rethinking my TV

I come home from work, I flop on the couch, and I grab the remote, and I start surfing. Nothing captures my attention for more than a few minutes. I watch a little, a commercial comes, I surf on. There’s nothing I really want to see. But I keep channel-flipping.

And I hate it. I’m not a disciplined person, and I hate having that box in the house, because it’s so tempting to flop on the couch and just watch. I waste so much time that way. It’s a primary source of self-loathing.

I’d like to be more active in my community. I’d like to read more and pursue more interesting technology. I’d like to spend more of my time in a useful way.

I’ve lived TV-free, and I liked it. But there are things on TV I want to see. Not that many things, and I want to be disciplined with my time. But I do enjoy The Sopranos occasionally. And I like Angel, though the series is ending.

If you could design a home entertainment system around your values and intended lifestyle, what would it look like? How could you build it out of commercially available parts?

I want a TV interface designed around the way I want to live. An intentional entertainment source, not a festering distractiion. Here are some ideas:

  • no receiver. Get a DVD player, get a monitor, and watch only DVDs. No antenna, no cable. Get news from NPR and the Net, the way I do now anyway. Only watch things I’m willing to pay to see.
    The pay-as-you go plan creates a nice artiificial scarcity. I would have to spend the money and the time to get the DVDs, so I’d need to be motivated. I’d be less inclined to waste time watching things I don’t care about seeing. This could dovetail nicely with services like Netflix.

    The minus is, this solution does not give me all the shows I want to see. I could get some of my favorite shows on DVD, but I couldn’t get some of the best up-to-date shows this way, like the Daily Show, and I couldn’t get sporting events, though the ones I really want to see are few and far between.

  • A PVR without the “channel” abstraction. That is, TV not organized into streams of video content that you can move through sequentially. Only recorded shows, no live viewing. No surfing, only a database of upcoming shows, with times and short descriptions. This makes finding new shows more of an intentional act. You would still see ads for other shows, but you wouldn’t get caught up in something you didn’t intend to see in the first place. Could be an interesting open-source project.
    The minus is, you can still watch enough content to eat arbitrary amounts of your time. It deals with an important source of distraction, but not the volume.
  • A PVR without “Season Pass” functionality. There are some of these available. You can record as much as you want, but the PVR can’t automatically accumulate episodes of a particular show for you. This could give you more control of the level of distraction.
    My experience with my roommate’s TiVos is that you get this huge backlog of stuff you do want to see, and you can blow a whole afternoon easily. But if I didn’t get around to seeing it for a while, how badly did I want to see it in the first place? Procrastination can betray my true priorities.

    The minus is, you can still watch enough content to eat arbitrary amounts of your time, just by acquiring bad habits. And some shows have excellent hooks to keep you watching: Alias comes to mind. It helps with the volume of distraction, but it doesn’t deal with it effectively.

  • Video from the Net. The current solutions are not too bad. If you want to download over a broadband connection, store and display on your TV, there are a number of systems out there. The user interfaces for finding and browsing Internet video content from a couch are not yet mature, but that’s not a bad thing.
    Some resources are streaming-oriented, and they seem less convenient for home-theater watching. The Daily Show is an example, the website has streams embedded in the web page. How am I supposed to go full screen with that? I don’t want to watch TV at my desk.

Anyway, I don’t have it sorted out completely. I’ll probably go wiith the monitor/DVD thing at first, and if there’s enough interest in a limited PVR, and I have time, I might pursue an open-source project, perhaps a fork of Freevo or MythTV.

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One comment

  1. i’ve always thought there should be some sort of human-powered tv w/ a stationary bike or treadmill so you could only watch what you powered. and if you didn’t feel like moving while watching? you’d have to bank the energy ahead of time.

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