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Roku XDS Streaming Media Player – Why Your Cable Company Will Never Be the Same!

Cancel my cable please! Just saying it out loud feels good. For years I have predicted that the Internet was going to change the way that we watch our favorite television shows and movies. Of course until now, I wasn’t quite sure when or how this would happen. Keep reading if you want to find out how I am saving $1800 a year.

Being in the IT field, I am constantly asked about new products on the market. From iPhones, laptops, or the latest and greatest software applications, it’s a daily occurrence. This time it seems something has slipped “under the radar” and I wanted to tell everyone about it.

It all started in December of 2010 for me. My Mom was asking over and over “What do you want for Christmas?” Being a full-grown adult, this question didn’t excite me as it once did. So I asked her “What did my brothers ask for?” She says “Something called a Roku player.” So straight to Google I went, what in the world could this Roku thing be, I thought. As I read the product description I became more and more excited. It’s a tiny little box that hooks up to the TV that pulls media from the Internet. Sources that have television shows and movies, old and new, could play right on the big screen in my living room. Netflix, Hulu-Plus, WiFi, Ethernet, HDMI, 1080i! What more could a geek ask for? Best of all the Roku was less than $100. My decision was easy, and at the point I was eager to get that tiny little box in my hand.

Let me back up a little. For years I have been trying to figure out how I could cancel cable, yet still watch all the shows and movies that my family likes. With the economy the way it is, and the ever increasing cost of cable (Nearly $150 a month with DVR, pay-channels, etc). That may not be a lot to some of you, but I have two little girls and wife that need clothes and food! Not to mention storing the media. I have a box of VHS tapes that will never be used again. What is to come of DVDs and Blu-ray discs in the future? And who wants to handle them and place them in a machine and then put them back when there is a better way?!

Anyways, back to the topic at hand. Christmas comes and what do you know, there are 3 Roku’s under the tree. My brother Mike, myself, and Dad all had one to tinker with. Needless to say, we’re all hooked.

Setup:

After emptying the contents of the box, putting the batteries in the remote, there were only a couple of steps left. Oh, keep in mind, you’ll need an extra HDMI cable if you don’t already have one, if you want Hi-Definition, that is. Included in the box there is a Composite (RCA) cable, Optical (for sound), and HDMI. Simply connect the HDMI from the Roku to the back or side of your TV making a mental note of the input you chose. Now simply plug it in and you’re ready to roll. You will have to enter your wireless security settings, but if you know your wireless passphrase it shouldn’t take any longer than a minute or two. After that you basically just need to go to Netflix.com/roku and get an activation ID to enter into the Roku when prompted to do so.

If you don’t have a Netflix account you will want to go ahead and sign-up. I’m pretty sure they have a streaming only plan for $7.99 a month, or if you want to get new release DVDs or Blu-Ray’s in the mail, it’s $9.99. Hulu Plus is a must if you can’t live without your favorite television show; it’s only $7.99 a month as well. Personally Netflix has plenty of shows for my taste, the only real difference is Hulu broadcasts shows during their current season, while Netflix doesn’t air them until a season is complete.

Just a quick overview, because there are far too many channels and cool features to mention, Amazon.com has a video On-Demand channel to watch new releases, there’s a CNN Channel, one of my favorites is a UFC channel, you can actually watch live Pay-Per-View fights in HD for the same price you would normally pay through your cable provider.

If you’re like me and have tons of movies/pictures/music, be sure to get the Roku XDS with USB support. You can actually watch movies that you’ve downloaded, stream music, or do picture slideshows too. The list goes on-and-on, but the bottom line is, this is the best decision I have made in some time. Finally free from the greedy cable companies. In all honesty, in 5-10 years, I don’t think the cable/satellite companies will even exist. Certainly not in the fashion that they are running in today, not just from the Roku, but from the expansion of Internet based TV as a whole.

Even if you don’t cancel cable or Satellite TV completely, you can certainly cut back on paid movie channels and save a substantial amount.

16 Movies – A Perspective

Due to a a general lack of time, as well as various health issues, I’ve fallen more than a bit behind in my movie journals. In an effort to catch-up, I thought I’d combine my take on the last 16 films I saw in one quick effort…So here goes:

BROKEN EMBRACES – December 22, 2009 at The Royal theater in West L.A. – Pedro Almodovar’s latest film is part masterpiece, part head scratcher. Convoluted plot has something to do with a film director gone blind, and the exploration of his tragic past. I love a good complex plot, yet not when I get lost along the way. The ending is awful, and makes no sense. Yet, this is an Almodovar film…so you still get a compelling and interesting movie…even if it doesn’t all add up in the end. Perhaps I need to see it again…

HOW TO EAT FRIED WORMS (2006) – is a movie I watched on DVD December 27, 2009 with my nieces in while I was on vacation. I was asleep through most of it to be honest with you (blame it on the comfortable couch, jet lag, and lack of interest)…yet it seemed like a cute story of a new kid in school who is challenged by a bully to eat fried worms. In the end, the new kid triumphs, the bully gets his…and everyone is happy…at least I think that’s what happened.

ALVIN AND THE CHIPMUNKS: THE SQUEAKQUEL – December 28, 2009 at The Ramsey Cinema in Ramsey, NJ – another movie I watched with my nieces…and fell asleep a few times. From what I gathered, it was better than the original movie…Story involves the chipmunks saving the day from an evil manager (David Cross), who works with a female chipmunk group. Not much else I can recall…My attention was mostly focused on my nieces, who seemed to have enjoyed the movie…

IT’S COMPLICATED – January 3, 2010 at the AMC Century 15 – Nancy Meyers latest tale of wealthy adults with problems has its entertaining moments, yet overall rings false on all fonts. Some of it is just plain awful. How boring to say that “Meryl Streep is great” in the movie, yet she is, as is Alec Baldwin, yet Steve Martin is a bore, who adds nothing. Though better than her last movie THE HOLIDAY…IT’S COMPLICATED is still ridden with problems…and never approaching the quality of Nancy Meyers best films WHAT WOMEN WANT and SOMETHING’S GOTTA GIVE..

SHERLOCK HOLMES – January 3, 2010 at the Grauman’s Chinese Theater. I wanted to like Guy Ritchie’s take on the old Arthur Conan Doyle tale…yet I just didn’t. The plot is too complex for its own good…and I was often lost. Robert Downey Jr’s British accent is terrible, and often very hard to understand, and Rachel McAdams was simply miscast. Story involves Holmes battling an evil force (Mark Strong) terrorizing London. With the help of Watson (Jude Law), Holmes goes to extreme ends in order to uncover the truth and stop a diabolical plan. What should have been a great adventure film, ends up as a confusing, twisting, frustrating, and babbling set piece with not enough of everything…

DAYBREAKERS – January 15, 2010 at the AMC Broadway theater in Santa Monica. Great premise, lackuster movie. Story is set in a world taken over by vampires. Humans are a rare breed, and are hunted down for their blood. Ethan Hawke plays a scientist vampire who’s working on a “cure” to help all of the vampires in the world feed off of synthetic blood…When he encounters a group of renegade humans, his life is changed by their secret discovery. Lots of blood and such…yet the story, as presented by The Spierig brothers is clunky and dumb. The direction is cheap, and undermines the story as a whole…which is a shame. Why take a B-movie idea and make it as a D movie? That quandary, like the film, doesn’t make much sense…

THE BOOK OF ELI – January 16, 2010 at the Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. I was very impressed with this movie. The Hughes Brothers did an excellent job with Gary Whitta’s intriguing script. The score, Don Burgess’s dead-toned cinematography, and the overall feel of the movie added an extra depth to an otherwise depressing movie. Denzel Washington plays a mysterious loner who travels the plains of a post-apocalyptic world carrying a book that may help mankind. Blocking his way is evil Gary Oldman…who wants the book for his own ends, and will stop at nothing to get it. Aside from a miscast Mila Kunis, all of the performances in ELI are solid. Despite my initial misgivings over director and cast, I was pleasantly surprised at how good BOOK OF ELI is…

YOUTH IN REVOLT – January 17, 2010 at the Arclight Hollywood – Based on Gustin Nash’s excellent adaptation of C.D. Payne’s novel, YOUTH IN REVOLT is a highly enjoyable sex comedy. Helping matters is Miguel Arteta spiriited direction, which faithfully brings life to the story. Also helping matters is Michael Cera, a comic genius of sorts….who’s distinctive manner is so mischievously coy and desperately innocent that one can’t help but like him no matter what he does. Cera stars as a shy, yet precocious teenager who will do anything for love…even if that means stealing a car, setting fire to the town, lying, cheating, stealing, and even (attempting to) fake his own death. With a great supporting cast including Jean Smart, Fred Willard, Steve Buscemi, Ray Liotta and Justin Long, YOUTH IN REVOLT always entertains. Not a film for everyone, yet I liked it a lot…

LEGION – January 23, 2010 at the Arclight Hollywood – Another case where the film does not match the expectations of the premise. Paul Bettany plays a rogue angel who comes down to Earth in order to save mankind after God has marked man for annihilation. In a set-up similar to RIO BRAVO and ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13, the rogue angel sets up camp in a small diner (with a bunch of locals and a pregnant woman)…and defends himself against God’s army of evil angels. Apparently the key to the whole event rests in the life of the pregnant woman’s unborn child. If they can hold off the evil angels long enough…the baby will be born safely, and mankind may have a chance to survive. Though not a bad film,LEGION stifles itself in banal dialogue and a setting that seems too small in scale given the parameters of the story. The casting does not help matters…with Dennis Quaid and Lucas Black giving lackluster performances. That said, LEGION is fairly entertaining for what it is…

A SINGLE MAN – January 27, 2010 at The Landmark Theatre in West LA. – Didn’t particularly care for fashion designer Tom Ford directorial debut…an overwrought, over-stylized downer of film about a middle-aged man morning the loss of his dead gay lover. Colin Firth is terrific, I will say that…yet the rest of the film seemed to ramble on and on with its overstated take on loss. Julianne Moore plays a pathetic British drunk for some reason, and the rest of cast look like they just escaped from a copy of Men’s Vogue. What starts out as an interesting period piece and character study soon turns into a festival of the contrite and absurd…with an ending that is unintentionally laughable.

THE YOUNG VICTORIA – January 29, 2010 at the Laemmle Monica 4-Plex in Santa Monica – A good film, filled with plenty of interesting things to look at, think about, and discover. Emily Blunt plays the young Victoria, soon-to-be Queen of England with a strong combination of strength and vulnerability. Director Jean-Marc Vallee presents a story full of drama and romance…You could feel the pressure Victoria was under as everyone around her wanted their piece of the Royal pie. You root for her, as well as for her romance and marriage to Prince Albert (Rupert Friend). I found myself getting very involved in the story…and looked forward to each and every beat….enjoying the ride along the way. Supporting cast is stellar with Miranda Richardson, Mark Strong, Jim Broadbent, and Paul Bettany…If you like intriguing period costume dramas, with a snatch of romance…you’ll most likely enjoy THE YOUNG VICTORIA.

EDGE OF DARKNESS – January 30, 2010 at the Arclight Hollywood – A simple revenge story told in the most convoluted way possible. Why do filmmakers insist upon throwing so many plot points at you that you can’t possibly follow what’s going on? The story is simple enough, a Boston police officer (played by Mel Gibson) seeks revenge for the murder of his daughter. Yet along the way, he goes on a dark journey filled with scared informants and villains with gigantic black hats. Though entertaining at times, I found some of Mel Gibson’s actions highly questionable…and at other times, just plain stupid. Ray Winstone plays a cleaner of sorts for the corrupt end of our government…who’s motives are never quite known…and Danny Huston plays. what else?…the villain. Directed with gusto by Martin Campbell, EDGE OF DARKNESS succeeds as a compelling story, yet fails in the execution of it.

SUICIDE KINGS (1997) – January 30, 2010 – watched this one on DVD on my computer. A rather tepid film about a group of dumb young men from wealthy families who kidnap a mobster in order to use his connections to help recover the kidnapped sister of one of the men. Yet it isn’t long before things get out of hand, and mayhem ensues. Despite strong performances by Christopher Walken (as the mobster) and Dennis Leary, SUICIDE KINGS is a dud through and through. Director Peter O’Fallon (who happens to be the father of one of my co-workers) tries hard, yet can’t keep the silly story afloat long enough for you to care. Aside from being conceptually dumb, the film also fails because the actors in the story are so unlikable…each one portrays a different variation of jerk…making the on-screen interaction between them very dull. The ending doesn’t make any sense, yet neither does the entire film…

A TO ZEPPELIN (2004) – January 30, 2010 – Watched this on a free Netflix steam on my computer. Caught this Led Zeppelin documentary by way of curiosity, yet was pleased to find some interesting footage on there. There seem to be a 101 unauthorized Led Zeppelin documentaries out there…so at first I was hesitant to watch (what I thought would be) a poorly put-together ripp-off…Yet in the end, I was glad I took a look. Through good interviews with big players in the Zeppelin story, I was impressed with what I saw. For die-hard Zeppelin fans like myself…the interviews presented in A TO ZEPPELIN are worth their weight in gold…Chris Deja, Lori Maddox, Jim McCarty, Simon Kirke, Richard Cole, Pamela Des Barres, Terry Reid and more…I wouldn’t say I learned anything new…yet hearing the stories from some of the people who were there was fascinating…

HARRY AND WALTER GO TO NEW YORK (1976) – January 31, 2010 – Another movie I watched on my computer via Netflix stream. This was a movie my parents took me to when I was 7 or 8 years old. I always recalled scenes where they clink their glasses in a fancy restaurant…otherwise the movie is pretty bad. Under direction from Mark Rydell, James Caan and Elliott Gould do their best song and dance through a thin plot revolving around a bank robbery/revenge scheme by master thief Michael Caine. Caan and Gould are the bumbling idiot twins who always seem to get in trouble in the prison yard as well as the dining hall. Diane Keaton plays the bleeding-heart liberal/love interest who plans to use the robbery to help feed the poor. Charles Durning plays the gruff and corrupt bank manager Leslie Ann Warren plays the vapid stage actress. Burt Young plays the tough but accommodating prison warden, etc…Great cast, its a shame they didn’t have a great movie to match…

MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON (1939) – February 2, 2010 – Yet another movie I watched on my computer via Netflix stream. This was the first time I had seen Frank Capra’s classic tale of Washington politics and corruption, and I must say I was not impressed. Tale of a naive young senator forced into the limelight of the Washington political machine didn’t make too much sense to me. Jimmy Stewart, as the young Jefferson Smith, does a fine job….yet I never felt this character was a character at all…If anything, Jefferson Smith seemed to represent some sort of ideal…which is fine and all, yet where was the character?

Confusing matters is Smith’s relationship with his mentor/antagonist Senator Joseph Harrison Paine (played by Claude Rains)…a relationship sewn together by a very thin thread…ready to come apart at any second. I kept waiting for something great to happen, yet it never does. The love story is weak, and contrived…and the famous “filibuster scene” left me cold. The ending is laughably absurd, and very anticlimactic. Don’t get me wrong, I did not hate MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON…it’s just that my expectation were sky high, given its reputation as a classic and all….Who knows? Maybe, just maybe, this movie will fall into the category of Films That I Hate…Then Later Love…

How to Stream Video to Your iPad

The holidays have calmed down and you finally have some time to spend with your new iPad. Buying an iPad is easy, using it is another story. Streaming video to your iPad will open up a whole new world of media heaven and offer endless possibilities without clogging your hard drive. It is easy and I’ll tell you how to do it.

Watching video on your iPad can be one of the coolest functions of the gadget. Viewing media on the iPad has never been clearer but what if you have a big movie collection? Sure you can upload the movies to your iPad through iTunes but the limited space will clog your iPad hard drive quick. The solution is easy. Stream your movies from your computer to your iPad without having to download them and take him hard drive space.

There are a few different iPad apps that you can use to stream your media but the Stream ToMe app seems to be the most popular. Stream ToMe is not free but for $3 it is one of the best bargains when you consider what you get and the amount of hard drive space you will save for a few measly bucks.

Once you purchase Stream ToMe you need to then download the server companion, Serve ToMe (how cute right?). Once downloaded, open Serve ToMe. Select the folders you wish to share from your computer. Obviously your computer needs to be a network which is accessible through your iPad.

Now that Seve ToMe is open, launch Stream ToMe from your iPad. Find the computer which houses the hard drive you wish to share and tap it. Once in, search through the folders and find the media of your choice. Open it and enjoy.

Notice I didn’t mention music much at all here. That is because Stream ToMe is not a great music utility. Playing music in Stream ToMe can be a bit frustrating as the program stops after every song. You can’t play a playlist or multiple songs. If you want to hear one song, fine. If you want a jukebox, forget it. Streaming video on the other hand is not a problem since most movies are at least 90 minutes.

There are some limitations. Protected video from the iTunes Store won’t play on Stream ToMe. On the flip side, Stream ToMe offers playback on a ton of different video types including; MOV, FLV, MP4, AVI, MPG, MKV, and WMV.

For $3 you can’t beat it if you are looking to stream movies. If you are looking to stream music I’d recommend a different app like ZumoCast.