After probably a decade without having a cable bill, and no issues doing so, I’m happy to still be cable bill free, but… you knew there was a but coming.
I was quite satisfied for 10 years doing without Television as a medium, and doing DVD rentals (typically for no or low cost at the library) or DVD purchases. But more often than not just spending far more time consuming books, and audio programs, and traveling.
So I’m happy to say I am still cable bill free, however of late I’ve become aware and become a dabbler in this… Roku thing.
Most of you are probably long time adopters of Roku, but for those of you who aren’t, Roku is both a company and a product. Roku is an American based company that produces a device, not much larger than a pack of cards, that allows you to stream channels, internet based stations, offering streaming TV shows, movies, documentaries, virtually everything you can find on cable, and much you cannot, in an on demand model to make traditional cable green with envy.
In a sentence, Roku is a wi-fi device that allows you to bring internet based channels and programming, content optimized for your computer, easily to your TV.
Internet access to your favorite TV/cable show is nothing new, however the Roku’s ease in consolidating all that content in one location and bringing it all to your TV, without the need of a cable bill is nothing short of amazing.
Of course utilizing your internet bandwidth there are obvious drawbacks, such as that as a whole the quality and speed is reliant on your broadband connection, and does not match the quality of cable.
But that given, Roku picture and sound quality is surprisingly good, and far better than the embarrassment and rip-off that is free digital TV in the United States. The garbage the FCC left us with when they stole the analog waves from the American people and gave it to big business and the military.
The 2nd problem is the Roku device upon first use/registration looks to collect your credit card and personal info by default in order to activate/use the Roku device.
That is a major problem. Especially if you only intend to use the free channels it is a huge potential and unnecessary privacy and security issue, particularly in this day of rampant hacking and identity theft.
Thankfully you can bypass the requirement to give your credit card number by calling customer service direct, but it is a hassle.
But those major problems acknowledged and bypassed, for between $60 and $100 depending on model (I recommend the Roku 2 XS, I’ll give a detailed breakdown of why next column), this wireless consolidator of online digital channels that streams easily to your tv, and easily lets you add and remove channels yourself, is (as long as the free channels last) nothing short of a marvel.
So yeah, until such time as the Roku concept stops being as awesome as it currently is, I’m going to enjoy having 1000s of hours of movies and television and music at my fingertips, for $0 a month.(Just like conventional cable you can add pay premium channels if you choose, but there is so much impressive free content out there that you definitely do not have to)
So if you are currently paying over $100 for cable or direct TV and locked into a contract, as most people are, and are looking not to do that anymore, I highly recommend taking the Roku for a spin. All you need is high-speed broadband internet to make use of it.
Well hope this article helps some of you who may have been seeking more info on Roku and alternatives to conventional cable. Come back next TECH TIPS as I provide you my favorite Roku channels as well as a weekly recommendation list for this week on Roku!
See you then, and feel free to leave comments if you are already a Roku convert. I’d love to hear a list of some of your favorite things about the Roku.
Okay, That’s all for now!
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I don’t currently own a TV. I don’t currently have cable.
Gotta tell ya…
I don’t miss em.
I mean I still keep abreast of the latest DVDs, but as far as television and cable… nope.
I try and keep the number of monopolies that I am forced to support (because of lack of choice) to a minimum. So anytime I can eliminate or consolidate reoccurring debits, I’m happy to do so.
When I want to see something on the big screen, I go to the movies (check my review on LAWRENCE OF ARABIA in 70mm to see why a quality theater is still the best way to watch great films) . Otherwise my leisure time is spent writing, reading, watching DVDs (laptop), self studying, activism, music, dining out and a recent interest in Horticulture (An admittedly odd interest for me, considering I have a thumb of death).
I capture RSS feeds of the latest news from around the world, so I tend to stay more informed than the person who just sits slack jawed in front their television and hears the same news, told to him the same way, from annoyingly similar talking heads… 36 times throughout the day.
I tend to stay more informed then the person camped out in front of CNN or ABC, waiting to be told, vapidly it seems, what to be outraged about and why.
These days Broadcast news has more in common with mesmerism and propaganda than it does the people’s right to know.
That said I do, eventually, intend to get a large flat panel TV for DVD watching, a 720p screen.
Well contrary to the bs, that’s actually the perfect resolution to both produce content at, and to watch that content at. Especially for passive entertainment like watching DVDs or TV. On anything under a 50 inch screen, anything over a 720 resolution is just asking for eye strain.
1080 is a resolution that really has no use, in the majority of screen choices required for a consumer situation (ie 50″ or less) beyond allowing TV makers to charge you more for it.
The purpose and benefit of greater resolutions in the computer world, is not for watching movies, it is for having more real estate to multi-task, and to offer full page views of column heavy documents such as spreadsheets. And since we’re at least a generation if not two, away from viable interactive television sets, any 1080 display today is a medium in search of a market.
It is the case of the tail wagging the dog.
At 720p, production is cost effective for the little guy, cameras are readily available, and from recording to production of media, to reception, It really is an area that allows some growth. But 1080 allows you to keep the little guy playing catch up. because the cost of those cameras are high, and by the time the cost of those come down, the market will be onto something else.
But 720p, is a place where a lot of good things can happen, if we can keep the tail (the people who create change, just so they can sell you more change) from wagging the dog (the consumer).
Resolution is just that. It’s about screen real estate. Not about picture quality, but picture conventions.
Arguably concerns such as contrast, refresh rates, dot pitch, and media compression algorithms are of FAR more importance to picture quality than the canvas dimensions.
And that is all resolution is, is the dimensions of the canvas. A traditional 480 DVD looks great on a 720 screen, presented progressive. And a 720 DVD looks great on a 720 screen. And I’ve seen recent 1080 DVDs on a 1080 display, and they look like 720 but with noise inserted to fill up the additional real estate.
I’ve watched a friend’s 300 and TROY in BluRay (I do go over other peoples’ houses and see the behemoth tvs they’ve mortgaged their children to purchase) on his 1080 Bluray Player, and it looks nice, it’s an improvement on regular DVD, but I have to say it is not a vast improvement.
In the case of the movie 300, it was barely an improvement at all. Right now Bluray is not exciting me enough to justify its cost. And I think part of this is that the 1080 resolution, on anything under a 50 inch screen, looks like what it is… noise.
A 1080i or p screen (1080p being the current holy grail and what Blurays are mastered at) provides to whatever size screen you are using over 2 million pixels of info every 30th of a second. This translates into 60 million pixels of data per second. By comparison 720p provides a little less than a million pixels of data (921,600 to be exact) per 30th of a second, or roughly 30million pixels of data per second.
So everything being equal, a 1080p recorded source played on a 1080p native player delivered to a 50″ 1080p tv and a 720p recorded source played on a 720p native player delivered to a 50″ 720p tv; the 1080p setup going by the argument more is better should be twice as good as the 720p setup, right?
I mean it delivers twice as many pixels per second. Right?
Well yes and no.
Yes, it does deliver twice as many pixels per second, but it doesn’t look twice as good. In fact it’s arguably a negligible improvement and in my experience a degradation.
Well no one has done any studies on this particular phenomenon (who wants to get on the wrong side of a multi-billion dollar consensus of media conglomerates?) but my unscientific guess would be 1080i or p ( 60million pixels of data) delivered every second… concentrated in a certain amount of space, is not absorbed as fluidly as 30million pixels of data. I think the number is too much.
Wait, don’t laugh, I promise you… I will prove the earth orbits the sun and not the other way around.
Science already knows there are numbers below and above which range, they are not conducive to the vagaries of human pleasure.
Just like there is a frequency of images per second above and below which the illusion of smooth television viewing falls apart, just as we are aware that there is a range of colors when alternated in quick succession, is passively absorbed by most of us, but triggers fits in the more sensitive (typically diagnosed as photosensitive epilepsy), so there is a point beyond which our brain (which is the most important aspect of what we see, it turns the upside down image that hits our eyes right-side up, and grants to these series of still frames the illusion of motion, etc) has to drop info, to keep the illusion.
Our brains are very smart, they look at an image and they say, “so much info in so much real estate provides this sort of picture, and it is all useful”, but at some number the additional info becomes at odds with the area it is provided in, and the time it is given to process.
60000000 pixels of data in a space of 50″ or less, presented every second, I think is over the range that our brain determines is necessary or adequate in such a space over such a repetitive period of time.
So visual data over the comfortable range our brain has set, is seen as unnecessary or redundant info and is dropped or not processed, and explains why the 1080p setup contrasted against a comparative 720p setup is something underwhelming at best (being not twice the quality of 720p ) and inferior at worst (where the extraneous info is actually seen as noise).
Seeing as I’m not a mathematician or an Optometrist, I’ll leave the proving or disproving of my hypothesis above to the glory hounds among you.
For myself it suffices to know that a 1080 setup is just asking for eye fatigue. :). Your mileage may vary.
But for me, currently the best viewing experience is a 720p source, played on a 720p DVD (uncompressed if that is available), on a 720p Screen.
David Camoy over at CNET also has an article on comparative HD resolutions. And also puts forth the conclusion that the difference between 720p and 1080p on screens of 50″ or less are negligible. And I would go father than that and say the 1080p picture is actually degraded compared to the 720p picture.
Try it for yourself, and decide.
So save yourself some bucks and don’t blindly swallow the 1080p hype. Here endeth the, hopefully informative, rant.