Posted by: David Stewart | October 7, 2010

Tech failure forces an absurd choice

It was one of those moments you never want to hear about – another loved one whose tech has failed spectacularly.

  • A couple of years ago my sister spilled a glass of red wine on her laptop (good for heart health, bad for chip health), and she was stuck in Myanmar without a computer store handy.
  • Another member of the family lost the ability to recharge their laptop, I guess through rough handling.
  • This time, a different loved one and an exploded carton of yogurt.

I like yogurt (low cal, low fat, blueberry) but I like it to eat, not in my computer.

The question always comes up – can it be salvaged? And almost always the answer is "no". Can you imagine how that thing will smell in a few days?

In my living room, I had a tech failure as well. The PC I have been using as a High Def Digital Video Recorder bit the dust after five years. And football season is upon us, so I really must replace it.

But, replace it with what?

  • An HD Tivo seems like a good option except it has no ability to watch shows from Hulu or any other arbitrary web site. This is because Tivo lacks a full-featured browser. And because of the subscription fee, it will always cost you more in the long run.
  • I don’t subscribe to cable or dish anything, so I’m not at all tempted by a cable company DVR. Of course, the pay TV providers all want you to lease their DVR for a monthly fee. What a bad idea! This always costs you more in the long run. Work the numbers if you don’t agree.
  • Apple TV is relatively cheap – only about $100 – but it doesn’t record any broadcast TV. Any shows you want to watch likely need to be purchased from iTunes, and again this always costs more in the long run.
  • Google TV seems like a win, since it has the browser, internet search and Netflix build in. Unfortunately, I’m a little early since it seems that there are no real products in the market yet. Also, it sounds like no DVR versions of Google TV will be available initially unless you are a Dish Network customer. And what about a general browser for my Hulu?
  • MeeGo for Connected TV would in theory be even cooler. But I don’t when when any products will be provided which feature this.
  • A Linux-based PC is an option. I could savage the Digital TV capture card and remote control from the old PC. But this starts sounding more like a science project and I really want something that will work for every member of my family without me tweaking it constantly.
  • Another Windows PC seems like it could be the best option. If I can find a PC with HDMI (digital video) and SP/DIF (optical digital audio) output that won’t break the bank, I should be in good shape. I’ll recover the Digital TV capture card and remote control from the old PC, and I should be good to go.

But this is absurd! I work in open source. Why would I ever consider a Microsoft-based computer for my home?

  • Media Center seems built into Windows now, so I should need no additional software other than what the computer comes with.
  • The program guide is free over the Internet on Media Center, so there is no subscription fee. This is always cheaper in the long run.
  • If I want content from Netflix, Hulu, or any other yet-to-be-invented provider, all I need to do is wait until it appears on a Windows PC’s browser.
  • Most of the times, Windows is just "fire and forget", although it does need a complete software reload and a virus scanner periodically. This is usually best for my somewhat less tech savvy family.
  • But really, the Apple TV is dirt cheap. Who cares if you can’t save TV shows for later watching? But because it is an Apple-only player, I will always always always be forced to take only the content Apple will choose to give me. This just seems like a foolish way to lock myself into what some a single company wants me to see. To this extent, Apple is much more closed than Microsoft.

So, as much as I might wish for a Google TV or some other option, it looks like I will be forced to pull the trigger on a good old Windows computer yet again.

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