Sunday, September 28, 2008

Play On

I have, over the years, been constantly striving for a home entertainment experience that merged the internet, video content and my main audio-video equipment seamlessly, and much to my chagrin I have not been able to achieve this goal. I've tried hooking up specialized devices as well as PCs, but it has always been problematic to get to work, if it worked at all. But finally I have reached Nerdvana, and all by a series of fortunate purchases:

  1. my Harmony 550 remote ($50) - this remote is just pure genius. It allows you to think in human terms of "I want to watch TV" instead of "I need to turn everything on, change the receiver to Input 1, change the TV to Input 3...." Setup is pretty easy, especially since you do it on the computer, tell it what devices you need controlled and how they are currently hooked up, and then create "activities" which you then select when using the remote. I've actually bought one for my parents and that, in and of itself, has made life much easier. The only complaint I have is that you have to have an internet connection to set this remote up. I got one for my B.I.L. and was not able to set it up for him (in actuality, I set it up at my Mom's house, which does have internet, but there are times when you need to tweak the settings, and having to drive several miles back and forth to test out the settings of a remote quickly become problematic). So far, I have yet to find something that this remote can't control (it can even control my Roomba, although I've been too lazy to make a "Clean my floor" activity). The price fluctuates often, but it periodically drops down to $50, and is quite the deal at that price.
  2. the Sony PS3 ($299) - all of my friends seem to have an Xbox 360, but I went this route because I wanted a Blu-Ray player. It turns out that it is probably the best Blu-Ray player out there. The nice thing is that it also can stream audio and video and the interface is very easy to use. It also seems to interface with nearly everything - you can hook up a USB keyboard and mouse as well as a bluetooth headset, all with no problem. The biggest issue with it is that it doesn't have an infrared control sensor, so it can't be controlled with my Harmony 550, which is why I bought
  3. the Blu Wave Remote ($15) - it actually has both a remote sensor and a remote, but I never use the remote. With this, I can control all of the functions of the PS3 with my Harmony 550 (except for the ability to turn the machine on or off - I just leave it on).
  4. the PlayOn software system ($30) - this is one of the best software purchase I've ever made. It's currently in beta, so it has a few bugs still, but what it allows you to do is stream video from online sites such as You Tube, Hulu, CBS, and Netflix via an Xbox 360 or PS3 to your TV. There's tons of content on these sites, including seasons of old TV episodes, and in conjunction with movies available through Netflix's online service, you would have a nearly unlimited source of entertainment available. The ability to select videos is phenomenally easy and the remote control deals with it just like playing a DVD.

P.S. - In the interest of full disclosure, the links above do have referral codes in them in case you decide to purchase any of the items; however, they are what I have and I would definitely urge some judicious shopping around for the best price first before purchasing. Also, if you have an Xbox 360 already, you would just need the PlayOn software and the Harmony remote (which works on Xbox 360s as well) to achieve the same result. A Netflix subscription that includes online content costs about $10 a month and of course also includes receiving DVDs (or Blu-Ray discs if they are available for a $1 more a month) via mail.