29 December 2010

New Year's Resolution: Cutting the Cord

Let me make clear that this post has nothing to do with education.  I'm making a New Year's resolution, and as it is tech related, I thought I'd share my experience.  

Set-top streaming solutions have made great strides over the last year.  With Hulu Plus and Netflix streaming both dropping to $7.99 a month, cutting the cable is looking more and more appealing.  2011 will be the year that I fully plunge into the world of streaming and leave the cable cord behind. I've been dabbling in streaming for sometime now and have researched the more popular streaming options and thought I'd share my insights.  Here’s the bottom line on some of the more popular streaming solutions that I've researched.

5. Google TV
Google TV has recently come onto the scene of set-top streaming.  Its search functions, YouTube integration, Apps, and Web Browser give it great promise.  Unfortunately, it appears that Google dropped the ball on some of its network partnerships and released it before it could shore up content, as all of the major networks are blocking the Google TV browser.  There are a few options for those willing to try it anyway.  Logitech offers the $300 Revue, a set-top version that will plug into your existing television.  Sony has also released a line of televisions with Google TV built in starting at around $600.
Bottom Line: I'm waiting.  As long as Google TV is being blocked by the major networks, I can’t commit to it.  If they can ever get a deal worked out, the built-in browser and Google search would be a major plus.

4. Apple TV
For $99, the Apple TV offers Netflix streaming, but it’s missing Hulu Plus, Pandora, and other streaming services.  It does integrate well with  iTunes and other Apple products by allowing you to stream content rented through iTunes and control your experience from your iPad, iPhone, or iPod Touch.
Bottom Line: If I owned an iPhone or iPad and wanted that video experience on my television, this would be a great option.  I don't, though, so I'm going to stick with the more well-rounded products.

3. Boxee
Boxee started out as free software that gave the user a clean interface to find streaming video and video streamed from network storage.  Installing Boxee on your own media center PC is an option if you have an old mini-PC or netbook lying around that you wouldn’t mind having hooked to your television.  There are Mac, Windows, and Linux versions of the software that can be downloaded from the Boxee website.  Another option is the $200 Boxee Box made by D-Link.  It can stream Netflix, Pandora, Vudu, and sporting events from MLB and NHL.  Here, though, the price point and lack of Hulu Plus make it less desirable than other options.
Bottom Line: If I had an older machine, was venturing into streaming for the first time, and wanted a solution without too much commitment, the software would be a good choice.  There are better options than the Boxee Box, though.

2. Game Consoles
For gamers, the PS3, Xbox 360, and even the Wii are more than capable as set-top solutions if you already own one.  The PS3 is what I’m using right because it offers the extra capability of playing Blu-ray discs, the streaming services are built in at no extra charge, and I like video games.  The Xbox offers ESPN 3 streaming on top of Netflix, Hulu Plus, Last FM, and others, but you have to pay $60 a year for an Xbox Live Gold account to access these features.  The Wii streams in standard definition, which makes the other two consoles a better option if you’re watching on an HD television.  The easy entry into the world of Wii makes it a good choice for those intimidated by other systems, though (I actually got my parents set up with a Wii and Netflix streaming for Christmas, and they're loving it).
Bottom Line: I own a PS3 and an Xbox 360, and both are great options. Since I'm trying to make the switch at the lowest possible cost, the PS3 will remain my choice for set-top streaming as I don't want to keep up the price of an Xbox Live Gold account.

1. Roku
For non-gamers who are just wanting a streaming solution, my choice is the Roku.  You can get the Roku HD for $60, which is a steal for a device offering Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon on Demand, Pandora, MLB, and more.  Plus it comes with 720p definition, HDMI output, and built-in Wi-Fi.  My choice, though, is the Roku XDS, which offers everything found in the HD, but adds 1080p playback, an enhanced controller with instant replay, wireless N, optical audio, and a USB port for external storage, all for just under $100.
Bottom Line: The Roku is the best deal on over-the-top streaming solutions, and is the way I would go if I were starting from scratch.  Since I have the PS3, I'm sticking with it for now, but the Roku XDS is looking better all the time. 

As soon as football season is over, I'm taking my Comcast DVR box back to them and shutting off my cable.  I really think that with Netflix, Hulu, and VUDU streaming through my PS3, I can have an adequate television experience.  It may be that I turn it back on shortly afterward, but it's worth a shot.  Watch for a follow-up post sometime in the near future.

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