Rod Dreher

Rod Dreher


Gadgets to watch in 2010

posted by Rod Dreher

OK, I’m going to confess to you now that Santa Claus brought the Dreher chirren a Wii for Christmas — and it was a fantastic purchase, for the most part. The kids are getting actual exercise (both boys came out of their rooms on Dec. 26 complaining that they were “sick” — their shoulders hurt from all the virtual swordfighting and boxing they’d been doing), and we’re doing something as a family that we haven’t been able to do yet: play games together that all of us, even the littlest one, can participate in. I’d say it’s a win. I’m amazed that we have a video game that actually makes the kids move, not just sit there. I am also surprised that it’s become something that brings our family closer together, and not in a passive, let’s-watch-this-movie-together way.

It’s going to be even more of a win when we get to Philly, where it’s too dang cold to play outside for long, and our apartment doesn’t have a backyard. I was thinking last night about the technology we’ll want to have in our new apartment. We only use cable for PBS Kids, and the occasional news, Food Network, or History Channel broadcast. We only have it in Dallas because that’s where our Internet service comes from. We’d love to be rid of it, because we simply don’t use it enough to justify the cost … but we also want to get reliable high speed Internet. On the movie side, we’d like to get Netflix on demand on our television, not our computer screens. A friend suggests buying a Blu-ray player — the cheapest one — so we can easily stream the good movies we want to watch into our house.

Is it possible to cherry-pick the media and electronics configuration we want in our place, especially inasmuch as we’re not big users of entertainment media? This Wired magazine story about the most important gadgets and consumer electronics to watch in 2010 makes me hopeful re: the video box.

As ever, the important thing is to maintain <i>control</i> over one’s use of entertainment media. I see these new devices and technologies as offering that. Of course, if all you use it for is to have greater choice over which TV shows you use to fill up every spare moment of your life, it’s not much of an improvement. Five hours of “Masterpiece Theater” a night is maybe marginally better than five hours of “Ugly Betty,” but it’s still too much. Balance!



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Geoff G.

posted January 5, 2010 at 6:16 pm


OK, this is against the corporate interest (in Philadelphia you’ll likely be buying cable from my employer), but you do have the option of getting high speed internet by itself. The hitch is that we can’t turn it on without giving you access to basic, basic cable (essentially the broadcast channels in your market plus maybe the Discovery network) so we either charge you extra for the internet service alone (and don’t tell you you can hook up a TV as well) or you sign up for cable TV and internet. It works out to the same price either way.
That basic, basic package is pretty much never advertised because we want you buying more stuff, so you have to ask for it (we’re generally required to offer it for people who can’t get over-the-air signals for whatever reason, but we’re not required to promote it :) ). (Note: depending on local regulation, this tier may not exist…the local sales folks will know more. It never hurts to ask what is available)
For the channels you do like, check to see what they offer online. You may find that you can watch quite a bit with just an internet connection (I’m not sure about the channels you mentioned but, for example, most of the cable news channels put their reports online). Here’s another good place to look. Those plus a Netflix subscription may be enough to keep you happy.
If you don’t need a 12 Mbps internet connection (our standard offering these days), you can also ask if they have a lower economy tier (also almost never advertised). It will be slower, but still far, far better than dialup and competitive with a lot of DSL speeds (we use it to retain customers who want to jump to DSL to cut costs).
Also, if you make a lot of long distance calls to people in the US or Canada, check out the landline phone service. It’s basically a flat rate for all the calls you want to make, so if you have family and friends all over the place, it can work out to be a good deal. You also get a bunch of calling features, including online access to voicemail and call records and stuff if that sort of thing matters to you.
Lots of people are cutting their landline use in favor of using cellphones exclusively, but if you are on the phone a lot, it can make more sense to get an unlimited landline phone and a cellphone plan with a small number of minutes for emergencies.
You can also generally get a better up front deal if you order more services at once, although of course after the promotions come off, the price goes up. Make sure you know (a) how long the promotional price will last and (b) what you will be charged once the promotion’s done. Verizon is bringing their fiber-optic service into Philadelphia so you should be able to get a good deal. I’ve seen promotional rates locked in for up to two years in competitive markets.
If you do go with the cable company for anything, I believe you have my email address on file. I don’t work in sales but I can probably help out with any questions or problems that come up.



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MikeW

posted January 5, 2010 at 6:29 pm


Instead of cable, you might want to check out hulu.com. We dropped cable a couple of years ago, and get internet bundled with phone service. I think hulu is the wave of the future. Why pay for access to hundreds of channels of crap media or stuff you don’t want when you can watch what you want via hulu. Okay, current shows are delayed from what you get on cable by usually a day or so, but I don’t care. So I enjoyed “Battlestar Gallactica” last year via hulu, my wife was able to satisfy her cooking show fix, and last night after returning from a long, tiring drive delivering our oldest son back to college, she relaxed by watching the Dick Van Dyke show. No cost for hulu, by the way (other than needing a PC with internet connection). hulu won’t satisfy sports nuts, but as a big fan of Gonzaga basketball, I’ve discovered I can watch them when they’re not on peasantvision (what my wife and I call old time broadcast TV) via justin.tv.
Cheers.
Mike



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Chris

posted January 5, 2010 at 6:56 pm


I don’t have a TV because I don’t even live someplace with good reception and I don’t want to pay for garbage cable that I don’t watch. However, I really like the Olympics and would love to figure out how to watch them online. Last time they were on, I tried to watch them on the internet, but could only find snippets of them. For instance, “click here to watch Bolt’s winning dash”. What I want is the same streaming that I could get with a TV. Does anyone know if that is possible?



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Richard

posted January 5, 2010 at 7:03 pm


Rod -
If you have been enjoying your Wii game, you may already have discovered this feature, but embedded in Wii is the feature called “Mii” which allows one to use Wii graphics to create cartoons of one’s self and one’s friends/family members. We were visiting my sister-in-law’s family for Christmas. They had gotten a Wii, and our son and I – with loud and appreciative family help — had fun caricaturing the entire extended family, to the particular delight of their seven year old. The fun thing is that, regardless whether these ‘avatars’ are in actual competition with a Wii user, they show up as supporting cast players in most amusing ways, such as at adjacent lanes in the bowling alley, etc. In any event, as a somewhat luddite when it comes to video games, I have to agree with your thoughts about Wii. It beats hunkering down over a joystick.
Best,
Richard



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forestwalker

posted January 5, 2010 at 7:39 pm


I thought Philly had installed a free public wifi network a couple of years ago?



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KateA

posted January 5, 2010 at 8:11 pm


I have DSL through AT&T, no landline required (and I don’t have a landline). Speeds are good at $42.95 per month. AT&T’s DSL was better in my previous city b/c I was close to business district but it’s still fine where I am.
No cable. Gave it up about 18 months ago and haven’t missed it (maybe miss Turner Classic Movies, on occasion, but little else). As others mentioned, hulu.com is great and I can stream news via the various news websites.
Avoid Comcast. Worst. Cable Provider. Ever.



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Karen

posted January 5, 2010 at 9:59 pm


Rod:
Santa brought my kids one too. Just a suggestion for a game that you and your boys will love – Boom Blox. Seriously addictive.
Have Fun!!



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Erin Manning

posted January 5, 2010 at 10:10 pm


My children got a Wii, too–not actually on Christmas Day, but courtesy of their grandparents who figured it was easier to send the money and let us pick one up afterward. They’re really enjoying it so far, and yes, making the Mii characters has been an endless source of amusement, as relatives, friends, and fictional characters have all been created and turn up in the games.
Our TV watching is mainly through Netflix, Hulu, and an occasional ITunes purchase. We figured out a long time ago that it costs less to watch TV that way than to get a decent cable package that would actually include stuff we’d want to watch. But anyone who watches a fair amount of cable TV channels/programs couldn’t say the same–it really does depend on your level of usage.
We also switched from cable Internet to DSL, and find it both reliable and much, much cheaper than cable was.
I think the key for anyone who doesn’t want to be at the mercy of modern culture is to pick and choose this way–unless you want to end all media consumption altogether, a choice I respect but couldn’t make myself.



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Cecelia

posted January 5, 2010 at 10:25 pm


consider too – dress for the weather and get out – you are close to the ski resorts and even if you don’t ski – snow tubing is so much fun – the kids will love it. Take a trip to Penn State – they have a world famous ice cream school – seriously – and you can tour but the best part is stopping at the store and getting those famous penn state ice cream cones. Within an hour of Philly you have loads of historic inns – with crackling fires to welcome you. And before you know it – the Philly flower show – the best on the east coast. And the perfect antidote after a northeast winter.



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Barbara C.

posted January 5, 2010 at 10:31 pm


We bought our Wii last spring, and it really has been a family gatherer (our kids are 7, 4, 19 months). Even the toddler takes a turn “playing the drums” on Beatles Rock Band. You can also swap IP addresses with friends who have a Wii so that their Miis can visit your system and vice-versa.
This past fall we dropped our cable but kept our internet through the cable company (saving about $30 a month)…being Disney-channel free: priceless! Instead we bought a $100 indoor/outdoor antenna, getting about 15 to 20 channels including two of the big three networks. My husband gets annoyed about sports being less available, but otherwise we are glad we made the switch.
The biggest adjustment for me was no DVR, but Hulu to the rescue!! It’s amazing just how much you find on-line…just need to get a more comfortable computer chair.



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MH

posted January 5, 2010 at 10:48 pm


Santa brought my kids a WII this Christmas was well. They spent a huge amount of time making MII’s instead of playing games. But they were having a good time with it and I agree that the games seem much less passive than some other systems.
Rod, while the WII will help pass the Winter, but eventually you’ll get cabin fever. Over New Years Eve weekend we got a foot of snow and I built a quinzhee (similar to an igloo) with the kids. We were all tired and enjoyed some time by the fire afterwards.



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naturalmom

posted January 5, 2010 at 11:08 pm


Oh, the Wii dilemma! My kids love it when they get to play Wii at the homes of friends and family, and I think it’s pretty fun too. My 7 year old son does indeed sweat and get sore muscles, so I know it works him out, but he also has a tendency toward media addiction. I have a fellow homeschooling friend who regrets her Wii purchase because one of her sons simply can’t play for a while then let it go. He begs all. day. long. to play. I fear the same would be true of my son. He already has a hard time with the limits we set on DVD and computer time — and trust me, they aren’t draconian limits — so I wonder how one more “screen” device would fit into the mix. The “active” and family parts really appeal to me though. It’s a toughie.



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Rachel

posted January 5, 2010 at 11:43 pm


Don’t do Netflix on demand. I tried it through my TiVo service, and the selection was slim and bad. The Netflix monthly plans, whereby you make your selections online and then they mail you however many DVD’s your subscription allows, provides a more comprehensive selection of DVD’s.
I haven’t tried Blockbuster on Demand, but I think I’ll check it out to see if they have a respectable selection. If so, I’ll probably cancel Netflix and go with that.



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Dan Berger

posted January 6, 2010 at 8:28 am


The biggest adjustment for me was no DVR, but Hulu to the rescue!!
You don’t need cable to get a DVR. We have a nice Philips box, bought refurbished for about $120, that receives both standard analog and HD digital broadcast signals, and plays and records DVDs, as well as recording a whole lot of TV time (about 100 hours HD, at least 300 SD).
Check out your local electronics store, or shop online.



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richao

posted January 6, 2010 at 8:54 am


I’m not sure what Rachel is talking about. We have a three-disc, blu-ray Netflix subscription AND a Roku box that allows us to stream Netflix and Amazon Video selections directly to our TV. The Netflix streaming is included in (almost) any monthly Netflix subscription, and there’s no downside to using it to supplement the discs you receive: You can’t always time the delivery right, and if, like us, you have less mainstream interests (e.g., Chitty Chitty Bang Bang over farting guinea pigs), there’s plenty of content in the Netflix streaming collection to keep you entertained.
We’ve never had cable (though we have cable internet, through Cox, with which we’ve generally been extremely happy, at about $40/month), and I can’t imagine getting it. Every time I walk by the TVs in the lobby of my office building, which are tuned to CNN and CNBC, I feel assaulted and overwhelmed – the faux earnestness of the newscasters and the extravagant hype to the story of the moment, which will be forgotten before the week is out, is destructive of a healthy interior life. We don’t get broadcast, either, for the same reasons.
With almost everything available on DVD or through streaming (Hulu, Netflix, or otherwise), there’s really no reason for any family with small children to have a TV tuner in their house, except for sports or the occasional live event (though we were able to watch the full inauguration over the internet). Even the Olympics can’t justify it, in my mind, given the nature of the coverage foisted upon us by American broadcasters: Seven minutes of sports each hour, surrounded by 18 minutes of ads and 35 minutes of commentary or soft-focus featurettes. And American nature and science documentaries are, for the most part, bombastic and annoying. (Yes, I’m spoiled by many years of watching NHK, the Japanese public broadcaster, which broadcasts non-stop live footage of the Olympics (even of minor sports in which Japan is not competing) and documentaries that are measured in tone and treat their viewers with a modicum of intelligence.) Our daughter is 11. We’ve never had broadcast or cable TV (though we do have a nice big flatscreen for DVDs/streaming and Wii, but it gets about four hours of use per week, max), and she’s never complained. It’s amazing the creative ways she finds to fill the time that I spent, when I was her age, watching The Price is Right and Gilligan’s Island.



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Jason

posted January 6, 2010 at 11:58 am


Rod – you don’t have to buy an Internet TV box to watch NetFlix or hulu on your regular TV if you have a laptop and a TV with an RGB (computer monitor) report. If you have a newer TV you’ve probably got one of those. Just pick up a computer monitor cable for about 20 bucks and you can plug your laptop into the TV and watch online TV and movies from there. We recently purchased a new TV (I’ve had the old one for nearly 20 years) and found that it had an RGB port so we’ve been watching all sorts of movies and tv from hulu and netflix since then.



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Jason

posted January 6, 2010 at 12:01 pm


Oops, that should read “RGB PORT” not “report”, and you’ll also want to pick up a sound cable to plug from your laptop’s headphone port into the TV. All told, for about $30 you can watch TV and movies over the internet and not have to buy one of the special boxes for that purpose.



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DS

posted January 6, 2010 at 5:45 pm


I bought the Roku box about a year ago and love it love it love it. About $120 including shipping and gives thousands of free movies (i.e., free as long as I keep my existing Netflix 3-disc plan). We watch the Roku box about twice as much as cable TV and about five times more than watching DVD’s from Netflix — thereby saving Netflix the shipping costs. Yes, some new BluRay players have the Netflix thing built in, so go with that if you’re thinking about adding a Blu-Ray player
Downside — you can’t really get rid of cable TV, as Rod notes, because they provide the high-speed internet connection that you need for the streaming video to work.



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Fake Fan Base

posted January 6, 2010 at 8:01 pm


We got a video Karoke kit for christmas which somehow brought back the spirit of christmas past. Not singing carols round the piano so much but more Lady GaGa’s Poker Face. Gran loved it and it brought the family altogether. Ma Ma Ma Poker Face.
How can we learn not to be such ridiculous followers of fashion. Art anyone? I can recommend Wii formula one racing cars. I’m rubbish at it but mu son loves it.



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the stupid Chris

posted January 7, 2010 at 12:05 am


Got a Kindle. Have read 3 books since Christmas, moved my newspaper subscription to the device, get two mags there, and e-mail myself .pdf docs that need reviewing.
It’s a pretty impressive one trick pony.



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tennmedstudent

posted January 7, 2010 at 10:53 am


We’ve had the wii for a year and love it. We got Band Hero for Christmas and it is great because the 5-year-old can actually play with the older kids if you set it on beginner. And playing the drums is a lot of fun and harder than it looks. I have friends who got the wii fit and rave about that too.



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Jason Gagnon

posted January 8, 2010 at 6:26 am


My wife and I dumped cable a year ago, but I continue to get internet services via the local cable company.
I call up the cable company every few months and ask if they have any deals running on internet service, and get them to lower my price for Road Runner. I’ve paid as little as 11 dollars a month.
Dump cable, keep your internet, and get a Roku. On top of the Netflix Watch Instantly, the Roku also supports Pandora- which is a fantastic way to get introduced to new music.
Hopefully the Roku will start to carry a subscription to the NFL, so that my Steelers fan wife will finally be completely content with our cable-free existence.



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john kin

posted January 26, 2010 at 11:32 pm


It’s really to see that what are the Gadgets to watch in 2010. The important thing is really to maintain control over one’s use of entertainment media. New devices and technologies are really offering that.
Regards : fake watches



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