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Video Content Involves Complex Choices, Hardware Prerequisites September 17, 2011

Posted by Peter Varhol in Uncategorized.
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I rarely write about purely consumer topics, but it has occurred to me recently that the alternatives for entertainment are far more varied, making the decision of how to spend your entertainment dollar horribly complex.

When I was growing up, circa mid-1960s to mid-1970s, most every household had a TV.  They cost relatively more at that time (I believe a mid-range console TV with perhaps a 22-inch screen was about $500-$700), and they used vacuum tubes.  For that investment, you had access to three broadcast networks, PBS, and a UHF station or two if you were lucky.  Quality was anywhere between okay and bad.  For three dollars a ticket, you could see first-run movies in a movie theater (although the State Theater in downtown Aliquippa eventually became a purveyor of X-rated movies).

Today, there is no such thing as free broadcast TV.  In early 2009, the Federal government required all analog broadcasters to give up their analog frequencies and broadcast entirely in digital format.

But if you pony up, the types of content are far more, and far more complex than they used to be.  So I’m in the process of assessing my needs for entertainment and how the various options might satisfy those needs, and how much I’ll have to spend on those options.  How do you build the entertainment options that you really want without buying everything?  And what do you have to upgrade on your side
to do so?

There are an increasing number of streaming options, including Netflix, Blockbuster, and Hulu (and let’s not forget Amazon and more recently, Walmart), all offering something different, but not being all-inclusive.  Netflix also has DVD rental by mail, as does Blockbuster.  Redbox has DVD rental through the There are also other, lesser known services such as TV Devo and Greencine.com.

Streaming includes popular, first-run movies, but the content remains limited.  The problem with streaming is both high and reliable bandwidth and the need for a digital network interface to the TV, or a Windows Media Server, or both.

I have an iSCSI storage box with a lot of my personal DVDs loaded for streaming.  Unfortunately, my TV is analog, and I can’t stream to it, so they just go to a PC on the home network.  That also means I use the Blockbuster DVD service for many movies and TV shows.  My
cable package is Comcast Digital Starter, and I don’t use On Demand, which streams (but I don’t believe over the Internet) largely first run movies.  This gets me part way to where I want to be, but I’d also like to stream, and I’d like to see older movies and TV shows that
are available via some DVD rentals and Greencine (but not on streaming services).

So I need hardware upgrades for first-run movies, more fees to spend on the likes of Hulu to get some TV shows, but it’s not at all clear that I need streaming, except for Hulu.

The point of all of this is that, even with the many content options available for entertainment, unless you’re willing to subscribe to all of them, and have made investments in computers, storage, plasma TV, Blue-Ray, and DVR, you have to decide what types of video content are important to you, and spend on just the things you’ll really use.

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