So I would seriously love to, as I know many folks are doing, switch away from paying for cable and just start using Internet based video instead. The problem is, that while there are lots of good options out there, nothing seems to just be the ‘solution’ that handles it all. The current landscape has:
A good looking solution to get all sorts of content, with the drawback of needing to dedicate a machine to it. But wait, Hulu/Boxee have been fighting and you can’t get Hulu on it, which cuts out a hunk of the major networks. That bites. Now Hulu has released it’s own standalone player. So you could install both on a machine. But you’d be left with an awkward need to switch between applications (w/ a remote control). Plus it’s primarily all ‘grownup’ content that is provided, not much, if anything, for my son.
I have an Xbox already, and I can stream Netflix to it, done deal. That’s nice. But that’s not current/new shows, and it’s missing lots of ‘extraneous’ content. Much of that can be solved via software calledd PlayOn, that will do real-time transcoding and stream content from all sorts of online sources (including Hulu) to the Xbox. There are a couple of drawbacks however. First of all I’m going to need a dedicated Windows box to pull this off. And it needs to be a fairly beefy one to handle the realtime transcoding. Secondly, the interface is a little ‘poor’, because they can’t put a custom application on the Xbox itself, so you browse it through the media browser, which is very similar to just browsing directory structures. Directory structures with LOTS of files in them. The biggest drawbacks that I see however, are that it doesn’t do HD video (yet, although even if they do allow it, it would need a massively powerful machine to handle it), and it has a smaller selection of sources, which doesn’t include any ‘kid’ shows (PBS, Sprout, etc) for my son. Now that being said, the Xbox Marketplace itself has lots of kid content, if you are willing to pay for it – Though primarily the ‘fun’ content (Scooby Doo) vs the educational (Sesame Street), though a few educational ones exist (Caillou).
Of course there is the Apple TV solution. Pay Apple a few hundred, walk away with a box meant ot just be hooked up and run with. This is actually a fairly compelling option, especially because it not only has tons of movies and TV shows available. But it’s one of the few options that is HEAVY on the kid content as well. The main problem that I have here, is that it’s a complete mental change. All the content costs money. $2 a show or more. Realistically, it’s duplicating the functionality I already have available via the Xbox Marketplace if I wanted to go down that route, Just w/ a broader selection of shows than Xbox. It also comes with the benefit that anything purchased this way could also be transferred to the various iPhones and iPods that are hanging around my house. Plus the box to support this is much cheaper than a powerful enough box to handle PlayOn. But again, going this route means planning on paying for each piece of content. Though maybe that would be good and convince us to watch less TV. But it does mean less chance of using TV as ‘background’ which I often do while working on projects.
In the end, at least at the moment, none of the solutions are perfect, and keep me paying a large amount of money for my cable. Of course part of that is because I’m paying for various HD packages to get the best quality shows, and few of the online options even come close to that at the moment.
So what am I to do? It seems the simplest and most complete solution for me at the moment, is to use the Xbox + Netflix that I’ve already been doing, and just also add PlayOn into the mix to get streaming ‘current’ video. This still requires the purchase of a good quality transcoder box, which I don’t have at the moment. Plus it means still needing to find good solutions for educational shows for my son. But it would allow a major drop in my cable bill. I just wish that instead there was a way to natively stream Hulu and similar things to the Xbox, so that I didn’t need to use the PlayOn transcoding (and so that I could get them in HD)
Though the one benefit of going Apple TV, would be owning the shows in a ‘collectable’ format that can be transferred around, saved, replayed, etc. Anything I might buy on the Xbox Marketplace, is stuck on my Xbox