Baseball Arithmetic · Wanting to watch a World Series originally got me into HDTV, and history is repeating itself. The late season’s getting interesting, and since the six major-league West-Coast teams each play 3-ish home games a week, I should be able to watch ball after supper when I feel like it.
But I can’t because the cable company’s offerings are thin. Thus, online baseball, for which the price seems fair; so I needed the Net on my TV. Given where I work, Google TV seems like an obvious choice, but given where I live (Canada), it’s not.
So I asked around and started hearing about options like Roku and Boxee and Apple TV. Roku seemed to be fully supported in Canada, and was only $89.
Roku · It’s is a little black doohickey the size of a hockey puck, with WiFi input ($20 more for a wired version), HDMI and A/V (red/white/yellow) outputs. Setting it up took about an hour, 45 minutes of which was refactoring all the wiring behind the A/V bench due to a maxed-out powerbar. Is there a branch of physics that can explain rarely-touched wires’ astonishing propensity for soul-destroying snarls?
Roku gets you NetFlix and MLB and some trashy free-movie-with-ads channels, plus there are news channels and Rdio and Pandora and all sorts of whatnot. The movie picture quality seems just hunky-dory on my decent 1080p TV; the baseball isn’t as good as straight off cable, but perfectly watchable; I might be prepared to pay more for less compression. The 50M cable Internet and Apple Airport get the bits here plenty fast enough.
I like the TuneIn channel, which seems to have an infinite number of radio stations.
So the Roku and an MLB subscription take care of the baseball conundrum.
I can control the Roku with its own dorky little remote, or I can program the Logitech Harmony to handle it, or I can use the Roku Android app. (For the latter, I had to convince Roku that I was in the US; for some reason it isn’t available in Canada. WTF Roku?!?!) I’m not sure which control option is going to be the best.
Plex · This is described as a “media center”, which isn’t very helpful terminology, and it isn’t quite as straightforward to set up as the Roku. The Mac/Windows pieces are free, the Android app is $4.95.
Rather than try to explain “media center”, here are a few things I can do:
Play any movie or music on any of the Macs on any Android device...
... or on the TV via the Roku...
... or on any Mac, using the Plex app as a remote control.
Show any of my pictures from any of my computers on the TV screen via the Roku.
Plex also has tons of channels, all now playable on anything in the house. The repertoire overlaps to some degree with what iTunes has and what Roku has.
I should mention that the Plex software scans your music and movies and pulls in tons of metadata from public online sources starting with Wikipedia to give you, for example, music-related graphics. Nice eye candy.
The Plex desktop app is weird (fills the screen, wants to go keyboard-only sans mouse) and could use quite a bit more polish. So I can’t end my dysfunctional relationship with iTunes.
The Plex Android app needs refinement, too.
Plex can read the raw (DNG and so on) files my pictures live in (good!), but not the Lightroom view with all the corrections and edits. I’d even pay for that capability, and I bet so would most other serious photographers. Because at the moment I don’t really have a good way to do slideshows of my own pictures on my own HDTV.
Potentially having access to a kazillion channels from everywhere puts you face-to-face with Copyright Hell, because lots of them turn out to be unavailable to me in Canada.
The Future · There are still rough edges, but I’m pretty sure this is what it looks like, partly.