By Wyatt Emmerich, Syndicated columnist
The Picayune Item
Finally, after all these years, I can watch video the way I want to - what I want to watch, when I want to watch it and paying for only what I watch — with no commercials. Progress marches on!
The device is called a Roku. It automatically detects and logs into my home wireless network. Plug it into my TV and — presto! — I have bypassed my cable system and have access to everything via streaming video.
Well, not quite everything. There is still the local news and Ole Miss football.
The local news problem was easily solved. Most Jacksonians don’t realize there are 15 free high definition over-the-air channels: CBS, NBC, ABC, Fox and ETV. Each of these main channels was given an extra two digital channels several years ago. The quality is excellent.
Getting the free local channels required a little bit of work. First your TV needs to be no more than four years old or you have to buy a digital converter for $50. Then you need a small $15 rabbit ear antenna. Then you have to do a channel search on your TV. So some effort is involved. It took me about 10 minutes.
Ideally, you would add a TiVo digital recorder to your over-the-air TV. This would allow you to record all the local shows in advance. With a TiVo, hours and hours of free local news would be awaiting you.
Everything else, you can view through your Roku. Point the clicker at the Roku and a menu comes up with access to Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, Hulu and hundreds of streaming video channels.
You can either pay per episode, pay per season or watch free TV with commercials.
I was quite surprised that it worked so well. I just figured high definition video would overwhelm the capacity of my Wi-Fi network. But it wasn’t so. It has worked flawlessly. You can even move the Roku from TV to TV.
For years, I have been trying to reduce my absurd cable bill. A few years ago, I switched from Comcast to U-verse. The U-verse salesmen promised me a huge discount.
When I received my first U-verse bill the discount was nowhere to be seen. I had a signed contract from the U-verse salesmen but the tech support person in India told me all these salesmen are subcontractors and have no authority.
Plus switching to U-verse was a technical nightmare. I spent hours on the phone and it took U-verse five trips to get the wires working right.
U-verse does have a lot more high definition channels. And I can view my digital recordings from any TV in the house. It was a bit of progress, but overall disappointing.
In contrast the Roku worked flawlessly and instantly. It cost a one-time equipment charge of only $70. No installer, no nothing. Just plug it in and start watching. Goodbye huge cable bill. Please remember this tip when you renew your Northside Sun subscription (which is tiny compared to the cable bill you are about to lose).
This quest began in earnest when I installed my late mother’s treadmill in a guest bedroom. I realized watching TV distracted me from the boredom and misery of burning calories. I nailed a hole in the wall in front of the treadmill and hung a small flat screen TV. I quickly became tired of trying to flip through channels and skip commercials while on the treadmill.
I mentioned this to a friend and he recommended that I order the entire season of “Downton Abbey” on DVD. After failing to find this show on my 300-channel U-verse, I went to Amazon to order the DVDs.
While ordering the DVDs I noticed a message on the screen: “Click here to watch now!” Suddenly it seemed silly to order DVDs if I could watch electronically.
Sure enough, the streaming video worked. I then tried to mount my laptop in front of my treadmill but it wobbled terribly as I exercised. Next, I linked my laptop to my TV and that worked pretty well, but there was a maze of wires and lots of steps.
Then the thought occurred to me: Surely, somebody has invented a little device that links to your wireless network and plugs into your TV. I conferred with the Great Google and, voila, my Roku arrived a few days later. For $5 I ordered the entire first season of “Downton Abbey.” One 45-minute episode, devoid of commercials, burns 600 calories at a 15 percent incline and 3.6 miles per hour. I hardly notice I am exercising. Let the eating begin!
My new rule is to only watch TV on the treadmill, thereby turning a couch potato vice into a huge health benefit. I actually look forward to exercising because I get to watch the next episode. Since I pretty much missed every TV show for the last 30 years, I have an unlimited number of great series to watch.
To be sure, Netflix is $14 a month, but that is peanuts compared to my old cable bill. If you are hardcore, you may want to add Hulu for another $8 a month. Amazon is just pay per view. I suppose if you watched 12 hours a day, it wouldn’t work economically, but for me it will save a ton of money.
The Internet will soon do to video what it has already done for music and news. The gatekeepers will be no more. Just as your landline phone bill dropped dramatically (or went away), so will the cost of video. Instead of buying hundreds of channels you never watch, consumers will pay for only the bandwidth and programming they consume.
Now if I could only figure out how to download Ole Miss football games. No doubt a solution is around the corner.