My Experiment With Plex Fails

by James Wallace Harris, 2/6/23

As I explained in my last post, I wanted to convert Susan’s favorite shows on DVDs to digital files so she could watch them with Plex. Because she sews and watches the same TV series, over and over again, I thought we could save money by canceling Netflix, Hulu, and HBO Max.

Well, things didn’t work out as I hoped. I started with Friends and The Gilmore Girls. I bought both as complete series DVD sets for Susan for Christmases long ago. In the first two seasons of The Gilmore Girls, I had two bad discs. And I had one in the second season of Friends. In recent years I’ve discovered other bad DVDs. I tried them on three different players – no luck. The DVD is essentially a 21st-century technology, but now that we’re in year 23 I’m discovering they are not a true archival format.

At first, I wasn’t going to let a few bad discs stop me. I got Plex all set up with a couple seasons of both shows and configured her Roku TV to use Plex. Susan isn’t very picky about picture quality, but I realized that Friends episodes playing on HBO Max are in 1080p, while the rip discs are 480p. See the photo at the top of the page to compare the 4:3 aspect ratio to 16:9. Not only that, but the image quality was far superior – essentially Bluray quality to DVD quality. That depressed me. I don’t know if Friends was digitally reframed for HDTV, or if it was originally shot in 16:9 but it looks great on flat-screen TVs. Seeing it on Plex reminded me of old CRTs, which is how we watched Friends when it came out.

The final straw for me was the closed caption was so much better on the HBO Max version. I told Susan I was giving up. We are going to try and just subscribe to Netflix, Hulu, or HBO Max one at a time.

But I also learned that ripping DVDs is a tedious business. It would have taken weeks to rip all our discs. Just messing with DVDs and DVD players is annoying. The whole reason streaming TV is great is not messing with machines and physical media. No wonder old DVDs are cheap at charity shops and library book sales.

The experiment wasn’t a complete failure. I ripped the last three seasons of Perry Mason that I’ve always meant to watch. Watching Perry on Plex is nicer than messing with DVDs every night. I also ripped Survivors (BBC 1975-1978) a favorite series I’ve been meaning to watch again. It’s not streaming anywhere. I even ripped some documentaries on DVDs I recorded off of broadcast years ago that I wanted to save and a couple of DVD compilations of videos we took on vacation and another of my mother made by some of her distant relatives.

Plex is turning out to be something for me, not Susan.

I guess I’ll start going through my DVDs to get rid of most of them. This experiment has taught me I prefer watching movies and TV shows streamed rather than played by a DVD/BD player. I will keep those shows and movies that seldom get streamed or are my absolute favorites, which I will rip to Plex.

I guess the decades of trying to own our favorite movies and TV shows are coming to an end. I’m also glad I didn’t run out and buy that Synology NAS right away. Computers are getting smaller, and we store stuff in the cloud. Thank GNU for Dropbox.


When Will How We Watch TV Stop Evolving?

by James Wallace Harris, 2/2/23

In the 21st century, it now seems air, water, food, shelter, and video are the basic necessities of life. Who lives without screens in their life? Changing times and technologies keep making us adapt to new ways of consuming video.

  • Broadcast TV originally conditioned us to watch television on a set schedule. The price of this technology was watching commercials.
  • Cable TV gave us more channels but we still had to follow the schedule and watch commercials. We now had to pay a monthly bill too.
  • HBO and other premium channels made TV better than movies and freed us from commercials, but we had to pay even more on that monthly bill.
  • VCR let us time shift shows and zip through commercials, and forced us to deal with a growing collection of VHS tapes. It also allowed us to buy or rent movies and TV shows. VCRs created that wonderful subculture of video stores. This gave us more freedom regarding what to watch, but TV was now becoming a growing monthly expense.
  • DVD gave us better picture quality but we had to buy new equipment and replace all those videotapes.
  • DVD R/W+- allowed us to make our own DVDs. It saved us money over buying movies by recording them instead but we had to zip through the commercials again.
  • DVR made it much easier to record shows and zip through commercials. It was wonderful to give up messing with VHS tapes and R/W DVDs.
  • TiVo made going back to broadcast TV fun for a while but the $12.95 monthly fee to record free over-the-air TV was annoying.
  • Netflix discs by mail killed our addiction to Blockbuster and saved us money. I miss Blockbuster.
  • HDTV made TV watching great and more addicting than ever, but now we had to learn about new technology and spend a whole lot more on TVs.
  • Netflix streaming killed our addiction to renting discs by mail and saved us money. $7.99 a month was a tremendous bargain! Bye-bye Blockbuster.
  • Smartphones and tablets have become a new way of watching TV for some people. When the power was out during an ice storm Susan and I streamed TV over 5G on our iPhones.
  • Streaming services allowed us to cut the cord and give up cable TV. That saved us money – for a while.
  • Streaming TV services like YouTube TV allowed us to have cable TV without the cable box and for less money while including an unlimited digital DVR. However, they are now racking up their prices. $70 a month is like a Comcast payment from a few years ago.

When will how we watch TV stop changing? Is it evolving or just the churn of change? I thought with streaming services like Netflix, HBO Max, Hulu, AppleTV+, etc. combined with YouTubeTV we had everything we could possibly want. That is until all these services started raising their prices. The fact that we can go months without using some of those streaming services is making me worry. I see that other people are thinking about it too.

TV used to be free. It used to be simple, three channels with a fixed schedule. Now it’s $150 a month, with thousands of shows that can be watched at any time on a variety of devices. TV now has too many choices. That’s mentally wearing. Even exhausting.

Looking back I see now that I subscribed to all those various streaming services to watch another popular TV show that everyone was talking about. Even today, when I talk with my friends they will tell me about the shows they love. Wanting to give them a try often means subscribing to something new. My friend Linda has solved this problem by only subscribing to one service at a time. But she lives with a lot fewer choices. But maybe that’s good.

$150 a month is not bad for how much pleasure we get. However, I cut the cord with cable TV because cable TV forced hundreds of channels on us I didn’t want. It irked me I had to pay $7+ a month for ESPN when I didn’t even watch it. Now, with all the streaming services I’m paying for thousands of movies and TV shows, I don’t want to watch. And I just can’t tune out all those unwanted offerings. Each time I click on Netflix or HBO Max I end up scrolling and clicking and scrolling and clicking to see all my choices. By the time I finally pick something I’m worn out. My sister Becky often yells “I HATE SCROLLING.”

I discovered something very revealing when I started ripping my DVD/BDs for Plex. I have several hundred movies and TV shows I’ve bought over the last several decades. Once I converted DVDs to digital files for a couple of TV series I started watching them. I was no longer interested in streaming services. On Plex right now I have two choices (Perry Mason and Survivors), both of which I want to watch. Imagine Netflix with just two TV shows. (And wasn’t AppleTV+ much better when it had fewer choices?)

When company comes over and we then decide to watch a movie together picking a show depresses us. It makes people happier if I pick out a movie and invite people over saying we’re going to watch X. Susan and several of my TV-watching friends get annoyed if they have to decide on a show. Maybe my current problem with watching TV by myself is having too many choices.

The nightly TV program Susan and I watch together is Upstairs, Downstairs which we get from Britbox. We know what we’ll be watching at 9:30 every night – two episodes of Upstairs, Downstairs. I like that routine. Susan watches other shows by herself while she sews. If I want to watch something on my own I’m currently satisfied with either Perry Mason or Survivors. When I finish those series I’ll rip a couple more.

We did sign up for the current sale for Peacock+ ($29.99 for one year). If all the subscription services charged like that I wouldn’t mind keeping several subscriptions going. However, even though Peacoak+ has lots I think I want to watch, I just don’t feel like watching anything yet. Maybe when I finish with Perry I’ll give one of their shows a try. Maybe the key for me is to only have a couple of shows I follow (besides the one I watch with Susan).

I’ve been very happy the last few days puttering around with ripping DVDs and setting up Plex. I’m not sure Susan will like a very limited TV environment, but I do. I’m not going to try and rip all my DVDs and Bluray discs. I’m just going to rip something when I’m ready to watch it.

I would be perfectly fine just subscribing to BritBox for several months. That’s how we get Upstairs, Downstairs. I’ve already canceled HBO Max and Netflix. I want to cancel Hulu but can’t until I rip some DVDs for Susan. I’d love to cancel YouTube TV, but Susan can’t let go. I only use it for Jeopardy, NBC Nightly News, and Turner Classic Movies. But those two shows are available on YouTube for free, and we’ve got hundreds of old movies on DVD.

It feels like I’m trying to de-evolve my TV watching to back like it was when I was growing up. Just a few channels. Susan is still addicted to the cable TV level of variety. I’m trying to get her to notice that she uses YouTube TV to watch old TV shows all the time. Except for things like tennis matches and cooking shows she seldom watches anything new.

I have friends that watch a lot of television and go through many new shows each year. I used to be that way. I don’t know if it’s getting old or not, but I’m tired of the new show rat race.


Renting vs. Buying TV Shows

by James Wallace Harris, 1/29/23


  • Streaming services keep raising their prices
  • Content is spread over more competing streaming services
  • 99% of the content is not something I want to watch
  • Favorite TV series keep switching services
  • Some of my favorite TV shows aren’t streaming
  • It’s hard for two or more people to limit subscriptions

For some reason, I can’t get into watching TV anymore. I flip through Netflix, HBO Max, Hulu, Amazon Prime, and Apple TV+ regularly trying to find something I can watch. But I quit most shows after five minutes. I’m ready to give up on streaming TV. I mainly watch YouTube Premium which is $11.99 I think. I definitely get my money’s worth there since I watch a lot of YouTube channels and I hate commercials.

Susan on the other hand, cross-stitches all day long watching all her old favorite TV shows over and over again in the background. But we’re paying about $60 a month for streaming services for Susan to watch those same old TV shows over and over. That seems wasteful.

Of the five TV shows and movies Susan currently has on repeat mode (Friends, Andy Griffiths, MASH, Harry Potter movies, and Gilmore Girls) we already own all of them except MASH on DVD or Bluray. There are a few other shows Susan will put on sometimes, like Gray’s Anatomy and How I Met Your Mother. She does change things up sometimes but not that often and with not that many shows.

Anyway, I was wondering if it would be cheaper to buy the complete series of TV shows she likes and rip them to Plex than to subscribe to all those streaming services? Plex is a program for creating your own customized streaming service. You convert your DVDs to files that are stored on a computer. You run a Plex server program on that computer to fetch the files, and a Plex app on your smart TV, Fire Stick, Roku, or other streaming device to play them. Plex acts like any other streaming service but it shows you what’s on your computer. It can also play music files, show photographs, or videos you made yourself, or stream content from the web if pay for the premium Plex service.

Right now, Amazon has all 11 seasons of MASH for $54. If we canceled all the streaming services we’d pay for it in one month. How I Met Your Mother is $43. The Big Bang Theory is $73, which is another favorite of Susan’s watches from time to time. I doubt Susan would add more than another six or eight series in the coming years. Since she doesn’t try new series, she’s not gaining any old favorites.

The downside of Plex is the time it takes to rip all the DVDs and the price of the server and hard drive. I have old equipment that works for now that costs me nothing. However, it might be nice to buy a new little mini-PC and a very fast SSD to make it fast to rip and copy files. Playing files from my old 5th-generation NUC is very fast. I’m thinking even with new equipment we’d be saving money in less than a year. Or I could buy a fast DVD/BD drive for my main computer which is a 12th generation NUC and rip the DVDs there.

We stopped watching our DVDs and Blurays because it’s annoying to use them, especially after the convenience of streaming. However, if I took the time to rip them, they would be as convenient to watch as streaming. I stopped watching Perry Mason in the 7th season. I could finish that series if I could get back into the mood of watching that show. I have all the discs. In fact, I have complete series of several old TV shows. Plus we have hundreds of favorite movies we could put on Plex too.

Maybe we don’t need streaming services anymore. It’s gotten rather annoying how streaming services keep raising their prices and offering even more shows we don’t want to watch.

Idea #1

What would be great is a streaming service that offers just all the old TV shows for $9.99 a month. It’s all those new movies and original content that are rising the prices. Spotify gives me access to nearly all music for $9.99 a month, so why couldn’t some streaming service for old TV? The trouble is there are too many streaming companies wanting us to subscribe.

Idea #2

If Amazon sold digital complete series for the same price as DVD sets I’d buy them because streaming from Amazon Prime is easier than maintaining a Plex server. The complete Friends on DVD is $53. But it’s $200 to buy all ten seasons digitally. Amazon should promote building digital libraries which they house. I bought the complete Andy Griffith Show for Susan on Amazon and she plays it every day.

Idea #3

The owners of TV shows should sell the complete series on USB drives. A $15 drive must be far cheaper than producing all those DVDs. That way people could buy the USB drive and easily copy the shows to their media servers like Plex. That would be far more convenient than ripping DVDs. Or they could sell a complete series as a download.

The reason why people are cutting the cord with cable is they’re tired of spending a lot of money for a lot of shows they don’t watch. Streaming services are getting like cable used to be – expensive and full of unwanted content. I’d much rather buy movies and TV shows and put them on my own server.


We could always subscribe to one streaming service at a time to have some new content to supplement the old content we’re buying. We spend very little going out. And we don’t go on vacations. Hell, we used to go to the movies once or twice a week before the pandemic. So four or five streaming services are much less than that. They are a bargain. And they are convenient. But I’m getting so tired of seeing hundreds of shows I don’t want to watch and thinking I’m paying for something we don’t use.

Let’s see how I feel after ripping a couple hundred discs. It might not be practical. But it’s kind of fun creating my own streaming service.


Downgrading to DVD – When Streaming TV Fails Us

by James Wallace Harris, 12/31/22

I’ve lived long enough to experience a number of technological revolutions in television. I was born in 1951, and some of my earliest memories are of watching TV in 1955. TV screens were much smaller then, and the image was in black and white. Well, the whites weren’t white, and the blacks weren’t black, and the image quality was halfway between a black-and-white half-tone photo in the newspaper and a Tri-X black-and-white photograph. What we saw on the screen was small, and fuzzy, giving the impression we had bad eyesight.

Although we couldn’t afford it, my father got us a color TV in 1965. Wow. That was the first big tech breakthrough in television that I remember. And not all shows were broadcast in color. I remember how the TV Guide noted which shows were in [COLOR]. As it became more common, they shortened it to [C].

Growing up with black-and-white TV is the main reason why I love old black-and-white movies. And for two reasons. First, I learned to love watching stories visually told in black and white, and second, early TV ran old movies from the 1930s and 1940s that were mostly black and white.

The next big tech innovation was cable TV. No more messing with the antenna anymore. Cable TV took us far beyond ABC, CBS, and NBC. But the biggest tech change was in the later part of the 1970s when we got a VCR. That opened up time shifting and freed us from the TV schedule. But more importantly, it allowed us to buy or rent movies and TV shows. We had more freedom than ever for choosing what we wanted to watch and when.

We didn’t know how bad the image quality of VHS was until we could buy DVDs. A couple decades later we got large flatscreen TVs that could do 720p and 1080i and realized we needed Blu-ray discs. Then came streaming TV services that freed us from the disc. I’ve gone months or even years without using a DVD. Susan has a big collection of Christmas movies she watches each December, but this year I noticed she streamed most of those movies.

We could almost give away our DVD/BD library. But not quite. Every once in a while I’ll want to watch something that no streaming service offers, and no site rents. Sometimes these forgotten shows are available on YouTube, but usually not. That’s when I have to return to the disc.

I wanted to show Susan Northern Exposure to see if she wanted it to be our next series to watch together every night. It’s nowhere to stream or rent online. Luckily, I have seasons 1-4 on DVD. But they are on flippy discs which I hate, and seasons 3 and 4 didn’t use the original music. The music was an enchanting feature of the series, but the producers didn’t foresee they’d have to pay expensive royalties if they resold their show on disc. [See explanation.]

If Northern Exposure was on a streaming service I didn’t already subscribe to, I would subscribe to that service just to watch it. Or I’d buy a digital copy on Amazon. After that, I’d want to buy it on Blu-ray. Unfortunately, the only complete series for sale on Region 1 discs still doesn’t have the original music. There are Blu-ray and DVD sets from Great Britain but they are expensive and Region 2 discs.

Fans of the show on Amazon are spending $170 for the Blu-ray sets and another $170 for a Region-free Blu-ray player. I’m not going to spend $340. So, I got out my old DVDs but discovered that my Sony Blu-ray player was dead. I haven’t used it in a very long while. Streaming really has changed us. Luckily, I have a cheap $29 Region-free DVD player I had to buy it to watch Love in a Cold Climate because I could only find that old series used on Region 2 discs. Downgrading to DVD is how we watched the pilot of Northern Exposure last night.

The image quality was a step down – 480i. And the DVD player was poorly designed with a terrible remote. And that release on flippy discs forced us to watch previews for several TV shows from back in the 1990s each time we start the player.

Quite a downgrade in TV watching. Still, the 4:3 image on my 65″ screen was far better than what we saw in the summer of 1990 on a 25″ screen. I could say it was a retro-nostalgic experience, but I’m too addicted to the current state of television technology to be satisfied. I’m awful tempted to spend the $103 and get the British Region 2 DVD set. That’s a lot more money than the American Region 1 $39 DVD set of the complete series, but it has the original music that I’ve ached to hear again. I really want the Blu-ray version, but it’s just too damn expensive.

For now, we’ll try the old DVDs to see if we get hooked again on a show we both loved thirty years ago.


Susan and I Need a New TV Show – Give Us Your Recommendations

by James Wallace Harris, 12/30/22

About six weeks ago Susan and I developed a new nightly routine. At ten o’clock she would feed the cats, and then we’d sit down to watch an episode of Downton Abbey with a piece of cake. This has turned out to be an extremely delightful routine and we want to keep it up. However, we’re about to run out of Downton Abbey and need a new show.

When we first got married we always watched TV together, but in recent years, our tastes have diverged greatly and we have a hard time finding shows we like watching together. I’m no longer interested in half-hour comedies which Susan loves. And Susan hates shows like Breaking Bad and Stranger Things. However, we both liked The Sopranos. And that might be a possibility, although Susan might not like it anymore.

It’s strange how our tastes have changed over the last four and a half decades. She used to sit and watch Star Trek with me, and I’d watch The Gilmore Girls with her, but those days of watching something we didn’t like just to be sociable are over. We need something we’ll both love.

So, if there is a series you liked as much as Downton Abbey please let us know. We both liked Downton Abbey in the past, so it was an easy pick. If you’re a couple, recommendations you both like might be more valid.

We are currently considering The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, which we’ve both watched and liked, and Call of the Midwife which Susan has seen some. We want an hour show that has continuity. Downton Abbey was really a soap opera, and that might be a key to why we looked forward to ten o’clock every night (and well, the cake.)

It helps if the show is streaming somewhere, but I’m not against buying a DVD set.

I just remembered a show we both loved – Northern Exposure. So that’s three possibilities. But if we’re to keep this routine up we’ll need a whole lot of shows.


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