Four Alternatives to Sonos Music: Stream Your Music to Speakers

Can’t afford a Sonos? Here are some cheaper DIY options and hacks. Stream your music via your existing speakers/stereo via a Beep, Rocki or a low-cost tablet.

connect phone to stereo system to play and stream music wifi bluetooth

So your phone is holding  your music collection and access to your online radio stations. And you have boom boxes, speakers and old amplifiers sitting around… depreciating. How do you connect them via Bluetooth or Wifi so you can stream your music in full sound?

Sonos sounds great, but aren't cheap. Especially if all you want is to activate your exiting stereo.
Sonos sounds great, but aren’t cheap. Especially if all you want is to activate your exiting stereo.

If you’re an audiophile with excess cash, the Sonos Play 1 is a $199 Wifi amplified speaker that is easy to use, sounds great, and fairly portable. I have one of them and the $299 Sonos Play 2 , and they come with an iPhone/Android app that allows me to stream Pandora or my saved music from my phone or laptop. SONOS does have a way you can connect to your existing speaker/amp, but it’s even more expensive than the one with the speaker (it’c called a SONOS connect). Note that you need one $44 SONOS bridge for to get started, and that Bose is also catching up with the Soundtouch.

So what if you don’t want to spring for a new amplified speaker? What if all you want is the ability to connect your phone to your existing stereo system? Here are four less expensive options.

  1. The real poor-man’s solution is my do-it-yourself speaker kit. But you’ll have to live with the frustrating range limits of Bluetooth. And some of the Wifi options are not that much more expensive.
  2. beep wifi speaker aluminum ashtrayAlternatively, you can wait for a Beep , which is a retro-looking metallic device that will connect your existing speakers to your digital music. Beep, created by some Google alumni, says it makes all your speakers wireless, but it doesn’t have an amplifier. But if you have good speakers without an amp, here’s an $18 amp that sounds like it should cost $100.  Beep is not available yet, but the pre-orders are $99. No shipping date announced on site (at least that I could find). Here’s a Cnet review.
  3. rocki speakerThe Rocki is very similar to the Beep, but also not yet available. Personally I like the Beep’s look better. To me the Rocki looks a bit cheap, although one critic says the Beep looks like an aluminum ashtray from bowling alleys, turned upside down. Touche.
  4. And here’s a clever Wifi audio hack. Buy a crappy tablet (like this iView Cyberpad at NewEgg)  and connect it to your existing stereo system via its headphone jack. This would also work if you have an old iPhone. But I don’t believe you can control it via your existing phone.

Here’s an article that also shows you how to stream tunes via an AppleTV or Miracast if you’re an Android user.

8 Ways to Turn your TV Into a Web-Video Player (for under $99)

AppleTV is slick and all. But Roku's packed with content, and darnit I like that little purple clothing tab
Online-video on your TV is not this difficult anymore.

Sure most BlueRay disc players have the ability to stream YouTube and other content. But it’s 2011.

Walk away from anything that requires physical media and, gasp, has moving parts.

Here are 8 plus ways to stream videos from the Interweb to that big-ass monitor your mama calls an HDTV. CNet reviews the collection, and generally comes down with the Roku 2 as the winner above the AppleTV. I have both, and was an AppleTV raving fan who purchased horrific amounts of content I was too lazy to seek out for free. Then the AppleTV started giving me password and synching problems, and the new $99 TV-rental model felt unfair. So both have been paperweights for a few months, but the Roku is still an easy way to stream my all-you-can-eat Netflix movies.

  1. Roku 2 XS 1080 for $99 is a pretty sweet deal (Amazon affiliate links). Easy startup, and there’s plenty of default content in addition to YouTube and Netflix. Seriously that little fabric tag is almost as cute as a Chumby octopus.

    Worship me. I am Chumby.
  2. AppleTV’s $97 model is decent, but a step backward not forward. Had Jobs stuck around, this might have gotten interesting.
  3. Logitech Revue (GoogleTV) got a luke warm Cnet review, but the keyboard makes it a favorite of many “lean forward lean backers.”
  4. Sony SMPU10 USB Media Player- it’s ass. Skip it.
  5. WD-TV Live Plus Western Digital thing. Doesn’t come with wifi built in, which is like sending it out without a friggin’ power cord. CNet liked it, but the readers didn’t.
  6. VeeBeam: Some reviews say it’s easy to install, but it simply provides a wireless delayed stream from your laptop to a TV. Seems like a cheap connector would make more sense. Am I missing something?
  7. Netgear offers some Push2TV device that works with an Intel wireless laptop (widi), so if you can figure that out… go for it.
  8. A Friggin’ HDMI Cable (from laptop to TV): Finally, if you’re going to tie up your damned laptop, how about connecting a stinkin’ $5 HDMI cable directly from it? I’m not seeing the appeal of choices 6 and 7, when a simple cable does most of the work without lag. Depending on your laptop, you may need an adapter to have it HDMI ready, but remember that HDMI is an HD cord that carries audio and video.
So that’s my modification of the CNet article, but keep in mind that there are other options, ranging from TiVo and your stupid cable-TV box to various videogame players that will achieve much of this (and may be sitting idle in your home).
TiVo logo
Suck it Chumby. I was around longer and can do more.

 

 

 

No More Excuses to Dodge Web-TV: Angry Birds on Roku

The Roku turns your Internet into television (and has a cool fiber logo tag)
You cannot resist his face and the clouds and the blue background.

You’ve heard about online video, and you have a few extra large monitors (HDTV) that you aren’t using. Now you’re running out of excuses, because the Roku (which like AppleTV, Boxee, TiVo and other devices) will soon offer Angry Birds… right on your boob tube. To be sure Roku is right for you, check out this comparison (GigaOM) to AppleTV’s fall update and the Boxee.

If you’re already a member of Amazon Prime (free trial here) or Netflix (free trial here), you’ll get better use out of these limited but generous “all you can eat” video collections, although some devices (Wii, Xbox) allow you to search Netflix’s entire collection instead of just your manually populated “Instant Que.” I have just about every web-to-TV box available, and Roku’s my favorite. I use TiVo most often, because it’s my bedroom replacement to Verizon’s crappy Motorla units. And if I’m on a YouTube binge, I do like the simplicity of AppleTV.

Roku wins because it’s incredibly easy to navigate, and the remote is as simple as AppleTV with barely any buttons. I also admit to digging the new fabric tag that pokes out the remote, making it even more unique.

If you’re overwhelmed by the steps required to starting on these devices, here’s the dealeo. In most cases (Hulu as an exception) you don’t even need to pay a monthly fee for additional content, like the library of Revision3 channels.

The idiot’s guide to getting started on web-TV for $99 and about 5 minutes of your precious time.

Get more out of that boob tube and stop pesky burning $4 on "on demand" movies.
  1. Buy the Roku (Amazon affiliate link). That’s the most difficult step, and there’s no service fee required.
  2. Plug the Roku into an electric outlet.
  3. Plug in an ethernet cord from your modem or router (or use one of these wireless internet adapters, which sends internet via electricity).
  4. Connect the Roku to your television via those red, white yellow cords or the fat one called an HDMI cable (audio and video)
  5. Turn on Roku and follow brief instructions
  6. Gorge on free content, and if you have Roku or Amazon, simply generate an approval code then tap that into your account to verify the box is yours and not some nosey neighbor pouching your account.
  7. Write me and tell me how I’ve opened your eyes to the impossible.

 

Phone-Driven Television Arrives

Ladies and gentlemen I present the future of The Boob Tube: we shift from our cable boxes and laptops to…

HDTV viewing driven by words you search via your exo-brain (you need to stop calling it a phone, or else it’s going to get a complex). Yes your phone is your remote, and your television is your monitor. It’s going to happen just a bit slower I’d like, but *BAM* before you know it… you’ll forget I predicted it today because it will be as common as your toaster and microwave (note the lack of a hybrid toasterwave). I’ll thank you, dear WVFF back-rower, for reminding me of my psychic abilities next year.

Mac had a shot with the omni-present iPhone and the affordable AppleTV, but kinda blew it. The AppleTV wasn’t poised as a companion device to the phone, and that was its tragic flaw. Likewise it’s all so damned exclusive. Now the Android plus GoogleTV? That’s a game changer, friends. Let those green little robots march into my heart.

Before we examine some bold interim solutions, let me be “authentic” and “transparent” and disclose my biases. We have a home full of Macs. Two desktops, three laptops, two iPhones, three iTouches, one iPad, two old-style AppleTVs and one new one. And that’s not counting the Mac Mini and older desktops that are taking up closet space. As my debt can attest, the Apple bastards have never given me a thing for free (so I try to conceal these toys in my videos where possible). But I theoretically want to see Mac win, and I’m not seeing it. Similarly I’m biased in favor of Google since I do make a non-trivial amount of income from YouTube advertising around the 4-6 million views I get monthly. But I’ll try to be impartial.

On the road to smartphone-driven television viewing:

  • Roku, TiVo, AppleTV… they got us partially there. But none of these devices harness the power of man’s best friend (after dogs): the “phone.”
  • Today one of the first Google Television products will be announced by Logitech. Junien Labrousse, Logitech’s Executive VP of Products, is holding an invite-only media event in NYC at 3:oo p.m., presumably to launch the highly anticipated Revue. Perhaps it will invite people to use their phones as a remote, but I doubt it.
  • Anything’s got to be better than Sony’s remote-controlled television. Ian Douglas, Gadget Guru for the UK’s Telegraph, aptly suggested it was designed blindfold, in the 1980s (screen shot below courtesy of Engadget). The gamer in your family may love this, but it’s no flying automobile.
The 1980s called. It wants its remote back.

You may be surprised that I’ve written precious little about Google TV… simply because until now it’s all been hype and imagination. But three things changed in the past weeks:

  1. Dean Gilbert, who worked on GoogleTV, is now heading YouTube’s content partnerships. He’s joined by Robert Kyncl, former VP of content acquisitions from Netflix. That, to me, suggests that Google is poising to position YouTube on the new platform.
  2. We mean no harm to your planet.

    Newsweek ran a Grisham-like story about how Android is leapfrogging iPhone on the “next big screen” we call smart phones. It’s an interesting article to read, even if you didn’t just watch the fascinatingly depressing “The Social Network” movie. Where there are lawsuits, there’s game-changing innovation… and Newsweek documents the mad rush of lawyers chasing this disruptive market changer.

  3. Finally, we’re getting a taste of the toys. Sony will certainly claim its role, and Logitech may sell a mess of boxes… like Roku or TiVo. Of course the toys aren’t nearly as important as the BIG change.

Friends, GoogleTV plus Android equals comfortable viewing of searchable content, not from overpriced remotes, but… the smart phone you wear like a wrist watch in the 1970s.

Take the brief GoogleTV tour and imagine how your television interface will change, where you’re no longer a prisoner of the horrendously archaic cable-TV boxes brought to you by lazy monopolies like Verizon Fios and Comcast. Man I just want to give a crotch shot to the entire cable industry separating studios/networks and my television set. You’ll see that the Dish Network will have a distinct advantage as this model spreads, and our relationship with the television will fundamentally change.

Have a look at Logitech’s non-viral, viral video, featuring a television set with an eye, two feet, and a desperation to be relevant again. Video consumption will shift back to the biggest monitor in the house (that $2000 HDTV collecting dust), and the device powering it won’t be a laptop… they’re too clunky and hot, even if they’re far harder to lose than the chewed-up remote control.

I knew my “future of online video” chapter of Beyond Viral (Wiley) would have a limited shelf life. Here’s what you can expect in the next 6-18 months.

  1. Short-Term Adoption Minimal: Near-term purchases of GoogleTV devices will be minimal, as the “unwashed masses” would use a TRS-80 with their televisions if their cable provider told them that’s what they get. I’d like to say THIS is the Christmas season where web-TV becomes mainstream like those magical moments of precious technology adoption… CD players, DVD players, GPS devices. But I’m tired of being over zealous on that prediction like I did in 2007, 2008 and 2009.
  2. I proclaim 2011 the “Year of Smart Phones Marrying TV Sets.” Later in 2011 we’ll cross the… oh I hate using the term… “tipping point,” where consumers will want to drive their giant monitors (television sets) using their “exo-brains” (Dilbert cartoonist Scott Adams), also called “smart phones.” Since the cable providers will sleep through this era like Blackberry snoozed the “smart phone” alarm clock, this will favor pairs of devices: iPad and AppleTV, Android phone and GoogleTV. I’m betting on the latter, and we’ll see Mac getting Microsofted and Microsoft buying anything that offers it a shortcut back to relevance. This TV/smart phone revolution should be especially interesting when we see “dueling banjos of remote controls” — between teenagers and their parents. Sure some will prefer to enjoy the tablet as a giant remote, but the kids have it occupied playing Angry Birds and Zombies versus Plants. Besides, it’s all covered with jam and peanut butter.
  3. Search will drive views… people won’t passively roam stations, getting stuck on “forebrain freezing” infomercials. Instead they’ll type the names of shows, actors, and even obscure strings of words like “knife, annoying, orange.” Where we once surfed stations, we’ll now search shows, actors and words… and remain mostly indifferent to where, when and how they appear. Sit with that thought for a moment… it’s kinda revolutionary.
  4. Even while search drives views, screen real estate will continue to influence us. Just as those “related videos” cause us to wonder into an online-video binge on YouTube…  what GoogleTV does to serve related content will, in effect, possess us with a stronger hold than any television show or network. We may start our “television binge” with one intent, but the surrounding real estate will suck us into that comma-induced trance we love about today’s television.
  5. So… the more things change, the more they will stay the same. Still I’m going to bet that search-enabled consumers will democratize television. This gives independent content creators (especially those with existing audiences) a distinct advantage… at least until the big guys adapt to the medium.

Note: Added Oct. 7, 2010. Bobjenz predicted tablet/television combo on a guest post last year (see his post). When he pointed that out, I playfully edited his comment, which he didn’t find funny. Sorry, Bob. Note that Bobjenz also points out in that guest post the importance of regular uploads, which is perhaps my biggest and most tragic lapse over the past year.

AppleTV vs. iTV vs. Roku vs. TiVo vs. WTF?

The iPin is AppleTV's latest model, and it's smaller than a grain of rice but 32.5% larger than Plankton from Spongebob.

I’m a long-time advocate of the AppleTV, and intrigued enough by the iTV that I’ve got one on route. So what’s the difference, you ask? First check out Ryan/NewTeeVee’s coverage of AppleTV vs. Roku vs. Boxeee. Liz/NewTeeVee provides more in-depth coverage of the AppleTV/iTV.

So there’s no iTV. It’s just a new version of AppleTV, where the price of the unit was slashed in third. At $99 you won’t likely find a smoother interface to stream your content… assuming it’s as user-friendly and fast as AppleTV’s earlier model (around $300 with some room for storage).

We like the lower entry price making it an impulse buy, and the 99-cent rentals of television shows we miss — despite our best attempts via TiVo or the vintage DVR you’re using because you’re the cable company’s little bitch.

Until now we were buying assloads of missed television shows at twice that price ($1.99), and that’s a bit bloated for a 23-minute show (but certainly fair for an 45-minute show). We’re talking about decent HD, no stupid pre-rolls, an easy interface, and easy purchasing via the credit card Mac has on file. And for 95% of the shows we bought, a rental would be fine.While we’re not happy to see episodes costing $2.99 to own now, we’re hoping that our old AppleTV enjoys a software upgrade that makes it a new one. Otherwise we feel screwed. Except “The Office” and a few other shows, we don’t need to own in a reasonably priced “on demand” word. Wait that’s a drop quote.

We don’t need to own in a reasonably priced “on demand” word.

I find it perplexing that the unwashed masses are only beginning to adopt these things. We’ve got a Roku that’s not used often except for occasional Netflix viewing. The TiVo is the primary device because it plays live Verizon Fios without subjecting us to the horrible Verizon machines… TiVo also allows us to “subscribe” to YouTubers like “Obama Girl” and “Rhett & Link” and “The Onion” and “College Humor.”

Maybe I’ll do a little video demo when I get the new AppleTV because I read Scoble’s tweet that we can use our iPad as a remote to the new AppleTV, something that didn’t seem very easy with the old one.

Bottom line:

  • AppleTV is different in two ways. Cheaper unit ($99 not $300), and now you can rent all that television you missed or if you’re still not paying for access to premium channels because you’re a cheap bastard like me. Wait that made no sense. I’m probably paying more by buying these shows.
  • More choices (in hardware and vendor/price options) means a more confused marketplace but more attention by the mass market. Only one or two will survive, and you’re going to be getting lots of questions from your parents in the next few years. At least there’s no flashing 12:00 to worry about.
  • I’d predict that these will be mainstream by the fall, but I’m a bit gun shy making that prediction a 5th year in a row. I can’t even remember how I hedged this subject in my book, which is coming out in a week or so.
  • If I talk about my book too often, please tell me. I have seen authors do that, and it’s revolting. If I’m walking around with spinach in my teeth, you’d say something right?
  • How the heck did Netflix secure its space in this evolution? We thought they’d be Blockbustered.
  • It doesn’t bother me that only two people read my blog carefully.
  • Seriously- give me one good reason NOT to have a friggin’ Roku/Netflix/TiVo/AppleTV in your house? Sure it’s a few more devices and subscriptions, but we think this Onion spoof on Blockbusters is a reality now. When’s the last time you rented a DVD?
  • Is anyone else feeling like YouTube has gone WAY to far with the pre-rolls lately?

Rumors of AppleTV Revamp. Hulu Charges. BestBuy May Fire Funnyman.

Rumors on NY Times of an AppleTV overhaul that may make it more than a “hobby” (a term Steve Jobs used to describe the somewhat limited device). I, for one, already love the AppleTV so I’m bound to be excited about a new version. Heck I’d chose my AppleTV above my iPhone4G… which continues to boast crappy connection (even when the bars show otherwise) and has underwhelmed me for consistently posting on YouTube without errors.

And Hulu starts a pay-for-content model, and Apple offers a free Hulu Plus app on the iPhone (I’ll bet dozens sign up for it).

It’s like the online-video space found out I’ve just filed my book manuscript and want to see how quickly they can date it.

All we need now is for YouTube to launch a new television network.

Oh- and Best Buy continues to charm the online-video community, most recently scolding Brian Maupin. Turns out the former Best Buy employee is responsible for the hysterical video about the iPhone4G vs. Evo (you may have read about that one here last week).

AP is reporting Maupin, 25, said he was told Thursday he had a “choice to either quit or the HR people can decide what they want to do.” He said he would not quit and was told he could be fired over the matter.

Was probably told that by the nut job that called the cops on me.

Hey Brian (tinywatchproductions on YouTube)- unless you’re planning to keep your job or sue your employer, why not join me in a Geek Squad parody collaboration? Continue with videos as funny as the HTC Evo vs. iTunes video and you’ll earn far more from YouTube advertising than at Best Boob.

I used to love your employer until the Geek Squad ape when nuts on me, and Best Buy or Geek Squad never bothered to even acknowledge me.

AppleTV & iTunes Dissintermediates Cable? Bigger Than Balloonboy Story.

Wowzer. Your’e going to want to read this post, because it’s hot news. And because I put some effort into some seriously solid metaphors that damned well better be scraped by some bigger bloggers.

For years I’ve been bitching and moaning about Apple not putting its little heart into AppleTV (instead of screwing with these ridiculous iPhone toys and their petulant little “apps”).

stevejobsfeces

And all the while, the little Steve Jobs may have his eye on dissintermediating cable television. Fast Company provides some saucy news, and sources “All Things Digital.”

But this isn’t about the AppleTV, idiot. No it’s not about software or hardware. Apple is basically envisioning a $30-per-month iTunes television offering, which would give networks new reach via 100 million iTunes users. And that means you, like the 100 million iTunes users, would start watching shows via Apple both on your computer and (via some box) that big-ass monitor you call a Plasma or HDTV.

Do I need to repeat that? Television shows when you want, and on whatever damned screen you want. Oh, and a gentle reminder that technology companies will control your fate more than telephone, cable, publishers and networks (never mind that whole AOL/Times Warner hickup).

Alas, it’s hard for me to envision a scenario where cable companies don’t start tossing fecal matter like angry apes. But it’s a game of chess, not the beloved “toss-the-feces” we’d play at birthday parties. If Disney, as an example, slept with Apple… what could the angry ex (cable companies) do? They can’t very well drop Disney. And since Disney’s move would be the “tipping point” this all needs, Disney gets to set the terms. Girl, you know those Mickey Mice could nibble up an Apple like Piranha to a cow.

Fundamentally the broadcast networks have to decide whose bitch they want to be. Cable television or Apple’s.

If the music industry feels that iTunes was a good thing (additive revenue that didn’t exactly kill radio or CD sales entirely), then maybe the television networks go the same route. And to keep Apple “in check” they can replicate the terms via Hulu, YouTube or even some genius that manages to build a television-manufacturer standard.

The bottom line, however, is the train already left the station. I’m an example of a fast-follower (not early adopter), and I’m spending more each month on $1.99 television episodes than I am on a cable bill! I loath Verizon’s interface and on-demand library, and persist only because my wife likes depressing news and Nancy Grace, and my kids need their Nick Jr.

To be fair, I’m discovering I liked the control of “lean forward,” but I want to lay down on the couch and bed too. Love my TiVo, but it didn’t catch any fresh fish (like during this damned Fox Fringe hiatus), I dive into AppleTV and try out a new show… maybe buy a few episodes or a season pilot because $1.99 ain’t a bad price for 45 minutes of some boob-tube love making. I’m less often surfing YouTube’s most-popular list because it’s just a sad reminder remind of how much better Sxephil, Shaycarl, CharlesTrippy and ShaneDawson are than me. Last night me, Charlie and Grant and me did start a YouTube binge that began with Edbassmaster, then progress on a downward spiral that culminated in farts and babies. But then we jumped back to paid episodes of Angry Beavers. Damn that intro is hip.

Speaking of YouTube, those trained monkeys better get their own poop in palm. They’ve cornered the market on searchable video, but this is a bidneth model that can move faster than ad-supported web video. I think this crap (you know the kids are saying that now like it means nothing anymore) is bigger than the Balloonboy story. Except the Falcon hiding in the attic and puking on CNN might just be… Comcast, Verizon and other cable providers. I predict Hulu maintains its relevance if this shakes out, unless Apple iTunes makes itself incredibly easy to purchase and view via both web and those BIG ASS televisiony-like monitors. Hell in a few years, maybe we don’t even know or care where our video content comes from.

Yeah- I even think this story might be bigger news even than last night’s AppleTV upgrade:

“WTF? A vertical menu?” he says, tossing his mini white remote that has been chewed to near obsolescence. Fade to black.

The Poor & Lazy Man’s Top-10 Guide to Watching Movies & Archived TV Shows via the Internet… But on Your Big-Screen TV

Everything you want to know about watching TV and movies “on demand” on your television via the Internet. Designed for poor people who aren’t technical geniuses.

  • 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.

 

Clara and Her Owl
Clara and Her Owl Despise Blog "Scanners"

 

  1. 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.
  2. 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. 
    1. The $200 one is here: Apple MA711LL/A TV with 40GB Hard Drive a
    2. 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.
    3. 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
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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. 
  9. 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.
  10. 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. 

The AppleTV and Roku are So Easy a Hand with a Face Can Use Them
The AppleTV and Roku are So Easy a Hand with a Face Can Use Them

Online-Video Changed Forever Today: Google/YouTube Takes on iTunes & Cable TV

Organize the world’s information. That was the initial mission of Google, so I have found it ineresting that the company has taken significant steps (like buying YouTube and launchin Knol) to host and distribute it.

You see, there’s a big difference between organizing information for easy search… and actually hosting it with ads

In a non-trivial move, YouTube today announced that it’s offering a new pay-for-download service (using Google checkout, of course) which allows viewers to buy and download select creators’ videos. 

YouTube launches download for pay

While this may not seem like a significant move, it’s actually the start of a major threat to Apple’s iTunes and other cable and phone providers — as well as any comany that charges flat or variable fees for video distribution.

Content owners will participate (I know I will when invited) and viewers will use it (and I know I’ll buy select content). Then, friends, Google/YouTube is just one step away from making my AppleTV and Verizon Fios obsolete… it just needs to create or sanction Google player boxes that allow us to surf from my television set without the monthly fee of a cable service. And based on Android, that’s not far away. It’s content ala carte… just the way I’d like it.

I currently live on my Apple TV because I like surfing YouTube and Apple’s easy navigation for buying TV shows and movies. I’ve bought more movies and television shows in the past two months than in the 3 years prior. The Verizon Fios highspeed boxes, by contrast, are horrible, slow, and cost me a cursed monthly rental beyond my regular plan. So I long for the day I can return these boxes, and go web only. Of course I still need cable service for my kids, and for access to whatever select television shows we watch regularly (almost never live). But many of these shows are now available on Alec Baldwin’s Hulu.com, which could be accessed with an AppleTV-like box.

I can’t believe there’s a device for viewing web video on my TV available at Best Buy for $199.00. There will be in 2010, and there are some limited devices here reviewed by DeviceGuru.

Manufacturers I beg you… work with Google and create the killer Cable TV busting device. Consumers will love it, content creators will get wider distribution and revenue, and we can stop pretending we need Comcast or Verizon television. Sorry, I’m not a big fan of middle men that get greedy with high fees, poor service and rented boxes. And I trust Google to run all of this reasonably — at least more than I do my cable or phone service.

Naturally, a competitor would ensure that Google doesn’t have a complete monopoly on web distribution, but I’ll let the FCC worry about that.

Should You Buy an AppleTV? Only if You’re an iTunes and YouTube Junkie

appletv review cheap amazonI’ve had an AppleTV for a while, and I was amused by New Media Minute‘s video report that is almost entirely positive on the AppleTV except for some criticism of the the manual search process (source: webvideoreport).

Don’t get me wrong. I really enjoy my AppleTV (Amazon carries the 40GB for $224, 160GB for $324… yes I put in an affiliate link, so sue me). But I only started using it after it was a desk ornament for months.

The bottom line is that if you’re an avid iTunes user (music and movies) and a YouTube junkie, you’ll wonder how you survived without this puppy. If not, you may want to buy a used one (not too less expensive), or wait for a future version which will presumably offer more functionality, content and certainly more storage and speed.

What I dig:

  1. tv in bedGroovin’ with the concept of a device that feeds on existing broadband without another annoying monthly charge. It gives me access to my downstairs Mac via my bedroom television! My wife is not as excited that I’m watching my favorite YouTubers before dozing off.
  2. I find the interface quite elegant (albeit spartan), and a recent redesign improved it and addressed some of my previous criticisms. I chew the remote, though, so I’d like one that was a little more sturdy.
  3. I love laying down while I catch up on YouTube videos, but I mostly resign to surfing the “highest rated” section because it’s so much easier than digging into my favorite creators through the clunky account options. The “top rated” section of YouTube is unfortunately also loaded with a lot of music videos that are simply ads for cell phone ringers, and the animated parodies seem to represent 50% of the top 70 list (oddly it doesn’t list the top 100).

Here’s what AppleTV needs to do before I’d recommend it for broader use…

  1. Make it easier to synch. I’m fairly computer literate but it doesn’t seem to pick up a lot of my media.
  2. Start the clock on my rentals when I start the movie. Not when I rent it.
  3. Improve the selection of movies for sale (it’s as robust as that of a fish & bait store in a small Southern town). I was at a lousy hotel in Nashville Saturday night, and the pay-per-view selection was dramatically better. Mac: Integrate with Netflix or Blockbuster and you’ll have a gem (okay- tough one to work out, but a girl can dream).
  4. YouTube via AppleTV needs a lot of work… four key considerations:

youtube on appletv

  • Allow me subscribe to more than a dozen or so creators. Show me their videos in thumbnails, and sort them by most recent. Keep these populated without as many errors (it’s buggy). To track my favorite creators I needed to set up a new account called appletvofnalts. I’m missing a lot of my favorite creators unfortunately.
  • I’d like to comment. I’m not crazy about the remote/keyboard, but I’d like the option. And I’d like to enlarge descriptions of videos so I can read them without sitting up.
  • Give the search functionality (and “related videos”) the same juice that YouTube gives it on the site. It appears these features are “watered down” for AppleTV.
  • When I find a good creator I want to subscribe. I can’t, so I end up favoriting the video in hopes I’ll remember to subscribe when I’m at my desktop.

AppleTV won’t yet replace your DVR or your cable TV, but it’s a nice alternative when you’re sick of the overcomplicated and slow Verizon Fios media box that doesn’t want to play any of the shows you recorded on the media base that’s downstairs because the poor man’s unit upstairs can’t handle HDTV. I love the access to YouTube, which represents about 80 percent of my use (followed by an occasional movie or television show).

Please take this seriously, Mac. There are a lot of us that want to see this model proliferate, and we’re ready to promote it to our YouTube audiences (for a modest price, naturally… we can’t live on food alone). More users means more content, and I look forward to being able to share recommendations and preferences with friends.