Advertisements
Tag Archives: Amazon

Is iTunes Match Worth It or should you use another Streaming Music Service?

For those who haven’t heard, tomorrow marks the next big announcement from Apple about the iPhone.  There are many expectations for what we will see.  It is almost certain the iPhone 5 will be shown and possibly a new iPhone 4S, though reports on that are conflicting.  What is also widely suspected is that tomorrow will be the official launch of iTunes Match, the new Apple service that will store your entire music collection (whether you bought the songs from iTunes or not) and give you access across all your computers and devices for $24.99 per year.

iTunes scans your music and matches it with the 20 million songs in the iTunes Store -- and automatically stores it in your iCloud Library.

 

That’s a pretty big deal.  Not only does that give you legitimate copies of songs you may have obtained from Napster, BitTorrent, a friend, what-have-you, but it also means you don’t have to shell out big bucks for the largest hard drive inside of the device just to access songs you rarely listen to anyway. Coming from the biggest retailer of music, that’s a really big deal.  In fact, some might say it is a game-changer… But is it?

Yes.  Any time a company that makes consuming media as easy as Apple does makes an offering like this, it sets the standard.  People will hear about it.  They will understand it.  They will use it.

So, the question is, “Should you?”

The short answer (as I always promise to get to right away): No, iTunes Match isn’t worth $24.99 per year today; there are too many other services with great features at competitive prices, but stay tuned as that could change.

The longer explanation:

iTunes Match is sure to be a good service, and at roughly $2.00 a month, you can’t go wrong, but there are other, better services that offer you more that are worth using instead.  Principally, if you use an Android phone, you’re going to want a different solution.  The problem is there are so many, it is tough to know where to begin.  I’ll provide the breakdown.

Apple does something I’ve not seen them do before, and actually compares its upcoming offering to those of Amazon and Google, so let’s start there.

Amazon’s Cloud Drive Music Service and Amazon Cloud Player

Amazon’s offering (actually a pairing of Amazon MP3Amazon’s Cloud Drive Music Service and Amazon Cloud Player) has been available for a while. Right now, they are offering unlimited storage under any paid plan or for having taken advantage of some special offers around the launch, and they’re accessible from any computer as well as Android and your iPhone/iPad (via an HTML5 site you access from Safari, rather than a native app, which isn’t a big obstacle).  Also, like iTunes Match, anything you purchase directly from the Amazon store becomes immediately available in your account, and Amazon pricing is often $0.10 less per song and up to a dollar less for an album, so that’s a plus.

At first blush, this is a great option, but that free service is set to expire.  Amazon has already published their pricing plans for when it does, and as Apple points out, it will be more expensive than Match.  Also, while having directly purchased songs available immediately is great, most of us have a large collection already on our computers; Amazon’s MP3 Uploader takes weeks or longer to upload large libraries of files to the Amazon Cloud.  Moreover, you have to initiate the uploads manually, rather than being able to run a system service to monitor your music folders for changes, so it is non-trivial to keep your Cloud organized.  The player experience (especially on Android) is slick, but doesn’t support your old playlists and just generally feels a bit slow.

Given last week’s Kindle announcements, and the likelihood that Amazon could do much more with this service in the near future,  you can’t rule Amazon out, but if you have an iPhone, you’re going to prefer iTunes Match right now.

Google Music

Google also has a service that allows users to upload their entire libraries to the cloud aptly named Google Music.  Unlike iTunes and Amazon, Google doesn’t currently offer a store to purchase new music, but their program is in early beta and they’ve already started making songs available to those who are in the beta program for free with a service they are calling Magnifier.  Unlike Amazon, Google has created a system tray service to monitor your music, which can upload new tracks automatically.  It is called Google Music Manager, and works well, but also takes weeks to process a large local library.  With a 20,000 song cap, you are HIGHLY unlikely to fill up Music Manager, so this comes in at the cheapest solution.  Still, the Android app is minimally functional, with no playlist support and really a terrible UI.  Given that Google owns Android, I expect new versions to improve on the existing product.  Like Amazon, Google has made their web service accessible from Safari on iOS devices, so once again, it allows what iTunes Match doesn’t in promising users with multiple device types ubiquity.  Still, until the application is improved, playlists are added, and a store (or other way of accessing songs you don’t already own) is introduced, iTunes Match will still look very good to most of you.

Others

So, compared to the services Apple calls out for you, iTunes Match still looks like a good option, but what about the rest of the pack?

Well, there are replacements for the radio, including

  • Pandora – With either ad-supported or a subscription product, Pandora gives you access to music everywhere.  They’re on your computer, they have native apps for most every device, and they’re even in some cars, but it is not designed to give you access to YOUR library.  Instead, Pandora tries to provide you with music you’ll love by using computer algorithms to recommend songs based on your express preferences.  As they put it:

With Pandora you can explore this vast trove of music to your heart’s content. Just drop the name of one of your favorite songs, artists or genres into Pandora and let the Music Genome Project go. It will quickly scan its entire world of analyzed music, almost a century of popular recordings – new and old, well known and completely obscure – to find songs with interesting musical similarities to your choice. Then sit back and enjoy as it creates a listening experience full of current and soon-to-be favorite songs for you.

  • Slacker – Much like Pandora, Slacker is available everywhere and programs listening experiences for you based on your preferences, but they don’t let you listen to your own collection directly.  They differentiate themselves from Pandora by having much more human involvement in programming music experiences (and they do a great job at it).  As they put it:

 Slacker Radio is much more than a playlist creating computer that chooses songs that are similar to each other. Our expert DJs hand-pick songs based on their extensive knowledge combined with your personal preferences. Our music library is larger than our leading competitor’s by millions of songs, so you’ll hear all of your favorites and a ton of new music that we know you’ll love!

  • Shoutcast, iHeartRadio, and SiriusXM – These services actually let you listen to radio (or web radio) stations programmed by others and also have nearly ubiquitous availability.
With ALL of these services, they’re competitiveness with iTunes Match is almost a philosophical one.  If you can listen to great music that you’ll love on any device at any time, is there any reason to OWN a library of music that you need to access directly?  These services would argue no.  I disagree.  I like to call up a specific song or a playlist I’ve built, and even the (really cool) customizations I can make to a Slacker station don’t quite compete with my own list.
So, there are all-you-can-listen services that do:
  • MOG – For $9.99 per month, you can get access to a near limitless collection of the most popular songs ever recorded.  You can stream them on the web or access them from your mobile device.  You don’t have to buy the song because you can access any song you want.  As they put it:
MOG’s all-you-can-eat, on-demand listening service provides access to a deep library of over 12 million songs and a million albums through its mobile apps on iPhone and Android, as well as on the Web and streaming entertainment devices for TV. It surpasses all other music subscription services in its ease-of-use, discovery features and audio quality.
  • Grooveshark – For $9.00 a month ($1 less than MOG), you can get access to a near limitless collection of the most popular songs ever recorded.  You can stream them on the web or access them from your mobile device… the only real differences between MOG and Grooveshark are: (1) Grooveshark gives you the option to take surveys to earn points to pay for the subscription instead of using cash; and (2) MOG was founded with support from the music industry, while Grooveshark has gotten where it is by settling lawsuits and flying under the radar.  Beyond that, MOG boasts 12 million songs to Grooveshark’s 15 million, and MOG has a bit more support from TV and other device manufacturers.
But, for these all-you-can-listen services, the downside is not about lack of control over what you listen to, but there is a catch… if you decide to stop paying the subscription, you have NO ability to listen the songs and playlists you put together with them.  All of the effort that went in to finding what you want to listen to and organizing it, with none of the long-term benefits and VERY high switching costs.  It isn’t for me.
Which leads to the point:  You should want to use a service that:
  1. Gives you unlimited access to the music you like;
  2. Allows you to create playlists and organize your music for consumption;
  3. Lets you keep your music even if you don’t want to spend money that month;
  4. Lets you access your music on any device at any time; and
  5. ensures a high-quality/high-fidelity experience (I haven’t talked about this point as all of these services do a good job on that front once you’re already happy with digital music).
So, who fits that bill?
Spotify and rdio.
Spotify has been the favorite of our friends across the pond for several years now, but they gave all that up to come to the States.  Users can register free accounts that are supported by ads (that can be both frequent and jarring) or pay $9.99 a month for no ads, mobile access and the ability to save playlists for offline listening.  (Note, for Spotify and other services, I’m skipping cheaper plans that don’t include mobile usage).
Rdio only offers a 7-day free trial, after which users must pay the $9.99 a month for access that includes mobile.
Both Spotify and Rdio offer desktop applications to listen to just about any song you can think of (15 million + song catalog in each case), and both match your current songs so you can listen to your own collection outside of your home.  Neither require you to actually upload the music, so it doesn’t take nearly as long as Amazon’s or Google’s services to get either set up.  And, both let you create playlists that you can share (or even collaborate to create) with friends.
Rdio focuses a bit more on social interaction and discovery by following what your friends are listening to.  Rdio is also available on more platforms.
With the ad-supported option to help get users acclimated and the well-thought-out user interfaces, Spotify may just prove to be a better service.  Either way, these services do what iTunes Match can’t.  They give you access to YOUR library from anywhere, and they let you listen to ANY song you can think of without buying everything you might want to listen to.  The extra $7.90 is something you’d likely spend buying extra songs on iTunes you don’t want once you’ve listened a few times.  These are both great services and well worth your time and money.
***
A nod to Turnable
I couldn’t finish a post about streaming music without mentioning one of my absolute favorites: newcomer, Turntable.fm.  Turntable also lets you listen to a ton of music and leverages community to expose you to new music.  On their service, users DJ for rooms of fans.  As of this writing, the top 10 rooms housed almost 1000 people.  And with the recent launch of an iPhone app, you can experience this on the go.  There’s something amazing about listening to someone DJ for you live and doing so in the comfort of your own home where YOU can become the DJ is even better.  But, Turntable is fully a synchronous experience.  If you show up to a room after everyone has left, there’s no music to listen to.  There’s no ability to automatically add all of your own library (you have to search for tracks individually to add them to your playlist) and you wouldn’t necessarily want turntable to replace these other services.  Still, if you’re a fan of music, you should definitely check it out.  It is free and worth your time.
Advertisements

How can I watch Internet video on my TV? (Part 2)

In Part 1 of this post, I explained that the question of how to watch “Internet video” on TV means different things depending on who’s asking.  Among those of you who have asked me the question, what most of you have meant is that you want to take advantage of streaming services (primarily Netflix) so that you can watch from your couch, thus I answered you in Part 1.  For the purposes of Part 2 of this post, I intend to answer those of you who have meant that what you’d like to do is cancel cable to save money, but still watch your shows.  I will also answer those of you who have meant that you want to show your home (or downloaded) movies on the TV screen, but I’ll do that in Part 3 (some new products have led me to postpone this part).  So as not to repeat myself, I’ll presume you’ve already read Part 1 before reading this.  If not, take a look at the “Why you care” section; it helps set the stage for Part 2 as well.

Internet as a replacement for Cable

Now that you’re caught up, I’ll assume you understand that there are a lot of service providers retransmitting cable, broadcast and theatrical release content via the Internet (e.g. Hulu, Netflix, NBC.com, etc.).  The combination of this availability of content and the exorbitant cost of your monthly cable bill has led a lot of you to contemplate canceling cable and going to web services only.  What you often ask when you start looking into this option is “How can I use the Internet to cut the cord and replace cable?”  My challenge to you, though, is to really consider first the question of “Should I use the Internet to cut the cord and replace cable?”

The short answer up front as always: While cord-cutting is attractive for some early adopters, it isn’t for most of you.  Doing it is still too complicated and you can’t replace the highest-value content. For 90+ percent of you, you should stick with cable, and I am going to focus this post on why.

The longer explanation:

Notwithstanding how hard the cable providers try to anger their customers and lag the market on innovation, they actually have created one of the best, stickiest, most reliable, most compelling products available to consumers.  With limited exceptions, you turn on your TV any time of day or night and within seconds you have access to hundreds of channels of highly-produced, professionally curated, diverse video.  It comes through regardless of what else you are doing in your house, what your neighbors are doing, and no matter what TV you’re using to watch it.  It is VERY hard to replicate this kind of seamless experience with web services.

If, despite this explanation you are still intrigued, you first have to understand your current usage.  There are some things that Internet services can’t compete with Cable/Broadcast on today.  And so, to get to the heart of the matter, there are 3 main considerations:

  1. Do you care about live events?
  2. Are you patient with technical glitches?
  3. Does saving $50 a month make a material impact on your life today?

None of the above are dispositive individually; but the way you answered will be telling.  One of four descriptions will describe you and dictate the best solution in your particular case.  Those descriptions are:

You love live programming and hate when things break

Live events are among the most compelling TV there is.  From sports to red carpets to season finales, some people can’t handle waiting for availability.  If you’re one of these people and are not interested in troubleshooting technology (as will be the case for most of you), then regardless of your interest in saving money, or being a “cord-cutter,” I don’t recommend you cancel cable.  The solutions are just too hard.

Everything you watch is from the 80s anyway

The highest-rated programs are always live events, so if you are in the rare group of people that just doesn’t care, you have an option of cutting the cord.  Part 1 of this post outlines the best services and solutions to stream a fair amount of content and you shouldn’t worry about fully replicating the cable experience; just follow my prior post and stop paying for cable.  I find that Netflix, Hulu Plus and YouTube provide most of what I’d be looking for, and Vudu is another worthy compliment.  Take careful inventory of what you actually watch and get a solution from Part 1 that has the most overlap to offer.  If you do go down this path, please keep in mind that rights expire and change on a regular basis.  If you can’t live without a show, you may find yourself very unhappy when its network pulls it from Hulu.

You love live shows, but you’re a tech geek at heart; having the setup is more fun than watching what’s on it

I’m not sure there’s a single one of you reading this that falls into the hard-core geek category, but this is where I actually answer the question you thought you asked in the first place.   To replicate your current television experience, without the cable bill, your best bet is to connect an actual computer to your TV (also known as a “home-theater PC” or “HTPC”).  You’ll have access to most of the streaming services available through devices outlined in Part 1 of this post and more (both because some streaming is browser-only, and because you won’t encounter the gamesmanship where rightsholders are restricting access from certain devices).  To set up an HTPC, you’ll need a computer, some big hard-drives, some special-purpose hardware, and a means of controlling the system.  Enough great blogs have detailed what you need to build an HTPC, so I won’t replicate their guides.  I will, however, simplify the world you’re about to dive into a bit by explaining that there are Mac-based solutions and the rest:

  • Mac-based solutions require the least technical know-how, offer a fair complement of services and the most multi-purpose hardware, but are limited in their functionality.  I’d recommend a Mac Mini equipped with an EyeTV 250, and an iPhone or iPad (with any one of the apps listed in this write-up or this one) to control the system; you can also use a keyboard and mouse, but that’s not for everyone.
  • The rest of the solutions are either built on top of Windows or Linux, require you to build your system from the case up to have a setup that fits nicely in the living room, and include a number of complicated pieces of software to make everything work together, but provide the flexibility of a truly custom setup with functionality ranging from that of the Mac to a multi-tuner monster able to record from 10 sources at once.
If anything here sounds easy, be warned, it isn’t.  Complications arise at every stage, from getting network connectivity in your living room (often not where your broadband service enters the house) to getting your TV to work as a monitor (every TV is different and some older sets require significant tweaking on the computer settings to look right).  HTPCs break all the time and you’ll find yourself spending countless hours both on setup and ongoing maintenance.  But, if you’re still game, some of the best guides I’ve found are linked below.  Please leave a comment if you’ve found a better guide than these:
  • For the Mac: The Ultimate Mac mini HTPC Guide (Hardware and Software), but note that the new macs have some hardware updates that aren’t reflected here that make setup even easier (e.g. the new Mac Minis have HDMI ports, so you don’t need a DVI-HDMI or MiniDisplay-HDMI adapter).
  • Non-Mac: AVS Forum’s Guide to Building a Home Theater PC.  These guides are updated monthly, are incredibly detailed and should serve as a test — if you look at this link and aren’t excited to read enough to understand what they’re saying, you probably aren’t ready to build a solution from scratch.
  • To get started: Engadget did a write-up 2 years ago on how to build a home-theater PC for under $1000.  The hardware and software recommended is all outdated, but the logic and basic framework remains the same and they’ve done a very good job of explaining the components and why you need them.  It is worth a read.

There are additional benefits of building an HTPC like those described above.  A fully-functioning PC is useful to listen to music in your living room, share photo albums with friends, check Twitter, order from Seamlessweb, and if your setup is right, can even be used as your main computer.  Once you’ve recorded shows to an HTPC’s hard drive, you’ll also have them free of copy restrictions, so you can burn them to disk or convert them for your iPad or phone and take them with you (more on that in the next part of this post).  If you have the time and inclination, you can eke a lot out of these rigs.

Money is THE motivating factor

Finally, if money is the reason you want to do this, and everything else is flexible, you’re not alone, but your options are limited.  If you start down the road of building an HTPC, as outlined above, you’ll invest at least $500, and often $1000 or more.  Even if you allocate $75 of your cable bill to the actual cable service each month (remember you’ll still have to pay for broadband access), you’re looking at a need to use the HTPC for 6 months to a year before you’re recouped your costs and anytime you need an upgrade, you’re setting yourself back.  It just won’t make enough of an impact on your finances to make it worthwhile.  Instead, you should consider an antenna capable of receiving a digital signal and resigning yourself to watching live events live (i.e. not on DVR) while relying on the services outlined in Part 1 for the rest of your programming.  Unfortunately, if this is the case for you, chances are you live in a major city (like New York) and you won’t be able to get digital reception in your apartment, so this isn’t an option.  For you, I have to punt; there are no good solutions yet.  There may be soon (Apple has been rumored to be offering an a la carte or cheaper service for quite some time, for example), but for today, you’re stuck with cable.

Summary

In sum, you likely want to stick with Cable, but if you’re dead-set on replacing it, a home-theater PC is the only way to get a complete solution.  You’re unlikely to save time or money, but you will get to free yourself from the restrictions of your cable box and have a custom computing solution to go along with it.

Got a solution I missed? Leave a comment below.

In the next installment of this post, I’ll provide at least 3 ways to access your home (or downloaded) movies on the TV screen, so stay tuned.

How can I watch Internet video on my TV? (Part 1)

The question of how to watch “Internet video” on TV means different things depending on who’s asking.  To most of you, it means taking advantage of streaming services (like Netflix, Amazon, Vudu, etc.) so you can watch from the couch; to others, it means canceling cable to save money, but still being able to watch your shows; and to others still, it means showing home (or downloaded) movies on the TV screen.  In Part 1 of this post, I’ll be addressing the first group of you (and I’ll address these latter 2 groups of you in Part 2).

Why you care

As a precursor, what you should understand is that each of the above use-cases is becoming mainstream, and even if you don’t believe that any applies to you today, the industry players are banking on that changing soon, so there’s a high likelihood you will change your mind.

In the streaming space, premium content is being made available online at an accelerated pace.  In addition to Amazon, Netflix and Vudu, other notables like HBO, Hulu, YouTube and Crackle are helping to bring existing premium content to Internet users.  Beyond this retransmission of shows you know, there are also a number of next-generation studios and producers creating original, high-quality content for the web first.  A lot of these “new-comers” are actually old-timers who have decided to bring their talent and experience in creating hits to the web.  Among the most active are Vuguru (Michael Eisner), Fishbowl Worldwide Media (Bruce Gersh and Vin Di Bona), and Electus (Ben Silverman). Money is also pouring into content for the web.  Netflix recently outbid traditional players for the rights to premier original programming, and other service providers are similarly investing in the video experience (as you may have heard, at AOL, we recently surpassed Yahoo, MSN and Hulu to boast the second highest number of unique video views on the Internet, according to ComScore).  What this means for you is that you are soon going to be as likely to find something you want to watch being delivered by the Internet as you are to find something you want to watch being delivered by Cable or Broadcast television.

This trend is tremendously exciting until you start to think about sitting down in front of your 11 or 13-inch laptop (or even 19-inch desktop monitor) to watch it all.  No doubt some people are willing to do just that, but those of you who fall into the category of asking this post’s eponymous question aren’t among them. You, by contrast, spend hours sitting on the couch watching video on TV, but are not anxious to spend that kind of free time in front of a monitor.  You’re looking to find a better solution.  You want to watch high-quality content, delivered via Internet services, on your TV.

What you should do

Having spent a lot of space here setting the stage, I will keep to my formula and give you the quick answer: There is no “perfect” answer today.  If you have a preference for one solution, go for it; you can’t choose “wrong” in a world with no “right” offerings.  If you’re asking this question, you’re better off taking the plunge and benefitting from these cool services than waiting for a winner to emerge.  You’ll be happy just to watch and play.

That said, I know you come for more practical advice than that, so the more detailed answer is that there are 3 kinds of solutions that could be right for you depending on your own needs, existing setup, and level of technical proficiency.  These solutions are:

  1. A new TV with embedded experiences;
  2. A game console with built-in offerings; or
  3. A new, cheaper device you can connect to your TV.

A new TV

The first key question to figuring out which is the most appropriate solution for you is, “Are you in the market for a new television?”  Having your content offerings built directly into the TV simplifies setup, reduces wiring, and allows you to use 1 remote control.  These are big considerations, and this is the right answer for you if you need a new TV or don’t want to have additional boxes cluttering your living space. If your TV doesn’t support 1080p resolution, is more than 5 years old, or has fewer than 3 HDMI inputs, it might be time to consider purchasing a new one.  Buying advice for a TV generally includes questions of quality, reliability, contrast ratios, upscaling capabilities, etc., making it an entirely different subject for a post (so keep an eye out for that), but once you decide which TVs would meet your needs on the primary functionality (displaying a great image and supporting all of your sources), you should filter your decision based on which streaming services they support.  Every major TV manufacturer delivers a proprietary solution for accessing popular streaming services (LG has Netcast, Panasonic has Viera Cast, Samsung has InternetTV, Sharp has AQUOS Net, Sony has (had?) Bravia Link, Vizio has VIA, etc.), and most have also started offering models powered by 3rd-party platforms (Yahoo! Widgets, GoogleTV, Adobe Open Screen Project, DivXTV/Rovi Connect, etc.).  Almost all of these sets support a baseline group of services, including Netflix, YouTube, Pandora or Napster.  Look for the services you already use and pick a set that supports the most of those services.  In the case of a tie, give weight to platforms that have a history of adding new services without you having to buy a new device.  The 3rd-party platforms theoretically make adding new services via updates easier, but all are at such early stages (even Yahoo!, which has been on the market for years) that the good services are often opting to have support outside of these platforms and the benefits of the development haven’t been realized.  If I had to place a bet in this space today, I’d bet on Google.  Even with that said, however, with rumors flying of Apple also launching a TV that will integrate their services, it may be too soon to place bets.  Again, there’s no silver bullet here, no “right” answer, so go with the set that works for you and enjoy these services as a benefit of the new TV.

A brief note on GoogleTV

Google TV attempts to serve as a new interface for searching, discovering, and accessing video (and other Internet experiences) consolidating what’s being shown on cable channels with what’s available on the web to make it easy to watch what you want regardless of its source.  They’ve created a product that brings full web capabilities to the TV and they plan to launch an android app store for the platform soon.  They have also teamed up with a variety of manufacturers to give you a set-top box that will add Google TV functionality to your existing set.  I believe they are onto something, but there are a few too many drawbacks to the current solution for me to highly recommend it.  First, it relies heavily on a full keyboard and feels too much like connecting a computer to your TV, which isn’t what most of you are looking for.  Second, they’ve found that most networks are blocking GoogleTV’s browsers, so you can’t watch Internet content you’d expect to find, thus reducing the value significantly.  And, third, the interface runs slowly, lacking responsiveness, which hurts the user experience.  I expect Google to address these and other issues in an update this year, so I reserve the right to upgrade these guys soon.

Game consoles

If you are NOT in the market for a new TV, consider buying a current generation gaming console (even if you’re not a gamer).  Sony Playstation 3 (PS3), Microsoft Xbox 360 and Nintendo Wii all offer integrated streaming services.  If you don’t need a new TV and you have a preference for one console over the others from a gaming standpoint, go with it.  Just like the analysis for getting a TV, the offerings are all viable and you can’t make a wrong decision.  If you don’t enjoy gaming, there’s still a good solution for you here: the PS3.  That device is among the best Blu-Ray players on the market, supports Netflix, Amazon, Vudu, Hulu+, and gets regular firmware updates that are simple for you to activate.  The downsides to this solution is a lack of YouTube support and a $300-$500 price tag, but it is still a great option for many of you.

Stand-alone devices

Finally, if neither a TV nor a gaming console sounds right, you’ve found yourself in the realm of add-on set-top-box.  Apple, Boxee, Iomega, Popcorn Hour, Roku, Vudu, Western Digital, and others all have solutions.  As mentioned above, Google has also teamed up with a variety of manufacturers to let you add Google TV to your existing screen.  With so many options to choose from, it is easy to feel overwhelmed.  Don’t.  The best solutions today are Boxee, Apple and Roku.

  • Boxee

Boxee is the most aggressive solution, providing a highly-customizable interface, with the ability to add content, services and your own library in multiple ways, all built on open source software, with cross platform support.  What that means in more understandable terms is that there are PC, Mac and Linux versions of Boxee enabling you to use their free software to build your own device or even install it on your laptop.  This flexibility lets you to have a uniform experience wherever you want to watch (even from the road).  Unfortunately, the user interface is confusing.  While I find it to be worth my time given the trade-offs, I can really only recommend this to you if you love being an early adopter and want to tinker to get an optimal experience.

  • Apple

Assuming you’d rather trade the openness of the Boxee platform for out-of-the-box ease of use, you should consider Apple and Roku.  Apple TV supports YouTube, Netflix, MLB, and your personal (iTunes) library.  It also embodies Apple’s flare for making a dead-simple product that delivers a high-quality experience, all at a price of under $100.  The only real drawback is that Apple currently supports a fairly limited set of services.  This could change at almost any time if Apple opens up the App Store for this device, and you’ll be thrilled if you buy one and that happens via an update.

  • Roku

In the meantime, if you don’t want to wait for Apple’s release cycle, the final recommendation for this post is the Roku box.  Roku was initially launched as a device dedicated to streaming Netflix, but has been on a quest to add services via an app platform, and they’ve done a pretty decent job.  There are 3 Roku devices.  Go for the middle-of-the-road, Roku XD ($79) unless your TV doesn’t have any available HDMI ports, in which case you should pony-up for the XDS ($99); both of these versions support full 1080p streaming, and that makes them worth the difference in price over the entry-level device which doesn’t.

Conclusions

So, to sum it up: If you want to watch Internet on your TV (and you do), your best bet is to have a TV with streaming services built in (the benefits of having the services built-in to your main device outweigh the benefits of any of the other offerings); if you aren’t in the market for a new TV, a gaming console is the next best alternative, with the PS3 being my console of choice, because you’ll be paying for a great Blu-Ray player and getting this other functionality for free; and finally, if neither is right for you, go with Boxee, Apple or Roku depending on your personality (and keep an eye on what Google does in case that changes things). If this doesn’t answer your question because what you really wanted to know is whether you could cancel cable or how to watch your personal library, stay tuned; Part 2 is coming soon.


%d bloggers like this: