Subscriptions. A rant.

I am so frustrated with how things are these days with tech, services, and just about everything else.  For one example video games.  Back in the day, you could buy a video game and that was it–you could play it normally, privately, or play it online, if the game offered that feature.  There was no fee to play online, no “online pass” you had to own, and no other fees other than the purchase of the game itself.  It was the same with movies.  Buy a DVD, and you could play it anywhere, on any DVD player, on any TV.

Today, things are quickly changing.  Luckily, you can still buy DVDs, but I know that’s going to go away eventually.  The same with video games.  Everything is “going digital” and you’ll eventually only be able to obtain games, movies, and music digitally.  All of your purchases will only be for a “license to download” things, so you’ll never really “own” anything.  Stop paying a subscription fee, and you lose access to everything you had access to with that subscription.   We will soon “own” none of our media, and we’ll only have a temporary license to play it.

Whether that’s a good thing or bad, I guess, is up to you.  Maybe I’m “old school”, but I prefer to have something physical for what I pay for.  Whether that’s a DVD, a Blu-Ray, a Music CD, or a game disc.  As far as I’m concerned, I own that disc, music, or game, and I can install or play it wherever and whenever I want, and not have to pay anything for it ever again.  At this point in this “revolution”, however, I’m a bit stuck in the middle with this stuff.  By that, I mean I now prefer the convenience that comes with having everything digital, but I hate the idea of having to pay a constant monthly fee for the right to access them.  To this end, I have found an efficient way to extract–or, as they call it these days, “rip”–all of my CDs, DVDs, and BluRay discs to media files, so I have everything readily-available, all the time, from my computer, and I can move any of them to any of my portable devices as I want to, without having any extra fees to pay. Ever.

I took this convenience one step further recently after discovering “Plex”, an awesome media platform that allows me to have ALL of this media on a “server” of my own, then stream it, totally free, to any device or other computer I want–even to my TV.  Plex works great, supports all the major formats for music and movies, has apps for all of the smartphone types, and even has apps for all of the set-top boxes like Roku, Google TV, etc.

The latest generation of game consoles (Playstation 4, X-Box One) recently took a very bold step into the fee-based cesspool:  They released both systems as non-backward-compatible!  This means that everyone who has a Playstation 3, or X-Box 360 (the generation of consoles that came out right before them) will no longer be able to play their previously-purchased games on the new consoles.  All of the money that I–and hundreds of thousands of other people–spent buying great PS3 games before, will basically be wasted when our PS3 consoles eventually die or break down.  If we’re lucky, when that happens we might be able to dig up an old, working PS3 somewhere just to keep our came collection viable.  But we know, soon enough, it’ll all be gone.

Now, if a particular game you like was popular enough on the PS3, and the developer is still around and developing for the PS4, you might see a PS4 version of your game made available, but you can sure bet you’ll be paying for it again if you want to play it!  It might have a “cheap $9.99 UPGRADE fee”, but you’ll be paying for it again, regardless.  Games of this type can be found in the “PS3/PS4” section of the Playstation Store on the PS4…And this is a very small section.  The titles here are games that are PS4 versions with equivalent PS3 titles.  If you own one of the PS3 versions and upgraded to the PS4, you’re lucky enough to be allowed to pay for your game again!  I guess we’re supposed to feel good about having to pay for our games a second time…?  You bought the game once though, why should you have to pay ANYTHING for it again?!?!  I know, I know, the developers worked hard to provide the new version, and they have to get paid, etc., etc., But don’t they get enough from the users who buy the game new, who obviously pay double or triple the price of the “upgrade”?  Obviously, the “upgraders” are getting the same version of the game, so the developers can afford to sell a copy of the game for the lower price if they want to.  Ah, but remember now, that “upgraded” copy of the game is now only a “license” to the game… it’s not a physical disc copy of the game.  So you can never re-sell it to anyone else, and I’m sure, by the time the NEXT generation of consoles comes out, it’ll be completely worthless.

Movies are also moving quickly toward this path.  Services like Netflix, Hulu and Redbox already off vast collections of thousands of great movies and TV shows, with everything they offer available to you all at once, for just a low monthly subscription fee.  It’s like having your very own Plex server, except with thousands more movies (but no music–those would be another, completely different subscription service), except that, as soon as you stop paying the monthly fee, it’s snatched away from you completely, and you have nothing.  You own nothing.  I know, I’m old-school.  I’m just ranting.

So these days, as we work hard to earn the money to pay down and eliminate all of our debt, finally getting financially stable, and able to pay our mortgage, gas & electric, cell phone and property taxes to keep living normally, we can add to that a half dozen or even a dozen perpetual subscription fees that will never end, for all kinds of things that we’ll never own.  For me, I’m trying to get by with as few subscription services as I can, as most other people probably are, but as the new game consoles prove, it’s only going more and more–quickly– in that direction.

If you do the math for the subscription scenario, then compare it to the math to actually buy all of the DVD, BluRays, and Music CDs as well as the hardware required to build your own streaming server, sure, you’re going to find that paying the monthly subscription fee will end up costing you thousands of dollars less in the long run, and will take tons less time to build, maintain, and keep up than your own server would.  But then again, I’m a geek who enjoys such things, so taking that time and extra effort is something I’d rather do with a chunk of my time instead of just being twice the couch potato and watch movies for two-thirds of my day.

Rant complete.

App Crap

What’s with all of the Android app issues all of a sudden?? First, Google Navigation–the absolute best (and totally free) navigation app available for Android–pretty much threw in the towel recently by removing the ability to control the voice volume for the navigation while integrating a very natural and human-sounding internal speech engine.  Now, whenever I use it I can’t hear any of the navigation announcements because my music volume is apparently louder than the new voice engine!  And since the eliminated the separate volume control for the navigation, there’s no way to control it!  Turning down the volume turns down both the Navigation volume as well as the music, so I end up having to choose a no-music (or audiobook) drive or a music-only drive without navigation at all.  Unacceptable, Google!!  I’m trying to work with Waze right now, which has made some big improvements lately, from what I’m seeing.  It does pretty good navigation and includes “crowdsourcing” features, constantly including traffic, accident and other updates instantly as you drive, from all of the “Wazers”.  You even earn points for everything to report in the app, to increase your Waze score and earn better ranks.  It has it’s issues, doesn’t look as “Pro” as Google Navigation, and the voice navigation is a bit muffled…but at least it has a separate voice navigation VOLUME CONTROL!!! Are you listening, Google?!?!?!? It works ok for me for now, until something better comes along (or Google fixes theirs).

Then today I find out that Dropbox acquired Audiogalaxy!!  Now Audiogalaxy isn’t accepting any new accounts, and their “Mixes” subscription service is ending on 12/31/12.  Yikes!! They go on to say “previous users with accounts can continue to stream their music collections”… but for how long?!?!  Audiogalaxy is the best Android music streaming server I have ever found, and nothing compares to it!! I sure hope they eventually decide to keep streaming and start accepting new accounts again, even if it becomes branded as a Dropbox Music Streaming app–as long as they DON’T start requiring everyone to upload their music collection to Dropbox though–THAT would suck!  I have such a huge collection of music, it would cost me quite a bit of money each month for a dropbox account big enough to hold my entire music collection.  Hmmph.  Time to start looking for something better anyway, I guess.

Amazon vs Google – The quest for the MP3 market

Amazon just released “Cloud Drive” and “Cloud Player” for Android.  It lets you stream your music from the cloud.  5GB of cloud space is free, and you get upgraded to 20GB if you buy just one MP3 album from them in 2011 (from this date forward).  All future purchases of Amazon MP3 music are stored in their cloud space for free, so if this is the only place you get your music, like me, this could be great.

But unfortunately they’re not including everyone’s previous purchases, which is very sad.  I have purchased hundreds of albums from them over the past few years, so this would have been awesome, so unfortunately this is a deal breaker for me.  I have over 250GB of music, so they’re saying I would need to purchase a t least a block of 200GB of cloud space for $200 per year!  Or worse yet, their next plan up, which is 500GB for $500 a year! Yikes!  So it looks like I’m sticking to streaming my own music from home for now.

Google, however, is about to release “Google Music”, which promises to offer streaming of your own music from home, as well as from the cloud, and they’ll have their own MP3 store to purchase new music!  This sounds pretty promising, and if it works out, I might just have to switch to purchasing my music from Google instead of Amazon in the future!  We’ll see.