Dude, where’s my video store?

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Online services are replacing video stores as the preferred destination for movie rentals. Browsing isn’t much fun, but the latest releases are always in stock and there are no late fees.

Connecting a computer to a TV to watch movies from services like Netflix or iTunes is awkward and complex.

Three streaming players that simplify the connection are Apple TV ($109), Sony’s Internet Player with Google TV ($199) and Roku XS ($109). These small black boxes connect using a single HDMI cable, and Wi-Fi for wireless Internet.

Streaming players require a better-than-average Internet connection. Otherwise, expect to wait before the movie starts and experience unexpected pauses while viewing. Movies are four to six gigabytes in size, which could dramatically impact your monthly usage.

Online video quality is now better than DVD, although not yet as good as Blu-ray.

Like smartphones, these players have apps, called services or channels, which offer movies, TV shows and video clips. In the U.S., streaming players get services like Hulu and HBO Go. Canadians don’t get the same selection of content, due to the way studios sell distribution rights.

Netflix, an all-you-can-watch service with a good selection of just-past recent titles, is available on all three. It’s like a video store late on a Friday night—they don’t have the movie you really want, but you can always find something.

Roku does not offer recent releases in Canada but does offer services with free older titles, such as Crackle.

Roku’s remote has motion sensors, making gameplay (like Angry Birds) more fun. There are sports packages available, including MLB, NHL and UFC. Only Roku offers the option of connecting using a standard yellow video cable.

Sony’s Video Unlimited and Apple’s iTunes offer the latest DVD releases. Rentals are $5.99 for HD, $4.99 for SD quality. Checking for last week’s top DVD rentals, I found 19 out of 20. After renting a movie, you have 30 days to start watching. Once you start watching, you have access for 48 hours. You can pause, fast forward and rewind.

Sony’s double-sided remote includes a keyboard and a trackpad, to use Google’s Chrome browser. It’s cool, but slightly awkward. Chrome can access TV station websites to watch their online shows and the Google Play store. Oddly, a general search doesn’t find TV shows in your guide, or movies from Video Unlimited and Google Play.

Plugging a satellite or cable receiver into the Sony player allows Picture in Picture web browsing—to check out IMDB while watching TV.

Apple TV’s remote only has seven keys, making Apple’s interface easy to navigate. Apple has two great extras: playing trailers from current and coming movies in theaters and a photo screen saver. With Airplay you can wirelessly play music, photos and movies from other Apple devices (computers, iPads, iPhones) on your TV.

All three have smartphone apps to use as alternate remote controls. Sony’s “catch and throw” mode displays Chrome pages from the phone. ~Maarten Heilbron

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Comments & Discussion

  1. Kevin • November 14, 2012 @ 7:21 PM

    Actually its not difficult to hookup your computer to your tv. My 32″ tv is my monitor for my cpu. All you have to do is use an HDMI cable from your tv to the pc and you are done. Simple. I use Itunes to watch movies, its a great thing.

  2. Maarten • November 14, 2012 @ 8:01 PM

    Kevin: Thanks for your note – connecting your computer can be a great solution. Unfortunately, not all PCs have HDMI ports. There’s also the problem of navigating using the mouse and keyboard when the PC is connected … of course, that can also be overcome using Bluetooth – but it does start to get complicated for the non-technically inclined.

  3. Logan • November 14, 2012 @ 8:43 PM

    I bit of a geek so i hooked up my 50in Tv to my pc via HDMI, with a solar power wireless keyboard and wireless mouse, and watch tv shows from stations such as Global, ctv, and cbc, for movies i use Youtube movie channel, lots of free ones but also new release you can watch as well for a fee. Either way Online watching can be great if you have a fast connection and can stay within your download limit, I am lucky the internet i have has no cap.

  4. Myles • November 15, 2012 @ 5:54 PM

    Who cares. Get off your fat asses and go for a walk. The last thing the human race needs is another reason to be lazy.

  5. Kevin • November 15, 2012 @ 7:29 PM

    Calm down myles. A lot of people who work for a living have a setup like this. My supervisor has it as well. And yes we both have gym memberships. I agree with you about people being lazy, fortunately I am not one of them.

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