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Broadcast Television: In Praise of a Relic

The latest incarnation of Apple TV has again fired up the “cut the cord” talk – killing off your obscenely-priced cable or satellite subscription.  The stranglehold is broken.  Cutting the cord is absolutely a trend.

Apple TV, for example, has now joined more than 100 other devices that support Netflix streaming, which allows unending access to a huge library of programming direct to your television.

Wired just issued a complete guide, fronted by Joel McHale (from NBC’s Community and E’s The Soup), about how to watch all the best stuff without cable or satellite.  Here’s another how-to-live-without-cable-or-satellite from (not as fun as McHale’s).  A Google search produces at least a dozen more.

What you want, when you want it, as often as you want it – it’s easier than ever and doesn’t require a $100 cable bill.  Just a little bit of new hardware, a high-speed internet connection, maybe some new software, some non-cable and non-satellite programming subscriptions …

Just don’t tell me it’s about saving money.

Broadcast tower television digital signal high definition

Go old school: harness high definition television in its cleanest form with a $10 antenna or even a paperclip - compliments of your local broadcaster.

High definition television in its cleanest, purest form is always available to you at no cost.  The signal gets no better than straight out of the air.  No expensive hardware to purchase (because you already own that 42″ HDTV).  No cable, no satellite, no high speed internet, no Hulu, no Netflix … no subscription required of any kind.

Digital broadcast signals are in the air and all you need to harness them is a $10 antenna (though a large paperclip will often suffice).  Again, high definition television in its cleanest, purest form can be brought into your home at no cost.

  • Yes, you’re limited in programming.  In most areas, though, you’ll get a dozen channels or more between primary and sub-channels, from such content providers as PBS, NBC, CBS, ABC, FOX, Univision, Telemundo and others.
  • Yes, you’re giving up some precious control, subjecting yourself to a linear broadcast with incessant commercial interruptions.
  • Yes, it’s ludicrous to imagine cutting a high-speed internet subscription.
  • Yes, you may want to augment your options with a sub-$10 Netflix subscription.

But … over-the-air television is absolutely free.  Right now.  All the time.  And it’s nearly 100% stupid-proof … just plug it in and turn it on.  It’s the true essence of passive entertainment.

If your mobile device was equipped with a DTV tuner, you could have it all available wherever you go – without paying for mobile internet access.

I know this sounds like the ramblings of your grandfather, but the point remains: if your argument and motivation for “cutting the cord” is financial, you must celebrate the role your local broadcaster plays in entertaining and informing you.

High definition television in a linear form is a relic.  And it’s absolutely free.

Playing with Our New Flip Ultra HD

Who knew!?  You can have a high-definition video camera with 2 hours of storage that runs off rechargeable AA batteries delivered to your home in two days –  complete with an additional carrying sleeve – for well under $200.  Really.

On a whim and to understand the product, I ordered a Flip UltraHD video camera with a padded, draw-string Case Logic sleeve from Amazon with 2-day shipping.  The total cost was something like $172, including the cost of tw0-day shipping (overnight adds another $10-12).

Within 5 minutes of opening the box, my 6-year-old was using it.  See here:

Here’s a clip of the exterior and interior of a charming, little store in Old Colorado City that strictly sells honey-related products:

Here’s a pan of Crystal Reservoir and Pikes Peak, just off the Pikes Peak Highway:

None of these videos has been treated or sweetened in any way – simply pulled from the camera by USB and posted straight to YouTube.  The video and audio could certainly be improved with a little effort.  You can also grab still photo frames from the video with the software that comes loaded on the camera.

Bottom line: absolutely simple to use, reasonably priced, hand-held.  Turn it on, hit the big, red button to record, hit it again to stop recording.  There are also play and delete buttons and a flip-out USB arm.  That’s it.  It’s not going to be confused with a proper video camera, as there are no settings whatsoever.  For basic and spontaneous video – insanely easy to capture and share – it can’t be beat.

Here it is plugged into a USB port on the side of my laptop:

Flip Ultra HD - Plugged into Laptop by USB

Prognostication: for a slightly more sophisticated user, Apple will probably fold a nicer HD video camera into the iTouch or iPhone.  These devices will make sharing HD video easier (wirelessly, directly from the device), but it will never be so simple to operate as the Flip.

Related: Cisco, which bought Flip, has been blogging about how the Flip belongs in every PR toolkit.

See a half dozen more videos from our first weekend with the Flip Ultra HD at:

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