Saturday, October 29

Geeked-out TV

HD has come to our household. Sure, we've had a TV that can display high-def for more than a year, and a receiver capable of tuning into the programming (OTA and satellite) for nearly as long. None of that really mattered so long as we watched nearly everything through a standard-definition TiVo DVR. That all changed earlier this month when Jamie got us a remarkable new HDTiVo. Now we don't have to sacrifice resolution for time-shifting convenience, and that kicks ass.

[I realize this situation is temporary. When DirecTV rolls out its own high-def DVR next spring or summer, they will light up a new satellite that uses MPEG-4 streaming that our TiVo can't receive. But Jamie played the subscriber retention people like a grand master, getting our new box for just $189 (after service discounts). That's well worth it even if we have to upgrade in a year or so.]

Speaking of HD programming, I was bemused by the stories coming out of Washington recently about the forthcoming "mandatory" switch-over to digital TV. While non-digital stations will definitely go dark, the exact date has been controversial. [Limited free link.] A suggestion of January 1, 2009 didn't exactly fly:

Senate lawmakers ... decided to push it back to avoid infuriating millions of college football fans who might not be able to watch bowl games. Broadcasters argued that if the deadline was late in the year it could coincide with a ratings-sweep period, potentially costing the industry millions in lost revenues. April 7, 2009, was eventually chosen because it falls a day after the end of March Madness. Congressional aides felt it would be prudent to wait until the tournament ended.

Clearly, messing with the inalienable "right to television" is risky political business.

Oh, on a final note, let me just sing the praises of Slingbox - the little device that "place-shifts" your TV to anywhere on Earth that has high-speed Internet service. Jamie got one for his birthday, and it's pretty darn nifty. From a remote computer, you simply load the Slingplayer software and give it a unique code to find your personal box. Next thing you know, you are watching a decent quality feed of whatever's on your home TV, including your TiVo! This bleeding-edge stuff will only get better as throughput improves and cellphones get viewing capability. Slingox, it seems to me, fulfills many of the promises left unsatisfied by the problematic TiVo2Go. It's just too bad you need two devices -- the DVR and the Internet streaming box -- to get maximum whenever-wherever flexibility.