Thursday, December 09, 2010

Gadget Review

We choose not to have cable TV at our house because, frankly, its a waste of money if all we ever did was watch reruns or listen to the news, both of which we can do for free off the internet thanks to Netflix and the BBC World News. I'm more of a radio guy myself anyway, so I was perfect happy listening to the radio.

Doing my part to support the economy (probably of China), I decided to finally break down and get a Roku internet streamer, which is a little converter box you hook up to your TV and you can pick up live streaming of movies and internet content thanks to the WiFi.

I had put off buying one because I'm cheap because I assumed it was hokey technology like those old cheap-o (and illegal) cable box descramblers you could get in the early 90's if you wanted to pirate cable TV off the main cable. I never had one of those, but I saw one a few times because a high school friend of mine had one. I remember the TV image was horrible and the sound was not quite in sync in a classic case of you-get-what-you-pay-for. (But, hey, you were ripping off "The Man.") I had assumed that streaming something off the internet would likewise be poor viewing quality and slow load/buffer times.

My Roku box came yesterday. It was much smaller than I expected, being about the size of an English muffin. This made me immediately dubious as I pulled it out of the box because it looked oddly similar to those old descrambler boxes just smaller.

I was utterly astounded at what I found when I hooked it up to my TV. It was easy to install, and it figured out how to hook right into the WiFi by itself. I did have to go to my computer and authenticate a code, but that was all I had to physically do on my computer. It was like hooking into a satellite dish. I knew you could live stream stuff off Netflix, but the sheer number of other viewing and listening options was staggering. You can get all the major newscasts from the last 24 hours; you can listen to virtually any type of news or podcasts via live stream radio; you can even hook into a channel that live streams old TV Westerns for free. (My father-in-law will love this when he visits because he's usually bored to tears when he's here because we don't have cable TV.)

There are, of course, pay per view and premium options through various websites. These range from Amazon.com Video where pay per download per movie to Drive In Movie Monster Classics for $3 a year (Where else can I watch The Atomic Brain and King of the Zombies?!?) and Kung Fu Movie Theater for $1.99/month (I'll be passing on that one, but if Bruce Lee is your thing then knock yourself out..so to speak.)

If John Wayne vs. the Alien Kung Fu Zombies doesn't do it for you, you can also access the really unusual internet channels like the NASA satellite channel, the best of Cable Access from India, and Al Jazeera TV (this might be of interest to the American intelligence gathering community because its even in English.)

The level of internet technology these days if truly amazing. This was unthinkable even 10 years ago. To think we were hot stuff if we could download an MP3 file at 5 kilobytes a second. (Of course, that was back in the day when no one over 25 even knew what an MP3 was.)

Progress marches on...


 

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