- Are you one of those movie/TV geeks that built a collection of several hundred VHS movies in the early 90s by surfing stores that Blockbuster crushed?
- Did you crack up when you watched this video last May, in which The Onion Comedy Network last May parodied Blockbuster as a historical landmark and portrayed VHS tape renting as archaic?
- Are you poor, but also extremely lazy?
- Did you stare at the headline to this post for a few seconds, then wonder why I write such long posts?
Here are some ideas for enjoying television and movies without wasting precious calories getting in the car. Now if you’re really poor, you probably don’t have a television set or computer.. but I needed a catchy headline. And these tricks will save movie and television lovers some money, and make their viewing far more convenient. But don’t stop watching videos online, kay? They’re free and funnier.
- Steal: The ultimate “poor man’s guide” is to use peer-to-peer and steal movies, but we lazy people aren’t so ambitious. I’ve tried, and it was a nightmare– I even paid token amounts to have access to certain websites, but they were scams. The experience was like using Napster as it crumbled, where everything was porn, spam and fake. Then there’s this whole 10 commandments thing, and the fact that my kids are asking questions about digital theft.
- AppleTV: Pay per movie you watch — $3-$5 to “rent” or purchase at regular DVD prices. Not a great bargain, but no pesky monthly service fee, and you don’t need a Mac to use it! The AppelTV is probably my favorite electronics purchase in the past 2 years because it’s so darned easy to use. In the past months, I’ve spent about $150 buying movies and Lost (season 1 and 2) via AppleTV. Although I can’t afford to sustain that, it kept me sane after back surgery. The slick lil’ box connects my wireless Internet to the television set, and is so easy my parents could figure it out. As I’ve been saying, I expect this year’s Christmas “tipping point” device (previous years it was DVD players, HD televisions and GPS machines) to be a web-to-TV player. The AppleTV is my favorite for ease of use (brainless installation and elegant interface), and I like that I don’t pay unless I’m watching. I just wish the price point was lower on purchases, because I can’t stand digital renting (more on that later), and Apple desperately needs to shift its attention from stupid flat phones to this crucial piece of connectivity. The device will put you back $200-$400, but one of the best electronic purchases I’ve made.
- The $200 one is here: Apple MA711LL/A TV with 40GB Hard Drive a
- For $340 you can have 160 Gigs of memory instead of 40 (click here for details: Apple TV with 160GB Hard Drive – MB189LL/A). The extra memory is more important if you expect to buy a lot of high definition videos.
- You shrewd dudes may decide to buy the cheaper AppleTV and add your own spare hard drive. Guess what? 1 terabytes (100 friggin’ gigs) are now under $120! Here’s a WD one I may get to join my other 14 external hard drives (not kidding): Western Digital My Book Essential Edition 1 TB USB 2.0 External Hard Drive WDH1U10000N
- Netflix/Roku: $9 per month gets you access to unlimited views of a portion of the Netflix library. I recently got frustrated by the limited movie selection on AppleTV and Verizon Fios ($3 to watch 1970s Disney films?) so I’m trying Netflix again (I was an early adopter, but so busy the red envelopes were piling up like unread magazines). Netflix won me back last month with its unlimited access to a portion of its movies that I can watch “on demand” — on either my computer or via television through a $99 device called a Roku Digital Video Player. As long as we watch one movie a week, it’s going to save us a lot, and minimize my obsessive need to stock-pile videos unless I love them. The Roku’s quality is a bit better than VHS but certainly not DVD quality. It’s frustrating to find a Netflix movie that can’t be viewed via this program, so you go to netflix.com, login, flag your favorites from the “watch instantly” section, then they’re waiting for you at your television set via a simple Roku device and remote. Again- my folks could handle this. I don’t imagine I’ll watch many movies on my computer, but the sound is great and the Netflix PC/Mac player (Microsoft makes it) is decent.
- Turn that Old PC into a Media Center: If you’re clever, you can turn that old PC into a media center (here’s a lifehacher.com blog post that gives you tips and a PCWorld article). There is software you can purchase, or you can simply use services like Hulu.com and Netflix without the Roku. All you need is a connected PC with a remote (see Switched video for some solutions). Remember you can just plug your current laptop to your television, so you don’t have to settle for staring at your monitor. Furthermore, you can pirate movies on YouTube if you’re willing to search and tolerate poor resolution and 8 separate videos for one film. Again- good for the poor, bad for the lazy.
- Buy an inexpensive media drive: You can buy fairly inexpensive media centers that can fling the movies on your hard drive to your television set. Since I can do that via the AppleTV, I’ve never needed this. But it’s half the price of AppleTV and useful if you already have movies on your computer. Here’s a Western Digital one for $99: Western Digital WD TV HD Media Player.
- That Gaming Device is a Media Center, Dude: If you have an Xbox, you can use it to play DVDs and watch movies via Amazon.com and other websites. I’ll bet you didn’t know that. Seriously- admit it. You have an Xbox and use it for gaming only.
- Amazon is Renting and Selling Digitally. You can pay-per-view (rent) or buy movies, but you’ll pay almost as much as you would with DVDs. Just like with iTunes/AppleTV, you can purchase or “rent” videos via Amazon On Demand. You can transact via a PC, Roku or TiVo. A word of advice- don’t be tempted by “renting” videos digitally (a third of the cost). Murphy’s law dictates that you’ll forget or get too busy to finish it. Then *poof* they’re gone. I’ll never know the ending to Transsiberian, just like when my VHS ran out of tape recording the original “Planet of the Apes” decades ago. I missed the classic fallen Statue of Liberty scene, and didn’t know that landmark was created before the human species evolved.
- TiVo: I’m going back to TiVO today to replace the horrible Verizon Fios and Comcast Cable DVRs. I’m big on simple interfaces. It infuriates me when I have 20 minutes to watch a show, and it takes 10 to start it. I bought this one, but don’t forget you need an expensive USB TiVo TCD652160 HD Digital Video Recorder. But don’t forget you have to pay that irritating monthly service rate and buy one of these stupid USB network adapters unless you have an ethernet cable that reaches the TV: TiVo AG0100 Wireless G USB Network Adapter for TiVo Series 2 and Series 3 DVRs. TiVo’s partnership with Amazon.com may erode my purchases on AppleTV, but it depends if my lazy ass is on the couch or the bed.
- Rip Web Television or Digital Rentals: Once you’ve rented a digital movie or streamed a television show with ads on Hulu.com, there are hacks to rip and save the video. But again, we lazy people aren’t motivated enough to figure that out. I suppose I could use SnapX Pro to grab it and save it.
- Some newer televisions are coming with Ethernet cables, and the ability to bypass some of these devices. We’ll see manufacturers soon creating standards, and some of these intermediaries getting squashed. But that’s got some time to develop, and you need answers now.
I hope you’ll comment with anything I’ve missed or misspelled (and you know who you are). I know this isn’t a comprehensive list, but it’s an exciting time. In 1998 I debated buying a Dell media center that was $3000.00, and a decade later my TV and the Internet are finally connecting in strange workarounds. But I’m telling you- watch for that $199 killer device before Christmas 2009 that could make web-to-TV “mainstream” as DVD players.