Idiot & Cheapskate’s Guide to Automating Your House (DIY SmartHome Hubs Controlled via Phone)

When I was a kid, I had this vision for my home that included automated everything — from lighting to blinds. Until last night, it was theoretical. Now I can turn off lamps from various rooms… from an Android or iPhone, even when I’m not in the house. It’s a start. And this morning when I got to work, I had the joy of toggling the lights from my phone to freak out WifeofNalts.

Let me warn you that we’re in an odd point of home-automation maturity. We’re moving beyond the era where it was reserved for the wealthy or techno elite. But it’s definitely not ready for prime time, and requires more patience and experimentation than I’d like… but such is the cost of being an early adopter, right?

My entry into “Smart Home Land” set me back only about $125: just $50 for a Wink hub (less if you buy it with add-ons) and about $75 for a bunch of GE Link lightbulbs (get the six pack). And I’ve got a plan for growing into additional functionality like remote monitors, appliance device on/off, security/alarms and broader control of lighting without doing the nightly sweep of 50 light switches. I can’t yet spring for the Nest, which is the connected thermostat that is the best-selling in its class. Honeywell and Lux fell asleep at the wheel.

Let me cut to wide shot and tell you about your options to entering “Smart Home Land.” Home automation was once reserved to the elite and wealthy, and required a special contractor and installation. Now you can pick up a hub and some $50-$150 add-ons and do-it-yourself quickly. I’m not going to get into the really nerdy hacks, but there are plenty of forums that can teach you to customize these beyond what the manufacturers specify or even offer.

There are too many options and a shake-down is looming. There’s Belkin Wemo, Phillips Hue, Quirky Wink, GE Link, Staples Connect, Harmony, Insteon, Lutron, Revolv, Smart Things. Overwhelmed yet? Here’s a review of some of them if you want to get into the weeds.

Let’s cut to your basic entry options, and then I’ll tell you why I started with the cheap, flawed but Swiss Army Knife option called Wink… note that I’m favoring options that don’t require ugly remotes or special displays. We’ll use our iPhones and Androids, thank you very much.

Which smart-home system offers the best flexibility at the best price?
Which smart-home system offers the best flexibility at the best price?
  1. Belkin has a Wemo switch that is a best-seller on Amazon and an easy place to dabble since it’s only $40. It uses your wifi and allows you to control any appliance via your Android/iPhone (just plug appliance into the Wemo, and the Wemo into your outlet. You can add on lots of additional options via Amazon or Home Depot. And if you’re all about lighting, you can get a Belkin Wemo starter kit for $85 that comes with a little hub and two lights… nice dorm room gift for that college techno kid. But I don’t see Wemo as a serious player.
  2. Then there are the lighting-specific solutions: Phillips answer to lighting customization: the Phillips Hue, which comes with a ton of different lighting options. The starter kit will set you back $188 and the individual lights get pretty expensive. Phillips Hue is generally cost-prohibitive except for those elite wealthy who might as well higher a contractor. But Home Depot has a decent spread of expensive lights so I imagine Phillips will be a formidable player. For those without excessive cash, the GE Links are better (you can also get these at Home Depot).
  3. There are a few other hubs that I didn’t look at closely. A cool-looking Revolv smart-home automation system (now part of Nest, the Google thermostat). Haven’t seen Revolv as a player yet. There’s Staples Connect (with Linksys), which is decent player and one that will likely survive the consolidation because Linksys and Staples are serious individual players. And the Smart Things Starter kit, which seems fairly comprehensive and has the best Amazon ratings… but is $300.
  4. And there are loads of home security devices, but I’m not writing about those.
  5. And the winner/wiener is… Wink hub despite some seriously negative reviews (including my own). Setup is torture (40 minutes of trial/error), but adding GE Link bulbs was as easy as screwing in bulbs and naming them. I can’t speak yet to the pain/joy of adding things beyond GE Link bulbs, but that alone made it worth the trivial entry cost of $50.

 

wink compatible products
Wink’s interface allows you to connect with a bunch of devices from other manufacturers

Wink is the buggy but poor-man’s Switzerland of all these home automation standards and devices. It has built-in support for Bluetooth LE, Wi-Fi, ZigBee, Z-Wave, Lutron ClearConnect, and Kidde. It also handles Phillips Hue (with some limitations) and works like a breeze with GE Link bulbs. I also like that Wink is a product of Quirky/GE, which gives inventors a chance to manufacturer ideas.

Once you have a hub and suffer through setup, you can add all kinds of things: alarms (Kidde/Nest), blinds (Bali/Lutron/ZWave), cameras (Dropcam), weird things from Quirky, garage doors (Chamberlain and Quirky/GE), heating and cooling (Honeywell, Nest, Zwave, Quirky/GE), lawn/patio, kitchen, door and window locks, and general appliances via a power plug that accommodates two different plugs that can be controlled separately (the other two are just plain extension plugs). Warning- that power plug got absolutely hosed on Amazon comments and it’s clearly flawed.

We’re still a few years before this stuff becomes more mainstream, but it’s nice that it’s become somewhat affordable and I like that you can experiment with different components to see what’s worthwhile.

Have you tried any of these? Would love your experience and “watch outs.”

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.

My Singing Monsters Breeding Guide With Pictures

My Singing Monsters Breeding Guide

Ethereal monsters singing breeding guideIn case you share my obsession with “My Singing Monsters,” you’ll need a breeding guide to get the advanced monsters. Download the images below to your phone so they’re easy to reference. And friend me: 2846120DC and visit me on YouTube!

Here is the Nalts pictorial guide on how to breed such monsters as Shrubb, Oaktapus, Forcuron, Fwog, Drumpler, Maw, Pummel, Clamble, T-Rox, Entbrat, Dandidoo, Pango, Ccybop, Spunge, Thumpies, Congle, Bogart, Quibble, Dedge, Cybob, PomPom, Scups, Riff, Reedling, Shellbeat, Quarrister, and Shugabush.

A free guide to the best hoverboard scooter and where to get it cheap and fast. :)
A free guide to the best hoverboard scooter and where to get it cheap and fast. :)

Go get ’em! NOTE: for advanced monsters, your odds could be as low as 1% so keep trying!

Sure this has nothing to do with online video, but I figured the blog has been dark for a while… so why not?

 

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My Singing Monsters Ethereal Guide

Ethereal breeding guide pictures chart

How To Get Views on YouTube (via Kindle)

So you want to know how to get views on YouTube. You want to grow a vibrant YouTube channel, go viral, and become the next Ray William Johnson. Do you cheat, or choose a more proven way?

No Kindle lovers… you could read a great American classic on that sun-enabled iPad you call a Kindle. Or you could dive into some magazine article about the proliferation of germs on door handles. But here’s “How To Get Popular On YouTube Without Any Talentright on the Kindle store. Is this a blatant promotion? Yes!

Oh it’s 34 pages long which is pretty beefy even though the image makes it look like a tomb.

Online Video Tips for Small Business (MSNBC)

Get some coffee or program your TiVos, kids.

That video I shot Sunday for MSNBC Small Business (see MSNBC/Amex site) is going on television not the web (glad I didn’t quite realize that when I shot it, or I might have gotten nervous).

It airs this week 3/20/11 at 7:30am EST and will re-air Saturday, March 26th at 5:30am EST. This timing should work well for small businesses and entrepreneurs since they never sleep. And the YouTube peeps? They’ll still be awake from the night prior.

In the meantime, you can check some of the tips I shared with AOL small business, or buy Beyond Viral (Wiley) at your local bookstore or Amazon. And tell your friends at ABC and CBS they should book me. 🙂

Oh- I made an epic mistake on the video that I’m hoping people think was intentional because it’s so blatant. Be the first to notice it and comment below, and you get a free piece of cheese (and maybe an autographed copy of Beyond Viral if I actually remember).

Google and YouTube Accounts Linked (and hacks)

Recently, YouTube requires having a Google account to register. That means you need a unique e-mail address for each YouTube account, and provides some unexpected benefits and problems.
I’ve often advised people to establish separate YouTube accounts under different e-mails, since if one account gets “suspended” or “deleted” than other accounts with the same e-mail are also usually effected.

Now that’s mandatory. It’s nice to have one sign-on/login for Google (which I use as my primary e-mail, reader and increasingly for creating documents) and YouTube. I login to Google, and I’m automatically logged into YouTube. However this becomes a problem when you want to create a new account or login to different accounts.
For instance, I’m posting vlogs on UncleNalts. If I logoff YouTube as Nalts, then go back as UncleNalts, my Gmail session expires. Imagine how much of a hassle this is if you’re moderating comments on various network accounts (for a Next New Networks, Revision3, or ForYourImagination).

Here are a few work-arounds:

  • If your gmail freezes (logged off) when you switched between YouTube accounts, don’t fear. Just open a new tab, log back into Google. Then go back to the gmail and it should send fine.
  • It makes sense to have two different browsers for each accounts if you toggle back and forth frequently. It’s confusing, but it saves a lot of trouble. In the past week, I’ve accidentally taken my gmail offline by going back and forth between various YouTube accounts.
  • If you want multiple YouTube accounts and are out of e-mail addresses, simply link them to various free e-mail accounts (Yahoo, AOL, whatever). Or if you have your own hosting account, create e-mails for each (username@domain.com), and you’ll have gmail/YouTube accounts that match and an e-mail name that matches both. Through Bluehost, I can create dozens of NAME@willvideoforfood, naltsconsulting, kevinnalts, etc. Of course I’ll never remember to check them, or have the foggiest idea what password I’ve used.

YouTube’s Homepage Not as Important as Google’s “Secret Sauce”

The power of YouTube’s ability to commercialize is not based on the homepage, but “The Secret Sauce.” Here’s a glimpse into it, and what you can do to advantage yourself.

There’s been a fascinating and widespread reaction to YouTube’s redesign, which was based somewhat on superficial changes to YouTube’s homepage (phase one referenced in YouTube’s blog, and a broader change is planned per NewTeeVee and ClickZ).

But the fate of YouTube’s partners, professionals and user-generated content is driven less by the homepage than the “secret sauce.” What, you ask, is “the secret sauce”? Hang with me for a moment first. I promise we’ll get there, and I’ll even give you tips for giving yourself a competitive advantage.

In this horrifically long post, I’m going to analyze the homepage, show why most reactions are missing the point, explore how a video gets “love” on YouTube, and give you some tips for getting views.

Since the redesign, we’re seeing the homepage’s vitality wane. Those homepage videos fetch fewer views than they once did. Where a featured (now “spotlighted” video) once got 100,000 to 500,000 views, the YouTube homepage is less of a driver than before. In case you missed the memo, here’s the latest vernacular.

  1. Spotlight Videos: Highlighted videos YouTube thinks you’ll want to watch, and a “thematic” approach to showcasing the best of the community and partners.
  2. Promoted Videos: Those driven by advertising.
  3. Featured: Includes YouTube’s partner content, other popular content, or those previously spotlighted.

Compare these two screen shots as exhibit A & B: The first is a shot of today’s “Spotlight” videos (aka featured), and the view counts are perhaps 200K on average.

picture-2

Now see YouTube (via archive.org) about 2 years ago when “Farting in Public” was on it. This is not a scientific study, but you’ll see higher average numbers despite the fact that YouTube’s traffic today is exponentially higher than it was one or two years ago. We’d expect to see today’s YouTube homepage videos commanding views that are exponentially higher. So what gives?

picture-3

The coveted YouTube homepage is still prime Internet real estate, of course, and the slippage of average homepage views isn’t entirely driven to the recent redesign — because this phenomenon is not new. A year ago I spoke with an interactive director of a popular company that had its video ad featured on the 2006 homepage, then again in 2007. Before asking him about his results, I told him I imagined far fewer people watched his most recent homepage-featured ad. He asked how I knew, and I explained that we regular YouTubers had grown immune to the large ad on the homepage.

Alas, the power of the YouTube homepage has become, and will continue to become, less important in influence, at least relative to other secret tools at the disposal of The Commercializers of YouTube. Why?

  1. First, only a small portion of daily YouTube visitors even actually see the homepage. They dive deep into YouTube for a specific video, and then out.
  2. Regular visitors (those who spend 20-60 minutes per day on the site) have largely customized their experience to give primacy to their favorite creators via “subscriptions.”
  3. That leaves only the people inclined to visit a homepage of any site, or those that are new and eager to explore. This is a minority, and the longer we spend on YouTube the less we care about the homepage.

YouTube, now behaving more as a division of Google than a standalone UGC/video sharing site, will continue to reward content based on two factors: relevance to viewers, and the premium of the ads they generate. Google prides itself on a legacy of innovation that is often instinctive and not customer driven — we didn’t know we needed Google search in a crowded market. And we didn’t know we needed Gmail, which has more traffic now than YouTube itself.

But most of us miss this fact. Let’s look at some comments about the redesign (from blogs/discussion groups, especially NewTeeVee and ClickZ). They’re focused mostly on the homepage and organizational principle, but are overlooking the more powerful dynamics driven by YouTube’s “secret sauce.”

  • They’ve been disenfranchising us more and more. Eventually we’ll migrate elsewhere and youtube won’t have an audience to advertise too.
  • I think the trend is going towards compartmentalizing video content 1. Quality + Professional free with the hassle of advertising 2. Mixed Quality + free between terrible and good UCG that can be found on sites like youtube and howcast with the hassle of advertising 3. Paid entertainment, video content that can be purchased through itunes 4. Paid, quality instructional content that can be purchased
  • I reckon that for four tabs.: Music-25% , Films-10% , TV-15% , UGC-50%
  • In effect, they are garden walling all the UGC on YT into a section so that if you want to ignore it you can.
  • I go to youtube because I *like* seeing good UGC (gasp)! I totally get that advertisers worry about what stupid crap their ads show up next to, but if youtube can’t patrol their homepage – why can’t they let their trusted users do it
  • I feel this change will marginalize UCG content, but it’s still a million times more democratic than the TV model.
  • The creation of a premium “sand box” for professional content will allow independent producers and large media companies to showcase and monetize their content more efficiently. Also, all content producers on the site will benefit from the inevitable increase in ad spends that are pushed to Youtube.
  • Hilarious! “Premium content” is just what the many millions of YouTube watchers don’t want!
  • I think this will give websites like Viddler and Vimeo a chance to grow their communities to the height of YouTube’s current level of success.
  • The UGC community on YouTube can succeed if they are able to monetize more easily and if established and rising “stars” are identified and receive promotion that positions them as “must-watch,” “YouTube only” content. They can be seen as complementary, and the more YouTube facilitates a parity the better.

Well you’ve made it this far, so it’s time to reveal “The Secret Sauce” of Google/YouTube. As I said, video content will rise/fall based on consumer relevance (duration of view, relevance by keyword, ratings, view counts, favorites, etc.), but the most vital aspect is “black box,” or confidential. We can deduce some things using “Google search” as a proxy. Google’s search results rewards advertisers who bid high prices for “paid placement,” and organic (natural) results based on whether the content is “relevant” (as defined by inbound links and whether we engage, or return Google to refine the search).

Not surprisingly, YouTube is replicating that Google model — giving “love” to content that either satisfied viewers and/or can be monetized via the Partners program. Unfortunately, YouTube is less transparent about whether a video receives primacy because of relevance or ad dollars. There isn’t a clear visual divide between paid and organic videos, even though the new labels (spotlight, promoted, featured) are a step in that direction, and this will continue to become more clear to even the naive surfer that still can’t distinguish between an ad or organic result on Google.

To consider how a video fails or thrives, consider the experience of a typical viewer navigating YouTube. They may choose to engage in the following ways:

  • Visit a specific video based on a link/forward from a friend. They may hang around, or dash.
  • “Hang out” with the community — and that segment continues to grow, but represents a smaller share of overall traffic. It’s also less important from a commercial standpount.
  • “Browse” related videos, and passively accept the “related content” YouTube serves after a video.
  • Dive into a favorite creator (and subscribe)- that could be a pro or an amateur.
  • More and more, visitors search for what they want — whether it’s the latest video gossip about a news figure, or “how to play a jawharp.”
  • Few, I believe, use the homepage design to delve into specific segments or such areas as “most watched” of the day, week or month. It’s possible that YouTube’s user interface (tabs, categories) can be important, but less so than most think.

THE SECRET SAUCE

The “secret sauce” is Google’s proprietary scheme for keeping the viewer engaged, and ensuring that the content continues to not just satisfy their curiousity, but more importantly “hook” them for more viewing (and it works based on average views consumed by a YouTuber relative to a Yahoo Video viewer). The “secret sauce” is, and will always remain, highly confidential and in flux. Otherwise we’ll “game the system” through various tricks. The algorythm that makes up that sauce will get smarter, and more difficult to fool.

We can complain about the “secret sauce,” or accept it and evolve. That means our video content needs to be relevant and captivating. Partners have a distinct advantage, because YouTube would be foolish to favor videos it can’t monetize. So we’ll see powerful and deep-pocketed commercial networks/producers (and advertisers) get an increasing “leg up” on amatuers by giving YouTube a financial incentive to show their videos “love” through paid buys, and favored placement. These entities can pay for “love,” or YouTube may give them free “love” to hook new audiences and mutually monetize their content long term. Recall how much premium placement PopTub had for a while. And sometimes an amateur gets lucky because their content gets “stuck” on the homepage (we saw that last month with CommunityChannel and a few others).

In the meantime, here are some basic tips, and some haven’t changed since last year when I wrote my free eBook (“How to Become Popular on YouTube Without Any Talent“).

  1. Create videos about content that is topical and searched. That’s how Buckley and Sxephil attracted a following that is now somewhat self sustaining.
  2. Build a distinct niche, and market your videos via like-creators and via properties (blogs) beyond YouTube.
  3. Continue to reply to videos that are already popular. The viewer will see the thumbnail, and your video will pick up “spillover.”
  4. Ensure the videos are tagged appropriately, but are also compelling, and engage the viewer. Otherwise algorythms will mistake those for spam. It doesn’t work anymore to tag your video with “sex” and expect that video to sail.
  5. Those thumbnails are as vital as ever. If a video is promoted, featured or spotlighted, the viewer will decide to engage based on the title, thumbnail and duration (we still want short videos).
  6. Here’s a doozy: Leave blank space after your video, so your viewers are less likely to “escape” via “related videos” served involuntarily by YouTube after the video plays (you want your viewer instead choosing a thumbnail for your own video, and those appear beneath the video).
  7. Finally, you’d better monetize your videos and become a YouTube Partner. Sponsored videos that aren’t monetized are not likely to thrive as well as entertaining videos that earn Google and its partners ad dollars.

It’s indeed harder to become an “overnight” success, especially when we have a “vicious cycle of fame”: it takes lots of views to qualify as a partner, and partner status to get more views. So the rich may get richer, and the bar is rising. But don’t despair! JeepersMedia is surpassing 100,000 subscribers, and had only had 4,300 subscribers 10 months ago. So there’s still room for new video creators who tap distinct audience niches, and manage (like Jeepers) to rank continually among the most highly-rated videos of the day.

And as long as the “subscription” model remains important to new YouTube addicts, your success breeds success. A good video can prompt a YouTube noob to subscribe (especially if you ask them to), and then your chances of that individual watching your future videos are much higher.

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

Top Secret YouTube Tricks & Hacks

Okay maybe “top secret” is an over statement, but most readers of this post will find a few surprises here. I give you some of the lesser known tricks on YouTube to optimize your experience as a viewer or creator…

  1. Find Best Videos on YouTube
    Don’t surf the homepage or most-recently uploaded section if you want to find the best videos. There are two places to go… the “top rated” section and the “most viewed.” I prefer the latter, because the community decides what’s lands there. Note that some creators live on this page because their fans rate them 5 stars without fail, so it’s not all good. There are also a few people that are “gaming the system” by artificially rating themselves 5 stars with sock accounts or autobots (boo, hiss). If you like vloggers, check the “most discussed” section of “People and Blogs.” You can also surf the “most subscribed” creators (by category) and when you find someone good (say, for example, Nalts) be sure to subscribe. Then visit your subscription page first, which is like an RSS for new videos by your favorite creators.
  2. Watch Blocked Videos.
    See previous post on this blog to see how to hack YouTube if a video’s URL is blocked by your ISP.
  3. See “Recently Deleted” Videos.
    Delutube and ReviveTube allow you to find deleted videos if you know the 11-digit URL. Source: ReelPopBlog.
  4. Make Your Videos Upoad Faster.
    Apparently SpeedBit Video VideoAccelorator makes YouTube videos load more quickly. It works for other sites as well (see site details at Accelorator.com).
  5. Upload to YouTube and a Bunch of Other Sites at Once.
    I use TubeMogul whenever I want to upload beyond YouTube on a mess ofwebsites including, currently, Yahoo!, MySpace, Metacafe, Google, Revver, DailyMotion, Blip.tv, Veoh, Crackle & StupidVideos.
  6. Reference a Video in Comments Section.
    You can post a URL in the comment section of videos, but you can provide the 11-digit alphanumeric code, and then people can post this before it:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=
  7. Get More Views on YouTube
    I’ve written a free eBook about how to promote yourself on YouTube (“How to Become Popular on YouTube Without Any Talent“), and there are other books including this 25-pager I haven’t read.
  8. Download YouTube Videos
    This is a post with some tips, but I like VideoBox from tastyapps.com (but it’s Mac only). KeepVid can download videos as FLV files pretty quickly. I’m also using Snapz Pro or Snagit to grab short sections of videos very quickly.
  9. Upload Videos for Best YouTube Quality
    For starters, you gotta export your videos in the best resolution possible — that means making them larger files (mine are 100 megs or more) and ensuring all the specifications are YouTube friendly. Trippy’s blog covers these specs well. Some argue that it’s best to convert it to an FLV per YouTube specifications before uploading, but I don’t like the idea of sending YouTube anything compressed so tightly.
  10. Subscribe to Someone When You Can’t.
    YouTube accounts without videos don’t have a “subscribe” option. To get around this (or to make it easy for people to subscribe to you), use this code, substituting the profile name where I have “Nalts.”
    http://youtube.com/subscription_center?add_user=nalts

What did I miss? I’m updating this!