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Any Movie, Any Time

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By Doug Thompsondoug_thompson

A Netfix disc for the Wii, which lets us watch movies and TV shows off the Internet, arrived at my house last week. I didn’t expect much. I am very, very pleasantly surprised.

Starting off with the not-so-great: Picture quality’s not wonderful. It’s certainly much better than movies on VHS tapes, though, even when the tape was brand new. I’m old enough to have watched a lot of those.

We have an old-style tube TV. We’re not looking for high-def or even a particularly sharp picture. Suppose we were demanding, though, for some particular movie. I could just request a disc — Blu-Ray if I owned a player — through regular Netflix. The downloadable show function is, so far, both unlimited and free to people already subscribed to the disc service — and adequate for most things, at least for me.

Now my wife can watch any episode of the TV series “The Dead Zone” whenever she wants. I can watch any one of hundreds of movies anytime I want. The selection’s growing in front of me, with more movies being added each day. Not just movies, either. Ken Burns’ “The Civil War” is available, for instance.

There are scores of movies in the available download list that I’ve seen already — years ago, after searching many a video store for a copy. Those who’d like to see the so-called classics but don’t want to lay out a lot of money for them could find this option very useful.

You can watch part of something and, if you don’t like it, switch it off without having wasted a rental. You can watch “Santa Claus Conquers the Martians” on this thing.

Download times are much, much quicker than I expected. I haven’t timed the intervals, but it doesn’t take longer than a short wait in one sitting. I especially like the link between your computer and what you can get on TV. You can add or remove selections from your “instant queue” from your home computer and then find them easily whenever you like.

This will most definitely change my viewing habits. There is really no good reason to flip channels again.

While we’re on the topic of downloads and new things, I forgot something obvious last week when writing about the iPad.

Take an iPad. Weigh it. Now take a year’s worth of this newspaper. Weigh that.

Sometime in the very near future, eco-consciousness will weigh in upon what I do for a living. My profession won’t be the only one to feel the impact.

Remember the “paperless office,” that neat concept that was ruined when they made printers to go with those computers? Why print out a copy of everything when you can take your iPad with you, carrying along as much information as you can reach on the Internet plus whatever you choose to create yourself?

Not all is sweetness and light, however. Apple turns down applications for the iPad if they, for instance, ridicule public figures.

That’s pretty much what newspapers do, including this column. For instance, I’m ridiculing Apple right now.

Note that nobody seemed to have a problem with this until Mark Fiore, winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the first Internet cartoonist to ever do so, casually noted in an interview that he had a program for the iPad rejected for that very reason.

“It just seemed out of character to have the company that released the famous 1984 ad be the same company that’s trying to prevent people from making fun of political figures,” Fiore said in that interview.

No kidding.

Apple’s reconsidering Fiore’s rejection, but will they do that for average Joe? Don’t bet on it.

Allow me to rephrase: Don’t bet on it yet. People are still trying to control the Internet. While it still seems frighteningly possible, especially in China, I don’t think Apple will want to become known as pro-repression. We’ll see. Somebody will make a viral video of Steve Jobs as the speech-giving face on that big screen in the 1984 ad if they do.

Apple is evolving, as many tech writers have noted, into a media company. It’s going to have embrace ridicule or fail.

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