Friday, May 16, 2008

TV or Not TV?

That's a rhetorical question.

We've been on the road for a month now, with poor access to broadcast TV, and I started thinking about ditching cable/satellite altogether when we settle down in Portland and putting the money into faster broadband instead. (Kind of like what my friend steadof is doing.) It's easy enough to pipe video from my laptop to my HDTV, and why pay for a bloated channel package that subsidizes sports, country music, and shopping channels I'll never watch, when I can just order exactly the episodes I want?

But I've done some research, and there are two big problems with that plan:

1. Convenience. There's no single place to stream or buy TV online. Every network has its own crappy web site and its own crappy, DRM-crippled video player, both of which circumstances annoy me to no end. Hulu seems like a good idea, but their selection is spotty, and streaming is always problematic.

I'm willing to pay for my shows, but I'd still have to go to at least two different vendors for the content--iTunes and Amazon Unbox. It's annoying, and there's no good reason for it. I'd much rather deal with a single Season Pass list on one TiVo.

2. Speed. I'm glad the writer's strike is over, but I have to agree with Harlan Ellison on the final WGA deal. The new contract states that for 17 days after the initial broadcast of a TV program, the writers receive no residual payments for free, ad-supported online viewing. It's even worse for new shows--for the entire first season, the no-residual period is 24 days. (Page 32. No joke.)

And you know what? The networks tend to take down their streaming episodes after a few weeks. That's a long time to wait, and a pretty brief window of opportunity, to watch a new episode of a show you love. Of course, there's no such time restriction on electronic sell-through (EST), but then we're back to problem #1.

There's a saying: "Fast, cheap, good. Pick two." Well, in this case, it's pick one, and it can't be "good."

We packed up our DirecTivo (an HR10-250) when we moved out of the bay area, but since it won't receive the new MPEG-4 channels, we may just switch to cable (and a shiny new Series3 HD Tivo) when we settle down in Portland. It's pretty clear that unless we want to deprive ourselves of a lot of the entertainment to which we've become accustomed (Good Eats! MythBusters! The Daily Show!), we'll have to pony up for some kind of cable TV.

I can't wait for the day when I can subscribe and download all the TV I want to watch, whenever I want, on any device I like, without any hassles or commercials. But that day is not today.

~CKL
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