The Laptop: TV You Can Take With You

If you look at this picture of my son Josh catching up on his favorite TV shows this morning before breakfast, you’ll see a flat panel display in the upper right of the picture. And yet Josh is watching on his laptop. That’s largely because we are in europe right now, where the shows he likes are not available on the local cable channel but are available "on demand" on the Internet.

Yes it’s true that Hulu and and other web video services block IP addresses outside of the US, but we were able to hack around that pretty easily. Yet another form of DRM that won’t work, can’t work, and will eventually be removed by content owners.

But I digress.

We don’t spend a ton of time watching TV in our house, but early in the mornings when others are still sleeping, or late at night before bedtime are popular times to sit back and catch up with a favorite show or to watch a movie.

And when we travel these days, our laptops have become the perfect way to do that. Take last night. After dinner, the kids rented a movie on iTunes, which downloaded in about 15 minutes, then put the laptop on the floor, put three sofa cushions on the floor, laid down and watched the movie together. Total cost was $3.99.

Compare that to the other night when they went to a local theater that was playing and english language movie at 10pm. That evening cost the three of them around 50 euros.

I think there are benefits to watching the local TV and checking out the local movie theaters. You start to learn the language and soak up the culture.

But when we travel, as I suspect is the case with all families, you need some downtime. You can’t sightsee and eat out every night. And as we’ve learned in the past year or two, the laptop with a good internet connection is the perfect entertainment device when you are on the road.

#Blogging On The Road#VC & Technology

Comments (Archived):

  1. David Noël

    Would be interesting to know how you managed to hack around the geo IP-mapping. I am sure there are lots of Europeans that would love to use Hulu.

    1. fredwilson

      We used a free vpn out of the US called hotspot something (can’t remember the second part of its name)We had to turn it off once we got past the initial screen because it limited bandwidth but it got us into hulu just fineFred

      1. David Noël

        thanks Fred. Will check at home, use a VPN there and will see if that works. Thanks, David

      2. Nick Molnar

        HotSpot Shield is the one. I lived in Canada – it was invaluable.

        1. fredwilson

          yupthat’s the onebut remember to turn it off once you get past the front doorfred

  2. fakedjs

    The same rings true for home. I’m watching television again since shows are available cheap as download or free to stream on the Internet. Right now I’m watching these videos my computer but I’d like to have an easy connection to a bigger screen and I’m not buying the Apple TV just yet.

  3. DonRyan

    We watch way more content on our computers than we do on our TV. The main reason is the “on demand” feature, ie, I watch what I want when I want. In our house, a broadband internet connection is much more important than having cable TV.

  4. Liz

    I’m old-fashioned, I guess. I watch TV live or not at all. I use to tape shows but never had the free time to catch up on what I’d missed.I know kids want what they want and that is rarely educational but I try to watch local programming when I’m traveling, especially outside the U.S. but even when I’m in other states. Yes, you lose a lot of content with the language difference and the broadcasting world is in many ways homogeneous (international versions of Big Brother or American Idol, for example). But in the U.S. I like to occasionally switch on channels of Turkish TV programs or Korean and South American telenovellas are always available. Since you’re traveling the world, you might see how broadcasting differs and doesn’t differ globally.Internet video “might” be the next big thing but the majority of the world still relies on broadcast networks and, in industrial countries, cable. See what they see! {that’s the teacher in me talking}

  5. Danvers

    When you arrive in the UK you can check out the BBC iPlayer and C4 on demand (which has tons of US shows). Of course, it’s also amazing what can be found on Youtube when you are really bored or need to entertain the kids.Whilst on holiday in Spain in November, I also found it was a great time to do online Christmas shopping… you’re right, I would now never go on holiday without my laptop

  6. naffenuf

    I think you’ve answered the old question: will the TV or the PC win the battle for dominance in entertainment? Though the computer is just in its infancy delivering entertainment, it looks like the poor, dumb TV is on its way out. It’s looking now like it wasn’t a very interesting question to begin with.

  7. kenberger

    Couldn’t agree more, the only surprise I have here is over the lack of the word: SLINGBOX. This notion screams it. Allows you to take your entire home TV setup, including multiple feeds and DVR/Tivos, with you. Then you wouldn’t need hulu, et al, right? And wouldn’t need the IP spoofing nonsense too.Also, I love the pic here of Josh, speaks 1000 words as to the priority. BUT- the one argument against laptop watching is the squinting you need to do. Why not just DVI the Mac out to that hdtv panel? Or more elegantly, wirelessly “Sling” the signal over? D-Link has excellent Wi-Fi products for that, and Sling Media is about to come out w/ something called a “SlingCatcher”, which solves this last yard(s) issue. (I’ve been using demo/review products from all of the above).

  8. Vik

    Great point – as a former consultant that traveled all over the world I relied HEAVILY on my laptop to catch up on TV shows that I had missed. Be it iTunes or streaming shows through a PC-based DVR.One thing that I learned quickly as I traveled/worked was that there’s no price for time and flexibility. If I can watch a TV show now, when I have time, on my laptop, I’ll take it.

  9. Atul

    Fred,Glad you got the HotSpot Shield to work around the geo-IP issue for Hulu. I’m sure others (in UK, EU) will try and use this option.I’d like to find how one might see the most excellent BBC programs via iPlayer in the US.I’m sure there are (some) technical solutions to getting around the geo-IP controls. The question is: Is this just a rat-race between the content aggregators (who want to control their content to an audience of their choice) and users/ fans who want to watch what they like, where they like? I am hopeful that the content owners will unlock their DRMs when they see the audience numbers increase, and can serve them, perhaps with some sort of advertising.

  10. Nicki Brøchner

    Personally I haven’t seen TV in ages I have move completely over to Laptop. I get all of my content from the Internet =) … But some times I find my self wanting to watch something on TV and that is why I love the player. Specialy if you are living in Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Germany or French because it will let you stream some of the national television stations. the Quality is not up to Hulu HD standard – Yet ;DOne thing is sure I am a Fan ;D

  11. Farhan Lalji

    I’m surprised more hotels don’t provide the connections so you can hook your laptop to be displayed on the television.

    1. Nick Molnar

      It’s bizarre. I hate having to travel with a bundle of cables so I can watch Internet TV on a big screen on the road.

      1. fredwilson

        i totally agreethere should be a simple device you can take with you in your travel bag that plugs into the svideo port on any flat panel and connects to the laptop via wifi and turns the laptop into a “settop box”

        1. kenberger

…Small, elegant, simple. Does this well w/ a couple limitations, most obvious being that it’s Windows only. Also throws in a remote control for real value add. (You’d want to use hdmi rather than s-video).The SlingCatcher should do this too for both platforms, when it comes out this year.

          1. fredwilson

            WowWhen this comes out for mac, I am all over it!Thanks Ken. You always seem to know about cool new stuff

          2. kenberger

            Or here’s another idea you could use today, and you don’t even need Sling products NOR even any laptop to schlep thru the airport:Dload Remote Buddy and set it to access any of your home’s mac minis, it will give you full media access and more.You can then use an iPhone (or laptop if you really want) as your remote to control and access the minis, connect the AV out from the iPhone to the hdtv.The SlingCatcher will also be cool in obviating the need to use a laptop; besides letting you sling a laptop’s content to the closest tv, it will have a slingplayer on board so you just plug it into the tv and use the included remote to control your home Slingbox content. No laptop needed.

  12. Brent Oesterblad

    I believe the thrust of the conversation has diverted to the “hack” (technology) – and I don’t believe that is most interesting point. As I have two teenagers, I appreciate the picture and its irony. A TV in the background – Turned OFF! The teenager casually browsing his laptop, accessing the content of his choice – when he wants – how he wants – what he wants – where he wants (even when traveling overseas). It is a new (web) world and this next generation will not accept anything less – their choices – their rules (or plug-in – expectations). I believe the more interesting point is one of sociology – not technology. Media companies need to not only accept this shift in audience psychology, but aggressively embrace the totality of this new reality. Less they experience the fate witnessed the last 10 years by Record Labels. Evolve or die.

    1. Joseph Flaherty

      Brent,I think you are absolutely correct about psychology/sociology playing as big a role as the pure technology in the adoption of new web services. When I was shopping for a new desktop I went to the Apple store on three occasions and was unable to try out the 24″ iMac because groups of teens were surrounding it, playing with Photobooth. This demographic switch, from the generation that think of the PC/web as productivity tools to the one who see them as an extension of themselves is going to be the impetus for far more innovation than AJAX and RSS.

    2. fredwilson

      Well said. And it was the irony of that moment I captured in the photo that inspired the postMy kids are a never ending source of inspiration for me and I like to share what I learn from them

  13. simondodson

    woot thanks for the tip

  14. Dan Weinreb

    Our family will be going to the Galapagos late this summer. We’ve been told that there’ll be significant downtime on the boat. But I don’t expect any Internet connectivity. Also, on this trip we have to pack very lightly, rather than bringing our usual pile of books. So I just bought an Amazon Kindle. We’re going to all try it out over the next week or two, and if we like it, we might buy another (so that more than one of us can be reading at the same time).At home, most of our TV watching is done from the TiVo. You can’t quite get anything you want online yet; often only two or three episodes of a show are made available. But it looks like we’re moving in the right direction.

    1. lauraalter

      I absolutely watch TV on my laptop when the need occurs. The only live TV that I watch now is the news. 99% of the rest is DVR or on my laptop. Our children (4, 5 and 6) treat the laptop and the TV as nearly the same – but the laptop wins because you can choose what to watch. It’ll be interesting to see how that holds up.I can very easily see TV and PC becoming one – it’s a natural progression for me, at the ripe old age of (nearly) 30. :)Laura

  15. qwang

    Between the versatility of the laptop and the slow but steady encroachment of the living room TV into computing tasks, I think the home desktop is a dying breed. Households will have laptops for a few members and the rest would browse youtube and social-network from the sofa in the living room.

  16. sean808080

    as a new foster parent i’m totally in agreement on the value of having options to overpriced movies. our appletv is usually how we get the family together to enjoy movies. added bonus? the way the kids squeal when i tell them we’re going to watch youtube videos together.

  17. John Snow

    Good tips all around.