By Harry McCracken | Friday, January 16, 2009 at 2:07 pm
Maybe the title of this new Technologizer series is unfair. I don’t despise Comcast, the company who I’ve been paying for cable TV service for the past six months. (Until then, at my old pad, I was a DirecTV man.) But I don’t love it, either–especially the part about paying it a large amount of money each month when I watch maybe .000001% of what it offers.
And oh, did I mention the remote control that came with my Comcast high-def box? Worst piece of technology I use regularly–every time I pick it up, my blood begins to boil a little.
Anyhow, with the wealth of TV now streaming over the Internet courtesy of services such as Hulu, it doesn’t take that much imagination to see the day coming shortly when the Internet will be an extremely satisfying substitute for cable or satellite, especially once you figure out how to get Internet TV on a TV set, without a PC in the equation. So why not jump the gun a tiny bit and try it right now, I figured?
Enter this series of articles, in which I’ll write about the experience of using Internet TV as a Comcast substitute. Step one was to pick out the hardware I’d need, wire it up, and attempt to make it all work together. I started with…
A 19-inch 720p Toshiba LCD TV. With a built-in DVD player. (DVDs remain a pretty darn handy way to consume entertainment–if they’d never existed and came along in 2009, I’d be impressed…)
An Apple TV. There are a bunch of boxes that bring Internet video into the living room in one intriguing way or another. I decided on trying this with an Apple TV in part because I mostly use iTunes to wrangle media, and Apple TV is essentially iTunes-in-a-box-that-connects-to-your TV. Between the iTunes Store’s for-pay movies and TV shows and its bevy of free podcasts, I’d also have access to a wealth of programming. But there was another reason I chose Apple TV. Which is…
Boxee. Which is a nifty piece of software, currently in closed alpha test, for OS X and Linux that’s a sort of open media center, letting you watch stuff in all sorts of formats via a remote control. Boxee also lets you stream TV and movies from Hulu, Joost, and other video sites, providing access to a fair amount of the programming I might otherwise be watching on cable. And with a little bit of hacking it works on an Apple TV (which is really a cheap Mac-in-disguise that’s dedicated to TV watching).
I’ve set my hardware up as a second TV (in my bedroom, if you must know). Full disclosure: My 42-inch 1080p HDTV, Comcast box, and various other fancy hardware remains connected and available down in my living room.
So how easy was my gear to set up? The Toshiba set and Apple TV were a cakewalk to connect (via HDMI cable) and get up and running. (Although the Apple TV occasionally can’t find my wireless router for a few seconds–I’m not sure if that’s due to coverage glitches or some other hobgoblin yet.) Putting Boxee on the Apple TV, however, was a tad tricky–which I knew it would be, judging from tutorials on doing the job. It involves booting up your Apple TV using a thumbdrive with a specialized copy of Linux on it; that software thenpatches your Apple TV to install Boxee and to let you launch it from the Apple TV’s main menu.
Putting the software on the thumbdrive went well. The patching seemed to go fine, too–I found Boxee in my Apple TV’s menus. But…Boxee wouldn’t launch. I got a black screen each time I tried to load it.
Turned out there’s a known bug, which I resolved (I think) by reinstalling the Boxee software in a slightly different manner. It’s working now–I just proved it by streaming Muppets in Space via Hulu. And once I’ve done a little more TV watching, I’ll continue this series. In the meantime, if you’ve dumped cable for Internet TV–on a TV, or just on a PC or Mac–I’d love to hear about your experiences…