HBO app, while not eclipsing Netflix and Hulu mostly succeeds at what I expected it to be, though I am disappointed in a few very specific holes in expected content. Cough ach** In Treatment*** cough.

The Roll Out Kerfuffle
Yeah. I guess I can't go any further with ignoring it. These services, HBO Go and Xfinity on Xbox had incredibly horrible launches. This is part of the reason why I waited so long to review them. I wanted the review to not be a long rant about it, but at the same time I can't say it doesn't color my opinion. Part of the problem was a disappointment with the product which I'll describe later but here I'm going to focus on the two weeks of heck with them.

The technology that Comcast uses so that its service can bypass its data cap was already controversial, but that technology also made it difficult for some people to set up the service. It took me about four hours to set mine up which sounds short but for Hulu the same process takes about 5 minutes.

Add to that people were expecting to have the HBO GO library included in the app or at very least being allowed to use the HBO Go app and you have a situation where some people can't use the app in the way they wanted, to watch the entire series of Deadwood in three days.

By the way to anyone who hates on the above parody I can say a lot of those lines are actual quotes from the show.

You got that you sons of bitches! You screwed the pooch on this one! In your haste to silence the grievances and doubts against you, you have only proven your detractors right to think you cocksuckers can't do a damn thing right, and through your ineptitude showed your clientele you are unworthy of the hard earned currency we lay from our pockets into your fucking ass cheeks, you motherfucking incompetent whores! (Shot of my punching of a cable exec, leaving the room and looking at my number 2 so he knows to finish it.)

I love Al.

Anyway eventually they got their act together but it took them forever.

Criticisms of Netflix and Hulu
In order to understand my opinion of these services you have to understand that ultimately I was hoping they would improve on Netflix and Hulu. While I like both of these services I do have a few gripes with them.
Lets get this out of the way. I hate the metro redesign of these apps. I've hated it for nearly a year now. See I mostly use these apps to watch TV and it was easier to search out specific episodes in Netflix back when they were in list form. It's even worse than that because you don't even go to an episode menu screen in Netflix before it starts playing anymore. It plays the episode it thinks you were on even if you only had about 2 minutes until the end of it. So basically I'm watching the ending credits of South Park every time I fire it up.

In Hulu the metro the redesign made it so that most of the time only 100 panels could be displayed. What does this mean? If you're Hulu favorites list or queue on your computer has more than 100 items you're out of luck. Browsing through a studios' catalog and they have more than 100? Out of luck. Going though and selecting stuff by letter and it has more than 100, you are out of luck. How do I know this? Because things arranged alphabetically in the C section are cut off at CO and searching I see a show called The Cut. That and as an anime nerd I search for stuff in their Funimation collection which I know they have.
But those are problems that are kind of nitpicks. You can still watch shows. The big one I was expecting the cable app to fix was a lack of premium content. It is very hard to get movies less than a few years old, at least mainstream ones on these apps.
Furthermore my expectations were shaded by the Comcast website, which while not perfect had far more content than their TV OnDemand service and integrated the HBO Go library into it.
To put it simply I was expecting the Comcast app to be more similar to the website than OnDemand. The website is basically Netflix, but with premium content, which is what I was hoping for.
I love...ed OnDemand 10 years ago. It was exciting. A library of content I could watch without being bound to the clock. If a show came on late night, like Real Time with Bill Maher, or Aqua Teen Hunger Force I didn't have to stay up until midnight to watch it. It was great.
But here is the thing. Now to me that is the norm. I almost never watch a show when it comes on. Ten years ago that quality was a cool gimmick. Now it's just the way I watch TV.
OnDemand hasn't changed much in 10 years, which to me seems inexcusable when there are services that have refined the trait it defined. Now I don't just watch whichever show I want to watch when I want to, I watch whichever episode of that show I want.

And that is something that is just plain hard to do with On Demand which normally doesn't even give you a full season of these shows. After years, I have finally gotten my mother to sit down and watch The Wire. She's hooked but can only watch 4 episodes a month OnDemand. Meanwhile on Comcast's website if I wanted to I could watch the entire series.
Now I understand why the interface is so hard to change, which is the major complaint when comparing it other services. Your cable box just isn't that powerful a computer, but in terms of content, they are the grand masters. They've been at it far longer than Netflix, yet it seems they have far less content especially full seasons.
Note: I'm just going on my feelings here. I don't have specific numbers and even if I did there are different ways to calculate the size of a media library. I wish they would just measure it in content hours.
And it seems the Xfinity App has less content still. A lot of the shows it offers are already on Netflix, but have full seasons there, like Supernatural.

For shows where chronology matters it's confusing as all heck to tell which order the available episodes are in.
Also the search function is broken. I'm delighted to say one of my favorite miniseries Into the West is available, but in order to find it you have to go through the network menu because search says it doesn't exist.

All that said there is premium content. There are shows there that I just can't get anywhere else like NCIS, Young Justice, Thundercats, Avatar: The Legend of Korra, which by the way does its predecessor proud.

And all in all Xfinity does have newer movies than the other services.

It just seems that all of that comes at the expense of viewing things the way I've gotten used to viewing them. If I want to sit down and watch a marathon I've gotten used to being able to. Same goes for watching specific episodes. All the election talk has got me in the mood for "Douche and Turd".

HBO Got It Right
Everything I've been complaining about especially interface stuff. It's not a problem with HBO's app. The interface is great. One thing that always bugged with nearly every app is that I can't sort how I see the episodes. There are some shows where the chronology doesn't matter and watching the episodes newest to oldest is probably going to be best, for instance news and talk shows. Then there are others where that option seems insane. Try it with Game of Thrones. I dare you.

Who's that? Why does that guy want that guy dead? Why is that guy saying that guy owes him money? Why is that guy piss scared of that guy?

HBO has a drop down menu that lets you sort how you sees things. Newest to latest, or the other way round. Even for movies you can browse alphabetically or order added.

They have a screen for each episode which conveniently includes a next episode button.

And all the better they have full series. Not just a season but full on series. And they simulcast episodes. You can watch it through the app as soon as it starts on TV. If you're in your kitchen cooking and miss the first five minutes, no problem, just start it from the beginning. It also has a pretty good selection of sports stuff which is hard to find in an OnDemand format due to timeliness issues. Nobody gives a rat's ass about last month's championship match.

It does what I want, but I wish they had more HBO original movies, documentaries and some of the older and smaller series. They have most of the big stuff, Deadwood, Oz, The Wire, The Sopranos, but some of the more obscure stuff from the HBO library like Dennis Miller Live, The Chris Rock Show, The Corner, and Spawn are gone. Like I said they are also missing alot of their original movies and documentaries. There are no Tuskegee Airmen or When the Levies Broke. Which is a shame, because they kept advertising, "The entire HBO catalog."

All that said while I expected the Xfinity app to compete with Netflix I never did for this one. You only get it if you already have cable. And while I love HBO content it can't compete with the size of the other services libraries.

I'll Finish the Way I Started

The Xfinity apps is basically Comcast's TV OnDemand service with a better interface, which I find frustrating. The HBO app, while not eclipsing Netflix and Hulu mostly succeeds at what I expected it to be, though I am disappointed in a few very specific holes in expected content. Cough ach** In Treatment*** cough.

Again it's a damn fine show. Too fine to be pushed to the wayside the way it's been.

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