March Madness Streaming

Stop us if you've heard this one before: Dish Network is without a couple of channels tonight because it couldn't reach a deal with major media company. After Turner and CBS, this time it's Fox. The dispute between the two is only affecting the Fox News and Fox Business channels, although Dish Network says the problem is that Fox wanted to bring some of its other channels into renewal negotiations, and blames the broadcaster for the blackout. Specifically called out are sports and entertainment channels (Fox Sports, FX, FXX?) Dish claims Fox wanted to triple its rates on. Of course, Fox has its own version of the events, claiming Dish is the one doing the blocking, and lauding the news channel's "nearly two decades without a blackout. For now, we'll just call this one a weekend break from the drone of cable news (the truly concerned can check out each side's propaganda websites -- Fox, Dish) and will let you know if anything changes.

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You know Halo: The Master Chief Collection's multiplayer has been, well, problematic since launch despite numerous patches. We know it and Microsoft does, too. That's why it's making it up to everyone who's played it with freebies. Those include a remastered Halo 3: ODST campaign, an overhauled "Relic" multiplayer map from Halo 2 and a free month of Xbox Live Gold. The former two won't be available for some time yet, but 343 Industries head Bonnie Ross notes on Xbox Wire that they'll be available gratis for anyone who's played between MCC's November launch and today. What's more, you'll also get an exclusive in-game nameplate and avatar for your troubles. And before you ask about ODST's killer wave-based multiplayer mode, "Firefight" making a return, the official FAQ is out to crush more than a few dreams (ours included) -- the outfit says it doesn't have any plans to include it for now.

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Wondering how to get the weekend started? If you're a fan of Netflix's original series Bojack Horseman, there's a pretty easy choice, since the service just released an extra episode out of the blue. As Bojack (voiced by Will Arnett) and Todd (voiced by Aaron Paul) get ready for the holidays, it takes a look back to when the title character was the star of a 90's sitcom "Horsin Around." It's no The Interview or surprise peek into the world of House of Cards (we do have an Orange is the New Black musical interlude embedded after the break), but we'll take it -- subscribers can click here to watch it now.

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There's a new way to amuse, educate or just distract your offspring while Mommy has a little sippy-poo for the holidays -- Amazon has just dumped a bunch of new content into FreeTime Unlimited. The kid-centric service runs $2.99 a month for Prime subscribers, and includes around 4,000 educational books, 400 "age-appropriate" apps and several thousand TV shows and movies. Amazon's added "thousands of new titles," including games Frozen Free Fall from Disney and Dora's Great Big World, along with e-books from Dr. Seuss and Sesame Street. If you're on FreeTime Unlimited and have an Amazon Kindle reader, Fire TV or Fire tablet (like the Kids Edition shown above) you can access the content now, or sign up for a free trial.

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Alpha House

Even though the majority of Britons don't own an 4K TV, that isn't stopping streaming providers from upgrading their video quality before ultra high-definition (UHD) becomes the next big thing. Netflix began delivering pixel-rich versions of House of Cards and Breaking Bad (and charging a little extra for the privilege) earlier this year, but now Amazon is getting in on the act. After the online retailer begun rolling out ultra high-definition streams in the US just over a week ago, it's now extended the same benefits to customers in the UK. If you're a Prime member, you'll now be able to binge-watch shows like Transparent, Alpha House and many other of its Originals in 4K, and download a selection of Sony Movies titles (starting at a costly £14.99) via Amazon's store. You will, of course, be able to stream the same movies and TV shows on your regular HD set, but today's rollout might provide you with an incentive to upgrade during the post-Christmas sales.

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Years of being dinged for ineffective and unresponsive customer service may be catching up to Comcast, which is finally responding with some much-needed tweaks. Charlie Herrin became its SVP of Customer Experience in September, bringing new features to the My Account app (iOS, Android) that track the progress of field technicians and now, arrange customer service call backs. The way it works, customers can initiate troubleshooting within the app, and if that doesn't work or doesn't apply, choose a convenient time for a rep to call them instead of wasting time sitting on hold. There's also an option to tweet for support as well, so whatever way you prefer works. Options like this have existed before, with phone prompts during periods of high call volume, but putting it in the app should make it easier for customers to monitor when their issue will be addressed without having to go through the phone tree in the first place.

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Pandora radio on an Xbox One

You haven't had many choices for streaming music on the Xbox One so far; you've largely been limited to Xbox Music or the occasional YouTube mix. You'll have some proper options very shortly, though. Apps for both Pandora's internet radio service (US-only) and Vevo's music videos (in 14 countries) are reaching the game console this week. The two apps don't have any surprising Xbox-specific features in store, but they'll definitely help if you need some tunes for your next house party. And don't worry, movie and TV fans -- you'll get a few apps as well. Bravo Now and Telemundo Now let American TV subscribers stream shows from those networks on demand, while Popcornflix gives North Americans "hundreds" of free movies. If your Xbox One doubles as your media center, you're in for a treat in the days ahead.

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As we've said so many times (this week) the battle between streaming services has become all about what exclusive content each one has to offer, and with HBO joining in soon it's only going to get tougher. It's no surprise then, that Hulu's next attempt to get a leg up on the competition is coming with help from the cable arm of part-owner (and former employer of its CEO Mike Hopkins) Fox. Hulu is about to become the best/only place to watch FX (and FXX, and FXXX whenever that launches) shows without a cable subscription and access to FX Now apps. So don't expect to see hows like Tyrant, The Strain, You're The Worst and Married on Netflix or Amazon, they're spoken for. That also goes for new shows debuting next year like the Louis CK / Zach Galifianakis production Baskets and the M Night Shyamalan Fox miniseries Wayward Pines.

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Want to know what Christmas morning was like back in (not-so) old uncle Jim's day? Well if you own a Wii U, maybe this year you can. As you wipe the sleep from your eyes on December 25th and run downstairs, you'll finally be able to take the digital wraps off Duck Hunt -- as Nintendo's just confirmed that's when it will be available via Virtual Console. Finally you can pop a cap in a few majestic mallards -- just like uncle did all those years ago -- only with a Wiimote rather than a light gun (at least Nintendo didn't mention one yet). There's no word on whether you'll need to pay up for the privilege yet, either. If you are uncle/aunt Jim/Jane/whatever (like me), then perhaps instead you can show your favourite niece/nephew, exactly how it's done -- you old dog.

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Minecraft's silent landscaper Steve is exiting his blocky world and stepping into Telltale's world of stories: Minecraft is getting a "narrative-driven" game from the folks behind The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones games. Like Telltale's other work, Minecraft: Story Mode will be episodic and available on a wide variety of platforms when it launches "some time in 2015." Apparently Microsoft's promise to keep Minecraft multiplatform is holding, despite the acquisition.

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GE has taken some time off from making washing machines, jet engines and whatnot to get back to its true loves: music and dance. The Brilliant Rhythm collection launches December 24th on Vevo (streamable via Apple TV, Roku, Xbox, Fire TV and Samsung) wrapping together four features examining the link between music and science. Interest not yet piqued? We should mention that two of them involve Nas (not NAS), as the rapper is executive producer for the breakdancing video "Shake the Dust", and participant in a "Science of Rhythm" roundtable with Dust director Adam Sjoberg and neuroscientist Dr. Adam Gazzaley. The other two videos consist of one where the doctor goes inside the head of Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart, and a "Drop Science" music video for the song made exclusively by sounds from GE's machines -- a preview trailer is embedded after the break.

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It's almost time for CES to come around again, but Samsung and Comcast are just getting around to fulfilling the promise of 4K streaming they made at the last show earlier this year (DirecTV launched last month). The Xfinity in UHD app arrives today on Samsung's 2014 Ultra HD TVs (which also have high-res video from the likes of Netflix, Amazon and Samsung's $300 hard drive add-on) and right now, it's offering up every episode of Chicago Fire, Suits and Covert Affairs at no additional charge to customers. In February, they'll be joined by Parks & Recreation (futuristic 2017 teaser trailer embedded after the break), but there's no word on content beyond that. Looking for 4K service on other platforms? Comcast VP Matt Strauss says it will come to other platforms with Xfinity TV Go access later in 2015, plus an upgraded X1 cable box that will launch next year.

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You've been able to catch up with episodes of Jersey Shore through MTV's iOS and Android apps for around a year. But, if you wanted to gasp along with the action as it was broadcast, you'd have to make an appointment to take over the family TV. Thankfully, the reality channel has updated apps on both platforms to bring a live feed of both MTV and MTV2 to your device (assuming you have a participating pay-TV provider to log in with). That said, we can't imagine anyone persisting with the feature for too long -- those ad-breaks are a lot shorter when you're catching up.

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The usual pre-CES flood of information is under way, and LG is announcing details of the webOS 2.0 package its smart TVs will ship with in 2015. Improving on the menus we already dug at last year's show, LG says that the new versions will improve mainly in speed, with power-on boot time reduced by 60 percent, and a 70 percent improvement when switching from the home screen to YouTube. Sluggish, unresponsive apps have been a major pain point for "smart" TVs since their introduction, so it's good to see that addressed. One thing that will remain an issue however, is that the 2.0 upgrades will require a new display, as we haven't heard about an upgrade for existing sets (or other platforms like smartwatches, or even phones). According to LG, the first webOS sets were quite popular, with over five million sold through eight months.

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The future?

You can finally buy a virtual reality headset and use it in your home. Right now -- today -- that is possible. It doesn't cost $10,000 and it doesn't come with caveats like, "This is made for developers." Samsung is officially the first to market with an accessible, impressive virtual reality headset, all powered by software from Facebook's recently acquired Oculus VR team. That alone is very exciting: We are standing at the precipice of a new medium, finally technologically possible. Wireless, consumer-grade virtual reality! In your home! Today!

Samsung's Gear VR is both an astounding feat and an illuminating vision into our near future; it's the closest anyone's come to making virtual reality into a palatable consumer experience, and a stark example of how far we still have to go before that dream is completely realized.

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