My wife is upset. You see, as a “professional” in the online video space, I am supposed to have all the answers about devices, content, and, most importantly, “Why can’t I watch an episode of Project Runway, right now?” But even with HD cable, three laptops, an iPad 2, a limping TiVo, two iPhone 4Ss, a Roku XS, an injured Wii, and enough HDMI cables to weave a cargo net, there will be no Heidi Klum tonight. With more talk about “cutting the cord” resounding among not only the general public but also the walls of our home, there are still lingering questions. Can we actually make a clean cut from traditional entertainment delivery services, watch the shows we want to watch, and save a few bucks?
Now, before I get in even more trouble for bringing her into this, I should make a few things clear. My wife is a very frugal person, and she is not going to go buy the entire season of Project Runway on iTunes for $33.99. A once-a-week break from reading, the Food Network, or kids’ movies, Project Runway is a guilty pleasure, and while buying it is a perfectly reasonable option, it does not make sense if we are already paying for cable, Netflix, and other services. There is also frustration directed at the multiple options we have for viewing and the total lack of integration between boxes and subscriptions. If we are going to cut the cord, it appears as though we will have to shave it off piece by piece. So what is working and what needs help?
The connected living room is in shambles. There are six remotes beside the couch, and it requires at least two of them to make anything work. My 10-year-old sound system is connected to my 6-month-old HDTV, and everything has to run through that if we want to hear anything. The solution is to buy all new equipment with HDMI pass-through, but I doubt that will happen anytime soon. And I guarantee that most living rooms are a similar blend of archaic and modern technology. The HD cable box is new, but using the current software makes it feel like I’m using Windows 98 to find shows and channels. Then, when you visit a friend’s house and try to change the channel, it’s like performing brain surgery in an alien language. Even Netflix, applauded for its easy-to-navigate software, has different user interfaces on each of the different devices. And don’t even get me started on TV manufacturers that have started building their own software to surf the web, scan channels, and frustrate us. The total lack of integration and standardization will continue to make it frustrating for years to come.
Fortunately, there are some rays of hope in the modern living room and maybe even a few things that can help us find an episode of Project Runway. The recent announcement of Google TV 2 presented a nice upgrade of overall features and better integration with existing equipment. The nicest thing about Google TV is still the search functionality. Type in Project Runway, and you can see where it is available (TV, Netflix, Amazon, etc.) and when you can watch it. The handy homepages for shows and movies also provide all the episode and season information. And while I like the basic upgrades from the previous version, I’m a little worried about Logitech discontinuing its hardware relationship with Google TV. Currently, your only option for version 2 is a Sony TV with Google TV built in or the Sony Blu-ray player.
The next device that will help the cord-cutting crowd is the Boxee TV dongle that allows you to watch over-the-air digital TV through your Boxee Box. In January, you’ll be able to buy a $49 USB adapter that plugs into your Boxee Box (about $179) and attaches to an HD antenna. Watch ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX, and any other stations that broadcast digitally in your area. My only issue with this device is that you have to have the Boxee Box for it to work. You can build your own Boxee for free using your own PC, and I would love to see this adapter work with the roll-your-own version.
With more devices and solutions coming out every day, the cord will continue to loosen its dominant grip.