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January 2, 2009

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TV on the Computer, or the Other Way Around

I just became a Boxee alpha tester, and while it isn’t flawless, it’s the best setup I’ve seen yet for watching TV shows and movies on the computer, particularly a computer hooked up to a television screen. Haven’t used its social recommendation engine yet (if you’re using it too, let me know), but the Hulu and Netflix integration set it apart from XBMC, Plex, Front Row, et al.

I watch a lot of computer-based TV, particularly since I don’t have cable. My setup — first-gen MacBook Pro with busted screen, Western Digital 500GB external, Wireless-G router, Samsung 26” HDTV, Apple remote, and a Logitech keyboard (DiNovo wireless for Mac). I’ve got a DVI-HDMI cable and a simple stereo output running between the notebook and the HDTV. Best experiences - 30 Rock on Netflix and Hulu, The Daily Show at, all five seasons of The Wire backed up on my external drive, and Yo Gabba Gabba through iTunes.

I’ve been mulling over a bunch of different ideas about this computer-media server-television hybrid, but first I guess I’ll just ask the ‘matrix — how do you guys watch TV with/without your computer? What do you like or not like about it? What are you still trying to figure out?

Posted January 2, 2009 at 10:47 | Comments (2) | Permasnark
File under: Media Galaxy


Haha, I also just became a Boxee alpha tester, but I haven't yet booted up my linux system to give it a try (Mac users you are good to go).

My understanding is that Boxee's ability to offer Hulu is due to their rapid implementation of RTMP. This is the protocol that a lot of video sites are using to stream FLV (flash video). A lot of open source projects have been trying to get RTMP working (cURL, XBMC, VLC, for example). Most have semi-working versions, and I would guess Boxee built on the existing code base, but none of the other projects have made this "just work" yet.

Hopefully other projects will get this functionality in the near future. The thing I never really understood about XBMC/Boxee type software is, why not just work on embedding the flash player in the application the way it's embedded in browsers? That way you don't have to worry about the ongoing format arms race with the content providers...

The tricky point in any computer/TV setup seems to be how to interface with the computer from a comfortable TV watching position. A remote is nice, but requires a media center software like Boxee that makes it easy to control the computer with only a few buttons. An intermediate solution that I like is to get a gamepad for the computer. Then you can play super mario on your TV and you also have a little bit more control over the computer so that if you need to fire up a browser to get Hulu working that's an option.

Yeah, small text is just... really, really hard to read on a TV screen, at any distance. In a lot of ways it's similar to the problem of using a very small screen, like a cellular phone -- you really benefit from having large, distinct icons that you can browse through quickly.

I do like using an external keyboard with my TVtop; the one I've got has a built-in trackpad. It's not perfect, but it's the only real way to do mouse-like movements on the screen.

The real solution would be to have a touchpad or trackpad remote, something like the iPhone/iPod touch with the Remote app as the primary function -- with either a touchscreen keyboard or easy phone-style typing with a number pad. (Say the remote has either a full touchscreen or 12 or so buttons plus a trackpad -- as wide and maybe a little longer than a PDA.)

Something like a WiiMote is also a possibility -- it's kind of sad, actually, that the Wii is a pretty rotten multimedia device compared to the XBox, because that interface is a game-changer.

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