I’m Switching From NBC Nightly News To PBS NewsHour

James Wallace Harris, Thursday, December 3, 2015

I’ve been a faithful follower of NBC Nightly News for decades now. But last night’s report, with the entire show covering the mass shooting in San Bernardino, convinced me I’m not being well informed by my news source. Mass shootings are horrible, but they can’t be the only news. Neither can storms, fires, earthquakes, floods and other natural catastrophes. Nor can crime, war and politics dominate our awareness of what’s going on around the world. The NBC Nightly News has become so obsessed by sensational stories that I feel they are the only news events happening in the world each day.

NBC Nightly News

I learned far more about the San Bernardino shootings this morning by five minutes of reading The New York Times, than the 30 minutes spent watching The NBC Nightly News. Last night’s time was wasted on speculation, or watching police carefully inspect a SUV, shown from a camera above the scene. Sometimes we get the news too fast. Watching it as it happens might be exciting, but it’s often deceptive, and full of incorrect information. Network news gives us a 20 minute summary of world events, but are those stories the best ones to spend my 20 minutes of news watching? I could cover more stories by reading.

I’ve routinely watched The NBC Nightly News because it was slickly produced and I like Lester Holt and the NBC reporters. Last night I was particularly disappointed by not hearing about the climate change summit in Paris. It should be big news if more world leaders met there than anytime ever before in history. What happened in San Bernardino was horrible, and an important news story, but the climate conference deals with the fate of the world. Does NBC assume we’re not interested, or think it’s too subtle for us to understand? Or that mass shooters scare us more than a worldwide universal threat?

For now I’ve deleted The NBC Nightly News from my TiVo and added The PBS NewsHour. In the past I’ve tried to switch to just getting my news online, but for some reason I enjoy how television conveniently packages the news. So I’ll try PBS for a while. In the long run, I might need to give up on television. I’ve always avoided local news because I find it so damn depressing, but I’m wondering if I wouldn’t be better citizen if I took more interest in my own city. Then just read about the rest of the world on the Internet.

This brings up two interesting questions. First, how much time should we spend each day on the news? We all need to be well informed citizens, so how much daily time does staying informed take? Second, which topics are the most important to follow? A surprising amount of reporting are on topics that are forgettable. For example, what do we learn about the world from film clips of forest fires? Quite often NBC spends a nightly ten minutes on forest fires, floods, tornadoes, earthquakes, and other natural disasters, but they are so common that all forest fire reports look the same. And why are all the stories about fighting fires. Why not stories about managing forests to prevent fires, or how people rebuild after fires, or where do all the wild animals go in a fire? Political reporting is becoming monotonous too, usually just telling us what stupid thing Donald Trump said today.

When I think about it, I wonder if the news is packaged to pander to a specific psychological addiction in us. It’s become entertainment, not education. I’ve watched PBS NewsHour off and on, but it takes more time to consume. Let’s see if I feel better informed.

Essay #985 – Table of Contents

How TV Shows Defines Us

By James Wallace Harris, Thursday, September 17, 2015

Yesterday The Hollywood Reporter came out with Hollywood’s 100 Favorite TV Shows where they conducted a poll asking people to vote for their single all-time favorite TV show. My immediate answer was Breaking Bad, which came in at #2. I was familiar with most of these shows, and had faithfully followed many of them, but only six were ones I wished I owned as complete series on Blu-ray (and would want to watch again). The other five were The Twilight Zone (#17), Friday Night Lights (#38), Downton Abbey (#44), Freaks and Geeks (#50), Star Trek: The Next Generation (#55) and Battlestar Galactica (#95).

Balllestar Gallactica Last Supper

Now that’s an odd combination. But I have to assume it’s a kind of fingerprint, one that identifies my personality. Ten or twenty years ago I probably would have listed several sitcoms among my favorites. I hardly ever watch sitcoms anymore. Have I lost my sense of humor? This summer my favorite shows were Humans and Mr. Robot, both of which I bought. I’ve already seen Humans twice, and I’m watching Mr. Robot again with a second set of friends. Shows not on the Hollywood Reporter list that I’d add to my collection would be Northern Exposure, Shameless, Big Love and The Outer Limits. My all-time favorite television show has been NOVA – but they don’t seem to want nonfiction.

The common theme of my TV shows is science fiction, yet my most love series is about a meth maker. In terms of self-reflection I’d have to say I grew up like the geeks in Freaks and Geeks. That’s probably my 2nd all-time favorite, and I’d say my third is Friday Night Lights or Big Love, which is weird because I hate football and I’m not religious. And why would anyone identify with the people in Shameless?

For most television, and I’ve been a very avid watcher since 1955, I can only watch a series once. Of the shows I’ve listed here, I’ve already watched twice, or plan to. I’m not sure I can watch Star Trek: The Next Generation again, but I keep hoping I can. I have such fond memories of that show, but whenever I try, I discover it’s still too soon. I’m already ready to watch Breaking Bad and Freaks and Geeks for a third time through. However, since I know my tastes have already changed several times over my lifetime, I wonder if I will still love any of these shows in my seventies or eighties?

My guess is we all respond to a certain kind of storytelling, and the shows we love resonate with that inner narrative we use to see the world. By that measure, my preferred shows have one consistent trait, they are all about oddballs and oddities. I’ve never been a team player, and I’m fascinated by people living on the edge of normal. My guess the person I become in my eighties will love recent shows, and he will have forgotten all these older ones. I listed The Twilight Zone and The Other Limits because they are anthologies that still work for me, but only barely.

One reason I loved Mr. Robot this summer was because it was complicated and contemporary. If you graph shows by complexity, you’d see that shows of the past were simple, and we’re moving towards ever increasing sophistication in storytelling. If my cognitive functions hold up as I age, I think I’ll always prefer richer storytelling. And I worry about my friends who have become so nostalgic for simpler storytelling.

I used to love Gilligan’s Island in the sixties but now when I catch it flipping through the channels I wonder if I was brain damaged as a kid. In fact, nostalgia drives me to try to watch many of my favorite shows from the 1950s and 1960s, and it’s always a painful experience I can’t endure for more than a few minutes. How come I changed?

We all grew up with television, and I think our favorite television shows are touchstones for some of our best memories. I often think of people I used to know by the shows I watched with them. When I think of my mother and father, I remember the shows they loved, and figured those shows are a way to understand who they were. When I talk with my sister, we mainly discuss the television we’re watching. When I meet new people, I often relate best to those people who talk about shows I like too. I’m convinced that television shows are much better indicators of personality traits than astrological signs. I know that’s not scientific, but doesn’t it just feel right?

JWH

Are Historical Movies An Insult to History?

By James Wallace Harris, Monday, September 14, 2015

Last night I watched Belle Starr, an old 1941 western with Gene Tierney and Randolph Scott. I didn’t know anything about Belle Starr before the movie, other than her famous name. So after the show I looked her up on Wikipedia. The movie was complete bullshit. Now this is a particularly bad example to ask this question: Should we avoid movies that claim to be based on history?

THE IMITATION GAME

In the past year I’ve seen films about Alan Turing, Stephen Hawking and J. M. W. Turner. All three films won awards and received much critical praise. In each case I felt like I was looking at detailed recreations of the past. Yet, when I read “A Poor Imitation of Alan Turing” by Christian Caryl, I was troubled that I might have gotten a very wrong impression about Alan Turing. I now wonder about my history lessons on Hawking and Turner. Watching those films let me feel I was getting to know those men. Now the more I read, the more I doubt, the more I feel confused, and even misled.

Movies make a far greater impact on our brains than reading black and white words on paper. Even documentaries can give the wrong impression, so we must be extra cautious with historical fiction. Should we assume any fictional account of history is only fiction? That’s really hard for me to do. I can’t turn off my sense that I’m learning history when I’m watching a film, or reading a historical novel. If I know some of its real, then all of it feels real, especially if the storytelling is good. Fiction can be very convincing.

We have all kinds of ways of learning about history. History books, journals and courses are the most respected sources, but there is also museums, paintings, photographs, archival film, newsreels, sound recordings, transcribed interviews, letters, diaries and even archeological artifacts. If you’ve ever seen a Ken Burns documentary, you know how powerful such evidence can be. Yet, when we watch a movie, it feels like we’re reliving history. It’s very hard not to let Hollywood teach us about the past.

stephenandjane

I must wonder, did The Imitation Game treat Alan Turing fairly? Would Alan Turing have been flattered to see himself on the big screen as a cinematic hero? In a way, it was vindication for being mistreated in life. In another way, it was an insult, because they still got him wrong. I’m pretty sure the real Belle Starr would have laughed her ass off at seeing Gene Tierney’s version of herself. Stephen Hawking has been very kind in his praise for The Theory of Everything, saying it was broadly true, and at times it felt like he was seeing himself on the screen. However, Slate magazine compares film and history in “How Accurate Is The Theory of Everything?” and again, I’m disappointed by how I’ve been tricked. How disconcerting must it be for a real person to compare what they see on the big screen to real memories?

Our approach to history has always been fast and loose. Often shows on The History Channel are an abomination. Remember, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, and the quote, “When the legend becomes fact… print the legend.” Of course, that’s the movie’s side of things. Quite often when I see clips from Fox News, I get the feeling their sense of reality was learned from Ronald Reagan’s screenplay tinted view of history. We often remember the facts the way we need them remembered.

I’m starting to wonder if I should avoid any film or television show that claims to be based on truth, because movies are so powerful, that once I see them, that’s how I see history.

JWH

TiVo Roamio OTA—Cord Cutters Will Love It

By James W. Harris, Monday, July 27, 2015

Thinking about giving up cable TV but can’t imagine living without a DVR? Well, TiVo has a DVR specifically designed for over-the-air (OTA) antenna users. The TiVo Roamio OTA is cheap to buy at $49, but seems expensive to use, $15-per-month for the TiVo service. Considering that other dedicated OTA DVRs cost $300-400, it’s a wash for the first couple years. After that, the value of spending $180 a year for TiVo’s TV guide service will be determined by how much you like the TiVo. I’m quite impressed.

TiVo-Roamio-OTA 

For the last several years I’ve been using an old computer with Windows Media Center as my OTA DVR. It worked well until Microsoft changed companies that supply their online TV guide. Since Microsoft won’t support Windows Media Center in Windows 10 I decided to give the Roamio OTA a try. I’ve got to say the TiVo is far superior to Windows Media Center, and better than any cable box DVR I’ve used. The Roamio OTA is a deluxe way to be a broadcast TV user.

The Roamio OTA can record up to four TV shows at once, and can store 75 hours of HD television (more if you plug in external drive). Plus the recorded image is uncompressed, looking the same as the broadcast image. Windows Media Center heavily compresses the recorded video. And the TiVo TV tuners are far better than the computer TV tuners I was using with my PC. In fact, the TiVo tuners appear equal or better than the one in my Samsung TV.

Setup was straightforward and easy. Buy the unit. Go to TiVo’s website and register online by it’s unique serial number. Connect the Roamio OTA to power, HDMI, antenna and in my case Ethernet cable, and start using. The machine will download the TiVo guide and do updates to the software the first time you use it. Windows Media Center and all the cable box DVR’s I’ve used worked with a grid. TiVo uses a split window. On the left side is all the channels for a specific time and date, and on the right is a window showing all the future shows on a specific channel for whichever channel you have highlighted in left window. This is a different approach, but a game changer, making using the guide much easier.

Internet services

The Roamio OTA also has smart TV features built into it, much like Roku, Amazon Fire TV and Apple TV streaming boxes. Here’s where I was somewhat let down. TiVo’s interface for these services is not as easy and intuitive to use as my Roku. At first I thought I could live without my Roku most of the time and use just one box and remote for all my TV viewing. This didn’t work out. It’s a shame that TiVo didn’t contract with Roku to do their streaming services. TiVo’s implementation of these services aren’t bad, much better than my Sony Blu-Ray player. So if you don’t have a Roku box then TiVo’s streaming services will be a huge plus.

I was especially glad to see Spotify, but sadly TiVo’s implementation is clunky. The reason I switched from Rdio to Spotify is because Roku’s Spotify interface is outstanding. If the streaming TV interface was superior in TiVo, I’d consider switching from Roku to TiVo.

The Roamio OTA will also work with TiVo extender boxes (TiVo Mini) to access content on bedroom TVs. TiVo also has an app to work with your mobile devices. And it has intelligent features to search content across the guide and all the streaming services you use. TiVo promotes OnePass, a sophisticated programming/search service with a lot of intelligence to help you find and routinely record your favorite shows, actors and genres. Roamio OTA will even scan for shows it thinks you might like and record them in dynamic hard drive space not being used by your planned recordings.

Several years ago “convergence” was a hot buzzword in the computer industry. TiVo is converging OTA TV, DVR and streaming TV box. This allowed me to replace my big PC in my entertainment center with a tiny box. I still have a Roku and a Sony BD/DVD/CD player. It would be great if those three devices were one.

My TV is hooked up to a Denon AV receiver. I’ve configured the Roamio OTA to use the default HDMI pass through port, so I can turn on my TV with one button on the Roamio OTA remote using the TV’s own sound. For superior sound I can turn on the Denon for special shows. I used to have to use a wireless keyboard/trackpad to control my Windows Media Center PC, and always turn on the receiver to hear recorded TV. The Roamio OTA has simplified by setup greatly. I now can watch live TV, recorded TV, Netflix, Amazon Prime and Hulu Plus with just one remote and one on/off button. It’s a shame the Roamio OTA doesn’t have a BD/DVD/CD drive. Someday we might even see a stereo receiver combined with all these other functions, so we’ll only have one box to connect to our television sets.

Roku and TiVo should consider merging. But that’s another story. For now, the Roamio OTA is best way I’ve found to enjoy over-the-air broadcast TV.

JWH

Rethinking Cord Cutting

By James Wallace Harris, Monday, May 4, 2015

Because Microsoft has decided to kill off Windows Media Center starting with Windows 10, and I plan to upgrade to Windows 10 on all my machines because it will be free the first year, I will lose my homemade DVR. Using a PC to record TV shows from over-the-air (OTA) broadcasts takes a good deal more work than using the DVR that comes with a cable box. But if you want to give up paying for cable and still record TV shows to watch later, you need something like Windows Media Center to do the job.

antenna

Microsoft’s decision is forcing me to rethink my whole cord cutting approach to television, because I don’t want to go back to Xfinity or U-verse. Basically there are two modes for watching TV:

  • Live – by the schedule
  • Recorded – on demand

Cord cutter means getting TV from the internet or over-the-air broadcasts. Anyone accustomed to using a DVR will feel imprisoned by watching TV live again. Living around the TV schedule is so 20th century. That’s why I had to build my own DVR with Windows Media Center. DVRs let us save TV shows to watch later, skip commercials, pause, and scroll back to replay.

If I give up Windows Media Center I will have to learn to live without a DVR or find another solution.

I hate commercials, so I love skipping over them with a DVR. I could bypass commercials altogether if I gave up broadcast TV and got all my shows from the Roku. Without a DVR I wouldn’t watch broadcast TV. That’s not a possible solution for my wife though. She works out of town, but when she comes home for the weekend she loves TV. She splits her viewing between Netflix and tuning into AntennaTVMeTV, and Movies! – local channels targeted to cheap-ass baby-boomer cord cutters. I should confess I’ve become addicted to watching the old westerns on Grit TV. OTA broadcast channels seem to be popping up all the time, and strangely enough I find more to watch now than when I had cable. Sort of sad, to be stuck in a retro-TV-land, but it reminds me of how TV was when I were growing up.

Yet we can’t live without that modern doohickey, the DVR.

There are other media center software programs I could install and learn to record TV shows, but I’m through with being a do-it-yourselfer. Luckily, since I built my first DVR, several OTA DVRs have come onto the market. The market leader is TiVo, with it’s Roamio OTA, but there’s also ChannelMaster’s DVR+, Simple.TV and the multi-room networked Tablo. Until yesterday I was considering all of them except the Roamio OTA because TiVo charges $15 a month for its on-screen guide. It’s free for the DVR+, and just $4-5 a month for the other two. However, I just read that TiVo was selling it’s heavily subsidized $49 machine for $300 with unlimited access to their guide. That made me rethink the TiVo. Sadly, the $300 deal is over.The Roamio OTA is a 4-tuner device – meaning your can record up to four shows at once – and is considered the nicest to use by most reviewers. The TiVo has slick search features, as well as pause and replay controls. Those same reviewers all said they wouldn’t consider the TiVo with a $15 monthly fee. Obviously TiVo should listen, and since the other devices are already in the $300 ballpark, this could be a no-brainer decision if they offer the $300 deal again. TiVo could sell millions because their product is a broadcast TV watcher dream come true. Cord cutters are cheap, and a $15 monthly fee is too much for us cheapskates. Yet, my wife wants us to think about the TiVo because it’s DVR is equal to one you get with cable.

My current antenna is a RCA outdoor one, but it’s not great. It’s flaky in bad weather, and some channels come in much better than others. I should get a stronger antenna and put it up higher. However, I’m too old for working on my roof. I’ve been searching around Angie’s List and The Yellow Pages looking for TV antenna installers, but can’t find any. That’s annoying. With all this cord cutting going on, there’s good opportunity now for people to start a small business selling and installing antennas and OTA DVRs.

Investing in a great outdoor antenna and buying the Roamio OTA should solve my problem. I’ll be able to take the computer out of the den, and reduce the clutter in my entertainment center. Yet, there is something that urges me to cut the cord to the antenna too. We live in a TCP/IP world, so why not go completely Internet only TV?

$50, plus $15 a month will give us a deluxe broadcast TV setup. Susan and I have to think what we’re actually spending our money for though. To record the NBC Nightly News, CBS Sunday Morning, a few network TV shows we still watch, and to record a bunch of old nostalgic TV shows and movies. I would have included a long list of PBS shows I love, but I can now get them on my Roku through the PBS channel there. I could do all my TV watching through the Roku, but not Susan.

Cord cutters have given up on cable TV, but could they also  give up antenna television? Are we ready for a world with no live television? That’s weird to think about. Television is seldom truly live except for sports, news announcers showing prerecorded news and a rare live broadcast. Sport fans keep the cable companies in business. If live sports came over the Internet they’d be in real trouble. Current TCP/IP networking isn’t really suited for live broadcasting to billions, so they are safe for now. OTA TV does have a fair amount of sports. Enough for millions of cord cutters.

In ten years, maybe even five, things could be very different indeed. Think of how different our technological lives have changed since the year 2000. Should we be watching television like we did in the 1950s – with an antenna on the roof? I have to admit though, broadcast TV is still a viable solution for watching live TV, and it’s free.

JWH

Roku 3–”Loading, Please Wait” Message is Driving Me Crazy-But Is It Roku’s Fault?

I have a Roku 3 and have been using Rokus for three generations now.  However, in the last year I’ve been getting more and more “Loading, Please Wait” messages.  I’m even using Ethernet instead of Wi-Fi, to have the best connection.  At first I thought it was my internet provider, or network traffic, or even an example of net neutrality breaking down.   I stream Netfix, HBOGo, Warner Archive, Amazon and HuluPlus.  I was mostly getting the loading message from HBOGo and Warner Archive, but then it started with Amazon too.  Amazon even automatically refunded my rental fee when a western I was watching timed out too often.

Then I made an interesting discovery!

roku

I got the idea of streaming from my computer that’s also attached to my TV—I use it as a DVR for over-the-air TV.  Bingo.  Everything streamed perfectly, at the highest resolution, plus the picture looked richer in colors.  Evidently, a computer with a Athlon X2 processor and 4 GB of memory, with a PCIe video card does a better job decoding streaming television than the Roku.  So maybe it’s not the internet or my provider?  Speedtest.net does tell me I get 19.43 Mbps download and 1.92 Mbps upload on my U-Verse connection, which is pretty good.  But that’s to a test site and not to a streaming server.

On the other hand, my Roku 3 seems to have no trouble streaming with Netflix.  Is it the hardware or the servers the Roku is streaming from?

The Roku does have a dual processor, but only 512 MB of memory.  This might explain why the Amazon Fire TV has 2 GB of memory and a quad processor.  I would buy the Amazon Fire TV to give it a try but it doesn’t support several Roku channels I depend on.  Using the computer is great for viewing films and shows without the dreaded “Loading, Please Wait” message, but instead of channels I have to go to individual web pages, each with their own different kinds of controls.  I have to use a wireless keyboard that doesn’t work as conveniently as the Roku remote, and that’s a pain-in-the-ass.

The Roku is an excellent system for viewing internet TV—I’d hate to see it crap out.  My biggest headache using the Roku is watching Warner Instant and HBOGo.  And some people do have trouble with streaming Netflix, even with fiber optic connections, like this story.  The solution this user found was to use a private VPN that circumvented congested internet routing.  This makes me wonder if my Roku 3 is somehow using different routes than Chrome on the PC, or if internet providers can detect Roku traffic and treat it different.

Like I said, I’ve been a faithful Roku user for years, and love it.  Maybe there’s something wrong with my Roku 3, but checking Google I see other people have this problem too.  And it does seem to be somewhat internet traffic related.  I usually don’t see the “Loading, Please Wait” during the day time, mostly during primetime, especially on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights.  So it appears the Roku 3 works well if things are just right.  My guess, as more and more people use these streaming services because of the popularity of Roku, Apple TV and Amazon Fire, traffic and server demand will get tight.  Adding a bit more horsepower, memory, and maybe a better video GPU, might process the bulging traffic in a more efficient manner.  I expect the Roku 4 will have specs similar to the Amazon Fire TV, or top them, to fix this problem.  That is, unless internet providers aren’t throttling traffic from devices like the Roku.

This is a technical mystery beyond my ability to decipher.  I recommend people having “Loading, Please Wait” issues with their Roku, or other small streaming device, try plugging their laptops with HDMI connectors to their television and see if they get better streaming via a computer.

My guess is demand for internet services is always growing and we’re always going to see breakdowns at the weakest link in our technological chain.  Right now, for me, it’s my Roku when it’s connecting to the most used servers on the internet.  We might be pushing the limits of what a $99 device can do.  I wonder if the Amazon Fire TV costs more to make than what it sells for?  Or is the solution for Warner Instant and HBO to add more server capacity and pay for better peering?

JWH – 7/22/14 – Table of Contents

Update 6/1/15. HBOGo and Warner Instant both stream far better than a year ago. I think they must have improved their servers. I was able to watch the latest episode of Game of Thrones Sunday night, which is the first night it appears. My conclusion is the Roku is fine, but hiccups in reception are probably due to servers.

Amazon Fire TV v. Roku 3 v. Apple TV v. Chromecast

Amazon just announced their Amazon Fire TV with a quad processor and 2GB of memory.  Since my Roku 3 only has a dual processor and 512MB of memory, I’m wondering if I should put a Amazon Fire TV in my Amazon cart.  The Amazon Fire TV also ups the Roku 3 with gaming, offering far more games than the Roku, or the Apple TV, plus it can use an option game controller.  See list of games and apps here.  I’m not really a gamer, but it’s a consideration.  My wife plays games on her laptop, so she might like it.  I need to see more gamer reviews before I spend $99 dollars to try it out.  But it’s a big advantage point for Amazon.

AmazonFireTV

[Click image to enlarge]

What really tempts me is the tech specs.  My Roku 3 has trouble streaming certain channels in primetime.  Now, this is most of all a problem with the Internet, and maybe even Net Neutrality, and not the Roku.  All of these devices are heavily depended on the speed of your Internet connection.  Recently upgrading to the Roku 3 did show that more CPU power does help, and more memory will too.  The Amazon Fire TV has a quad processor and 4X the memory.

Netflix streams fine anytime on my Roku 3.  But HBOGO and Warner Archive Instant both will crap out in primetime, frequently going to the reloading screen.  In the daytime, I get a HD signal with fast start ups and no stopping, but in Primetime, especially on the weekend, things don’t work as well.  I just wondered if the Amazon Fire TV with 2GB of memory could buffer that problem.  I’m not quite ready to order an Amazon Fire TV to find out, but I’m awful curious.  I don’t want to jump in right away, and because Warner Archive Instant and HBOGO are not listed for the Amazon Fire TV at the moment.

By the way, my streaming problem didn’t happen until a couple of months ago.  I’ve wondered if its because more people than ever are using streaming TV services, or has Net Neutrality issues popped up?  The quality of the TV picture on these devices is directly related to your Internet throughput.  But content can be interrupted by overwhelmed servers at the provider site, just like the Obamacare servers.  So I wouldn’t buy one of these devices unless you had at least 6 Mbps or better Internet.   Try Speedtest.net to check your speed.  Make sure you click the Begin Test and not any of the other buttons that trick you into buying stuff.  I got a 19.60 Mbps for download, and I still have problems on weekend nights.  I don’t think it’s the Roku or my Internet, but the content provider servers and peering deals.  Netflix pays its peering partners, so they get good throughput.

The big hold back – will Amazon Fire TV have all my favorite Roku channels?  One of many reasons why the Roku is superior to the Apple TV is the vast away of channels.  And the poor pathetic Google Chromecast is really a no show.  I didn’t send my Chromecast back, because my wife thinks she might have a use for it, but I haven’t found one yet.  To me, it was a one horse race until Amazon showed up.

My fear is Amazon Fire TV will be like the Apple TV, mainly gearing its content to what Amazon sells.  The Roku has over a thousand channels, and their numbers are growing fast.  They have Rdio and Spotify, which apparently Amazon and Apple do not.  Sure, most of those channels are crappy, but it does offer a tremendous variety, and crap is in the eye of the beholder. 

I don’t have cable TV and I don’t miss it because of my Roku 3.  Right now, it would be a step back in terms of streaming content, to switch to the Amazon Fire TV.  Over the years I’ve convinced many friends to try the Roku and they’ve all been very happy.  Some have even given up cable TV too.  I know a few people with Apple TV, and I’ve set up one for a friend, and it just hasn’t impressed me.  Because my Mac friends haven’t gushed about their Apple TV I assume it was ho-hum.  Even the guys at Mac Power Users podcast seem to prefer the Roku. 

I’m on my third Roku.  My first generation went to a friend who is still using it, and my second generation went to my wife’s apartment.  It’s going to be hard for me to switch, but not impossible.  I like new gadgets.  It’s still too early to run and buy an Amazon Fire TV.  I think I’ll at least wait until the Roku 4 comes out.

Which makes me ask:  How far can these internet TV boxes evolve?  The competition is obviously heating up.  What’s weird, is over the air broadcasting is heating up too, with new channels popping up from time to time.  Now, with internet TV, the competition to cut the cable TV cord is getting intense.

The one thing that cable TV has that most won’t give up is the DVR.  Internet TV could completely invalidate both broadcast and cable TV because it’s not time bound.  A Roku 3, Amazon Fire TV or Apple TV  do not have a DVR, but their channels work just like everything was already DVRed.  Instead of watching shows live over the air, I can watch them later on Hulu Plus or the PBS Channel on Roku.  So Internet TV boxes could be the wave of the future except for one thing – live sports.  Since I have no interest in sports, I’m good to go.  But I always warn people who ask me about the Roku, is if they love sports.  If they do, cable TV is still their meal ticket.

I’m mighty impressed with the Apple Fire TV specs and rollout.  I’m very tempted to buy one.  Susan has a Kindle Fire.  We are Amazon Prime users.  I keep my MP3 music at Amazon Cloud Music.  The world is dividing into Android v. iOS users, and in particularly, Amazon v. Apple as content providers.  The Amazon Fire TV runs on a customized Android OS.  Is there room for the Roku?

Here’s where the Roku has to go up to the plate and hit a few more homers to prove itself.  There’s still plenty of room to innovate.  Take the Rdio channel.  It’s bare bones.  Now the channels are created by the content providers, but Roku should help them improve with programming tool kits and standards.  I’ve even considered switching to Spotify because the Spotify Channel is better on the Roku.  However, I prefer Rdio’s software on the iOS and web.  Warner Instant Archive recently did an overhaul of their interface, but in many ways it was a step down.  The new look is slicker, but hides the content.  The apps on these devices are all still rather primitive.  Apple which is legendary for its Mac UI, falls down on the UI for it’s TV box.

Amazon gives their users voice search at the remote, which is a huge jump forward because typing in movie titles or actor names is tedious on the other streaming TV players.  Of course, Roku gives their users a headphone jack at the remote which is a very useful option.  I expect these devices to find plenty of ways to innovate and compete in the future.  I know most iPhone and iPad users assume they need to get Apple TV, but they really should consider the Roku or Amazon Fire TV.  It’s still too early to be locked in, especially at $99.

If you don’t already own a streaming Internet TV box, the choice now will be very hard to make.  I think Amazon wins on tech spec and slickness, Roku on content, and Apple for dedicated iOS users.  Because Amazon is an 8 million pound gorilla, and because Roku is not a household name, I’d bet that Fire TV will succeed like the Kindle Fire.

JWH – 4/3/14