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.

 

CableTV’s Funeral Attended by Nobody

TechCrunch’s “2010 year in review” featured CableTV as a “loser.” It had a funeral. Nobody came. Check it out:

Losers: Huzzah! Cable companies are losing more and more subs every month! Victory!

Well, sort of. Sure, pay TV companies are having a hard time holding on to subscribers, but that’s only going to mean prices will probably stagnate or worse, will be raised to compensate for the lose of income. Comcast has to pay the power bill on their massive video wall in their swanky new-ish skyscraper somehow.

But where are these people getting their content? Not one report surfaced that showed the cable cutting movement has any real traction, and big media basically control the future of living room streaming devices anyway. Pay TV needs a savior or a disruptor. Someone will probably have to paint their face blue and white and stand in front of a horde of angry subscribers to really make a difference.

Meanwhile Roku was listed as a “winner,” and Ooyala helps creators make their own channel. I gotta do that.

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?

You’re a Digital Native, But Are You Acting Like One?

You’re probably a digital native if you read this. Tim Street interviewed Revision3’s Brad Murphy, who leads business development/sales. He uses the term “digital native” to refer to the audience his shows reach. Street includes a video of the interview (for those who prefer the hipper form of video to the timeless form of written expression).

Digital natives, writes Street, are “people who don’t watch regular television, are looking for content on-demand – whether it’s text based content, video content or communicating through social media to find that content. It’s an audience that hyper-connected.”

Indeed I’m among the folks who almost entirely switched their television diet for online material, although over the past year I’ve returned to TV for some of my favorite comedy and dramas: “Modern Family” (a must-watch, and as wonderfully written and acted as “The Office”), Lost, Fringe, V, that blackout show, and a few others.

For those of us digital natives who also dabble in time-shifted television (AppleTV, Verizon On-Demand, Roku, Netflix), there’s also another alternative I’m surprised isn’t catching on. Why aren’t we all using an old PC with HDMI (digital) connection to our television sets? Until we start seeing some formalized solution to leverage that ethernet plug in the back of the giant monitors we call “HD television sets,” I’d think that would be a natural solution, and one we natives would demand!

Why DON’T people use an old PC and a wireless keyboard so they can roam the web without the Mac-like “walled garden” approach? Two theories:

  1. I asked Revision3’s Jim Louderback about that on Tuesday, and he believes it’s because the solution Roku and other players offer is more user friendly, even if somewhat controlled. I suppose that explains the conspicuous lack of a $200 device that allows free browser-led experience right from the television set with the convenience of a keyboard instead of a remote.
  2. Another techno-nerd friend explains that the cost of making a machine (fast processor, web connectivity, HDMI connection and wireless keyboard) would be somewhat higher than the market would bear for such a device… and maybe there’s not the pent up demand for such a “lean forward” WHILE “leaning back” tool.

In the mean time, we digital natives do want to consume our “new establishment” (new studio, shorter format webisodes) in the higher quality and convenience of a giant television set. So once again, for the 3rd year in a row, I’ll predict a solution arriving this fall. It might be via a device (a modernized AppleTV or iPad-initiated device, a Roku/TiVo thing, or a television or Blueray DVD player that plays nicely with web content). Otherwise we hardcore natives will have to keep furnishing our own, to give us the full access that our devices limit.

Common, people. What if I want to check YouTube without the limits these devices impose? And Hulu won’t soon be kind to newer solutions (just look at what they did to Boxee). So do we wait until the large media and electronic manufacturers figure it out, or just build our own?

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

Can Roku Sustain?

roku stole my dingoSorry. I’m a little slow on the uptake here. Didn’t pay much attention to Roku (a device that allows you to stream videos via Netflix instead of dealing with red-envelope chaos). I used to be a rabid Netflix user, but finally got overwhelmed with the logistics.

But now if I buy a $99 Roku device and activate a $8.99 monthly Netflix account. Now I have unlimited access to 10,000 movies via streaming video.

When it seems too good to be true, it usually is. This doesn’t add up. The unlimited rental system made sense when Netflix was sending out DVDs in red envelopes. But now it would appear Hollywood would have a high incentive to squash this. In theory, I’d have no good reason to buy DVDs anymore, and I’d stop going to Blockbuster. So isn’t there a concern that this could cannibalize DVD sales and rentals? What possible monetization model exists between Roku/Netflix and the film creators?

Sure it’s not terribly convenient because it’s another darned device, it’s not portable, the video quality can vary depending on my bandwidth, and I don’t get the lovely color DVD case. But if I watch 2-4 videos a month, this appears like a relative no brainer.

Am I missing something?