What to give your TV/media nerds for Christmas, based on how they consume media
The best thing about today's media environment is also the worst: Expanding technology makes a universe of choices available to almost anyone, and the options can be paralyzing.
Here's a quick list of the media tech I have: A 46-inch HDTV; a Blu ray/DVD player that can wirelessly access video services and a USB input in the front; an Apple TV unit for media from my nearby iMac computer through iTunes, along with streaming video Netflix, YouTube and other online services; a cable box and digital video recorder programmed to capture all my favorite shows, along with a host of video on demand services.
What is amazing, is that this isn't an expensively system designed by some specialist. I've simply cobbled together an array of different, mid-level media options to fit my unique consumption habits, helped out by the falling price of great technology and a job where I can sample it all.
In fact, I have a loose theory that today's media consumers can be split into three different types (we journalist love groups of three and five; get used to it), depending on how they choose to consume media.
"The two biggest questions you can ask in this area is: What's your lifestyle and what kind of media do I like to watch?" said Rob Sabin, editor-in-chief of Home Theater magazine and HomeTheater.com. "A lot of people have given up on cable, for example, to avoid the bills. I've found that, as long as you're not interested in immediacy, you can get along by watching video online."
With the holidays coming, I have a few recommendations, based on which group of media consumer you may fall into (for my purposes, I'm assuming you have a decent TV and Internet access).
TYPE 1 - The Grazer. Someone with a low level of interest in media, with just a few programs they find worthy of tracking. Sometimes, this is a financial issue — many of us don't have the cash for a $200 monthly cable bill or $50,000 home theater system — and sometimes people don't have the time or desire to keep up with all the media available.
My advice: Zero in on the media you absolutely must have. If you only care about big football games and The Daily Show, stick an antenna outside your house, pick up the 22 or so digital TV channels available and use an iPad, smartphone, laptop or home computer to access Comedy Central's Daily Show episodes online.
The gift: For simplicity, it's hard to beat a good Blu Ray/DVD player with wireless access to the Internet. Many models are priced below $200 and can access online video services such as Netflix, Hulu plus or amazon on Demand. My pals at Verizon and Bright House will hate to rwead this, but if you don't watch TV regularly, you may not even notice if you skip a cable system.
TYPE 2 - The Regular-User. These folks want a decent home media setup, but don't expect to spend a huge amount of money and aren't invested in cutting-edge technology. You probably have cable TV or satellite and may even have a rudimentary home theater system, with a decent TV and audio run through a decent stereo or surround sound system.
My advice: Experiment a little and don't be afraid to cut loose stuff that doesn't work. I found Netflix and Hulu Plus had too much overlapping content, and Hulu also features advertisements inside its streaming video. Guess which service I dropped after a free trial period?
Second screen options also become more important. Blu ray releases for blockbuster films such as The Avengers have smartphone and tablet apps that allow viewers to see new content on their second screen while watching the movie on the first screen. In my house, the kids are all getting tech gifts this year -- spoiler alert for Deggans children! -- so second screen stuff will hit them where they live, media-wise.
The gifts: There are a few options. Sabin recommends a few "soundbar" devices that squeeze all the speakers for a surround system into one or two devices. The cheapest of the good ones is the IHT 6000 made by Polk Audio, featuring a soundbar and a separate, wireless speaker for the low end, no separate receiver needed (priced at $500).
Jeff Beyers, owner of Home Theater Experts in Lakeland, recommends a unit for wirelessly streaming video and audio to your TVs; either the Roku or Apple TV. Roku units, priced at $60 and up, can stream up to 300 different online video platforms to your TV, including Netflix and Hulu Plus; Apple TV (priced at $100) streams a more limited number of platforms, but also can access, purchase or rent media through your home PC and iTunes.
And I'm in love with my Harmony Universal Remote (priced from $299), which allows me to program a number of device moves into a single request. So if I hit the "Watch TV" button, it turns on my TV, stereo receiver and cable box, devoting the volume control to moving the receiver audio up and down, the channel button to changing the channels on the cable box and buttons such as "play" and "stop" to controlling my DVR.
It's essential for a system with lots of different components in the setup.
TYPE 3 - The Super-User. These are the people on the cutting edge, with expensive home theater systems and the best components. They've either spent lots of time on research or hired professional installers, so they need a lot less help.
The gift: I'd recommend the topline model of Sharp's AQUOS TV line, a 90-inch LED unit with 3-D and HD capability. It is the sharpest TV with the biggest screen weighing only 150 pounds and less than 5 inches deep, with built-in wireless Internet access (list price: just under $11,000).
If that sounds like too much, consider the Panasonic PT-AE8000 video projector, which offers both 2-D and 3-D options, two free pairs of 3-D glasses and a much smaller price tag (just under $3,000).
Some experts say the image high-end projectors look as good as big LED TVs. Given the price tag, this humble reporter may never know.