I’m a certified gadget nut. That was confirmed this week when I placed an order for a Roku set top box. The $99 device, which is about the size of a hardback John Brown novel, streams internet television and movies on demand by way of our monthly Netflix subscription. The Roku is also hooked up with Amazon’s digital movie rental service. Good to know if we’re ever Jonesing for a new release.
The addition Roku means that our cobbled-together home entertainment system spans 30 years of technological innovation, from the trusty Video Cassette Recorder (aka VCR) to this futuristic Wi-Fi enabled digital video device.
To record this moment in history, I’ve decided to offer a close-up look at the Weekndr Home Entertainment System.
29-in. Flat-Panel television: We have a small house, so four years ago I became an early adopter and picked up an Apex LCD television from Circuit City (may she rest in peace) so we save space and enjoy a better-quality picture. As an added bonus, I hung it on the wall with a bi-fold bracket. Apex is an obscure brand, but I opted for affordability over name brand. It’s lasted so far, plus, they’re all made in the same factory anyway.
VCR: We keep one of these around to play old Barney and Walt Disney classics for the kids. I refuse to buy them again in a new format, so instead I hunted down what seemed like the only VCR in the Tri-State area on our local Goodwill store.
DVD: Did you know you can pick up a perfectly acceptable Sony DVD player from Best Buy for $41? I just did; to replace the perfectly broken DVD player we bought two years ago from Kmart.
Roku: A Wi-Fi enabled set-top box that streams digital video over the Internet. We got this mostly for its access to our Instant Queue on Netflix’, which is fully loaded with kids shows (Inspector Gadget, Dora, Calliou, Care Bears), as well as favorites for mom and dad. Finally, we can flop on the couch instead of sitting down in front of the computer.
Basic Cable: The cable companies don’t even tell you about this option, which provies major network television from New York and Hartford, public television, QVC, and CSPAN, for just $15 per month. We get The Daily Show on Hulu, and we make due without FoodNetwork. Who needs cable?
High-speed Internet: We receive our high-speed connection through our cable. I’ve always preferred this over DSL.
Netflix: We get this mostly for the on-demand service. No matter how hard I try, I can never remember to mail back the DVD envelopes.
I’ve been experimenting with video on demand through the Internet since it was first attempted long around 2001. There lived a startup called MovieLink. For the price of a Blockbuster movie rental (and sometimes less), MovieLink let you download movies and television shows from a modest library. You could hold on to your rental for up to 30 days. The minute you pressed “play” the rental would expire within 24 hours.
MovieLink suffered from a few setbacks initially. You needed a lot of bandwidth, and most people just didn’t have enough of it. Even with DSL it took about 20 minutes before you could begin watching your movie. The movie selection was weak and mostly dominated by random b-grade flix. And it didn’t run on a Mac.
A few years ago Netflix acquired MovieLink and immediately began improving things. It’s available for Mac, the inventory is getting bigger and better, and there are no viewing restrictions.
The future of television is here, friends. But so is the past.