iPad mini-review, Part 2 – The iPad vs. Home Entertainment.

Cable TV blows.

I’ve had love-hate relationships with a string of cable providers, this was nothing new. It always seems like a good idea when there are a few shows you like to watch… TV isn’t *all* insipid sewage. Once in a while there’s something great on, like maybe not as great as Cosmos, but pretty great. And slightly more often there’s something merely good or at least interesting. So for the sake of the MythBusters of the world, I’ve been repeatedly drawn back into the world of the encabled.
The last time I did this, I got a basic, non-digital package that was bundled with my internet access. Bundling, I was assured, would save me a bundle. So if I’m paying nearly 40 bucks a month for high speed internet, why not add another 30 or 40 for all those great channels?

Fine, I thought. Why not?

Ha… smart people on TV sometimes… 24 hour news… comedy… I didn’t really consider the cost-benefit equation, I just felt as if I had entertainment when I wanted it, so there wasn’t much to complain about. But then you get to a point where you’ve seen everything, and you’re just watching out of habit. Then it seems like there isn’t anything on ever.
Eventually the day came when I had to get a digital cable box, which I had resisted for as long as I could. I was a horrible channel-surfer, preferring to flip though the stations rather than take the trouble to look up what was on, deleting the home shopping and religious channels so they wouldn’t spoil my flow. I needed no digital cable box to get in my way, as it lagged slowly after each button-press, making my instant channel flipping an orange-hued memory.
In the end I had no choice. I brought home my shiny new cable box (at a low introductory price!) and put it in a place of honor atop my technology pile. What’s one more device in a cabinet that already held my ‘classic’ 32″ tube TV, DVD changer, VCR, and surround sound system receiver?
I tried to make the best of it. Digital cable slowed down my button-flipping, but at least it gave me a programing guide and better picture quality. I changed my habits accordingly, and before long I spent more time flipping through the guide than flipping through the actual stations. Now the programing I was looking for on Discovery, NatGeo, Comedy Central, Animal Planet, and the History Channel was easily viewable, enabling me to plan my viewing accordingly. Not that I did that a lot.

But once the shine wore off the multifunction remote, the problems with the system couldn’t be ignored. The first being a steady decline in the quality and quantity of the shows that I actually wanted to see. This is nothing new, and I’ve commented before on the trends of supposedly ‘educational’ channels stooping to cheap sensationalism and pseudo-science to pull ratings. Ghost-hunters, UFO abductees, religious junkies, historical revisionists, corporate promos disguised as documentaries… This is the kind of filth that pulls in the eyeballs, as it has for ages. Could it be I’m just noticing it more? Whatever the reason, I felt overwhelmed by it. For every great series like Planet Earth, there would be dozens of reality shows, antichrist documentaries… not even mentioning the endless re-runs of every episode I’d already seen of Deadliest Catch.

Then there were the 24 hour news networks. This is the crack-cocaine-meth-heorin-speed of my TV viewing.

It’s not like I had to have it, and I could quit any time I wanted… only I couldn’t. It started by simply checking in with Wolf Blitzer to see what the situation was. Then Olbermann and Maddow. Before I knew it, I was leaving the news on all day long, just to have background noise while I was working on other things in my quiet house. And by the end of most days, I’d be *not quite* screaming mad.

When TV fails, the movie collection takes over. RIght?
I have about 150 DVDs. I’ve seen most of them several times. There are a few that I watch over and over, but most have never been opened after the first viewing. Years ago I might buy a new movie, but then I got stuck in the BluRay upgrade delay vortex. Basically I stopped buying movies because ‘someday I’ll want it on BluRay” so when I get one of those players then I buy it. Let’s go to Blockbuster.

…which also blows.

They had never heard of Fargo. 4 young people working at Blockbuster had never heard of Fargo. That’s really all you need to know. If you want to rent Spiderman 3, well boy we’ve got 87 copies of it! But if you want some exotic freak of an art film by… who did you say those brothers were again? Conan..?

You just give up after a while, I guess. Just turn on the tube and see what someone might have put there for you… oh, hey… they’re loggers, but they work in a swamp… huh.

But unexpectedly, a weird series of events radically changed my viewing habits. First, my Sony surround-sound system died. Advice from the internet included soldering, which experience tells me I’m lousy at, and so many people had the problem I was offended that it even existed.
So rather than spending hundreds (that I didn’t have) on repair or a new system, I just removed it, vowing never to buy another piece of equipment from Sony (my raging anger at their declining quality will be reserved for another post). With the sound system gone, movies weren’t quite the same on the modest TV speakers.

Then, I bought an Apple iPad, for a lot of other reasons than watching movies on it. I though I might use it for that, but I had no idea. I decided to finally give Netflix a try, and this is what changed everything.

Netflix offers a few different packages, but most offer instant viewing in addition to mailing physical DVDs from the user’s que. I quickly found that Netflix offered shows and movies that I actually wanted to watch, unlike cable TV which had declined to the point of uselessness. After what must have been 5 minutes or even longer, I made the decision – digital cable was out. I took the cable box back to my provider and cancelled everything but my internet access. This saved me $58 dollars per month. Emboldened by this, I spent the next few days rampaging through my house, firing dead technologies like my land-line phone, for another $25 a month savings. I stopped short of finally packing up the CDs and movies, but I know that day is coming.

Now I’m watching TV series I’d never seen on all those premium channels that would have cost me even more on cable. I can even watch Cosmos, and for a lot less than buying (or even renting) the series on DVD. Of course, not all of Netflix movies are available to watch instantly, so I keep the DVD queue full and when they come, I just rip them and send them right back.

Now this setup isn’t perfect. I currently have no way to get this digital content from my computer or my iPad to my living room TV. Apple TV offers one possible solution, but doesn’t provide a link to Netflix at this time. Getting non-DVD movies to the living room for parties and other gatherings will be the next step, and I’m on the lookout for the right setup.

There’s also the problem of content that’s only delivered in Adobe Flash, like The Daily Show and Colbert. For now, I’m just not watching them any more, except for the odd clip I might watch on my desktop Mac. Rumor is there’s a Hulu app coming, along with possible service charges. There really isn’t a good live TV streaming solution yet for news stream junkies… but maybe in my case that’s a good thing.

The iPad might evolve into a lot of things, but right now, what it lacks is rendered relatively insignificant by what it offers. For one thing, it can put an end to the idea of The Living Room as being the center of entertainment. Now anywhere that you might be likely to carry a smallish book to can be the place you most like to watch movies. Maybe there’s a view of something and maybe it’s outside. It’s your patio or your kitchen. It’s the same place you like to have coffee or read a magazine.

Apple doesn’t seem to be trying that hard to take over the living room, and I’m beginning to see why. It might be that the living room is the problem. It’s a place where we passively consume entertainment. It’s designed for broadcast, not feedback. It’s not an interactive place. But personalizing entertainment breaks free of the confines of the couch-and-tube model, so why bother to take over the living room? In my house, at least, the living room has gotten a lot quieter.

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~ by ChrissyOne on June 8, 2010.

2 Responses to “iPad mini-review, Part 2 – The iPad vs. Home Entertainment.”

  1. VERY nice! You make some excellent points, and I too, can see that future. My iPad has so taken over my viewing habits my wife is complaining. I’ll have to make some compromises.

    Keep em coming.

  2. Since you are saving so much on cable and landline, look into a Roku box for your television. So. Totally. Worth. It. It throws all of that streaming Netflix content onto your television via your wireless internet. I bought one last Christmas, and it has completely changed our viewing habits – sometimes for the worse. My fourteen-year-old has been devouring whole seasons of South Park. Scary what he’s learned in a very short time.

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