When I Was a Remote Control

If the remote control had been invented before 1951 I’m not sure my parents would have had me and my sister Becky.  As toddlers, my parents taught us how to change the channels on our Sears black and white TV, so they could laze on the couch smoking their Camels and Winstons and drink Seagram 7 and Canada Dry ginger ale while we twirled the knob to locate Topper or Have Gun Will Travel.

tv-1950s

Kids born today come out of the womb with giant IQs, able to handle hundreds of stations and dozens of gadgets.  I wonder if my four-year old self from 1955 could have competed with a 2012 four year old at all?  If my parents were still alive, I wonder if they’d long for the days when things were simple without all these goddamn gadgets.  Life was easier with a Kid Channel Flipper, or the Rug Rat Reciting TV Guide.  Oh yeah, that was another childhood duty – to memorize the TV schedule and let my folks know when their favorite shows were on.  It’s also why my parent’s generation had so many kids.  We baby boomers were conceived to manage TV technology for the Greatest Generation, or the radio generation.

Today, anyone with a finger can change the channel, and onscreen guides have made the Rug Rat Reciting TV Guide go the way of the Bad Child Switch Fetcher.  If political correctness had been invented before 1951 and my parents told that kid herding couldn’t involve belts and switches, they’d definitely been willing to get off their Brooks Brothers covered butts and do their own TV knob twirling.

I’ve seen some real cultural and social changes in my lifetime due to fantastic inventions like the TV clicker and screen guide.  Young people really have no idea how hard life was back in the 1950s.   Toddlers today are whizzes at iPads, but could they have dialed a rotary phone?  OK, I admit they could – modern tot nerds would beat wee baby boomers at any kind of pre-school smack down.  We never had any of those fancy Sesame Street advantages, but we did have to work harder for less rewards, which us boomers like to brag is character building.

TV was dinosaur primitive back then, with small low-rez screens that frequently got out of adjustment so you had to fine tune the vertical and horizontal hold knobs just right to see a steady, but grainy black and white picture.  And that picture had visible scan lines.   There was an array of other knob-less adjustment dials inconveniently located on the back of the set that required a screw driver to twist and mirror to see the results.  If you were too lazy to get the dressing mirror off the back of the closet door you could try to talk someone into describing the picture while subtly adjusting the settings from verbal clues.  What a lost art!

Also, TVs had vacuum tubes instead of solid state devices, and when a tube blew you had to get dad to drive you to the 7 Eleven. While he waited drinking his Schlitz in the Pontiac, you dashed inside to run the tube tester and hopeful find the arcane coded replacement in the test cabinet.  All this just to see some show call Huckleberry Hound that was so moronic you’d poke your eyes to avoid seeing it today but your seven year old self thought state of Eisenhower era pop art brilliance.

But back to the future – or our present.  Even though today’s TV pictures are rock solid, hi-rez, and huge, the show selection takes more brain power to select than that famous wild hair guy figuring out general relativity.

Now this brings us to the greatest invention in television history:  Netflix streaming.  It’s not perfect, but it’s almost as easy as Samantha’s twitch of her cute magical nose.  If they could only combine Siri with the Netflix interface, and we could sit in our recliners like Captain Picard and tell the HDTV what show we wanted and then say the words, “Make it so” we’d all reach video nirvana.

Recently I had to anxiously wait for Netflix to send me Blu-ray discs of Season 3 of Glee after watching Season 1 and Season 2 via their streaming service.  Don’t get me wrong, a Blu-ray picture and sound is Breaking Bad better than the current state of Netflix best streaming resolution, but the convenience of clicking to Glee on the Roku is Friday Night Lights goodness.

What a philosophical conundrum!  Fantastic picture versus fat-ass lazy highness.  Well, you know which one we’ll always choose, don’t you?

Music on iTunes iPhones is 5 transistor* radio crappy, but it’s what people prefer over the pain-in-the-ass fetch the CD and put it in the player hard work.

Streaming video and music is going to kill off the CD, DVD and BD disc.  So it goes, as Mr. Vonnegut used to say.  Vinyl, formerly known as the LP, is making a technological comeback, even through it requires the physical effort of storing albums, cleaning them, and playing them on mechanical players.  I’m sure it’s a passing fad.

If you pay attention to technology there are two consistent trends.  First, the evolution towards fewer moving parts.  Second, the evolution of ease of use.  We’re all heading to a future of moronic simplicity and slothfulness.

I love the CD and Blu-ray disc for their wonderful high resolution music and video, but they are goners.  Resting on my big motionless butt enjoying the brilliance of streaming music and video will always overcome the theoretical desire for high fidelity and high definition.

My wife and I never had children.  We never needed them.  We grew up with the remote control.  If you charted this essay on a graph, it would show the decline of civilization.  Well, like I said before, so it goes.  If you don’t believe we’re actually devolving with all this technological evolution, just picture this:  The Victorians had to play their own musical instruments if they wanted to hear music.  Even cavemen could drum like crazy man.  Imagine what Spotify would have done to the British Empire.

Stream with the flow.  Make it so.

JWH – 10/22/12

* When I was a kid, the cutting edge technology of portable sound was the transistor radio.  They came with a single mono earplug, and you listened to AM radio.  Of course 1961-1968 AM radio was the peak of musical genius in the 20th century.  These transistor radios were about the size of a iPhone (which by the way have millions of transistors) and  a tinny sound.  50 years later, I think portable sound still sounds tiny and tinny.   Listening to The Beatles on an iPhones makes them sound like they are five inches tall.

The Strange Pricing of Digital Goods

I buy a lot of digital goods and services but I’ve noticed that there is no consistency in pricing.  For example I subscribe to Rdio.com and pay $4.99 a month for access to millions of songs and albums.  Yet, The New York Times wants $15-$35 a month for access to just one newspaper.  $60 a year for 15,000,000 songs versus $180 for 365 issues of one newspaper – can you spot the obvious bargain?

Yet for $7.99 a month, or $96 a year I get access to 75,000 movies and TV shows at Netflix.  $7.99 a month is also the price Hulu Plus charges for thousands of shows too.  So why does one newspaper cost $15 a month, especially since it was free for years.  I love reading The New York Times, but I can’t make myself pay $15 a month for it when I get so much music for $4.99 a month, and so many movies and TV shows for $7.99 a month.  If I was getting access to several great papers for $7.99 a month I’d consider it a fair deal.  But for one title, I think it should be much less.

This makes The New York Times appear to be very expensive.  However, The Wall Street Journal is $3.99 a week, or $207.48 a year. Strangely, The Economist, a weekly is $126.99 a year for print and digital, or $126.99 for just digital. Go figure.

I also get digital audio books from Audible.com.  I pay $229.50 for a 24 pack, which is $9.56 per book, but they often have sales for $7.95 and $4.95 a book.  I can get two books from Audible for what I’d pay for 30 daily papers, but I actually spend way more time listening to books than I’d spend reading the paper online. 

I subscribe to several digital magazines through the Kindle store.  Right now I’m getting a month of The New Yorker for $2.99, but that’s suppose to go up to $5.99 soon.  (What is it about stuff from New York being more expensive?)  Most of the magazines I get from Amazon are $1.99 a month, way under the cost for a printed copy at the newsstand.  The Rolling Stone is $2.99 and I usually get two issues in a month.  So for $15 a month, the price of The New York Times, I get 11 magazines (4 New Yorkers, 2 Rolling Stones, Discover, Maximum PC, National Geographic, Home Theater and The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction).  That’s a lot of reading for $15 a month, and a lot of variety.

However, I also subscribe to Zite, an app on my iPad where I do the most of my news reading, and that’s free.  I get free articles from those magazines above and who knows how many more, all for free.  In fact, I spend so much time reading Zite, because it’s customized to my interests, that I’m thinking of cancelling my magazine subscriptions.  But that’s another issue.  Like when I subscribed to paper copies of magazines I mostly let them go unread.

Even if I paid $15 a month for The New York Times I’m not sure how many articles I would read above the 10 articles a month they offer now for free.  I don’t expect everything to be free on the internet, but sadly, paid content has to compete with free.  Zite, which is free, is actually worth $15 a month, because I get access to zillions of magazine articles, newspaper stories, and web blogs.

I’m also a subscriber to Safari Books Online, a subscription library to technical books.  I pay $9.99 a month and get to have 5 books a month “checked out” to read.  I can keep them longer, but I have to keep them at least one month.  So for $120 a year I get to read as many as 60 books, which means the price could be as low as $2 a book.  That’s a bargain when most computer books are $40-50.

And I’m a member of Amazon Prime.  For $79 a year I get unlimited 2-day shipping, access to 12 ebooks (1 a month from their library of 100,000 titles) and unlimited access to thousands of movies and TV shows.  This is another tremendous bargain.  I also buy ebooks for my Kindle and iPad from Amazon.  Costs run from free to $9.99.  On very rare occasions I’ll pay more, but it hurts.  Digital books just seem less valuable than physical books.  I don’t feel like I collect digital books like I do with hardcovers.  I don’t even feel I own ebooks.

Next Issue Media is now offering a library of digital magazines Netflix style for $9.99-$14.99 a month, but only one of the magazines I currently subscribe to, The New Yorker, is part of the deal.  If all of my regular magazines and The New York Times were part of the deal, then I’d go for it.  However, Zite with it’s intelligent reading system would still dominate my reading.  Flipping through magazines is just too time consuming.  What I want is a Zite Plus, a service that provides access to all the free and paid content I like to read.

Can you spot the trend in all of this?

I think most people on the net are willing to pay for digital goods if they get a bargain, especially if it’s part of a library of goods like Netflix, Rdio, Rhapsody, Spotify, Hulu Plus, Safari Online, Amazon Prime, etc.

And there is another issue about buying digital goods.  Some companies charge extra if you use their content on a smartphone.  Rdio and Spotify are $4.99 a month for listening on your computer but $9.99 a month to also listen on your smartphone.  The New York Times is $15/month for reading online and smartphone, $20 for online and tablet, and $35 for online, smartphone and tablet.  Why the heck is that?  It’s the same damn words.  Why would they care where you read their paper.

Netflix charges $7.99 a month and you can watch it on a whole array of possible devices.

JWH – 4/24/12

Will Internet TV Make Cable and Satellite TV Extinct?

There are two kinds of TV, live and recorded.  Internet TV sites like Hulu have already proven how well they can handle recorded TV shows.  Internet TV even does away with the need for a digital video recorder (DVR).  Think of a show, find it, watch it.  Internet TV like Hulu is even better than broadcast, cable or satellite for sponsors because viewers are required to watch the commercials.  And as long as they have such limited commercials as they do now, I don’t mind watching them.  Otherwise I’ll pay for streaming services like Netflix to be commercial free.

Where Internet TV is weak is for live broadcasts, like for sports and 24/7 news.  The infrastructure of cable and satellite systems have far more bandwidth for handling live television.  That won’t always be so, because I’m sure some kind of broadcast Internet technology will emerge to solve that problem and people will be watching live TV on their iPhones, iPads, netbooks, notebooks, desktops, HTPCs and Internet TV sets.

Digital technology ate the music industry, and is about to eat the book, newspaper, magazine and television industries.  I gave up cable TV months ago and for recorded shows I’m in hog heaven by using the Internet TV, which includes streaming Netflix.  I also supplement by viewing diet with snail-mail Netflix discs, but I see where that habit could be phased out too.  The only reason to get a disc now is for the picture quality of Bluray.  Future bandwidth will wipe out that technology too.

Owning music CDs and video DVDs seem so pointless now.  I wonder how that’s going to impact the economy and effect the entertainment business.  It also makes me wonder about my efforts of building an easy to use HTPC.  I’m struggling to get perfect Bluray playback through my HTPC computer, wondering if I should spend $80 for better software, knowing full well in the not too distance future I’ll phase out Bluray too.  The HTPC has phased out the LG BD390 Bluray player I bought just last year, and an Internet TV set could phase out my HTPC.

biggerthanlife

Last night my friend Janis had us watch Bigger Than Life on Bluray because NPR had praised this old James Mason movie so highly.  The flick wasn’t very entertaining, but it was fascinating.  The Bluray presentation of this 1956 CinemaScope production was stunning in 1080p high definition, showing intricate shadows and vivid colors.  Internet TV and streaming Netflix can’t provide that kind of resolution right now, but I imagine it will before 2015.

Technology is moving so fast that we buy devices we want to throw away in a year or two.  Growing up my folks wanted appliances and TVs that would last 15 years.  I remember Ma Bell phones lasting over twenty years.  I’ve had my 52” inch high definition TV for only three years and I’m already lusting for a new set.  Will technology ever settle down again so we can buy something that will last a generation?  I think it might.  Of course it will be terrible for the economy, but I can imagine TV technology that would satisfy me and take the ants out of my pants to have something better.

My perfect TV will still be a 1080p HDTV like we have today.  I’m pretty sure we can go decades without changing the broadcast standards again.  It will have a digital tuner to handle over-the-air broadcasts (in case the net goes down) and an Ethernet jack and WiFi for Internet TV.  It will have two removable bays.  One for a computer brain that can be upgraded, and another for a SSD hard drive.  As Internet TV is perfected the need for a local DVR will be diminished.  That will also be true for an upgradable CPU.  There will be no cable or satellite TV.  Everything will come to us by TCP/IP.  Broadcast will remain for the poor and for when the Internet fails.  Cable and satellite TV will go the way of the record store.  I also assume all Internet access will be wireless, but it will take 5-10 years to phase out wires.  Now that doesn’t mean cable and satellite companies will go under.  I expect them to buy into the Internet TV revolution.  I do get my internet access from Comcast.

Most people will think I’m crazy by predicting the extinction of cable and satellite TV.  They can’t picture living without all that choice.  That’s because of the channel switching mindset.  We have always thought of what’s on TV by flipping through the channels, even though very little TV is live.  Most of TV is recorded, and we fake immediate diversity by offering 200 concurrent channels to watch.  Eventually the only channels to watch will be live, because other technology makes it easier to find recorded shows ourselves.

Live TV will go through a renaissance.  Cable and satellite TV systems are still the best technology for live TV, and they will hang on to their audiences for another ten or twenty years as Internet broadcast TV is perfected.  However, guerrilla TV is emerging on the net, and micro audiences are evolving.  For the big networks, how many Today like morning shows will we need for live TV?  How many channels to promote sports?  How many to 24/7 talking head news and reality shows do we need?  How many live PBS networks will we need?  Will audience gather around central networks or seek out specialized Internet broadcasters catering to their personal interests?

Ultimately, how much TV really needs to be live?  Even 24/7 news shows spend a lot of time repeating themselves.  Live TV is leisurely.   The hours of the Today show are filled with just minutes of quality content, most of the time is fluff and commercials.  And if an opera is filmed live for PBS does it really need to be seen live?  Survivor and Amazing Race would be tedious if live.

When the flipping the channels metaphor dies out, and library checkout metaphor gains popularity, TV viewing will change.  People love football, war and car chases live, but will even that change too?  If you were sitting with you iPad killing some time, will you think, “Hey let’s watch the game in Miami,” or will you want to play a game or watch something recorded?   I can easily imagine sites of “WHAT’S HAPPENING NOW!” start showing up, listing thousands of events going on around the world.  TCP/IP technology will work better to provide that kind of service than cable or satellite.

Until you play with Internet TV you won’t understand what I’m saying.  You’ve got to sleep with the pods or drink the Kool-Aid to buy in.  Start with streaming Netflix and Hulu.

And if people love cell phones, Facebook and Twitter to stay in constant contact won’t they love live TV from their friends.  Instead of watching the crew of the Today show have fun, why not video link all your friends and create your own morning show?  And the emergence of spy networks will also change viewing habits.  If every daycare and classroom had web cams, wouldn’t parents spend more time watching them?  Won’t all the web cams in the world grabbing eyeballs destroy the audiences of the 200 channels of national networks?

We can’t predict the future.  Growing up in the 1960s I never imagined anything like the Internet.  All I can predict is change and more of it.  But I’m also going to predict that once the Internet and digital upheaval is over, we might settle down to a slower pace of change.  Well, until artificial intelligence arrives or we make SETI contact with distant civilizations.

Recommended Reading:

JWH – 4/10/10

There’s No Such Thing As Free TV

In the early days of television it appeared the shows were free, just put up an antenna and watch your favorite programs for nothing.  But as we all know, we paid for our viewing by watching commercials.  Then came cable TV.  We paid a small fee to avoid the hassle of messing with antennas, but we still watched a lot of commercials.  However, this started the upward cost of watching television.  Cable providers slowly added more channels and raised their fees.  They even offered commercial free networks like HBO and Showtime, but at an even greater cost.  It’s not uncommon today to pay over $100 a month for cable or satellite access.  Then they charged even more for DVR boxes and services so we could skip over the commercials.

Now people are abandoning their cable/satellite services to save money and going retro by using antennas again, and getting over-the-air (OTA) HD television.  They supplement their viewing variety with Netflix, HTPCs and now DLNA compliant devices.  Getting TV from the Internet gives the illusion that we’ve finally found a way to get free TV.  Don’t count on it.  We still pay $25-50 a month for broadband Internet access, and we still watch a lot of commercials.  And if the movie and television industry has their way, they’ll find new ways to charge us for watching our favorite shows over the Internet.

Netflix, at $8.99 for 1 disc service and streaming video via a Roku box is probably the cheapest way to get the most TV watching bang for the buck.  Now Netflix is under attack by the Hollywood Studios.  As the Business Week article points out, studios don’t like the all-you-can-eat streaming pricing.  They want a cut of the action for each movie you watch, because they consider streaming equal to cable/satellite pay-per-view movies, that cost viewers $4 a pop.  And the studios, like Warner Brothers, want to slow the access to movies that Netflix rents because Netflix is cutting into sales of DVD/BD discs.  I know I don’t buy discs anymore, so I can understand this.  And if you haven’t noticed lately, a lot of streaming content on Netflix started showing expiration dates.  Bummer.

Generations of television viewers who grew up after the Baby Boomers don’t remember “free” TV.  Every house had an antenna sprouting from the roof and you didn’t have to pay a monthly bill to watch your shows.  Of course, we didn’t have the power to skip commercials, and we only had 3-4 channels in our nightly lineup.  We had NBC’s Saturday Night at the Movies showing new to broadcast films, and each station had a library of old films they could show at odd hours of the day, usually in the middle of the night.  Life was simple then.  Of course, so were the shows.

Decades later, television shows and movies cost untold millions to make, far more than what broadcast commercials and movie tickets can finance.  Movie makers want to maximize their profits by selling their films several times, in a standard tiered released system where they get the maximum revenue at each stage:

  • Theatrical releases
  • DVD/BD sales
  • Pay-per-view
  • Premium cable (HBO, Showtime, etc)
  • Basic cable
  • Broadcast networks
  • [Netflix streaming?]

So where in the hierarchy do they release titles to Internet streaming?  And if DVD/BD sales are hurt by rentals, when do you release titles to Netflix?  Right now, I pay the most for movies because I watch a lot of flicks on the big screen.  I could probably save $500 a year by waiting for movies to come to Netflix.  This is one reason why I don’t care about getting cable TV anymore, or when movies get to Netflix.  But if you aren’t big on going to the movies, this does matter.

The trouble for movie makers is Netflix is so damn efficient and cheap.  Even without streaming, for $8.99 a month you can watch about a 100 movies a year, and with streaming, your selection is overwhelming.  Who needs to watch more?  And if you count that Netflix rents/streams TV shows and documentaries, that makes $8.99 a month the cheapest form of TV watching other than OTA viewing.  Sports is the main thing missing, and probably why more people don’t give up cable/satellite.

Now Digital Living Network Alliance (DLNA) is catching on, allowing you to stream video content off the Internet directly to your TV, without using a computer.  Geeks have been hooking up their computers to their TV for years, but it’s not an elegant consumer oriented solution.  All the major TV manufacturers are starting to build DLNA technology directly into their TVs, meaning you won’t need a Roku box to stream Netflix and Amazon videos.  Each manufacturer can choose which streaming system to support, or in some cases, they can support PC servers like PlayOnTv that will talk to your TV directly, or via your Wii, PS3 or Xbox 360, so you can watch Hulu and other emerging Internet TV networks.

Essentially, online TV networks like Hulu.com, CastTV and TV.com are ways to get broadcast and cable network shows free off the Internet, or free if you ignore your ISP bill.  But when content providers realize that these services will undercut services higher up the economic viewing ladder, will they continue to offer their content for free?  Will there be more commercials, or even subscriptions required?

I installed PlayOnTV on our Wii and played around with Hulu.  The Wii remote made a decent TV remote and worked well with the Hulu menu system.  This bit of testing provided an epiphany for me.  Internet TV is like cable TV – too many channels and too much to see!  Since I’ve given up cable TV and lived for a few months with just ABC, CBS, NBC, PBS and Netflix, I’ve learned to love simplicity.  I thought I wanted more documentaries which Internet TV might offer me, but it’s not worth the hassle of finding them. 

I like the higher quality of watching Blu-ray discs, or even DVD quality, over watching Internet TV quality.  Broadcast HD seems better than cable HD, and Blu-ray 1080p is even better yet.  I’ve gotten used to pristine picture quality, and for me at least, visual quality is better than viewing quantity.  I don’t mind waiting for BD discs to come in the mail.  I know my viewing habits aren’t typical.  My wife is a channel surfer and loves to see what’s on by flipping through hundreds of channels.  If you’re like her, then you’ll need to pay for cable/satellite, or spend the money for Internet TV options.

I pay $16.99/month to Netflix for 2 discs out at a time with Blu-ray.  That’s as cheap as I can get while getting the most TV watching for my dough.  If the movie studios force Netflix to charge more for streaming, I’ll live without streaming.  I’m a little annoyed that Blu-ray discs cost more to buy and rent than DVDs when they look physically identical, but the extra visual quality is worth it to me.  I don’t mind watching Big Love or Weeds months after their HBO and Showtime broadcasts.

TV isn’t free, but it doesn’t have to be expensive either.  How much you pay for TV depends on how impatient you are to see new shows and films.  As I get older I’ll probably stop going to the theater as much, because paying $10 to see a movie the first week it’s out won’t be as important.  I know a lot of old guys who stopped going to the movies altogether.  If you’re young, restless, twitchy and impatient, then you’ll probably love flipping through 300 cable channels and won’t mind paying $100 a month for that pleasure.

When I heard Warner Brothers wanted Netflix to wait a whole month before renting movies that had just gone on sale, I laughed.  At 58, a month is nothing.  To a teenager or twenty-something, waiting a month is probably unbearable.  I’m still finding new movies from the 1930s to watch, and I’ve seen thousands of them already.  I’d much prefer Netflix maintaining it’s low rates than getting movies sooner.  Let the young finance the movie and television industry – if you’re patient you can save your money for retirement.

JWH – 1/17/10

LG BD390 Blu-Ray Player

I woke up this morning, got the newspaper, and opened the ads to discover that the 40th Anniversary Edition of Woodstock the music documentary is to be released on Tuesday.  Hot-damn.  Not only that, but a special edition with even more un-shown acts was coming out on the Blu-Ray version.  I’ve been wanting a Blu-Ray player for years, but have been waiting for the price to come down.  I got on Amazon and found out if I ordered my copy of Woodstock from them they’d include a bonus disc with even more un-shown acts from that famous three days of love, happiness and mud, so I ended up buying my first Blu-Ray content before I actually owned a player.

I jumped on Google and started researching players.  I figured I’d want to be at Best Buy by 11am to get one, no use wasting any more time.  But which Blu-Ray player to buy?  I assumed I’d get a Samsung, since I’ve been a Samsung kind of guy for awhile now, but after reading many reviews I decided to give the LG BD390 a try.  It was $150 more than what I wanted to pay for my first Blu-Ray player, but it had wireless draft-N built in, whereas the Samsung used a USB plug-in wireless-G dongle.  The reviews and specs were more favorable to the LG.  Samsung had one thing I really wanted, Pandora streaming, but because of the funky wireless and more complaints, I was pushed to try out LG for the first time in my life.

I decided to pay the extra $150 for the nicer machine because it had wireless-N built in, so I wouldn’t have to run an Ethernet cable across my attic and down two walls.  Because the BD390 had 1gb of flash memory built in, so I didn’t have to buy a USB flash drive that stuck out the back of the player to store configuration data and other digital junk within the Blu-Ray unit.  Because it had a Netflix decoder, so I could stop wanting the $99 Roku Netflix player.  And finally, because it had media player support so I it might replace my SoundBridge 1001 and have a visual interface for looking up music to play on my stereo in the den.

I was at Best Buy by 11:07, and out by 11:27.  I grabbed the BD390 and gazed at the Blu-Ray movie selection, settling on the 10th Anniversary Edition of The Matrix as my test disc.  I got home and detached my Samsung up-converting DVD player/recorder, and attached the BD390 and put in The Matrix.  Total breeze.  Set the player to 1080p – the first time I saw media in this mode on my Samsung HDTV, which had been a buying point two years earlier.

Then I used the menu to tell the BD390 about my wireless system, which worked immediately.  I had remembered my secret security code okay, which made me feel good, since I’m forgetting so much now-a-days.  I then told the new LG player to update itself, which it did.  Again, a breeze.

After the update, I click over to the Netflix menu and the LG told me a 4 digit code to go enter at the Netflix web site.  I went back to my computer room, brought up Netflix, told them I was willing to spend $3 a month extra to add Blu-Ray discs to my queue, put in the code at /activate, added a few Blu-Ray titles to my growing queue and went back to the den to check on the BD390.  All the Play Now movies that were in my queue were now listed on my HDTV screen.  So I played the second episode from Star Trek, the original series, called “Charlie X.”  It was beautiful.  I’m thinking the Netflix streaming episode might have been from the newly re-mastered Blu-Ray episodes, but I don’t know for sure.  Netflix streamed perfectly and the video quality was excellent.

Many reviewers of the BD390 complained of having trouble setting up the media server.  I checked the menu and my Windows Media server was showing up, but it wouldn’t let me access it.  I took the computer install disc that came with the BD390 for Nero MediaHome 4 back to my computer room and installed it on my desktop with all my media files.  After a quick install the program scanned my computer for photos, videos and songs.  I went back to the den and found several folders of media, including 18,000  MP3 songs.  This was under the Nero MediaHome 4 server.  Still couldn’t get into Windows Media server that was also listed – I had two media servers in the menu now.

Went back to my computer room and installed the update to Nero MediaHome 4, which messed up the original setup.  I ran the update again and got the program running for the second time, but had to re-scan the folders for my media again.  Damn, it takes awhile.  Went back to the den.  This time I could see into both media servers, but the Windows Media files loaded far slower, and had interruptions when playing, whereas the Nero MediaHome 4 folders opened faster and played files flawlessly.

Now for my first complaints.  Nero MediaHome 4 is simple, but not elegant, although it plays the files perfectly so far.  But with 629 artists and 18,000 songs, jumping to a particular cut involves a lot of menu clicking.  I quickly discovered that I could search by artist by displaying 5 large folder icons, or 14 medium-sized folder icons, or 40 small folder icons at a time, by cycling through the Display button.  Page down, page down, page down… through 629 artists even at 40 at a time takes awhile.  LG needs to add a A-Z selector.  The media librarian is spartan, but works.  I’d like to see LG add a lot of polish to it, and I hope it can be done through firmware updates.

When you get to an artist’s folder, you’d think you’d see photos of all the albums, and the LG might eventually load them all and show them, but not while I waited.  The album covers get displayed when you open an album folder and then the album art is repeated for each song, so it looks stupid.  There are 14 tiny photos of Blonde on Blonde covers listing the songs to my favorite Dylan album.  Why not show the album covers to each album once in the artist folder?  And then just list the tracks by track number within the album folder?

Selecting music through the LG Blu-Ray menu is far nicer than looking up albums on the tiny LED readout of the SoundBridge 1001, but it’s not as fast.  Using an iPhone app on my touch is even faster managing the SoundBridge, and using a software program on my laptop is even faster still, but keeping those two machines on and charged in the den is a pain.  So is using 4 remotes to get everything turned on and ready for watching a movie or listening to a song. (Cable, TV, LG, Receiver).

The Nero MediaHome 4 also found my the movies I had bought and downloaded from Amazon Unbox, but it wouldn’t play them.  Wouldn’t it be fantastic if LG worked with Amazon like it does with Netflix?  The BD390 does show CinemaNow rental movies and free YouTube clips as part of its menu.  The is so much technical potential out there, but it all needs to work together.  One player should be able to be a front-end for many online stores.  Who wants to own a device for all the different online movie outlets, much less all the online music stores.

I’m hoping LG will add Pandora, and even Rhapsody to their firmware via an upgrade, but this is probably wishful thinking.  Maybe ten years into the future I’ll have one TV, one box and one remote, and life will be simple.  I wish my Comcast DVR/cable box had everything built into it, so I didn’t need anything extra.  I fantasize about having a DRV with 2gb of storage, a Blu-Ray player and burner, a built in Surround Sound receiver/amp, a media extender for my computer files, all working perfectly integrated and controlled by a single elegant remote.  Ha-ha, dream on kid, what a fanciful fantasy.

I suppose someday 1080p video will be streamed, and Netflix will offer absolutely everything in streaming mode.  And Rhapsody Music will also stream through the same box.  And I wouldn’t have to worry about owning movies, TV shows or songs.  Just rent everything and select it from a menu.

I decided I couldn’t wait for Netflix to ship me  more Blu-Ray movies, so I went to Target this afternoon and bought Kevin Costner’s Wyatt Earp for $15, the only movie that I’d wanted to keep that was cheap enough to consider.  Both films look beautiful at 1080p, but not stunning like I’ve seen some Blu-Ray movies look at Best Buy.  I’m used to 1080i and 720p high definition and to be honest I could probably live with that quality of video for the rest of my life.  Blu-Ray is much better than up-scaled DVDs though, and now that special content is coming out for Blu-Ray, I’m happy that I bought a player.  I’m looking forward to re-watching Battlestar Galactica on Blu-Ray, and if Netflix offers that new Neil Young retrospective box set on Blu-Ray, I’m anxious to see it, but I wouldn’t spend the money to own it.  I was happy to spend $48 for Woodstock though, or at least I hope it will live up to my expectations of having a nostalgia summer, because it’s the 40th anniversary of Woodstock, my high school graduation, and Apollo 11 landing on the Moon.  Maybe NASA will offer a Blu-Ray retrospective this summer too.

Part 2 of my review…

JWH -6/7/9

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