Consuming Digital Media

You got the media, or it’s online. How do you consume it? This is how I do it. Keep in mind that here in the Netherlands we get a lot of regional blocked nonsense. It’s useless for us to consider Pandora, Amazon, or Hulu, and loads of YouTube music videos and trailers error with ‘region block, not available in your country’. It’s probably one reason why piracy is part of the EU culture, I guess.

tl;dr When you have your media, how to watch it the way I do? And what is available, according to me? These are the winners: VLC, Downcast, Plex, and Netflix.

I can see you thinking: Why don’t you just get a VPN? And you’re right. It’s a patch for this problem, not a solution, but another option. However, using a VPN to get a service in the US is probably not making it legal, and in most cases against the terms of services.

Let’s walk through the apps, link to their homepage, and give my personal experience and/or opinion about it. Maybe this will help you figure out how to consume your own media on your systems and mobile devices.

VLC is a free and open source cross-platform multimedia player and framework that plays most multimedia files as well as DVDs, Audio CDs, VCDs, and various streaming protocols.

Everything that I watch on my iMac is being going through VLC, tv, movies, website live streams, etc. It’s fast, it works, it lets me take screenshots, and doesn’t have any issues with whatever (media) filetype I throw at it. That said, I still do not like to use it for playing music; I default to iTunes to be honest. By the way, this is an open source and completely free media player. A fun little thing I use VLC for every so often is to download YouTube clips.

vlc site

A very cool podcast player for iOS, Mac and even Apple Watch.

Any audio book, podcast or short audio event that I prefer to listen to while commuting or relaxing in bed or on the couch, goes through Downcast. I’ve discussed it already here. One of the things I like about Downcast is that you can play what’s on the device, or stream it versus downloading the episode. Syncing between devices has really improved as well. I think Downcast is a couple of bucks in the Apple App Store.

downcast site

Plex organizes your video, music, and photo collections and streams them to all of your screens.

If it’s not on Netflix, but it’s on my network, then I use Plex to play the data on my mobile devices. If I have guests over and they just want to chill while others chat, they can load up Plex and explore music, tv and movies. It’s much improved over the last few years and it now does exactly what I desire. A real solution for my digital media. One of the things I really like about Plex is that it looks fantastic. It handles the metadata for you. The listing of seasons, episodes, show art, etc. It is automatic and looks great. By the way, it’s free.

plex site

Watch TV shows & movies anytime, anywhere, from any device.

It’s the legal solution to piracy if you ask me. Instead of getting stuff just to binge watch you end up loading Netflix. One payment a month and access to whatever is in their library. No advertisements, no time limits, or one-view-only restrictions. It’s the way digital media should and can be consumed. Sure, it’s still not perfect. And their price is slowly going up. But they do have HD and even 4K content, stream to almost every device in the world, and it’s really easy to use. If only they would have the latest seasons, episodes, and movies. one thing I like about Netflix is that you can make profiles. So my guests can browse and watch while leaving my profile alone. Not to mention, they have Fargo the tv series, of which season two was simply the best show on tv in 2015. Oh, it’s subscription based.

netflix site

Basically, if I am behind my iMac, it’s Netflix in the browser or VLC as app. And any other situation it’s Plex, if it’s not on Netflix. And additionally I watch and listen to podcasts on Downcast. Just a couple of apps, but they cover my digital media needs, and do it well.

Here are a few examples of who aren’t winners, and I understand that it really is the (music/movie) industry.

Amazon – They’re letting you sign up and pay, but give you a black screen with no information. They’re basically hiding the fact that you can’t view their content.

no amazon

Hulu – They’re not even letting you view free content that’s free on official sites, they simply bend over and agreed to not show anything to anybody but the US probably. Since access to the site is blocked, I can’t even double check this.

no hulu

Pandora – They are honestly trying their best, they’re being transparent about it and would love to expand their business. The music industry is crippling them, and then milking them for every penny as well. No artist is benefitting here. Contacting their staff has been a positive experience.

no pandora

YouTube – The majority of content is available, and their short error messages at least let you know if it’s the company, some dmca thingy, or the uploader that has it region blocked. But I shake my head and point to them for shame. How can you put region blocks on officially uploaded music videos, teasers, trailers for movies, and free to the world content for which both YouTube and the uploader are getting advertising income from.

no youtube

Not really a winner, and not really a loser either, is Apple with iTunes. They’ve got loads of (great) content and a beautiful tvOS for their latest Apple TV device. But every time I go check if what I want is available… it is not. Or not yet. And when it is, it’s quite expensive. I pay per movie what I pay Netflix for *everything*. They’re really trying, and approaching it quite well. It’s easy to use, but beyond that. Nah. Sorry. But then again, it’s how I listen to music, through iTunes, and my Apple devices, so that’s a thumbsup again. They’re in limbo, just thought I’d at least give them a mention.

Footnote 1
I am aware that it’s the outdated copyright act that the industry is abusing for financial gain that is behind all these restrictions. I am sure these companies would love to take my money in exchange for their content. But Netflix and YouTube made it work, surely Hulu and Amazon can refocus their values over time.

Footnote 2
If you are using any app that supports streaming, be aware if you’re using your data that you are dealing with hundreds of megabytes.