Squeak and Blat: Video Streaming
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Missing Movies in Montana
Dear Squeak and Blat:
I teach college music in a small town in Montana. Because of the economic downturn around here, our only video rental store has gone belly up and my source for convenient over-thecounter movie rentals is gone. I teach a music and film course and I use videos a good deal in my teaching. There is always YouTube but I like to use footage of first-run and hard-to-get movies in my work. My students all talk about using NetFlix and other sources for online delivery, but how do I make this work in class? I want to get movies and use portions of them in class under the Fair Use guidelines, much like I did when my local video store would rent them to me. Also, how do I get these movies to show up on my nice widescreen TV at home for my own enjoyment? Do I have to buy another device and have yet another remote which my husband hates? We have 6 remote controls in the house now and I am miserable when I have to use them all. What about this Blu-Ray thing too? Sorry for all these questions but you guys are so great in giving your time to help us in CMS!
Molly Mellophone, DMA
A: Molly: Wow! You are a miserable Molly missing movies in Montana! Okay, you are in luck. Squeak has an outstanding video theater setup in his beautiful home and has long been very informed about such things. He can certainly help with the capturing of streaming video options to solve your classroom problem. I have just replaced my aging DVD player with a new Blu-Ray device and added a universal remote so I can help with that.
I continue to have access to a video store here in Chicagoland but I have long since decided to not rent at the prices charged. I decided to join NetFlix (there are other choices too) and get a couple of DVDs per week in the mail for a reasonable charge. But I have not been doing much with online availability on my computer with movies (I use my little Mac laptop too much anyway) so have decided to only use my home TV. Well, my old DVD player skips a good deal and is not reliable so I decided to move to a new device that was not only Blu-Ray capable but also hooked directly to the Internet!!! Now I can rent the physical Blu-Ray discs if I want, even from NetFlix, and also have movies streamed right to my Blu-Ray DVD player and on to my TV. There are a few models of Blu- Ray DVD players out there right now to do this. You can also accomplish this ability to stream to your TV from game boxes too if you and your family are into gaming. Squeak may want to elaborate some on this, including the coming possibility of your TV itself hooking to the Internet! By the way, you will see AND HEAR a major difference in quality with Blu-Ray and for me it is worth the trouble. If you have a nice sound system at home with a recent amplifier/receiver that has digital capability, the Blu-Ray DVD player will support a level of sound that will be stunning for you.
One note of caution that Squeak shared with me when he read my response: Legally you cannot use a rented video from a video store in an educational setting like a class room, it is licensed for "home use" only. There are exceptions as noted in the link we post on the Squeak and Blat delicious.com site from UC Berkeley on copyright in the classroom. This was news to me and it reminded me how important it is for all of us to be better informed about such things. Check on the site noted here to be sure you are legal (an important thing for residents of Montana!)
As to the remote-control situation, I just invested in a model of the Logitech Harmony universal remotes. I bought a model that controls five devices and is programmed by way of a software program that runs on my Mac (PC works as well). I told the software what kind of models I had for my TV, DVD, Amplifier/TV, older plain CD Player, and cable box. I also had to tell the software how they were connected and how I wanted them to work. I then connected the computer to my new universal remote control with the supplied USB cable and asked it to sync. Minutes later I was using one remote for all my needs. Very cool stuff. Best $70 I have spent on technology for some time. Hope this helps. I've put links on delicious.com/SqueakAndBlat/CMS_MARCH_2010 for more information on the technology noted above.
A: Let me pick up on Blat's response with more on streaming commercial video movies, a capability that I predict will render physical DVDs obsolete very soon. This is something I'm very excited about and find myself staying up at night watching wonderful movie classics like John Ford's "My Darling Clementine," documentaries like "Les Paul: Chasing Sound," or foreign films like Werner Herzog's Klaus Kinski film "Fitzcarraldo."
The break through in streaming feature-length, HD movies to your home or classroom is due to three technological advances: (1) improved compression algorithms for video and audio, (2) faster Internet speeds to the home, and (3) user-friendly software and hardware for simplifying Internet to TV connectivity. There are a variety of ways you can receive a feature film from services like Netflix's Watch Instantly service, Amazon's Video on Demand, iTunes Movies, Hulu, and others. The first is directly on your computer with a web browser. There are also solutions for a dedicated computer as a component to your home media center: many are using the Mac mini computer for such an application and Boxee offers open-source software to manage video from a dedicated computer.
To eliminate using your computer for TV viewing of movies, there are hardware solutions that connect your home Internet (wired or wireless) to your HDTV. A key to all of these solutions is HDMI, a way to connect HD video and audio between devices with a simple single cable. We can begin with Blat's solution: using a DVD player that has Internet capability and followed close at hand with newer HD TV screens that have built-in Internet access. There are more options: if you have a Wii or Xbox game controller, these may connect your TV to the Internet for film viewing. Last but not least, there is a new generation of very simple, inexpensive boxes that connect your TV to the Internet. One of the first was the Apple TV for accessing movies from the iTunes movie store. More recently the Roku box became available, the one that I use for my Netflix service.
To gain access to my Netflix account's Watch Instantly service I purchased a Roku HD-XR box for $130. When it arrived I used an HDMI cable to connect it to my Sharp HD screen. When I turned on the TV the Roku came to life on the screen and easily found my home WiFi. From the Roku I had a number of "channels" to use including Amazon Video on Demand, MLB baseball, Pandora, Facebook and Flickr photos, and Netflix. For my Netflix account I had to go to my computer, log into Netflix, and get a special code to authenticate my online account with Roku. While in my Netflix account (or from my Phone Flicks app on my iPhone) I search for movies that I want to watch and add them to my Watch Instantly Queue. The real bonus here? No extra charge for this Netflix service over my monthly Netfix rentals. The Amazon movies and TV series are also available but for a $2 to $4 charge to rent each movie. Is there a downside to all this? Availability is a key issue. Netflix for example has some 100K movies for rent with about 17K of them available for instant streaming. Most of the latest releases are not there; but lots of wonderful classic, foreign, and independent films. Netflix has a wonderful collection of opera DVDs and some symphonic DVDs but very few of them are available on live streaming. Amazon has very little of this genre from its service; Apple iTunes has a good deal of opera and classical music video to offer. I think this will improve as sites like the Metropolitan Opera productions available in HD online now get into distribution and show up on movie channel packaging services.
So, Dr. Mellophone, I think you will be ahead of the technology curve if you start using one of these streaming services in your classroom and at home. Like Blat, I've put links to some of the services noted above on our delicious.com site.
Peter R. Webster (a.k.a “Blat”) and David Brian Williams (a.k.a. “Squeak”) have presented workshops and other presentations together for CMS/ATMI conferences and workshops for more than 20 years. Their collaboration has led to publications and presentations internationally on music technology as well as the co-authorship of the textbook Experiencing Music Technology (Cengage Learning/Schirmer Books, 3rd edition Update, 2009), a widely adopted and highly acclaimed music technology textbook for high school and college students. Dr. Webster is emeritus professor of music education at Northwestern University and Scholar-in-Residence at the University of Southern California; Dr. Williams is emeritus professor of music and arts technology at Illinois State University, a freelance consultant, composer and musician, and immediate past president of The College Music Society.