Nerd Rant: Invasion of the Portable Flat Screens
About a decade ago, I purchased a software suite called DVD Catalyst, which allowed me to shrink DVD content into video files that were small enough to be stored and viewed on my cell phone. I got plenty of usage out of DVD Catalyst, which allowed me to catch up on my volumnous and ever expanding must-see movie list while I commuted via subway to remote work locations.
Fast forward to 2016, and portable, flat screen video isn't just a possibility anymore--it's a way of life. Read on ...
Right now, my Kindle Fire has access to three on-demand video services: Amazon Prime, Netflix, and Verizon Fios. I've been using Netflix for years, and Fios is the newest addition to my portable video viewing options. However, because Verizon is our cable TV and Internet service provider, the Fios application for the Kindle Fire has a few extra goodies that the other services don't--in particular, I can now watch stuff that I record via Fios through my Kindle Fire without having to turn on my TV. I'll say it again: without having to turn on my TV. First it was the Wii U, a console that has the option of playing video games without having to turn on the TV, and now Fios? My mind boggles....
For kids who grow up with this kind of stuff, this is just another digital toy with which to play. However, I grew up with analog video (e.g., cathode ray tube TV sets and VHS tapes) so this kind of development makes me drool like Pavlov's dog. Just being able to record TV content on blank VHS tapes back in the '80s was amazing; now, to be able to remotely access recorded video content through a handheld device emphasizes how primitive VHS recorders really were. At this rate, all I need to do is find a way to work from home and set up a delivery service for my groceries, and my journey to becoming a media-addicted shut-in will be complete. I'm still working on a way to view 3D videos on my Kindle Fire without spending a fortune to do it. As soon as I figure that out, you better believe I'll be blogging about it.
Yet for all of these digital delights, I find it strange that so many video content providers are willing to bypass TVs in order to reach viewers. High-resolution flat screen TVs have been a real boon for the entertainment industry, so much so that movie theaters have had to transition to 3D and IMAX formats in order to compete. Sure, current generations of handheld devices are capable of displaying high-resolution video so it makes sense that content providers go where the audiences are. On the other hand, with content becoming so readily available on screens everywhere, I wonder how much longer movie theaters will remain viable in the years to come and where the flat screen TV market will go if a large number of consumers prefer using portable flat screens for their video entertainment.
If this service is "on demand", then where are the Lucio Fulci and Val Lewton movies?
Another thing I've noticed is how certain content is more available than others. When I was growing up, the content provided at local video rental stores overwhelmingly fell into one of two categories: new movie releases (e.g., summer blockbusters, Academy Award winners, etc.) and lesser-known titles that were distributed at a cheaper price (e.g., low-budget movies, exploitation movies, straight-to-video movies, etc.). While there were a few exceptions to this rule, it frequently meant that many good films which didn't fall into either of these categories rarely showed up on local video store shelves.
After looking at the selections provided by on-demand video providers, not much has changed in terms of content selections. New releases from the major studios are hyped on the provider sites, and cheap, lesser-known titles make up a sizable portion of available and free to watch content. So, despite the transition from analog to digital video, die-hard film fans who are interested in both domestic and foreign films that are neither new, popular releases nor low-budget fare will still need to make an extra effort to see the titles they really want to see. The more things change, the more they stay the same.