Television lovers have never had it better. You donâ€™t have to stay glued anymore to the boob tube just to catch a favorite show. You donâ€™t even have to be home to watch.
A bumper crop of gadgets and services can grab, deliver and play back television programs and movies anytime or anywhere to give couch potatoes their fix. All you need is a high-speed Internet connection.
Never miss the game or a prime-time drama again. Find a movie to fit your mood of the moment without having to leave home.
A sampling of some of the latest offerings:
Itâ€™s like a video store crammed into a small black box. The machine serves as a gateway for the Vudu movie download service, which offers more than 5,000 movie titles to rent or own.
Thatâ€™s significantly more than some rival download services though it still pales next to Netflixâ€™s DVD mail-rental service. But movie buffs will like the convenience of being able to watch a film right away and directly on their TVs.
Vudu also has an intuitive navigation system and smart search features. Narrow your browsing, say, to action films that came out after 2003. Or preview a movie, then ask Vudu to find similar films.
The catalog ranges from old flicks to new releases that are available on DVD. Rentals of high-definition movies will soon join the mix.
The video quality will work with both standard- and high-definition TVs. The contoured remote control with a clickable scroll wheel cradles into your hand.
TiVo HD DVR
Satellite and cable TV operators offer digital video recorders, but for those willing to spend a bit extra, TiVo still has the easiest, most intuitive menus.
DVRs let users easily record television shows and pause live TV, and now TiVo has added Internet goodies, such as the ability to rent or buy videos directly from Amazon.comâ€™s Unbox download service.
This newest TiVo model sports two high-definition TV tuners so you can record two programs at once or record one while watching another live.
TiVo users also can transfer recorded TV shows to PCs or compatible video-playing handhelds, A 160-gigabyte hard drive stores up to 180 hours of standard-quality programming or 20 hours of HD content. A separate external hard drive can be used for extra storage.
Sling Media Slingbox SOLO
This trapezoid-shaped video-streaming gizmo lets you watch and control your television â€” from your cable or satellite box, or your DVR – on any broadband-connected Windows- or Mac-based computer anywhere in the world.
The Solo is a step up from the basic Slingbox AV by supporting high-definition content. But like the basic model, it supports only a single video source.
The higher-end Slingbox Pro can control up to four video inputs and has its own tuner. For an extra $29, Slingbox users can buy software that streams the video to Windows Mobile-, Palm- or Symbian-based smart phones.
If you donâ€™t have a wired Ethernet connection near your TV setup, a separate adapter can be used to access the computer network via Wi-Fi or a power line.
Beware: the Slingbox piggybacks your home system; if you change the channel from a remote location, someone watching TV at home will see the change, too.
Sony PlayStation 360 or Xbox 360
Confused about high-definition DVDs? The battle between the Blu-ray and HD DVD formats hasnâ€™t yet yielded a clear winner, so this holiday season, youâ€™ll still see â€œSpider-Man 3â€ only in Blu-ray or â€œThe Bourne Ultimatumâ€ in HD DVD.
If you donâ€™t want to end up with a useless piece of equipment but still want a taste of the crisp, clear pictures of HD, perhaps game consoles can be your answer. The PS3 has a built-in Blu-ray drive and is one of the most affordable Blu-ray players on the market, while an HD DVD player can be added onto the Xbox 360.
With the Xbox Live online service, you can use the console to buy TV downloads or rent standard â€” and high-definition movies.
The Xbox also can pull multimedia content from a Windows Media Center PC for playback. So if you land on the losing side of the format war, at least youâ€™ll be left with a powerful game console.
Price: PS3: $399-$499 Xbox 360: $349
Netgear Digital Entertainer HD EVA8000
This set-top box that acts as a bridge between your PC and TV is geared for the tech-savvy multimedia hound. It takes videos, music or photos from your PC and plays them on your TV.
It supports many video formats, so it can play YouTube Web videos or even BitTorrent downloads in the comfort of your living room. Video downloads from services that use Windows-based copy protections, such as Movielink or Amazon.com, work but the device wonâ€™t be able to play shows purchased from the online Apple iTunes Store.
This newest model supports high-definition video, and works with both older and newer model TVs.
Apple Inc. has been the butt of late night comedy jokes for continually miniaturizing its iPods and expanding their storage space.
In real life, iPods remain the best-selling portable media players for their ultra-sleek designs and ease-of-use. Those who want to have their music library and a hefty selection of videos while on-the-go can look to the iPod Classic, which has a 2.5-inch screen and now boasts up to 160 GB of storage, enough for 200 hours of video.
The battery can handle seven hours of video playback. If you prefer a larger wide-screen and Wi-Fi access, consider the iPod Touch with a 3.5-inch touch screen, though it costs more and holds at most 16 GB of data.
–Mary Wong, Associated Press Writer