Sunday, February 27, 2011

Connecting the Television to Internet Content

We have two TVs in the house with two different setups. Although we're disconnecting the cable TV, we still have broadband internet.

The primary television is in the Game Room. There is:
  • a 46" flat-screen LCD TV
  • a dvd player
  • a Wii
  • a Lenovo Q700 computer with a wired internet connection
The computer is connected by HDMI and runs Win7 with the usual stuff, plus Playon.

The second TV is in an entertainment center at one end of our dining room. The whole setup consists of:
  • A 27" flat screen LCD TV
  • a dvd player
  • a vcr
  • a basic Roku box with wireless connection to the internet 
  • an antenna, which I almost forgot to mention because I just added it yesterday.
The Roku is a device from Netflix that allows streaming to the TV. Mine is connected to the TV by HDMI but there are other connections available. I have access not only to Netflix Instant but also Amazon VOD, YouTube and a host of other channels to bring content from the internet to the TV.

Playon is software that allows me to stream internet video to supported devices. That is, it goes out on the internet to get my show, converts it to a format my device can display and transports it wirelessly to my device. It doesn't have to run on a computer connected to the TV; that just happens to be the way I have it set up. Through PlayOn, I stream Hulu, prime time programs, my own video files and a stack of other channels. Mostly I stream to the Roku but I have at least five other devices that are compatible.

The antenna provides about ten amazingly clear local HD channels and two that are not so good. Ten channels is not so much but tells me there are only 13 in my area, what can you do? I still need to put an antenna on the Game TV.

All this access and all these channels, how is this going to limit how much TV the kids watch? Well, honestly it's not really an issue of how much they watch. They play outdoors plenty. They have good grades, they have lessons on two instruments each and the lifetime sports to play. If it's miserable outside and their chores are done, don't hate me but I don't care if they veg out in front of the TV for a day. In fact, I'm fully supportive of weekend Star Trek Marathons (if only they would share my enthusiasm.)

What matters to me is that 1) they choose what they watch and 2) the advertisers don't get more influence than I do. I suspect that if they have to think about what to watch, sometimes they'll just do something else. Time will tell. I will let you know.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Turning Off Cable TV

Today is the day! I'm disconnecting the cable on our televisions. I'm surprised the kids are not putting up more of a fight but I think deep down, they agree with me. A short list of why:

1. To save money.  We pay a few cents shy of $70 a month for an HD connection including a set-top box. Our bundle discount is $13 so if we turn it off we'll save $57 a month. There are other expenses to consider that I'll summarize soon.

2. To be more selective in the shows we watch. I've never been a helicopter parent and I never will be. I don't sit down and watch every show my kids see but I can almost always hear what they're watching. More and more lately, I've been hearing questionable content and asking "What are you watching?" and assessing appropriateness is not as cut-and-dry as it used to be. We've had some good discussions about why a show might be inappropriate but I still have to be somewhat unilateral. The thing is, they come across a lot of shows by flipping channels, to stop at whatever looks interesting. I want them to think about what they want to watch instead of letting the TV feed content to them.

3. To reduce commercials. My kids are pretty savvy consumers but the sheer volume of advertising is hard to take. I don't want the constant and repeated messages about food, gender, and adulthood to overrun my parental influence. Also, as they move to new and different providers, some of the ads become as questionable as the programming.

So, Off With The Cable! Next post, I'll talk about our setup and how we plan to cut the cord without losing access to the shows we want to watch.