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Commentary: Streaming still has bumps on the way to inevitability

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I’ve reached old fart stage.

The realization hit me during a recent exchange with a colleague who also reviews movies, like me, pretty much for a hobby – for the love of it. We do it simply because the medium like others have somehow touched us on deeper emotional level. Why else would we schedule our lives around it and risk severe diabetes by gorging on overpriced movie candy?

But we’re at different stages with respect to our appreciation of physical media. The conversation came about because of a Facebook status I posted regarding being overrun by my blu-ray/DVD collection. I built a significant library as the movie critic for a decent sized newspaper. At one point the collection held more than 1,500 titles. Now, it holds about 900 because having two kids will wreak havoc on a household’s storage space.

Bob is all about the cloud. That was his simple, easy answer. “Put 'em on the cloud. I converted all the stuff I could using Vudu's disc-to-digital.”

My first thought: “You’ll get my physical media when you pry it from my dead, cold hands.” That Charlton Heston reference should be enough to show how much of an old fart I am.

I get it. Streaming is inevitable. I normally embrace technology. I’m the guy who shelled out $700 for his first DVD player after having seen one at Disney World’s Epcot Center in 1989. Hell, my home video life began with a beta VCR. BETA! And, yes, I have converted some movies using disc-to-digital and I make sure when I buy blu-rays they have UltraViolet digital copies.

So what’s my problem with the cloud? There isn’t just one cloud.

As it stands now, at least two digital copy players are needed to stream movies. BLECH. Currently, I have to use Flixster and Vudu to watch all my movies. If I want to watch the stuff before the advent of UltraViolet, I have to use a third, iTunes, and a particularly galling fact considering my disdain for all things Apple.

Additionally, movie studios and various movie sellers don't always allow centralization. Some studios are iTunes. Only. Some are UltraViolet. Others are both. I went through VHS-BETA, Blu-ray-HD-DVD and now this. And what is even more galling? They control the number of devices you're allowed to use.

For instance: Vudu only allows five devices to access movies. That may seem like a lot to them, but in reality in a family of four in which all its members have smartphones, tablets and televisions with streaming blu-ray players in their bedrooms, five is a pittance. Yes, thank you, I know my family needs to cut a few cords.

And the primary reason streaming only is impractical now? The quality of WiFi in the United States. How many movies fans watched something on Netflix only to have the speed change and subsequently kick down the quality of the video? Hate it.

With the FCC freeing up some space in the broadband spectrum recently, WiFi problems may eventually be alleviated.

However, consider a New York Times report: “The World Economic Forum ranked the United States 35th out of 148 countries in Internet bandwidth, a measure of available capacity in a country. Other studies rank the United States anywhere from 14th to 31st in average connection speed.”

The FCC’s move represents a significant change. However, it’s not the here and now. And the now says that the U.S. isn’t keeping up. That bothers me on days when someone introduces an eye catching new product such as Amazon’s Fire TV, a streaming device the company introduced today (April 2). It arrives in the marketplace as an almost mature product, missing just a couple of apps I’d deem necessary.

I almost bought one to replace a bulky blu-ray player in my bedroom. Then I remembered how crappy Kevin Spacey’s House of Cards looked when it got kicked down to standard definition on a day of binge viewing the series.

No thanks. For now, they will have to pry blu-ray titles from my cold, dead hands.

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