Get Smart TV


I’m now sold on smart TV – in short, television sets that connect with the Internet to provide programming. It’s the future of television watching and programming delivery that is now rapidly arriving.

Before I go into what are for me its merits, indulge me in a bit of perspective. TV has come a long way in my lifetime. In my 1950s into early 1960s childhood in a small city in upstate New York, we at first had only two broadcast stations. One was a CBS network affiliate, the other an NBC station. Only later did we get an ABC station, which was quite the occasion.

Color television was also a rarity, a luxury item not found in my family home or that of many of my peers, with one exception. Cable TV was still in its infancy.

As a kid I was an avid TV watcher. But by my teens I’d kicked the habit, didn’t watch much in college (though I was during my senior year quite the pioneer in consumer video). It wasn’t until my late 30s that I became a regular TV watcher as an adult. And finally for a while a cable subscriber, until after too many times quickly channel surfing with the remote and finding nothing worth a damn to watch and let my account lapse.

TV for a number of years was simply how I watched movies on videocassette. Then came the show that prompted me to turn my cable account back on: “The Sopranos.” in 1999. At first a friend was taping it and would loan me the recordings; soon I was so hooked I needed to watch the latest episodes when they were, well, broadcast (though the word seems archaic in the case of cable shows).

I’ve written here about how the last 15-plus years have been a golden age of television programming. A while back I also raved about enjoying the Roku internet TV subscription service while house sitting for a friend who had it.

So when my last TV set died recently, I decided that it was time to step into the future with my next set: a 32-inch smart TV with built in Roku and 1080p high definition.

One of the best things about it? The set at the low-end of today’s technology cost me only a little over $200. And with it the cost of my Roku subscription and through that to also Netfklix, Hulu, HBO Now and Showtime Anytime is about half of what I’d been paying for cable TV and the premium channels. Sometimes progress really is progress and also helps make products and services more cost-effective.

But it wasn’t merely the cost that drew me into the latest TV technology. Services like Netflix are now doing original programming like, for example, the bone-chilling political thriller “House of Cards,” to name just one of many. I used to have to record some broadcast and cable shows I was watching on DVR to follow them. But if a new one came along and I wanted to get filled in on previous episodes, I was at the mercy of “on demand” cable offerings. Now I can likely find all the episodes and get caught up.

I can start watching a series, take a break, and come back later to where I was. I can binge watch a season of a show or even multiple seasons. I can always find a movie I want to watch, no matter how finicky my mood. And my love for documentaries is easily indulged.

The picture on my set is crisp and vivid. The audio is high quality even from the built-in speakers. Surfing around to see what I might want to watch is easier than ever.

Yes, I have my Luddite tendencies and tend to not push the envelope but rest comfortably in its middle when it comes to advancing technologies. But with smart TV I am now happily all in.

Populist Picks

TV Series: Better Call Saul – This prequel spinoff from the landmark Breaking Bad series has a formidable set of expectations to try to live up to by that alone. And its look at the early legal career of Saul Goodman, legal counsel for math teacher turned met cooker Walter White, does get off to a slow star. But stay tuned in. It gets really good and also wildly absurdist (yet in a way that feels like real life) by the end of season one. It’s also a tour-de-force character portrayal by Bob Odenkirk, rich with nuance and humanity, with Jonathan Banks as fellow Breaking Bad character Mike Ehrmantraut right up there with him. A true winner.

TV Series: Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt – Not exactly any kind of spinoff, but this new Netflix original series has its origins in both The Office and 30 Rock. Lead Ellie Kemper was, I always felt, under-utilized as receptionist Erin Hannon in the ensemble structure of The Office. She shines brilliantly as Schmidt, a young woman freed from a small cult in a Midwest bomb shelter who believed the world had all but ended into an enthusiastic New York City ingenue. It’s the same tried and true “naif meets modernity” dramatic vehicle as seen before in everything from Li’l Abner to Truffaut’s The Wild Child, but sharp and fresh, no doubt in part due to the brilliantly witty and keen dialogue I loved in 30 Rock that series producer Tina helps bring to this consistently funny and insightful show. Kudos are also deserved for having an oh-so-lovable flamingly gay and Black main character and quirky veteran actress Carol Kane in its key cast. Yep, another true winner after just one season.

Documentary Film: Compared to What: The Improbable Journey of Barney Frank – As I write this on the Super Tuesday that saw the vulgar, ignorant and entitled bully and pathological narcissist Donald Trump all but lock up the GOP nomination (if steamrolling momentum is any indication), I’m quite happy to say here’s a story with a glimmer of hope amidst the toxic gasses of our current democratic and electoral system. Frank was a masterful old-school political pro who made representative democracy work for his constituents and tried his best to do so as well for the nation at large during his more than three decades as a congressman. He’s also a potent symbol for the journey of gay American men and how the social and cultural status has progressed over the course of my lifetime. A man of integrity and purpose with chutzpah and a heart, one can’t help but love Frank after seeing his life recounted.

Rob Patterson is a music and entertainment writer in Austin, Texas. He edits Email

From The Progressive Populist, April 1, 2016

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