Americans spend a lot of time in front of the TV. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, Americans spent about half of their leisure time watching TV, averaging about 2.8 hours per day. Since we spend so much time in front of the TV, it would be nice to improve the TV viewing experience so we can enjoy that viewing time even more.
The current trend is toward more content to watch and more ways to watch that content. It used to be easy to figure out what to watch on TV; you only had 3 channels and you chose the best of them to watch. But now you can truly customize your TV viewing experience to best suit your lifestyle and watch what you want when you want to watch it.
The first way that most people improved their TV viewing experience started in the 1980s with the arrival of VCRs and video rental stores. Of course, VHS tapes have become obsolete, replaced by DVD and Blu-ray discs, bringing with them higher quality picture and sound. Today, services like Netflix and Redbox still exist, allowing you to watch a DVD or Blu-ray movie at home for a couple dollars. As trends evolve, the popularity of these rental services has been declining.
Most Americans have cable or satellite TV service, and many of them have DVR service from their cable or satellite company. Instead of sitting down on Tuesday evening at 8 PM to watch a show, you set the DVR to record all new episodes of your favorite show. You then choose the time that you want to watch the shows, fast-forwarding through the commercials. Many people record several episodes or an entire season of a show, then watch those episodes back-to-back on a weekend in one sitting, a process the Wall Street Journal calls “binge viewing”.
Of course, a DVR is not the only way to improve your TV viewing experience. Provided you have broadband internet service, there are other devices and technologies that help bring even more media content into your family room. These are roughly grouped into set-top boxes, connected TVs, and other devices.
Set-top boxes have been around for decades in various forms. The earliest set-top boxes were the cable and satellite boxes necessary for just watching those services. These have transformed into the current generation of boxes that include DVRs, and now wireless connectivity, such as the boxes currently offered by AT&T U-verse. But there are many more set-top boxes available that offer many more services than just what the cable or satellite companies offer. These include over-the-top boxes like Blu-ray players, Apple TV, Roku, Google TV, and others. Each of these set-top boxes connects to the internet to bring more content to your TV. For example, the Apple TV allows you to watch movies purchased through iTunes, and the Roku lets you watch videos from Netflix and Hulu Plus. Many of the video game consoles, such as the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3, would also fit into this category.
The next newest category is the connected TV (also called smart TV). This is really the combination of a traditional TV and a set-top box, all built into one unit. Most of the major TV manufacturers have some connected TV models in their line-ups, including Sony, Samsung, Toshiba, LG, and others. Instead of changing inputs on your TV, then switching remotes to control a set-top box, you do everything with the TV remote and access additional content through apps installed on the TV. Most TVs have Netflix built in, with a large library of other apps that you can install on your TV to watch other content.
The last category is everything else. The most popular devices in this category are smartphones, such as the Apple iPhone, and tablets, such as the Apple iPad. There are various apps that can be installed on these devices to allow watching video content on the go. For example, you can purchase movies from iTunes (for Apple devices) or Google Play (for Android devices) and load them on the phone or tablet for later viewing. There are also apps like Hulu Plus and HBO GO that let you stream videos on-demand from those services. Even the cable and satellite companies are now providing apps for smartphones and tablets, allowing you to watch their service on your mobile device. For example, Time Warner Cable has an iPhone and iPad app that lets you watch live TV anywhere in the house, set your DVR from anywhere, and browse the program guide.
Deciding which TV viewing method is best for you is not a simple task. Thankfully, the online services are available on a computer, so you can check them out and determine which service best suits your viewing habits. If you watch a lot of Netflix streaming video, then most of the set-top boxes and connected TVs will work for you. If you watch a lot of Hulu Plus, then your selection of boxes and TVs will be smaller. And if you are a baseball fan and want the MLB.TV app, then your selection will be even smaller still. Cost must also be taken into consideration when choosing a set-top box or connected TV; you can buy a Roku for as little as $50, or spend hundreds or thousands of dollars on a new connected TV. Again, it comes down to what’s best for you and your viewing habits.
What have you done to improve your TV viewing experience? Please share in the comments below.