In general, we are on the go a whole lot more these days. We are running around for work, home, with the kids, etc. Because of this, it gets to be difficult to keep up on our favorite TV shows or maybe the latest DVD releases. It surprises me when I see reports stating that we consume more content now than we ever did. Maybe this is because today's TV and movies (media content) can be watched on the go in many different ways.
Traditionally, the family would sit down in front of the TV to watch their favorite shows on a certain day of the week at a specific time. Of course, this is back in the day when your TV got only nine or ten channels from four networks (ABC, NBC, CBS, and PBS). If you missed something, you had to wait and hope they would rebroadcast it over the summer, which didn't always happen.
Recently, Cable and Satellite was the most common way that we get TV and Movies in your home. 2011 is going to be the year where that all changes. Media (TV shows and movies) have been available on the Internet for a few years now. The problem is that you had to watch this media on a computer screen. Of course you can always hook a computer up to your TV, which I have done, but a computer can be difficult to connect and then to control.
Today there are small media boxes that allow you to watch content from the Internet on your HDTV (some will also work with a standard def TV). Late last year, Apple released the updated Apple TV 2.0. It is a small (3.9 x 3.9 x 0.9 inch) box that connects to your network either wirelessly, using WiFi, or with an Ethernet cable. The Apple TV connects to your HDTV using an HDMI cable. Unfortunately, it only has HDMI output, so older TVs are out.
The Apple TV can play content from your iTunes library, video or audio. It can also stream video content from Netflix (a Netflix account is required - starting at $7.99/month), YouTube, MobileMe, and Flickr. It can also be used to show your photos in your iPhoto library. The Apple TV comes with a simple remote allowing for easy navigation to all the different programming.
The new Apple TV does not have any storage of its own, so it is not able to record or save content. Apple decided to do away with an internal hard drive, which was in the original Apple TV (a 160GB drive). Instead, Apple now rents commercial-free TV shows for as little as 99 cents, SD movies start at $2.99, and HD movies start at $3.99.
Apple TV is not alone anymore. There are other popular Internet media boxes including Roku, Boxee, and Western Digital WD TV. Google has even announced Google TV, a system that uses a media player plus software that helps find any content you are interested in. The latest batches of Blu-Ray players have the ability to connect to the Internet, some based on the new Google TV. Even some of the latest HDTVs are coming with built-in Apps for Internet streaming.
So where does the Mac fit into all this? I use an Intel Mac mini as a media server in my living room. The mini is so small and quiet it's a perfect choice for a media device, though a bit more expensive compared to a Roku HD box. It's hooked up to my HDTV and home network. With a wireless keyboard and mouse, I can control the mini and watch shows and movies stored on a network drive or from my iTunes library. I can also watch content from web sites like Hulu.com, tv.com, Netflix, Amazon, etc.
Also, my mini has replaced my VCR. Elgato makes some of the best video devices for the Mac. For TV tuners there is the EyeTV Hybrid ($140), EyeTV One ($90), and what I have the EyeTV 250+ ($180). The EyeTV 250+ is a slightly bigger box, but it has a true MPEG encoder chip inside, which does most of the work instead of making the Mac do the encoding.
To watch and/or record HD programming from a cable box or satellite system they have the EyeTV HD DVR (street price around $180). The EyeTV HD has inputs for component video, that's the red-green-blue video and red-white audio. With each of these devices Elgato includes their great EyeTV software. This allows you to watch and record TV on your Mac. And like a TiVo you can pause and resume live TV.
Another cool feature with EyeTV is a companion iApp ($4.99 on the App Store). The Elgato EyeTV App for the iPhone and iPad allows you to stream standard cable channels from your home over the Internet to your iOS device. As long as you have a WiFi connection, your iPhone/Touch/iPad can play what's on your standard cable. You can even do this over a 3G cellular network connection, but you must also have the Elgato Turbo.264 HD (street price around $90). This is a small hardware device that plugs into any USB 2.0 port on your Mac. Inside this little device is a hardware H.264 video encoder that shrinks the video stream to work over a 3G cellular network. I don't recommend doing too much 3G video streaming, unless you got your iPhone/iPad with the fully unlimited data plan.
We live in a mobile world. With devices like the iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch, we can now watch our favorite TV shows and movies whenever we want. DVRs and media players allow us to watch our favorite shows on our schedule, not theirs. A Mac can still be the hub for all your digital content, but our iOS devices make it mobile. No more are we tied to the same bat time and same bat channel. Now, we are on the go and free to watch where we want and when we want.