Adrienne Maxwell Tag

Three Shows I’m Glad I Couldn’t Binge-Watch

binge-watching

My name is Adrienne, and I’ve done my fair share of binge-watching over the past couple of years. I say that upfront so you know that I’m not opposed to the idea of sitting down and taking in the entire new season of a show over the course of a few nights or weeks. I’ve done it a lot. Stranger Things. 13 Reasons Why. Grace & Frankie. The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. Mozart in the Jungle.

 

And yet, I can’t help but wonder if the ability to binge-watch certain shows doesn’t restrict their potential to become true cultural phenomena. Shows like Grace & Frankie are perfect for binging: They’re light, they’re fun, and they’re easily digestible. But consider a show like Stranger Things. Yes, Netflix subscribers loved the show’s first season when it dropped, and it instantly became something people were talking about. A lot of people. But the talk didn’t really last that long. After a short spell, everybody had seen the whole season, and there wasn’t much left to talk about. The same thing happened when Season Two was released.

 

As big a hit as Stranger Things has been for Netflix, imagine how much bigger the show might have become had it been a serial show on ABC, NBC, or HBO. What if we had been asked to wait a week between each new episode, forced to spend that time trying to digest every little minute detail of what we saw. And talk about it. And theorize about it. And write fan blogs about it.

 

Even when people are talking about a hot show like Stranger Things or 13 Reasons Why (another one that everyone I knew seemed to be talking about for a brief time), the cultural effect is diluted by the fact that they’re not all talking about the same stuff at the same time. Everyone’s watching different episodes, having different reactions. There’s no, “OMG, can you believe what JUST happened?”

 

I quit watching Scandal a few years back, yet I couldn’t help but tune in to Twitter during the series finale that aired last week. It was fun to read people’s passionate responses in real time as the show was still going on. Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu bring a lot of great stuff to the table, but they can’t bring that shared, in-the-moment experience that truly ingrains a show in the public consciousness.

 

There’s just something to be said for making people wait. It can escalate a show from love to obsession. Just ask Game of Thrones and This Is Us fans.

As I ponder the binge-watching question, I can’t help but think of the three shows in my adult life with which I was truly and deeply obsessed: The X-Files, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Lost. I’m glad I wasn’t able to binge-watch these shows because I’m not sure my passion would have had the space it needed to grow. Oh, the hours wasted in between episodes, pondering plot points and character developments—especially with The X-Files and Lost, which are the exact kinds of shows that lend themselves to this type of passionate dissection.

 

Lost fans, probably more than any others, understand being caught up in the cultural obsession. If you watched the show when it originally ran, you no doubt remember the games ABC used to play in airing episodes. A few new ones, then several weeks of repeats. Extended off-seasons after yet another blow-your-mind cliffhanger. It drove us nuts—and drove our obsession. It felt like they were on that island forever, and we were stuck right there with them. I remember, the day after each new episode, hurrying over to Entertainment Weekly to read Jeff Jensen’s great fan blog and absorb his analysis of plot points, symbolism, etc.—then spending the rest of the week pondering what it all could mean.

 

Now, when I reflect on those shows, I can’t separate the show from the obsession that surrounded it. It’s all wrapped together in one loving package that takes me back to a specific time in my life. I just don’t see me ever having that same level of engagement for a show I can consume, in total seclusion, over the course of a weekend.

—Adrienne Maxwell

Adrienne Maxwell has been writing about the home theater industry for longer
than she’s willing to admit. She is currently the managing editor and video specialist
at HomeTheaterReview.com. Adrienne lives in Colorado, where she spends far too
much time looking at the Rockies and not nearly enough time being in them.

My Favorite Cover Songs Are All By Ingrid Michaelson

The ball’s in my court, I suppose. A few weeks back, Ash shared some of her favorite cover songs and challenged the rest of the Roundtable to do the same. While I was hemming and hawing and trying to think of more than one cover that I truly loved, Adrienne beat me to the punch with a followup.

 

Why has it taken so long for me to do the same? Because I have rules for cover songs that are nearly impossible to abide by. For me, a good cover song absolutely must sound nothing like the original. It must force me to reinterpret my relationship with the original. It must be a product of its time, not just a nostalgic romp down memory lane. It must, in other words, be like Hendrix’s cover of Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower.”

 

I realized a thing last night, though, as I put my iPhone on shuffle and let it play to drown out the memory of a pretty rough day. In constructing those rules, I forgot that my favorite cover songs absolutely violate them in the most blatant ways possible. But then again, in violating those rules, they uphold my Number One rule of music: Ingrid Michaelson can do no wrong.

Take Ingrid’s cover of “Skinny Love” by Bon Iver, for instance. She isn’t really doing anything inventive with the arrangement, aside from trading guitar for her trademark ukulele. She isn’t changing the intent of the song. She isn’t putting anything resembling her own spin on it. Instead, she’s holding church, worshiping a song she loves and asking the audience to worship along.

 

Much the same could be said of her take on “Over the Rainbow,” one of the most covered songs of all time. Yes, she plays with the tempo a little, as well as the cadence of the song. But if anything, Ingrid seems to be reacting to the numerous reinterpretations of the song throughout the decades. To me, she seems to be saying, Hey, cut the crap with your theatrics and your melismatic wankery. This is a song of mournful but hopeful longing, of being trapped in a dreary world and dreaming of a better place. It’s definitely the most vulnerable version of “Over the Rainbow” recorded since 1939, and that’s exactly as it should be.

You could argue the Ingrid’s riff on Radiohead’s “Creep” takes the song to new places, but with her quiet, stripped-down cover of the song, she gets right to the heart of the self-doubt and hesitation imbedded in its lyrics. There is, of course, the fact that having said lyrics delivered by a woman instead of a man drastically changes the gender-political implications of “Creep,” and yes, that does make it fascinating on one level. But I’m not sure that was the intent here. I get the sense that this is merely Ingrid’s honest and open interpretation of what the words mean to her and how she relates to them, gender be damned.

 

As for her cover of “Can’t Help Falling in Love,” what can I say, really, that I haven’t said already? Before my momma died, she once opined that anyone with the temerity to cover Elvis should be beaten half to death with a wet piece of cardboard. I’d like this think this one would have changed her mind.

Dennis Burger

Dennis Burger is an avid Star Wars scholar, Tolkien fanatic, and Corvette enthusiast
who somehow also manages to find time for technological passions including
high-end audio, home automation, and video gaming. He lives in the armpit of
Alabama with his wife Bethany and their four-legged child Bruno, a 75-pound
American Staffordshire Terrier who thinks he’s a Pomeranian.

My Favorite Cover Songs

OK, Ashley, you asked for it. In a recent post, you shared some of your favorite cover songs and asked the rest of us to do the same. Open the flood gates.

 

Like Ashley, I’m going to begin with a Tears for Fears cover. Michael Andrews and Gary Jules’s cover of “Mad World” might be my favorite cover song of all time, and that’s saying something. A stark and haunting combination of vocal and piano, their version drives home the song’s dark core for me in a way that the original’s ’80s synth-pop sound just can’t match.

I know some people will never forgive me for what I’m about to say, but I believe that Bob Dylan songs are always better when someone else sings them. Here are two examples from my own collection. First, I adore Cassandra Wilson’s version of “Shelter from the Storm,” one of my favorite Dylan tunes. If Wilson’s rich, silky alto doesn’t create a sense of shelter, I don’t know what will.

 

And then there’s this nice slow-jam cover of “Just Like a Woman” by Gov’t Mule, Gregg Allman & Friends. I could

listen to it all day. On a side note, I always thought the lyric was, “She tastes just like a woman” (hey, the next line is, “She makes love just like a woman,” so it made sense to me). Then I learned that the line is, “She takes just like a woman,” which changes the tone entirely. I sense a topic for a later post: Songs you loved until you learned the correct lyrics.

Next up is William Shatner’s cover of Pulp’s “Common People.” That’s right, I said William Shatner. You got a problem with that? Shatner’s 2004 album Has Been was produced by Ben Folds, and the best decision he made was to bring in Joe Jackson to provide the backing vocals on “Common People.” Jackson lends just the right amount of British contempt to complement Shatner’s American disdain. Pulp’s original song is really catchy and makes you want to bounce. Shatner’s version makes you want to punch someone in the face—but, you know, in a good way.

I know it’s April, but I can’t talk about my favorite covers without mentioning U2’s version of Greg Lakes’s “I Believe in Father Christmas,” which the band released a few years ago to raise money for RED. The original is surely a classic, but there’s something about the quieter U2 version—The Edge’s classic weeping guitar sound combined with Bono’s characteristic wail in the “I wish you a hopeful Christmas” line—that makes me weepy every time I hear it.

Speaking of getting all weepy, my last pick is Peter Gabriel’s remake of “The Book of Love” by The Magnetic Fields. It appeared in the remake of the film Shall We Dance?, and Scrubs fans will mostly certainly remember it from the finale. Gabriel’s vocals and orchestration give the song a sweetness and sentimentality that pulls at the heart strings, but the almost Bowie-esque quality of the original is fantastic, too.

 

I could name a bunch more, but I think it’s time for someone else to grab the ball and run with it.

—Adrienne Maxwell

Adrienne Maxwell has been writing about the home theater industry for longer
than she’s willing to admit. She is currently the managing editor and video specialist
at HomeTheaterReview.com. Adrienne lives in Colorado, where she spends far too
much time looking at the Rockies and not nearly enough time being in them.

OK, iTunes: It’s Not Me, It’s You

I gotta say, I’m starting to feel a lot like that dude in the recent Samsung Galaxy commercial—the one who’s been an Apple fanboy from Day One yet finally decides to make the switch to a Galaxy smartphone. Only, in my case, I don’t necessarily want to break up with my iPhone—I just want to break up with iTunes.

 

Almost every computer I’ve owned over the past 20-plus years has been a Mac. I do own one Lenovo PC laptop that I only use when measuring/calibrating display devices and checking any PC-centric things that might pop up when conducting AV reviews. But for the vast majority of my computer operations, I use and love my MacBook Pro.

 

Since its release in 2001, iTunes has been my music-management software of choice. I’ve ripped a lot of CDs using that software program. (Of course, I can’t do that anymore unless I want to buy an external disc drive—my one beef with newer MacBooks.) I’ve also bought a lot of music through the iTunes Store and still own a lot older, copy-protected AAC files. And ever since the day I purchased my first iPhone (the only smartphone brand I’ve ever owned), I have synced all that iTunes music between phone and computer.

 

These days, my iPhone is my primary music source. I use it in my car. I use it on my walks. I use it at home, streaming music via AirPlay to my Onkyo AV receiver and, more frequently, to a couple of excellent Oppo Sonica tabletop speakers. (Farewell, Oppo—I’m gonna miss you!) And you know the one thing I demand from my primary music source? That it works the way it’s supposed to, without hassle or complication.

 

For years, as colleagues touted the benefits of other music-management software, I’ve remained loyal to iTunes. Maybe it’s laziness. Maybe it’s fear of change. Or maybe it’s because for so long the syncing process between my Mac and iPhone was too seamless for me to abandon it. I didn’t want to mess with a system that just worked.

Then Apple went and messed with it. Again . . . and again . . . and again. Each version seemingly getting worse than the one before it. I blame the Cloud. The woes all began with the arrival of iCloud and the music-matching nightmares that go along with it.

 

So many things I would have done, but clouds got in the way . . .

iTunes

There was a time when I could add a song to a playlist on my iPhone, and, when I synced with iTunes, it would just add the song to the same playlist on my Mac. I know this happened. I remember. Now, when I do this, I end up with two versions of that playlist on my phone: One with the song and one without the song. 

 

Then there are the times when I’ve synced my phone and computer and, for no reason I can explain, several playlists are completely empty on both devices. Just . . . empty.  Songs are suddenly grayed out and need to be downloaded again from the cloud. I regularly have to tell the iPhone to “trust” my computer again, even though these two devices have known each other for years.

 

Always something breaking us in two . . .

 

I think my favorite is when, out of the blue, I start getting messages that I can’t sync my iPhone because there isn’t enough space. (I assure you, there’s enough space.) I try various suggested fixes and ultimately have to restore my phone—that’s right, completely wipe it and reboot—to get the two devices to sync.

 

Maybe there are simple explanations for these problems. Maybe there are quick fixes I haven’t been able to find. Maybe it really is me after all. Maybe my older operating system just ain’t compatible with the newest version of iTunes.

 

The fact remains that I’ve officially reached the end of a very long and generous rope. My frustration now outweighs my laziness and fear of change. It’s time to find myself a new music manager.

 

Been down one time, been down two times, I’m never going back again.

 

Suggestions are welcome.

Adrienne Maxwell

Adrienne Maxwell has been writing about the home theater industry for longer
than she’s willing to admit. She is currently the managing editor and video specialist
at HomeTheaterReview.com. Adrienne lives in Colorado, where she spends far too
much time looking at the Rockies and not nearly enough time being in them.

How the XBox Became My Favorite Video Player

Xbox One X

I just finished reading Dennis Burger’s ode to his Roku Ultra, and it inspired me to write one of my own—to my Xbox One X gaming console, which has positioned itself as the preferred video playback device in my everyday home entertainment system.

 

I reviewed the Xbox One X for HomeTheaterReview.com a few months back. As I stressed in that review, I’m not a gamer by any stretch of the imagination, but I have reviewed my fair share of Ultra HD Blu-ray players, as well as many generations of streaming media players from Roku, Apple, Amazon, and Nvidia. My approach to the Xbox review was to answer this question: Does this gaming console succeed as a complete all-in-one media player? Spoiler alert if you haven’t read the review: It does.

 

What’s my proof? Well, four months later, the Xbox One X remains the sole set-top box connected to my living-room TV, while an Apple TV 4K, Roku 4, and Amazon Fire TV sit idle in a box in my office/test studio. Sure, I’ll pull one of those players out when I’m reviewing a TV or projector, along with my Oppo UDP-103 Ultra HD Blu-ray player.

 

But the player I choose to use on an everyday basis is the Xbox. Why? Because it really does give me everything I want in one box, with one common user experience.

 

First of all, the Xbox One X is the only gaming console to sport an Ultra HD Blu-ray player, so I can pop in UHD Blu-ray discs when I want the highest-quality video experience. I use a Polk MagniFi Mini soundbar in this everyday space—but if I had a surround sound/Atmos system here, the Xbox One X could accommodate it, too. I can also pop CDs into the disc drive . . . and only listen to them halfway through.

 

Second, the Microsoft Store includes all the streaming apps my kiddo and I use on a regular basis. That includes Netflix, Prime Video, Sling TV, Vudu, Tablo, PBS Kids, YouTube, and Pandora. Here I will confess that I do miss the convenience of voice search offered by Roku, Amazon, and Apple . . . but apparently not enough to make a switch.

 

As a cord cutter, I no longer have a cable or satellite set-top box. If I did, though, I could pass it through the Xbox’s HDMI input and unite that source into the user experience as well.

Xbox One X

And then there are the games. Over the years, the kiddo and I have casually enjoyed the simple, family-friendly games that are available through platforms like Fire TV and Apple TV—such as Crossy Road, Pacman 256, and Hill Climb Racing. But now my daughter’s eyes have been opened to a glorious new world filled with Minecraft, Super Lucky’s Tale, Star Wars Battlefront, and Rush: A Disney Pixar Adventure—and I’m afraid there ain’t no going back to Minion Rush.

 

As I said in my original review, if you look at each of the above categories individually—UHD Blu-ray player, streaming media player, or music player—of course you’ll find better performers. Products that deliver a higher level of AV performance or a better user interface. But the Xbox One X does it all quite well, and for me the convenience of being able to jump from a game like Minecraft to a streaming source like Netflix to live TV through Tablo and then to Planet Earth II on UHD Blu-ray—without having to switch inputs or remotes—is just too darn enticing to pass up.

Adrienne Maxwell

Adrienne Maxwell has been writing about the home theater industry for longer
than she’s willing to admit. She is currently the managing editor and video specialist
at HomeTheaterReview.com. Adrienne lives in Colorado, where she spends far too
much time looking at the Rockies and not nearly enough time being in them.

An Ode to My Roku Ultra

Roku Ultra

In her latest missive in our ongoing back-and-forth about media rooms—how to define them, how to design them, how to get the most out of them—Adrienne Maxwell made a point I want to make sure doesn’t get overlooked. In her discussion of sources that support High Dynamic Range, Ultra High Definition video, she points out that streaming media players like Roku are a great way to bring some truly great video content into your media room without breaking the bank.

 

Nothing could be truer. But I hope readers don’t mistakenly think Adrienne is positioning the Roku Ultra (or new Apple TV, or the Nvidia Shield—take your pick) as merely the low rung on the ladder of AV bliss.

 

Sure, if pixel-perfect presentation is the only criterion we’re talking about, my Roku Ultra fits into the “better” box of the good/better/best hierarchy in my own media room, with my satellite receiver holding down the “good enough” fort and my Oppo Ultra HD audiophile disc player currently sitting at the top of the hill.

 

But are perfect pixels the only thing I care about? When I’m watching Blade Runner 2049, absolutely. I’ll accept no less than perfection. At times like that, only a shiny silver disc will do. But what about the nightly news program I stream via YouTube? Or my weekly fix of The Star Wars Show? Honestly, nearly every box connected to my home theater system will stream those programs just fine. But none do so nearly as well as my Roku Ultra, with its instant-on accessibility and its ridiculously intuitive user interface.

 

All of the bonus features for The Last Jedi I recently reviewed? I didn’t plop in the bonus Blu-ray disc. I redeemed the digital code and streamed them via my Roku. It loads faster and is easier to navigate. When my mother-in-law visited last week and wanted to catch up on This is Us? I didn’t slog through the OnDemand menus from my satellite provider and wait for each episode to buffer. I turned to my Roku Ultra and asked it which streaming service had past episodes available for free.

 

If I won the lottery tomorrow and had the opportunity to build the home theater of my dreams, I can assure you, without question, that my first purchase would be a Kaleidescape Premiere System with banks of servers to store my massive movie collection. But I can also guarantee you this: Alongside those racks of hard drives—out of view, perhaps, but never out of mind—there would still be a space reserved for my lowly Roku Ultra.

 

Because other source components may outclass it, but nothing can replace it.

Dennis Burger

Dennis Burger is an avid Star Wars scholar, Tolkien fanatic, and Corvette enthusiast
who somehow also manages to find time for technological passions including
high-end audio, home automation, and video gaming. He lives in the armpit of
Alabama with his wife Bethany and their four-legged child Bruno, a 75-pound
American Staffordshire Terrier who thinks he’s a Pomeranian.

What are the Media Room Essentials?

media rooms

Continuing our conversation about media rooms, I’m going to run with Dennis Burger’s initial premise that, for a room to qualify as a media room, some thought and effort have to go into creating the highest quality AV experience your space and budget will allow. Simply plopping a 55-inch HDTV, cheap soundbar, and set-top box on a TV stand in your family room doesn’t magically transform the space into a media room.

 

I contend that a high-quality media room system does two things: It offers great AV performance and it embraces the advanced technologies of the day. The beauty is, in today’s AV landscape, you don’t necessarily have to spend a fortune to get both of these things.

 

Here’s what I consider to be the core elements of a modern media room system:

 

A Large-Screen UHD Display

Just like in a dedicated home theater, a media room needs a large screen that draws you in and allows you to feel truly immersed in the source content, be it a movie, TV show, or game. The display should be the focus of your eye (at least when the system is turned on), and the room’s seating and layout should reinforce that principle.

 

What constitutes a large screen? It kind of depends on your room and how far the display is from the seating area. I’d say the screen needs to be at least 65 inches in a smaller room and 75 inches or more in a larger room. At these screen sizes, 4K resolution on its own isn’t crucial, but the other aspects of Ultra HD—namely, High Dynamic Range and expanded color—represent the best of what the video world has to offer right now. Once you see high-quality HDR content on a high-performance TV like an OLED, you won’t want to go back to standard dynamic range.

 

A word of warning: This is one area where you may get what you pay for. Lots of budget LED/LCD TVs support HDR but don’t deliver the level of contrast needed to fully exploit it. You really need an OLED or a good LED/LCD TV with a full-array backlight and local dimming technology to make the most of HDR.

 

An Ultra HD Source

You can’t enjoy HDR if your sources don’t support it, and it’s not difficult or even terribly expensive to upgrade to UHD-friendly source devices. Pretty much every new UHD TV is also a smart TV with UHD-capable streaming sources like Netflix, Amazon Video, and Vudu built right in. The newest streaming boxes from Roku, Apple, Amazon, and NVIDIA support HDR and are priced under $200 (some of them are priced way under that).

 

For those who have more to spend, it’s tough to beat the user experience of a Kaleidescape 4K movie server. And the company’s Movie Store offers 4K downloads that match the AV specs for Ultra HD Blu-ray.

 

We’ve also reached the point where every major Blu-ray player manufacturer now offers at least one Ultra HD model (if not more), and entry-level models are priced around $150. Many of these players also support hi-res audio playback via disc, USB, or streaming, so they can serve as a high-performance audio source, too.

 

Gamers can enjoy a complete 4K multimedia experience in one box, thanks to consoles like the Xbox One and Playstation 4 that support 4K/HDR gaming and streaming video. The Xbox One even adds an Ultra HD Blu-ray player.

 

Surround Sound

Just as the big screen will immerse you visually in the source, surround sound is a must for creating that “you are there” experience. If you hate the idea of running wires across the room, there are now plenty of creative ways to incorporate wireless surrounds. A 5.1-channel system is the minimum, but I’ll take it a step further and suggest that your system at least needs to be upgradeable to support 3D formats like Dolby Atmos and DTS:X.

 

3D audio adds a height element to complete the soundstage, and you can get Atmos and DTS:X decoding in 7.2-channel receivers costing as little as $400. A 7.2-channel receiver only gives you two height channels, but it’s better than nothing. There’s no shortage of in-ceiling speakers at all price points that can serve as the height channels. But if your room can’t support overhead speakers, check out all the Atmos modules designed to sit atop your existing speakers and bounce sound off the ceiling. This path provides an easy and inexpensive way to upgrade your system as your budget allows.

 

A Unified Control Experience

Nobody wants to look at a pile of remotes on the coffee table, let alone have to use them all in order to launch media playback. A universal remote control is essential. Logitech’s Harmony brand still reigns supreme in the world of third-party universal remotes, and TV manufacturers like LG and Samsung have really upped their game in the control department, making it easer to control multiple sources with the TV remote and adding support for Alexa and Google Home voice control.

 

The wide range of smart lighting systems and window treatments makes it easier and cheaper than ever to add automation elements to your media system without having to invest in a full-fledged control system—although there’s no denying the appeal of a well-executed Control4 or Crestron setup, should you choose to go that route.

 

There you have it: My list of must-have components in a media room. Do you agree or disagree?

Adrienne Maxwell

Adrienne Maxwell has been writing about the home theater industry for longer
than she’s willing to admit. She is currently the managing editor and video specialist
at HomeTheaterReview.com. Adrienne lives in Colorado, where she spends far too
much time looking at the Rockies and not nearly enough time being in them.

My Next Guest Needs No Introduction

After saying goodbye to late-night TV in 2015, David Letterman returns to the interview chair in the new Netflix original series My Next Guest Needs No Introduction . . . with David Letterman. Gone are the Top Ten lists, stupid pet tricks, and cast of cohorts. The new show is just Dave and a guest, sitting on a stage in front of a live audience.

 

Maybe I shouldn’t have used the word “series” in that introduction because, for Netflix regulars, it might set up the expectation that there’s an entire season’s worth of episodes to binge on right now. After all, that is Netflix’ modus operandi with most of its original shows. Here, though, a new episode drops roughly once a month. The first one arrived on January 12 and featured a fellow by the name of Barak Obama. Since then, they’ve added interviews with George Clooney in February and Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai in March. Up next on April 13: Jay-Z.

 

Each episode is pre-recorded and runs about an hour. The format is an interesting hybrid. On the one hand, you’ve got the Charlie Rose/Tom Snyder approach of sitting with just one guest and getting a nice, meaty interview. Yet the decision to add a live audience gives it a warmer, livelier vibe that’s obviously better suited to Dave’s interview style.

 

Spliced in between the interview segments are video vignettes—called “curiosity-fueled excursions” in the show description—in which Dave visits various locations to explore something related to the interview. In the first episode, he takes a walk with Congressman John Lewis across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, and they discuss the Bloody Sunday march in 1965. You may recall the powerful images of President Obama and Lewis crossing that bridge together during the 50-year anniversary march in 2015.

 

In Episode Two, we meet Clooney’s parents and are introduced to an Iraqi refugee named Hazim Avdal, whom the family sponsors. He tells the story of his flight from persecution by ISIS.

My Next Guest

In Episode Three, Dave takes a tour of Oxford with Yousafzai and several of her fellow female students—who don’t necessarily “get” Dave and his sense of humor. (“They hate me,” he quips to the camera at one point, and he may be right.) If you don’t know Yousafzai’s story (and I did not), she is from Pakistan and has been an outspoken advocate for women’s rights, especially the right for girls to be educated. At the age of 15, she was shot in the head by the Taliban yet survived. Now, at the ripe old age of 20, she continues her activism while living and going to school in England.

 

I think you can tell from the above descriptions that, regardless of the guest, the show aims to dig deeper into important subjects of the day. I’ve found all the interviews to be really compelling, but one unexpected highlight is how much better we’re getting to know David Letterman as a human being with each passing episode.

 

Letterman has always been extremely private, and both Obama and Clooney try to turn the tables on him during their interviews, with limited success. But, just through the choice of guests, the extended conversations, and the vignettes, you start to see a fuller picture of this man who lived to entertain others for over 30 years and now, in his “retirement,” is free to explore some the issues that matter to his heart.

Adrienne Maxwell

Adrienne Maxwell has been writing about the home theater industry for longer
than she’s willing to admit. She is currently the managing editor and video specialist
at HomeTheaterReview.com. Adrienne lives in Colorado, where she spends far too
much time looking at the Rockies and not nearly enough time being in them.

Internet TV: Not Quite Ready for Primetime

Internet TV

Last week, I talked about my cord-cutting experience and how, after trying to go on-demand-only with Netflix and Amazon Prime Video for a couple months, I realized I still valued the live-TV experience. So I turned my attention to the new crop of Internet TV services: Sling TV, PlayStation Vue, DirecTV NOW, and YouTube TV. I’ve auditioned all four, and I’ve found that none of them hits the nail squarely on the head.

 

Sure, all four services have benefits that make them more desirable (at least to me) than a cable/satellite subscription. The starting price of most packages is under $40 per month, and there’s no equipment rental fee. If you’re already a cord-cutter, then you already own a streaming media device through which to use these services, so no equipment investment is required. Plus, the services are easy to access through mobile devices and Web browsers, so you can watch your content (most of it, anyhow) anywhere you wish.

 

Probably the biggest selling point, though, is that none of these services requires a long-term commitment. DirecTV, Dish Network, and (in my area) Comcast all want me to enter into a one- or two-year agreement to get any kind of a deal on their TV service. I’ve enjoyed long-term relationships with both DirecTV and Dish Network in the past, but I’m just not in a commitment kind of place at the moment. I want the freedom to play the field.

 

Despite all the benefits, something is missing. For me, a “complete” TV package consists of four things: The channels I want, the DVR functionality I need, a user interface I like, and the picture quality I demand. In some way, each service falls short.

 

Sling TV has the lowest starting price and the most flexibility to tailor a package to my wants, but it doesn’t offer any local channels in my area and charges an extra $5/month for DVR functionality—which, by the way, doesn’t work on a number of channels. Can you imagine your cable/satellite DVR just not working on ESPN?

 

YouTube TV offers all the local channels in a simple, one-size-fits-all package, plus a cloud DVR with unlimited storage. But I can’t manage recordings the way I like, and YouTube TV’s picture quality is the poorest of the group.

 

DirecTV NOW offers a whole lot of channel options and on-demand content, and the four major networks are now available in my area (but not all areas), yet the service’s cloud DVR function can’t seem to get out of the beta-testing phase.

 

Lastly, there’s PlayStation Vue, which also has a lot of channel options as you move up the price chain. ABC, CBS, and NBC are offered in my area, but not Fox. PS Vue has a lot of sports options and unlimited cloud DVR functionality, and it offers the best picture quality. But I’m not a big fan of the interface. In typical Sony fashion, the channel guide is laid out differently than every program guide on the planet, and it’s kind of laborious to move through the design.

 

The good news is, these services seem to be updated regularly—new channels get added, and the user experience gets tweaked. I’m confident we’ll eventually get to the point where Internet TV is indistinguishable from the current cable/satellite norm.

 

In the meantime, I’ve settled down with Sling TV, mated with a Tablo over-the-air network DVR to tune and record my local channels. We’ve got a pretty good thing going—but, I confess, there’s a new guy that’s caught my eye: Hulu with Live TV.

Adrienne Maxwell

Adrienne Maxwell has been writing about the home theater industry for longer
than she’s willing to admit. She is currently the managing editor and video specialist
at HomeTheaterReview.com. Adrienne lives in Colorado, where she spends far too
much time looking at the Rockies and not nearly enough time being in them.

The End of Appointment TV?

appointment TV

I cut the cord about a year and half ago. I bid adieu to Dish Network and tried to embrace a purely on-demand TV experience—via Netflix and Amazon Prime Video, specifically. It worked for a couple months. I watched a lot of movies and stand-up comedy specials. I binge-watched shows like Stranger Things, 13 Reasons Why, Grace and Frankie, and Mozart in the Jungle.

 

But something just didn’t feel right. The honeymoon quickly wore off, and I really missed the live-TV experience. I missed channel surfing. I missed primetime TV. And I especially missed sports. As a football fan, Saturdays and Sundays (and Mondays, Thursdays, and sometimes Fridays) just weren’t the same without live TV in the house. I mean, sports bars can be fun, but I don’t want to have to take up residence in one just to see all the games I’d like to see.

 

Eventually, I subscribed to an Internet TV service (Sling TV) and added an over-the-air DVR (Tablo) to get the local channels in my area. That combination has worked great for me—my TV viewing feels whole again. Yet I can’t help but wonder how much life this TV-viewing model has left.

 

Baby Boomers and Gen Xers like me were raised on the model of “appointment television.” Shows air at a certain time each week, during certain seasons of the year, and you either watch the new episodes live or record them. The rise of the VCR and especially the DVR, with its easy programming and robust storage capabilities, certainly altered appointment television—but didn’t kill it. Instead of adhering to specific appointment times, we became more like the cable guy: “I’ll watch The Big Bang Theory some time between the hours of 8:00 and 11:30 p.m.”

 

And that still holds true for me today. With the exception of sports and special events like the Oscars, I seldom watch anything live. It’s all recorded . . . but it’s also a safe bet that I’m gonna watch my favorite shows (This Is Us, Speechless, Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.) within a few hours of recording them. The cord may be cut, but the appointment mindset remains.

 

But what about those people who haven’t had “primetime” ingrained in their psyche since birth? We’re seeing the rise of an entire generation of cord-nevers—people who have never subscribed to a traditional pay-TV service. They watch what they want, when they want, how they want. They expect you to release the entire season of Stranger Things 2 at once so they can binge on it as they desire. They don’t watch reruns. They simply rewatch the really good stuff. I don’t think my nine-year-old has ever uttered the words, “Mom, what time does [insert favorite show of the moment] come on?”

 

For now, the rise of Internet TV services like Sling TV, PlayStation Vue, and YouTube TV shows there is still an audience for appointment TV, even amongst the cord-cutters. I just read a story from FierceCable.com that Internet TV providers gained 2.6 million customers in 2017, totaling about 4.6 million subscribers in all. But the story goes on to say that those numbers only represent about one-third of the people who have walked away from traditional pay-TV service since 2010. The other two-thirds have presumably gone on-demand only (or tuned out entirely).

 

It seems almost inevitable that on-demand will become the new normal, and live TV will become the bonus content. If you’re wondering how that might play out, look no further than Amazon’s deal with the NFL to stream Thursday Night Football to Prime customers this past season. It’s on-demand, with a hint of appointment TV thrown in for good measure.

 

—Adrienne Maxwell

Adrienne Maxwell has been writing about the home theater industry for longer
than she’s willing to admit. She is currently the managing editor and video specialist
at HomeTheaterReview.com. Adrienne lives in Colorado, where she spends far too
much time looking at the Rockies and not nearly enough time being in them.