Tech Talk 4 – Get what you paid for?

The model I briefly outlined in the last episode is kinda how I run my TV life now. The big difference is that I don’t have my archive online. I know I could manage that, but I don’t want to build my own server and develop the security and port protocols and have to maintain a physical, “always-on” server somewhere. There are pre-existing online backup solutions, but media alone, not pics and documents – I am already pushing 2 TBs, and that will only grow. That ain’t cheap for me to pay for online storage.

Instead, I try to imagine how long I will be gone, what I may be in the mood for, what I might want to have as fall back, comfort-food TV/audiobooks/music. If it is a short enough trip, I load 150 Gigs or so onto my laptop from my archive, and manage content to and from the iPhone just off the laptop. On longer trips, I bring a storage drive along. This works, but it is bulky. To travel with this set-up, I have to bring: laptop, laptop charger, powerstrip, backup drive, firewire, backup drive power block, my iPhone, and maybe also my iPod in case there are power issues (or 24 hours of airline travel) and I need another source for media, and a few iPod cords and wall chargers.

As I am carting this load around our globe, I am thinking about Apple. I bought most of this stuff from the iTunes store. Almost all of it is still in the store available for sale. It is sitting there ready to be downloaded and I already paid for it. I have personal experience and have heard other well-documented stories that Apple allows you to re-download up to your entire purchase history once a year. They don’t advertise this. Not every apple tech even knew it was the policy (at least up to 2008 or so). This was limited. If I had a corrupted file and effectively lost one episode of a show I purchased a Season Pass for on iTunes, I had to re-download the whole series. They could not give me a one episode download as that was not on my receipt. Imperfect, but at least they honored my purchase and provided replacement data. (This also had an impact on my desire to create my own portable storage system as a more immediate means of dealing with these issues.)

I appreciated the support from Apple in replacing a few damaged files, but it just got me thinking. Why do I have to store all this crap and carry it around? Why do I have to email you a request and wait for you to analyze the issue before I can get my stuff? I can see my entire purchase history in my iTunes account online. Why can’t I re-download BSG when I want to watch that instead of carrying it around with me on an external drive?

A great example of corporate fighting and odd ownership rights – I have purchased all 7 seasons of Buffy, the one season of Firefly, the Serenity movie, (those three in both dvd and iTunes formats), Dr Horrible’s Sing-a-long Blog, and Commentary the Musical from the iTunes store. I am doing a Buffy re-watch right now on my laptop and iPhone and taking notes for some future blogging. But I can’t watch Angel this way. Angel is not in the iTunes store. I did buy all 5 seasons of Angel on DVD, but those are still in India. Angel was available for streaming on Netflix (and hopefully still is), but I suspended my Netflix account a while ago. I will probably re-activate it to do an Angel re-watch next (and re-watch Slings and Arrows while the account is active) or see if anyone will lend me the disks. But I can’t really watch on my iPhone over netflix. It works, but not everywhere I like to sit in this house has a wireless signal. I am lucky enough to still be on an unlimited data plan with AT&T (they quit offering those once they realized that iPhone use exploded) but even that gives you a choppy stream – not really worth watching.

But this all seems to get cumbersome and ludicrous to me. I have access to watch Comcast shows online through their xfinity program. Since we have almost all the paid channels on our account in PA at RAI headquarters, i can follow HBO and Showtime and some other good cable network shows. I have paid for the complete series of several shows on the DVD format. I have paid for many many complete series in the iTunes store. I had Netflix. I check out Hulu. And still I can’t get all the content I want and can’t get it to all the devices I would like to use to watch said content, and I can’t watch what is available from wherever I would like. I can’t even access all the digital material I have already paid for and downloaded without access to my storage drives.

Isn’t there a better way? Isn’t that way already here? As it turns out, the answers are, “Yes” and “Sort of”.

But, there are a few more pieces of the puzzle before we get to the new solutions.