What I Want From a Home Theater PC/Digital Media Receiver

A few years ago I sat down to figure out how much I was paying in cable versus the amount of time I was using it. I found that I really only watched a handful of shows and could probably save money by buying the seasons. In other words I was a normal casual TV watcher. The next course of action was easy because for me it was a no brainer. I cut cable. I haven’t wanted to go back.

Today I use a PS3 to watch Netflix and Amazon while relaxing at home. On the go its Android devices to watch Google Play and Netflix. These are great services and, overall, I’m happy with the content they provide (though Netflix seems to go up and down in terms of stability..).

I just read about the newer BoxeeTV after hearing about it in some podcasts. I like it’s idea but, for me, it still isn’t what I really want out of an entertainment device. I like the idea it uses cloud storage because it should make it easier to stream the content to other devices as well (at least in theory). It’s nice on general functionality now, but I can’t see it as a long term solution. I still have two issue with the designs of Boxee and the like that keep me waiting to put down money on a dedicated HTPC/DMR.

When I want to watch something that I will be paying for I want to feel like the customer. I want to feel like I’m getting the best price for the item I’m purchasing. Simple concept. So far I’ve yet to see a device which makes me feel this way. Instead, I feel like I get access to one or more video services where I can pay their price if I choose to buy/rent/subscribe. Most of the time I know what I want to watch and what I really want the device to do is search across all the services I have accounts on for the best price. Am I a Netflix member and it’s there? Great! Take me there! Is it, $0.50 cheaper on Google Play than Amazon VOD? Let’s buy it from Google then. In the end I don’t much care who is providing the content so much that it’s legal, I am getting it at the best price and am able to access it when I want to watch it. As a bonus it would be nice to tell the difference between watching it because it’s in a subscription and owning a watch it forever license.

The other item is not something a HTPC/DMR company can really influence directly in my opnion. I believe that when I purchase a video online I’m actually purchasing a license to stream the content. Not all services are available on all devices (as I eluded to before with Amazon not being on my tablet). Why can’t I import my licenses from provider A to provider B? At the very least why can’t I do it if provider A changes its business to something else (or goes out of business)? The quick argument against license import/export would probably be about how a customer could move away to another service but, honestly, that wouldn’t be a major problem. In fact, it could be a benefit  Someone who moves  is likely moving over to make the other service the sole provider of their content due to price/convenience/access for their specific situation. This would mean future revenue from the person. The original seller wouldn’t lose the money already made by selling the license and would gain back bandwidth by not needing to stream the content to the user. The also consumer wins here as well as they can gain the best access and use the service(s) they wish to use at any time. It’s not remotely like this today and I’ve been burnt in the past by companies deciding to change direction and cut access to purchased content. For this reason I can’t see any of the devices (or services) today as a long term buy nor a replacement for buying a blue ray or dvd.

The closest option seems to be XMBC but it also seems to be more channel focused instead of content focused and the issues around future access still exist from the big players. Things do seem to be moving in the right directions but, for now buying content in a physical media format is the safest bet for watching later.

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