Advanced Netflix User Tips

Netflix has created lots of new options for movie watchers over the last few years, but we have a growing dilemma: not all of the content is equal. I know better than to watch half of the recommendations Netflix offers. For the most part, the recommendations that are “personalized” seem to be about as accurate as letting your friends from middle school pick tonight’s entertainment.

It used to be when I was ready to watch something, and didn’t know what I was in the mood to watch, I killed lots of time looking through Netflix to discover which were available for streaming and which were DVD only. I would check and re-check the new content category just to see if I’d missed something, as though Netflix released new updates as often as I unlock my iPhone to check notifications. The silliness is Netflix most certainly does not.

I wizened up and got more methodical. Along the way, I’ve found some interesting things you can do with Netflix that most people aren’t aware of.

Netflix Enhancer

I have never been fond of Netflix’s red star ratings. They aren’t nearly as useful as Rotten Tomatoes’ meter, or IMDb’s 10 star rating scale. And hey, this is 2014. It’s about time we have the option to view a movie trailer from most anywhere on Netflix, yeah?

That’s what the Enhancer is useful for. Get this extension for Google Chrome (the desktop version). With it enabled, go back to Netflix and hover over movie titles to get more helpful information: the IMDB and Tomatometer, along with the movie’s watchable trailers, will show up.

Media Hint

Netflix has a unique selection of available instant play content to various countries around the world. Some of the content available in other countries at the present might interest you. With Media Hint, you can access all the available movies available everywhere.

You pay a little fee, and of course, there are other ways to get this feature that forego the fee. But the other methods are in a gray area and I wouldn’t recommend you attempt them. Media Hint is the one way I would consider this option, because the others will break your Netflix user agreement.

Hacking Netflix

This site offers the most reliable up-to-date news for Netflix. They have the latest on new movies, documentaries, and shows added to the service. (Of course, you might as well use Netflix’s site in leiu of one like Hacking Netflix, if you’re already comfortable navigating Netflix without giving into distracting categories and the like.)

A Better Queue

This site offers you the chance to browse Netflix streamable films based on their Rotten Tomatoes’ score, rather than Netflix’s other criteria. If your computer is handy, then this site will help you make better choices when you are looking for something new to watch. You can be very specific about your tastes. For example, if you choose the following criteria, A Better Queue will show you Sci-fi films from the last decade that scored 80% or higher.

Hidden Settings

I picked this one up from Lifehacker. While you’re on your computer watching a movie, if you care to look under the hood and tinker with settings otherwise unknown, hold down ⇧+⌥ on your Mac (Shift+Option, or Shift+Alt for Windows). This presents you with a pulldown menu where you can fix buffering issues, along with other preferences.

Netflix Roulette

If you really don’t want to think about what to watch tonight, and would rather an algorithm pick one for you, then 'Flix Roulette is just the ticket. Give it some criteria: like the genre you wanna shoot for, or a director’s name. Then, press the “Spin” button and you will be presented with something to watch of the Netflix Roulette’s choosing.

Ultimately, I advise you not to judge a film by its cover, director, stars, or trailer. You need to know from someone’s personal account of the film whether it’s worth two hours of your time. If you are interested in movies, as a casual-but-kind-of-picky member of the audience, I hope these Netflix tips help.

I still think the best movies I’ve seen were recommended to me by trusted friends and movie review sources. Rotten Tomatoes’ meter isn’t perfect, but I find it helpful. IMDb’s is a little less so, but it’s still better than picking a movie without some kind of input. Heck, every now and then, someone on Facebook is right about a movie.

So, listen to The MovieByte Podcast for news and reviews. The podcast is great if you don’t have time to read reviews and watch trailers, but have the time to listen while you workout or drive. There are 100+ back episodes: each with a movie review. Usually, the first thirty minutes of Moviebyte is movie news, then I discuss the movie in review with TJ Draper and guests for the last hour or so of podcast.

New ‘About’ Photo

I felt that it was time to update the About page, and since I don’t have a photographer around with a beautiful DSLR camera, I took a selfie on the back deck and edited it in Photoshop.

‘Before and after’ About page picture edited with Photoshop CS6

‘Before and after’ About page picture edited with Photoshop CS6

Actually, I took this photo about a year ago using my iPhone 4s. Nothing special really, so I wanted to make it look presentable. I did my best, though I can see room for improvement… And I can see the substantial benefits in taking photos with a high quality camera in the first place.

In a perfect scenario, I would have a photographer, go to the park, take 300 photos of the family, and from them identify a photo that I would like to use for this site. But that opportunity hasn’t arisen yet.

On the About page itself, you can see more of the background that I edited in. On the far right, there is some park sign that I will photoshop out later. It annoys me, now with further consideration.

MovieByte #103: Water Park Ride

After much debate whether or not we would watch Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, TJ and I caved and produced our podcast review. Strangely, it’s not as terrible as we expected it to be. At the least, it’s not as bad as Michael Bay’s Transformers franchise. If you ask me, it’s nearly as good as The Amazing Spider-Man 2.

We also found time to discuss movie news about—what else—the Star Wars franchise and upcoming Marvel/DC movies.

The Alfred App Versus Competitors’

When asked what their strategy is to make the Alfred app competitive with others, like Quicksilver, Vero Pepperrell said this:

There has never been a strategy to "compete" in our mind; our objective is to create an app that is truly useful, stable and always-evolving, regardless of who else is in the market. By staying focused on creating a great product full of useful features, rather than playing a game of tit-for-tat with a competitor, I think we've built a better product and have a happier community of users.

This issue about competitiveness has always intrigued me. Professionals that have their focus on their "enemies" lose sight of their customers and their product’s quality. At least, this is what I typically notice.

People motivated by competition often have a sourness about them. In the long run, it focuses their energy on the bottom dollar. If they dwell on their shortcomings they evetually resent the market itself, and they flaunt an undeserved self-respect if they are too aware of their success.

The Menu Bar of Mac Power Users

Mac menu bar apps have been with us more than 10 years, and during this time I’ve found them to be some of the more useful features of my workflows.

Zach Hamed published a few stats about apps found in his menu bar; nerdy details regarding his top 15. I think it’s difficult to draw conclusions from his research, but his findings still piqued my curiosity.

At this time, I use 19 menu bar apps (well, including standard Mac system tools). Here’s the few that always appear in my menu bar:

I’ve hidden Spotlight.

Now, here’s the long list of the apps/features I like to use from inside Bartender’s nifty drawer:

Just when I think that I could go without one of these in the menu bar, I inevitably find an occasion I want them handy again. The third party tools I’ve listed here represent some of my favorite Mac apps, so I recommend you check them out.

One other honorable mention is Yoink, a competitor to Dropzone. I used it very happily for more than a year before Dropzone saw the release of version 3. Part of the way I tinker on my Mac would be happier to stay with Yoink, but I’m spending more time with Dropzone to give it a fair shake before I offer my written review.

Supposing Apple Will Release Larger iPhones

John Gruber thought through the potential new screen sizes Apple would use for the upcoming iPhone 6 lineup. Definitely read his guesswork if you have interest in the subject.

Pixels, points, and inches all accounted for, I still enjoy the size of the iPhone 5s and do not have interest in changing my iPhone simply for more screen real estate. My thumb navigation is quite comfortable, and the device fits my pockets comfortably. I don’t want to change my present iPhone experience.

I am, however, looking forward to see the adaptive design techniques that will likely be implemented in apps for new/varied screens. Because of multiple form factors, Apple is encouraging app developers to move away from fixed position design layouts.

The Future of iPods and iTunes

The iTunes Store app icon

If I could have one wish fulfilled from Apple this fall, it would be a new and substantially improved iTunes for Mac. Here’s what I would like:

  • Fragment the content found in iTunes into a few separate apps
  • Focus iTunes on entertainment content
  • Have a new app (if necessary) that manages iOS devices apart from iTunes

The reason iTunes is the way we have it now goes back to a time before the iPhone. iTunes came about to sell music, but then the iPod came out and iPods became the main thrust of the app. When we consumed music, podcasts, shows and movies in equal parts on our Macs and iPods, iTunes worked like a charm to manage everything it would from the one app. Games were not around. Apps for iDevices came after the iPhone. Pictures were exclusively managed through apps other than iTunes. You get the idea.

The iPhone changed everything. It stood to reason that iTunes would be the place Macs managed all the iPhone’s needs, since the iPod was managed in iTunes before it. Who knew then what the user experience would become?

So, remember when the marketing slogan for the iPod was “1,000 songs in your pocket.”? That sounded great at the time. How about now? That selling point doesn’t sound so hot today, does it. The best selling point isn’t a device that just manages local music (or photos we took with a third party camera that we then put on an iPod).

iPhones and iPads don’t have much in common with iPods, which is abundantly clear in 2014. Based on our use cases, we expect the iPhone to be a mini Mac of sorts: giving us all the computer power we’d ever want in our pocket. A thousand songs? Nah, how about, “A Mac in your pocket.” That is essentially what many consumers would like. And that is essentially what the iPhone and iPad are.

My thinking is that iOS devices have separate apps for iBooks, podcasts, listening to music, shopping for music, photos, contacts, et cetera. Why can’t the more powerful computer, the Mac, have a similar yet feature-rich management with a suite of apps for these separate use cases? This would look like unique apps for specific features.

For instance, put all things iBooks related in the iBooks app, and all things music related in iTunes. From a certain point of view, the one I have, it seems like a no brainer.

The reason I think this would be great is that iTunes is long in the tooth. a lot of users hardly bother to use the Mac version now, as it feels tedious and convoluted to manage iOS devices in iTunes there. It’s easy enough to manage our media right out of the iDevice, and a great number of people consume their music and other media solely through their i-thingy.

The experience of a honed iTunes on the Mac would be in a better position to compete with the other music services, like Spotify. iTunes, being the native app, could offer features that are still very appealing (even addicting) to people that also carry iPads and iPhones. People still want great music listening experiences while they work, and iTunes should facilitate this better at the desk. iTunes on the Mac could expand music services and offer new and advanced features ahead of iOS. The potential of making iTunes on the Mac the expanded full-featured entertainment app is tremendous.

Do I think I will see wish fulfillment? Not really. I think that many people want to see iTunes improved, but we don’t have consensus on the best future for iTunes.

There is one thing I would like to predict though: Around the time the iPod Classic is discontinued, Apple will have a new product released that will fill the void of iPods as we know them. That new device, meant to fill the iPod void, might a wearable such as an iWatch. In theory, it could replace iPod Nanos, Shuffles, and Classics because its mobility outweighs its need for data space. The kicker would be if cloud services were more readily useful on an iWatch, consumers might not need the storage space we’ve come to rely on in iPods.

These are just some random personal thoughts I’ve had around for awhile. If you have your own wish list for Apple, let’s see them in a comment. Thank you for indulging geeky daydreams.