At Home with Tech

It’s time to maximize the potential of all your gadgets.

Tag: YouTube TV

How to Find the Perfect Date Night Movie to Stream

If you want to ensure the next movie night at home with your significant other is a success, here are four steps to proposing the right film after the kids have gone to sleep…

Parenthood… You fear you will never get out of the house to watch a movie again. Sure you can plan for a date night and schedule a babysitter. But if you’re having a bite to eat after the flick, you’ve usually got to pay attention to your watch to relieve the sitter by a certain time.
(And how relaxing is that?)

Date Night at Home
Catching a movie on your dormant TV monitor after the kids have drifted off is logistically so much easier. That said, my wife and I also don’t always find the time to do that either. Our boy goes to bed close to 8pm. Then, it’s time for our family schedule coordination, taking out the garbage, email catch up, and then sleep. I know this is not unusual, but I honestly don’t know where the ‘average’ family finds the time to consume hours of TV a day. The math just doesn’t add up.

My truth is… there’s usually just one opportunity a week for my wife and me to sit down on the couch for two hours and watch a film.

Saturday night.

And I want to be ready to offer a few movie choices if she doesn’t bring any ideas.

Mars and Venus at the Movies
I should admit that my wife and I fall into gender stereotyping when it comes to our movie preferences. Yes, I can sometimes cross over to watch a sad film that’s also winning all of the awards, but she usually isn’t into explosions and mayhem.
(There are, of course, numerous exceptions… We both recently enjoyed “Aquaman” and “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs” together.)

When it’s time to talk about watching a film at home, I focus on selecting my options with both of our interests in mind.
(Good comedies are always a solid choice.)

If you’re finding yourself in the same situation, here is my strategy to quickly identify the right flicks. It boils down to reviewing several movie streaming options and one process rule.

Here are the four steps I take…

Step 1 – YouTube TV
The odds of finding the perfect ‘live’ movie on cable just as you’re turning on your TV will never be in your favor. Your only real chance is to prerecord a film (I use YouTube TV’s cloud DVR) and offer it up as an option. But that takes some planning, just like we did in the old days of VCRs.

Step 2 – Netflix
Even though there are lots of great movies on Netflix, they are often difficult to find among all of the horrible options. Unless you’re good with the top 10-20 flicks that populate the main screen, you’re in trouble.

I’ve never successfully identified a movie spontaneously via Netflix for the two of us. And after trying that maneuver a few times with another pair of eyes growing weary, I’ve vowed not to fall into that Netflix trap again.

The only solution is to do your Netflix research in advance and put your movie choices in your ‘List.’
(Hearing a theme here?)

Step 3 – Amazon Video
I pay for Amazon Prime. So, it’s always worth checking Amazon Video to see what Prime movies are available for free. And of course, you can always pay for other movie options that don’t fall into the free bucket.

Again, as with Netflix, you should take a peek in advance before it’s movie time.

Step 4 – iTunes Movies App on Apple TV
If all else fails, I usually turn to the iTunes Store to access the pay-per-view model. Recent movies are all there, and I’ve got to admit that I’m usually more partial to catching up on must-see flicks we just missed in theatrical release. If you’re committed to this path, you’ve got a pretty good chance of finding ‘your’ movie in the moment.

Not every movie is available for rental, and you may not want to double down by actually buying the flick.

But here’s a thought…

If you’ve exhausted every other option, and you’re staring at the perfect movie option, should you spend the extra ten or fifteen bucks to buy a movie you may never watch again? It can make the difference between a great movie night or just turning off the TV in defeat.

There’s no right answer, and I’m the first to flinch at paying more for a movie when we’re already paying monthly for YouTube TV and Netflix. But you’ve also got to consider the value of preserving your movie night experience…

Instant Access Doesn’t Always Provide Obvious Choice
It’s ironic that the magic ingredient to finding the right choice for both you and your spouse is still doing your homework ahead of time. It’s not that much different an equation compared to the old Netflix model of DVDs in red envelopes, which forced you to do the same thing.

The evolution into instant access streaming seemed magical with almost every movie you could possibly want at your fingertips. But the reality became too much choice with the gems buried in a sea of digital mediocrity.

It just takes too much time to review this endless supply of possibility to find your front runners… Time that you don’t have when your movie-watching window opens up.

Don’t Lose Sight of Your Goal
Remember, you’re working with two brains. Different brains. You both sit down to dinner on the couch with remote in hand.

If it’s fifteen minutes later, and you haven’t agreed on a flick yet, and most of your meal is already gone… the odds of actually starting a movie go down exponentially.

The good news is you’ve always got your backup plan of throwing a little money at the problem. If you’re willing to pay for it, you can usually quickly find and watch a particular movie as long as it’s available.

WARNING: Don’t fall for the worse-case scenario of paying for a flick that’s also available on Netflix. (Guilty)

And the secret ingredient is almost always doing your research in advance.

Any other best practices out there?

Good luck.

Four Ways Technology Changed My Life this Year

I’m happy to report that my use of these tech devices has indeed improved my day-to-day life. Here’s why…

Technology is usually meant to make your life better. While it can often be more frustrating than anything else, I find that it does occasionally have a clearly positive impact.

Here are the four tech innovations that made a meaningful difference for me this year…

Apple Pay on My Apple Watch Replaced My Credit Card

I didn’t really feel the impact of Apple Pay when I had access to it on my iPhone. I still had to pull my iPhone out of my pocket… so the physical exercise was mostly the same as sliding a credit card out of my wallet.

Plus, I was still locked into the mindset of having to use my credit card and chipping/swapping it. The concept of contactless payments still felt foreign, and I just couldn’t get comfortable with it.

Then I tried Apple Pay with my new Apple Watch, and I finally experienced my ‘breakthrough.’

By simply double clicking the side of my Apple Watch to activate Apple Pay and then holding my wrist near the payment terminal to complete my payment… that simplicity and convenience really opened my eyes to the obvious benefit of Apple Pay.

It’s so fast. Plus, I don’t have to play roulette with the payment terminal to see if my credit card’s chip (or the payment terminal) is going to malfunction again.

GoPro Became My New Family Vacation Camera

My GoPro allowed me to finally go on vacation with my family and not stress over the possibility of destroying my camera if I tried to snap a photo.

I used to treat the beach like the landscape of a hostile foreign planet. The corrosive nature of salt water was clear and if nothing else , the salty, moist air would quickly cloud the lens. A tiny molecule of sand could fly by and wedge itself into the lens mechanism, immediately immobilizing it.

In short, the beach was a clear danger zone for my vacation photography.

But my new GoPro was essentially impervious to these threats.

  • Sand? HA!
  • Underwater? Now we’re talking!!
  • How about some slow motion video? Yes, please!

I should mention it’s a good idea to wash your GoPro with fresh water after a day of action at the beach.
(Dried salt moisture can seal the little watertight doors in place, making it difficult to pop the battery or memory card out.)

This year, I was finally able to capture some fun family shots at the beach and also have fun while doing it…

Thanks, GoPro!

I Generated Whole-House Wireless Internet Using Mesh WiFi

I lived for years with spotty WiFi in our house. The weakest WiFi signal was actually in our bedroom. That’s such a bummer, right?

I thought about extending the signal of my Apple Airport Extreme many times, but I was concerned about degrading my WiFi. So, I did nothing…

Until I read that Apple had exited the WiFi router business. And I finally decided to make a change…

I retired my Apple Airport Extreme.

And upgraded to a new WiFi mesh system:

My Orbi consists of a base unit, which essentially replaced my Apple Airport Extreme and a satellite device, which I placed in the center of my house. Together, the two devices successfully created a large enough WiFi bubble to reach all corners of our little house.

Suddenly, whole-house WiFi became the standard throughout the Lester universe.

I can’t tell you how satisfying it is to check your email before your head hits the pillow and see strong WiFi bars.

YouTube TV Made Me Cut the Cord

I cut the cord this year.
…Can I say that again?

Yep, I cut the cord this year.
(Thank you.)

I replaced my cable service with YouTube TV, which is an app that streams all of the cable networks I want for just $40/month.

Yes, I’m still paying Cablevision for my internet… so technically the cord is still technically tethered.

But I returned my cable box, and my decades long relationship with an industry that helped to define my existence finally entered a more enlightened reality.

I’m saving money, only paying for what I want, gaining a sense of control and successfully trying something new.

I highly recommend it.

Don’t Forget the Human Factor
I know these ‘headaches’ that technology has helped to alleviate are First World problems.
(I do understand that.)

And I’m thankful I get to complain about these particular issues.

That said, if you’re fortunate enough to have the resources to play with technology, then technology should simply play nicely with you.

And sometimes, you’ve got rely on the human equation to figure out how to really make technology work… for you.

How a Roku will Make Your Old TV Shine Again

If you need an inexpensive way to upgrade your HDTV to be able to stream YouTube TV, I’ve got just the thing. And it’s hiding in plain sight…

So, as you may have heard… I’ve cancelled my cable service from my longtime cable TV provider. Instead, I’m now streaming my cable channels via the YouTube TV app for $40/month using my Apple TV in the family room.

That’s right…
I’ve joined the Dark Side.
Or perhaps I’ve finally left the Dark Side.

Either way, I loved this disruptive tech moment in my life.

I told my story to a work colleague, and he congratulated me and then commented how ‘freeing’ it must feel.

It certainly does.

Next, it was time to bring the freedom back to my older HDTV in my home office….

My Bat TV will Rise Again
Once designed as a compact media screen on the left side of my Batcave-like IKEA desk console, this little Sony TV has sat mostly dark over the past couple of years. It lost its cable box companion in the Lester Cable-Plan Purge of ’16.
(Yes, I’ve been on this path for a while now.)

In an attempt to keep feeding my Bat-TV a signal, I attached a Roku streaming puck to bring in a few streaming cable channel apps that I could still access via the existing cable subscription.

But it was a limited solution…

Find the Right Streaming Solution for You
Now, with the glow of YouTube TV permeating the Lester household… I was eager to activate another streaming device with no additional Google charge and no extra cable box to rent.
(You can actually run three simultaneous YouTube TV streams!)

So, it was time to get my home-office TV back in the game!

Unfortunately, my old Roku wasn’t built to run the YouTube TV app… so I needed to buy a newer streaming box.

Another Apple TV would certainly fit the bill, but the price tag is close to two hundred bucks. What about a new Roku?

Excellent idea….!

Roku Ultra
You can debate the larger issue of the value of an Apple TV vs. a Roku.
But all of the Roku streaming players are so much cheaper than an Apple TV!

For this little secondary TV, a new Roku was the easy choice. The final question was which one…

I decided on the Roku Ultra and picked up one on Black Friday for 50% off at Amazon for $49.99. I saw on Facebook that my old school friend Matt also took advantage of the same offer for some holiday gifts!
(Well done, Matt!)

I connected my new Roku Ultra to my Sony TV using its HDMI cable. Then, I used the Roku remote to guide my Roku towards my home Wi-Fi network. Finally, I downloaded the YouTube TV app… signed in… and BAM!

All done.

Future-Proof Where Possible
No, I didn’t need the top-of-the-line Roku model for my barely-HD HDTV. But I figured it will help to future-proof my purchase if I want to attach this Roku to a 4K TV one day.

Even without a discount, you can still pick up one of the other Roku models for $50 or less.
(The base 1080 HD-only “Roku Express” is thirty bucks!)

The Cost to Stream
I know Roku isn’t the only low-cost streaming solution out there, but for me it’s that darn brand-loyalty thing again.
(My old Roku puck got me hooked.)

Whichever brand you choose, the fact remains that adding streaming capability to your TV costs almost nothing. And if you own a smart TV that can stream all by itself, then this conversation gets even easier!

Easy Access Matters
Now, I’ve got YouTube TV on my…

  • Apple TV in the family room
  • Roku Ultra in my home-office Batcave
  • and the iPhone in my pocket

Now, that feels like real freedom to me!

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