Since, it’s still August, and everyone in the northern hemisphere is on holiday, let’s catch up on a few items for a summer grab bag. Reaching into the bag, we find ...
1) Netflix multi-user profiles: I met with the director of global media relations for Netflix a few weeks ago during her visit to Vancouver and first heard about this new and welcome feature that will solve a major annoyance for many subscribers. The problem is that up to now with typically one Netflix account per family or household everyone knew what everyone else was watching. Your most recent viewing, and the recommendations from Netflix based on that viewing, would be visible for whoever was using the account: spouses, kids, roommates. All that viewing was also available to your Facebook friends on Netflix if you share your viewing automatically through the social network. Hilarity or embarrassment resulted. (“Bob/Dad/my husband watches Californication? You’ve to be kidding ...”)
Beginning this month, Netflix is allowing up to five personalized profiles for each account. Logging into your account, you’ll see an icon for each profile you’ve created or want to create. Switching between profiles provides instant queue and recommendations unique to those profiles. Profiles can also be locked to access content deemed suitable for children under 12. That’s a nice feature, although I can’t see any way the system prevents enterprising kids from switching to an adult’s profile without requiring a password. Trust still remains in parenting it seems.
The profiles are being rolled out now and showed on my account just a few days ago, although so far for me seems limited to the Netflix web page and the Xbox 360 app.
2) Free U.S. Netflix and Hulu: A few columns back I described how savvy cord cutters in Canada use virtual private networks, or VPNs, to make it appear as if they were using the Internet from the U.S. and thereby gain access to American Netflix and the Hulu online television service. The VPNs I described were paid commercial services and I still recommend them, but since that column some readers have reminded me about free services.
Free, on the Internet, must always be approached with caution for obvious reasons and I add caveats to these services, although they are endorsed by reviews in reputable tech news sources like CNET and Lifehacker. The first is Hotspot Shield, a longstanding free VPN that includes paid tiers of service. I used Hotspot Shield years ago, and it worked to give me American Internet and protection when using public wifi. But the free version also annoyed me by hijacking my browser with a superimposed toolbar and incredibly annoying video ads. I’d go for its paid services if you want to stick with Hotspot as VPN. It has apps for Windows, Mac, iOS and Android.
There are also two free services, Media Hint and Hola Unblocker, that advertise themselves as service unblockers. Neither are VPNs and will not provide you with VPN security using wifi, but they will give you access to a select number of regionally blocked services like Netflix, Hulu, Pandora and the BBC’s iPlayer. Hola has apps for Windows, OSX, Android, iOS and Linux. Media Hint works only as extensions to the Chrome or Firefox browsers on Windows or OSX. Neither works with set top boxes like Apple TV or Xbox 360.
I tried out Media Hint on a Windows 7 machine for limited testing. Despite my initial scepticism, it was simple to set up and worked just fine. But keep in mind my warning that very little online is truly free.
3) After my rundown of online tech sites a couple of columns ago, a Vancouver-based tech blog contacted me to let me know about their work. I hadn’t heard of Vancouver Gadgets before but having looked at the site I like their focus on providing a B.C. voice to online tech journalism that’s otherwise dominated by New York and Silicon Valley. They also do a podcast.
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