Commentary

Don't Leave Me To My Own Devices

We are not a family of early adopters, but we’re definitely a family of adopters.  Someone’s always telling us about a new device or streaming service -- and the next thing you know, it’s under the Christmas tree or in a pile of birthday presents. 

You’d think that the more ways there are to watch TV the happier you’d be, but you’d be wrong.  If anything, more choice creates more stress because it’s frustrating to know you’re not getting as much out of your devices as you should be. 

When people talk about cord-cutting, I wonder if they’ve really thought through what it would be like to go cold turkey using the current generation of electronic gadgets. For me, the only way I could manage it would be to consign myself to a life of fiddling, rejiggering and silent cursing.

To start with, I can’t think of anything more misnamed than “cord-cutting,” because now we have more cords than ever before.  We have connecting cords for our cable box, DVR, DVD player, Apple TV, ChromeCast and laptop.  The problem is that there are only two HDMI ports at the back of the TV monitor, so every time we want to watch a different device we have to pull back the TV table, lean over and fumble with the cords and the ports. We’ve also got a plethora of power cords, since each of these devices (except for the Apple TV) needs electricity.  I’ve been told there’s yet another box we can use to consolidate all our cords, but I can’t bear the idea of introducing one more piece of electronics and the attendant remote (we already have four of them) into our living room.

In addition to collecting devices, we subscribe to a myriad of paid streaming services: Netflix, HBO-Go, Amazon Prime, and MLB for starters.  Unfortunately, there’s a certain amount of interoperability between the devices and the services.  The Chromecast should be the answer to my dreams since I should theoretically be able to just sit on my couch and stream shows from my iPod.  Alas, Amazon Prime, which is turning out to be a go-to source for shows I’ve forgotten to record, is unavailable on Chromecast. So to watch unrecorded shows, I need to haul out my laptop and connect it to my TV (along with the aforementioned fiddling with cords and ports).

Then there’s the problem with finding the shows you want to watch in the first place.  After all the positive end-of-season press for “Broad City,” I wanted to watch some episodes to see whether I liked it.  Well, you can’t just Google “‘Broad City’ Streaming” and expect to be directed someplace where you can watch full episodes.  You’ll get linked to YouTube clips and weird unknown sites that appear to function primarily as cookie-planting services.  What about the Comedy Central site?  Nope, just clips.  How about Hulu?  Once again, just clips.  What about Amazon Prime?  Yes, full episodes of “Broad City” are available there for $1.99 each or $6 for the whole season. 

So after spending $99 on Prime, $30 for a Chromecast and God-knows-what for the iPad, it appears that the only way to watch “Broad City” now is to spend even more money, download it to the laptop, and hook it up to the TV. 

Maybe I’m just being an old crank.  After all, the primary way my 22-year-old son watches video is sitting with a MacPro in his lap, which to my aching bones seems uncomfortable and bad for his posture.

To me, it’s plain that before these devices can become a major source of TV viewing, they’ve got to get a lot easier to use.  To watch a TV show I don’t want to spend 15 minutes Googling it, then paying extra for it, then rearranging the wires in back of my set. This is not a lean-back experience – and don’t we mostly watch TV as an escape from this kind of aggravation in the first place?

In the end, after buying all the devices and paying for all the services, the primary way my wife and I watch video is the old fashioned way” via the DVR.  Thank goodness for early 21st century technology.

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