Giving Foxtel the flick

I’d been a Foxtel satellite customer (as I live in an apartment building) for thirteen and a half years and I’ve seen the cost of my subscription go up ~50% over that time with no noticeable increase in the quality of the programming. A couple of month ago I got the yearly “regrettably we’ll need to increase your monthly fee” e-mail which would have seen me paying ~$70/month for a service I watched for less than 20 hours a month. I decided to call time on my subscription and search for an alternative.

I had a quick look at a local IPTV service called fetchtv that is resold through a number of ISPs but that just seemed like a cut down Foxtel service that was still going to cost me ~$35/month for only a handful of channels. The value just wasn’t there.

In the past I’d looked at Internet streaming services such as Netflix & Hulu. You can view some of the Netflix and Hulu content in Australia but a majority of the content is “Geo Blocked” meaning that you need to be in the US to stream the movies and TV shows. Hmm, that seemed like a problem, but a quick Google search provided a simple and elegant solution.

There are a number of services you can subscribe to that fool the US-only streaming services into thinking your Australian internet connection is actually a US internet connection. If you google “Smart DNS” you’ll find services like Unotelly, Unblock-us, getflix, overplay and a plethora of others. Some services concentrate on getting you access to just Netflix & Hulu, while others try to open up as many streaming services as possible (and not just US services, but UK, Nordic, NZ etc as well). Most services allow you some sort of trial period so you can try them all and choose whichever one you think is best for you.

To use the SmartDNS you need to change the DNS servers your desktop/laptop/tablet uses by either changing the DNS setting on each device or you can change the DNS settings on your Internet router so they apply to all your devices. I made the change on my router.

To test your SmartDNS is working by trying to watch some of the free content on Hulu or Netflix. If you can watch half a dozen different shows then your SmartDNS is working.

Having free stuff to stream is good, but if you want access to most of the Netflix and Hulu content you’ll need a subscription to each of the services. This then throws up the next roadblock – to subscribe to these services you need a US address and a US credit card.

Getting a US address is simple. Open up Google Maps in your browser, choose your favourite US city and zoom in until you find a house you’d like to virtually move into. Write down the address, including the Zip code for future reference.

Getting a US credit card is just as simple. Again, Google is your friend, just search for “Virtual US credit card”. I ended up using a service called Entropay which allows you to load money from your Australian credit card into your shiny new virtual US credit card.

Once you’ve got your virtual US credit card and address you can sign up to your streaming service. Hulu gives you a 2 week trial and Netfix a month so you can try them before committing to parting with your cash. After the trails both Netflix and Hulu are each $7.99/month.

If you’ve done all of the above you should now able to stream your favourite TV shows and movies to your desktop/laptop/tablet.

But how do you get these movies and TV shows onto your telly? If you Google “movies streaming appliance” two appliances will pop up near the top of the results list that fit the bill. The first is the Apple TV and the second is a family of appliances from Roku. They both do pretty much the same thing so I went for the unit that had been more recently updated which were the Roku units.

There were 2 Roku units I was looking at: the Roku 2 and the Roku 3. The Roku 3 is the faster, better speced unit but it only has HDMI outputs and since my trusty Pioneer A/V receiver doesn’t support HDMI I went for the $10 cheaper Roku 2.

Buying a Roku for delivery to Australia may be an issue as well. You’ll need to buy from a seller who will ship internationally or use a freight forwarder like comGateway. I found a brand new still in sealed box Roku 2 on eBay for a reasonable Buy-It-Now price from a seller who was happy to post to Australia and a week later I had my Roku 2 in my hands.

One thing to note is that the Roku 2 came with a US 110V-only power supply so I had to purchase another power brick from Jaycar that cost me $30.

Setting up the Roku was easy. You’ll need to create an account on the Roku website that you connect your Roku player to. I plugged the Roku into my A/V receiver, powered it up and a couple of minutes later the Roku was up and running. Firstly you’ll need to connect it to your home Wifi and then it downloads the latest software updates and reboots.

Roku has this notion of “Channels” that are synonymous with applications on an iPad or Android tablet. You will see the Netflix and Hulu apps are preinstalled and all you need to do is connect them to you Netflix and Hulu accounts you previously created. Once the accounts are linked to your Roku you can watch your movies and TV shows on your TV.

Streaming video does use your internet download quota so you’ll need to be on a decent plan with your ISP. Streaming will use somewhere between 0.5 to 1 GB/hour so I upgraded my Internode plan from 200GB/month to 400GB/month for an extra $10/month.

So, let’s do the sums to see if I’m financially infront.

What would Foxtel cost me over 2 years?

Foxtel over the next 2 years would have cost me:

2014 $72*12=$840

2015 (assuming $2 increase per month) $74*12=$888

Making a total 2 year cost of $1728.

What’s my new setup going to cost me?

Once off costs: Roku $120, Australian Power supply $30 for a total of $150.

Monthly costs: Hulu $8, Netflix $8, SmartDNS $4, increased Internet download quota $10/mo = $30/mo, so total for 2014 is $360 and if we assume 10% escalation for 2015 the cost will be $396.

That adds upto is a total 2 year cost of $906.

Doing the sums will show you that I’ve saved $822 over two years… not a bad little saving!

So what are you waiting for? Get rid of your absurdly expensive, poor quality programming Foxtel and start streaming!

The great Singapore beer rip – day 2…

Well, decided to change tack a little, and rather than ordering a beer from the other side of the world, decided to see whether a more ‘local’ beer would come at a more reasonable price. And being the lazy person that I am, the venue was to be the same as yesterday, Raffles.

So, after a great late lunch for all of $7, I headed back to Raffles to see what would happen today.

Pulled up a seat by the bar and ordered a pint of Tiger… ahhhhh… it went down super well. So much so, a second chilled one was ordered as soon as the first one was finished. Knowing that this was an expensive beer I savored each and every drop.

Crunch time came as I asked for the bill, which came to $43 give or take a little, which comes in at $21 a pint… ouch… but atleast I got change from a $50 today!

BUT, on a pure bang per ml basis the Tiger wins by about 30%. Though at these prices the only ones that are winning are the bars!

Worlds most expensive beers?

I think I may have just bought three of the worlds most expensive beers.

The story…

I’m currently having a short break from work in Singapore. A bit of relaxing, a bit of shopping, plenty of good food and the occasional drink. The food and the shopping are relatively inexpensive, but the grog is way over priced (or maybe its just where I drink them).

Today I went for a walk down Chinatown for a couple of hours, got really hot and sticky, so decided to have a bit of a siesta back at the hotel mid afternoon. Woke up a little thirsty with beer on my mind… the itch needed to be scratched.

Now, I know this is really stupid, and I’ve done it before so I have no valid reason to whinge, but relaxing in the courtyard at Raffles with a cold beer in the warm humid Singapore afternoon, while watching the world go past, is just a nice way to spend an afternoon. So that’s what I decided to do.

So, trundled over to Raffles, pulled up a chair and ordered a stubby of Carlsburg, nothing special, but a tasty refreshing drop. It went down super quick smart and another coldie was ordered, and then a third.

I knew I’d run up a bit of a tab (based on past experience) and got $50 out of my wallet as I asked for the bill. I then, very quickly, dived back into my wallet for another $10! Yep, 3 beers and I was only getting small change back out of $60!

Sure, the ambiance of the place is nice, and hotels are always more expensive that other drinking establishments, but how can anyone justify the best part of $18 for a single stubby of beer????

To put things into perspective

  • a slab of 24 Carlsburg’s can be bought for $55 in Melbourne, that $2.30 each
  • a stubby of beer at most bars in Melbourne will set you back $6 or $7 each, that’s somewhere between 160% and 205% markup

Assuming that Raffles also buy their beers for $2.30, which is undoubtedly wrong as they would get trade and bulk discounts, they are adding 682% What a rip!

I think I’ll find somewhere cheaper for a beer tomorrow.

Why is eBay e-mail support so useless?

Has anyone else noticed that whenever you contact eBay or Paypal by e-mail that the first answer you get is almost certainly useless.

You can ask the simplest of questions and I’ll bet you pennies to pounds that the answer you get will not address the substance of your question at all.

This has happened to me on almost every occasion that I’ve had reason to contact eBay or Paypal.

Is this just eBay’s way of filtering out the “real” questions? Are they assuming that the majority of users will accept the canned, useless response and only serious people will bother to chase up a proper answer?

My guess is that the monkeys, err people, answering the question the first time aren’t the sharpest knives in the drawer, and probably only have English as their fourth or fifth language, and they probably don’t even understand, assuming they can read English, the questions that are being asked. But rather than not answer a question they just send you some gibberish with a few keywords in it that match your original question, but not an actual, valid answer and hope for the best as they hit the send button.

When you reply to the nonsense answer telling them that they didn’t answer the question you asked, you almost always get a decent answer. It looks like questions that you reply to goes to a different group of people… people with a clue.

But why must we endure the moronic, clueless answers in the first place?

eBay… get a f’en clue! Hire staff to answer your e-mails that have a clue!