The way we consume television — and indeed all forms of video — is changing rapidly. Millions of people now employ digital video recorders and media centre computers to manage their viewing; millions more are using their PCs as televisions thanks to internet TV networks like Hulu; and still others are uploading their favourite shows to their iPods, giving them the freedom to watch whatever they want, whenever they choose, wherever they like.
And our options are growing.
It seems every month brings a new product or service designed to empower television and video watchers to feed their habit in novel ways, whether it's watching startlingly crisp high-resolution television in the palm of your hand or experiencing three-dimensional (3-D) video in the comfort of your own home. We've put together a roundup of some of these non-traditional means of accessing and viewing video content.
Samsung 2233RZ 22-inch 3-D Monitor
Studios and directors have been transforming the theatre experience with innovative 3-D technology over the past few years, and it's finally starting to filter into homes with products like this $499 3-D-capable computer monitor from Samsung. The screen flashes two sets of images running at a frequency of 60 Hz each (120 Hz in total), which, when viewed through a special set of stereoscopic glasses that filter the images reaching each of your retinas, creates pretty much the same effect as a 3-D movie in a theatre.
The trick, of course, is finding 3-D content, which is still pretty rare. Video game designers are a bit ahead of their filmmaking counterparts - dozens of popular PC titles are 3D-enabled — so expect gamers to be the ones to push the technology forward. You'll also need a video card that supports 3-D output as well as a set of stereoscopic glasses. Most of the current crop of NVIDIA graphics cards offer 3-D capability, and the NVIDIA GeForce 3-D Vision Kit ($199) comes with the necessary eyewear and software. Some specialty retailers in Canada offer Samsung's monitor bundled with NVIDIA's glasses for $699.
Kodak Theatre HD Player
Looking for a slick and simple way to port video content from your PC to your TV? Kodak's Theatre HD Player could be the answer.
Just connect the player to your television and install Kodak's EasyShare application on your PC. The software automatically finds video files — as well as audio and still image files - of virtually all sorts (except those with stringent DRM restrictions), making them instantly viewable on your television — and in the high-resolution 1080p format, if applicable.
Other perks include a gyroscopic radio-frequency remote, the ability to plug a hard disk directly into the player via a USB port and the option to not only stream YouTube video but upscale its quality.
Only catch: it hasn't been released yet in Canada.
Still, Canadians can pick it up online at Kodak.com for $300 US or from a variety of mainstream American retailers, many of which are offering discounted prices.
Panasonic DMP-B15 Portable Blu-ray Player
You know Blu-ray has gone mainstream when electronics manufacturers start making players you can hook up in the back seat of your car for the kids.
Panasonic's DMP-B15, the world's first portable Blu-ray player, will set you back a cool $1,000 or so, but it does more than just play Blu-ray discs and DVDs on the go. It can also function as a Blu-ray deck for your home entertainment system, cranking out crisp 1080p video through its HDMI port.
Plus, a high capacity SD card slot (with support for burgeoning HD standard AVCHD) allows quick and easy access to your home video. This is handy for when you want to check out vacation footage before you get home without being limited to your camcorder's tiny screen.
Bonus: an ethernet jack lets users connect to the internet and stream video from websites such as YouTube.
The irony of it all? The device's eight-inch screen has a resolution of just 1,024-by-600 pixels, which is to say it's a high-definition player without an HD display.
Archos 7 Internet Media Tablet with DVR Station
What if your DVR had a crystal clear 7-inch LCD screen, was lightweight and mobile, and allowed you to access the Internet to retrieve web content? Then it would probably be this highly versatile device from Archos, one of the most respected purveyors of portable media gadgetry.
When jacked into a DVR adapter (sold separately), you can use the integrated program guide to record TV shows to the Archos 7's capacious 320 gigabyte hard disk, then play the content back on a living room screen in 720p high-definition. Then, when you leave the house, you can take all of your video content with you — and connect with WiFi hotspots to pick up Internet TV and radio stations.
Purchased with the DVR Station accessory, the Archos 7 costs about $700, which is steep for a portable media player. Still, few mobile media devices offer such robust DVR functionality or have a screen as big or as pretty as that of the Archos 7.
The latest entry in Sling Media's acclaimed line of television streaming devices is the first to afford users the ability to stream high-definition video.
Like its predecessors, the $385 Slingbox Pro-HD connects with components ranging from DVD and Blu-ray players to digital video recorders (DVRs) and set-top cable boxes, then streams video originating from these devices to your computer, allowing users to access both live television and library content wherever they happen to be (assuming they have an internet connection).
The only difference now is that the Pro-HD facilitates the streaming of high-def video. Best results are achieved via dedicated home networks, but a good broadband connection will deliver excellent picture quality wherever you happen to be.
It's just too bad there's no HDMI-input. Time to drag out those old component cables.
If you've made the leap to a Slingox, then you might want to go the extra distance and download the $30 SlingPlayer Mobile application, which is available for most smartphone operating systems, including Blackberry, iPhone, Windows Mobile, Palm and Simbian.
This nimble piece of software allows you to interface with your Slingbox as though it was right in front of you, which means you can view live TV pretty much anywhere you can find a cellphone signal. What's more, you can even interface with, control and watch programming stored on your Slingbox-connected DVR.
Downside: the iPhone version, which was just released in May and will likely be the most popular, only supports WiFi access. Then again, that could be a blessing in disguise for folks who plan to do lots of viewing but don't have unlimited data plans.
Of course, another option for handset television is simply to subscribe to a service through a cell provider (Bell, for example, currently charges $8 a month for unlimited access to mobile TV while Rogers offers a similar service for $9), though your selection of channels will be reduced, and you'll have no access to video content stored at home.
Sony XBR9-Series Bravia Televisions
With so much of the video we want to watch available on demand from the web these days, it only makes sense for consumers to want to connect their primary displays directly to the internet. Sony's top-of-the-line XBR9-Series sets let you do just that.
An ethernet port lets users access sites like YouTube and Yahoo! via the intuitive Xross media bar. It's the same graphical user interface found on many other Sony devices, including the company's PlayStation gaming systems. What's more, XBR9-Series sets can access video content stored on other computers on your home network, effectively acting as a digital media streaming device.
Its capabilities aren't as wide-ranging as what you'd achieve by connecting a PC to your television (there are no DVR features or program guides, for example), but there's definitely something to be said for the convenience of having PC-like functionality integrated into a television. The 40-inch model is priced at $3,100.