I Hate to Complain, But … (Updated)

kinescopeStreaming video rant follows.

A little over a year ago we invested in a Roku box. We upgraded our in-house wireless network and signed up for increased download rates from Comcast, our high-speed internet service provider. And we subscribed to two streaming services, Netflix and Amazon Prime.

Over the past year Amazon Prime streaming has lived up to its promise, always delivering a high quality picture and never hesitating or reloading. Netflix streaming? It’s been shit from the beginning, though I don’t think Netflix is to blame for it. I’ve come close to canceling several times, but rumors of some sort of deal between Netflix and Comcast kept me on the hook. Then, a few days ago, Netflix and Comcast announced their deal: Netflix would pay Comcast to stop throttling its stream. One of the news articles I read last week said the deal was done and higher streaming rates were already in effect, so it was with great anticipation I sat down to watch a Netflix streaming episode of MST3K on our big flat screen HD TV Friday night.

Sadly, nothing had changed. As usual, the show downloaded at “four dot” quality, not HD but still pretty good. Then, before Joel even got to Robot Roll Call, less than two minutes in, the screen went black. After a short pause the download bar reappeared. A long two minutes dragged by as MST3K slowly reloaded from scratch, this time at “two dot” quality. When the show started running again the image quality was severely degraded: it was like watching a kinescope of a TV show from the 1960s, fuzzy, grainy, impossible to make out detail. Almost as bad as the inset graphic above, which was what Americans settled for before the Civil War, indoor plumbing, and automobiles.

Yes, before you ask, we’ve contacted Comcast. Over and over. We’ve had technicians come to the house. And before you helpfully tell us to check our equipment and connections, please go back and read the part where I said Amazon Prime, streaming through the same equipment and connections, works flawlessly. The problem is not at our end.

Canceling Comcast is not a viable option. It has the local monopoly on broadband internet service and we need the connection. So I canceled Netflix streaming, even though Comcast, not Netflix, seems to be the villain. For now we’ll make do with Amazon Prime and cable TV. If Comcast ever actually stops throttling Netflix … because despite what we read in the news it’s clearly still doing it … I’m sure we’ll hear about it, and should that time come we can resubscribe.

From all I’ve read, and I have been researching our options, satellite and local ISPs won’t cut it: they don’t deliver the download rates you need for streaming video. That’s the real issue here, access to reliable high speed broadband internet, like people have in other countries. That’s what we’re paying Comcast for, but it’s not what we’re getting.

C’mon, Google Fiber! You can’t get here fast enough!

Update (3/3/14): I posted a link to this post on Twitter yesterday and within an hour received a DM from a Netflix employee who explained that the added bandwidth Netflix negotiated with Comcast hadn’t been implemented in my part of the country until sometime Saturday. He promised that if I renewed and checked out Netflix streaming again I’d definitely see an improvement.

I did renew, and so far things look good. After restarting the wireless connection to our Roku, I started a movie my daughter had put on our watch list.* It downloaded at four dots and ran without hesitation or reloading for half an hour before I had to turn it off so Donna could watch the Oscars. The Netflix streaming renewal is month by month, so if the problems come back I’m only out $8 … but as I said so far it looks good.

Thanks, Netflix guy, for responding to me on Twitter! And let me note, for the record, that I’ve heard nothing from Comcast.

* The movie Polly added to our Netflix watch list is Zombie Ass: Toilet of the Dead. It’s supposed to be a zombie movie, but it seems like thinly-disguised Japanese fetish porn to me, and awakened embarrassing memories of the time Polly talked us into playing a Blockbuster DVD while Dad’s second wife Lois was visiting. I can’t remember the name of the movie, but it was pretty much naked people humping … softcore, not XXX but close enough. I hit eject after five minutes and the three of us sat there red-faced while Polly obliviously asked “Why’d you turn the movie off?”

Never change, Polly. On second thought …

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