Time for another installment of my HDTV saga. At the start of 2008 I cancelled my cable TV subscription and purchased a Tivo DVR so that I could watch and record over-the-air HDTV broadcasts on my 2003 30” CRT HDTV. Augmented by my original Apple TV, that satisfied my video needs quite handily. In addition to watching live and recorded TV broadcasts on the Tivo, I have rented and purchased movies and some television shows using the Apple TV, watched YouTube videos on the Apple TV, rented TV shows via Amazon Video on Demand on the Tivo, and used the Tivo to watch streaming Netflix movies. For years I was on a 3, 4, or even 5 disc-at-a-time plan on Netflix. But having seen most of the classic movies I was interested in, I found myself going weeks without touching a Netflix disc. So I finally dropped down to the one-disc-at-a-time Netflix plan that still provides unlimited streaming.
My three-year service contract on the Tivo expires in January, and six weeks ago I was speculating about whether or not the Google TV might allow me to let that go too. What I’ve seen of Logitech’s Revue Google TV box has not impressed me, however. If I keep the Tivo going, I’ll either have to pay up front for a 1, 2, or 3-year service contract or incur a $13/month charge. My old HDTV lacked a digital tuner and HDMI digital inputs, so the Tivo has been crucial to watching the impressive over-the-air HDTV signals from Tulsa. But now I find myself almost exclusively watching podcasts and a few episodes of The Venture Bros. on my Apple TV, and hardly ever using the Tivo except for some Netflix streaming movies.
So when I saw a good deal on a Sony 40” LCD HDTV at Sam’s Warehouse a few weeks ago, I bought it. The new box has plenty of HDMI digital inputs, has VGA and mini-jack audio inputs for a computer, and a tuner for over-the-air digital broadcasts. I bought a WiFi add-on module for it, which allows me to access video from YouTube, Netflix, and Amazon and listen to Pandora internet radio. So the only thing left for the Tivo to do is record over-the-air digital broadcasts, which isn’t worth much to me since I watch so little broadcast TV.
So I’m planning to drop the Tivo service in January, saving $100-$155 annually. To give me some additional viewing options, I reinstalled the latest hack to my original Apple TV which allows it to browse the internet (not very worthwhile when I can just use my iPad on the couch) and adds the Boxee service. Boxee allows me to easily stream videos from my desktop PC to my television through the Universal Plug-and-Play feature with Windows 7’s Media Center. I can also use Boxee to watch TV shows from Hulu and other internet sources. It even duplicates some of my Sony TV’s functionality, providing an alternate way to access YouTube, Pandora, and Netflix. I control Boxee with its iPhone and iPad apps.
My mishmash of living room devices would drive me crazy were it not for my Logitech Harmony Remote, an older 880 model which I’ve programmed to make it easy to operate my TV, Blu-ray player, Apple TV, audio receiver, Tivo, and VCR. Yes, I still use an old analog tape VCR for a bunch of old workout videos. I never transferred them to DVD, since that is actually less convenient. My analog VCR tapes have about 10 workouts on each of them, and I can just stop the tape after a workout and start it up the next morning for the next installment, which beats remembering where I left off on a DVD’s menu. Some of the tapes are 17 years old but still going strong. It seems possible that the DVD+R discs I use for videos at school may stop working before my old VCR tapes wear out.
It will be interesting to see how much I’ll miss having a DVR. If I miss a good broadcast TV show, I can hopefully use Hulu, iTunes, Amazon, Netflix, or a network’s own website to view it later. Perhaps what I’ll miss most is fast-forwarding through commercials. If it gets too annoying, I’ll either reactivate the Tivo service or look into turning my computer into a DVR.
My next project is to boost networking speeds in the living room by running a long Ethernet cable from my office router to a switch in the living room. I’ll then hardwire the television, Blu-ray player, Apple TV, and Tivo box to my network. But I’ll still rely on my home WiFi for my iPhone, iPad, Kindle, and netbook computer. Can I guy have too many gadgets? I didn’t think so.
UPDATE: Here is a great article on the future of TV.
LATER UPDATE: I bought a cheap 75′ ethernet cable from monoprice.com and ran it from the office to a D-Link DGS-2205 switch in the living room. The switch required no configuration at all and allowed me to use that cable with my Sony television, Sony Blu-ray player, the old Apple TV, and the Tivo. I find myself using Pandora more on the television for background music, while I use the old Apple TV for viewing video podcasts and the Boxee hack to watch Twit Live. And I like watching Netflix streaming on either the television or the Tivo. As for broadcast TV, at first I couldn’t get the television’s built-in TV Guide listings to work, but I finally re-initialized the TV Guide application and got it going so that I don’t have to fire up the Tivo to see what is on. And my new TV is able to play back audio and video from my desktop PC in the office via Windows Media Player.
12/1/2010 UPDATE: Today TiVo came through with an offer to upgrade my existing box to Lifetime Service for $99. That meant I can keep using it until it has a physical failure for the same cost as about eight months on their month-to-month plan. The offer was only available via phone, so I gave them a call and made the investment. (Essentially I was getting Lifetime Service for the same cost I would have paid for it when I first bought the box three years ago.) Given that the box is still working fine, I already invested in an external drive to boost its capacity, and the features on their new Premiere box are not compelling to me, it struck me as a good deal.