Thursday, January 2, 2014

Black-box mania

Black-box technology used to sound so secretive, so James Bond-ish, so indestructible. When planes crash or equipment fails, investigators go straight to the black box for clues.

Black boxes of a different kind now infiltrate my house. I know and love them for what they do, without understanding a bit about how they do it.

One thing I do know: I now have much more choice in phone and TV services, with much less cost. And I rely less on (and pay less to) the cable and phone giants in my area.

Here are a few of the magical black boxes I have come to embrace:

  • Roku: This streaming video player is smaller than my wallet and didn’t take much of a bite out of it in purchase price. When paired with Amazon Prime (which also allows me to borrow books from the Kindle Lending Library), I was able to binge-watch entire seasons of "Downton Abbey" and can revisit episodes of "Fringe" whenever I want.
  • Google Chromecast: This thumb-drive-sized gadget, with its equally small price, supersizes my Internet viewing experience by sending movies and TV shows to my HDTV. I hate watching TV on my computer, so now I’m catching up on content I can only get online…and I can watch on a comfy couch, on a big screen, instead of my small computer screen or tablet.
  • Ooma has redefined the telephone in my home. With a black box about the size of my Kindle, I cut the cord from my landline provider while keeping my same number and getting free nationwide calling. I ponied up for the (reasonably priced) premium services so I can blacklist telemarketers and political pollsters. I'm so happy when their calls go straight to voicemail, without any disruptive ringing.
  • With my Panasonic digital phone system, I can plug handsets into any electrical outlet and they connect to the base unit on my office desk. And the system works seamlessly with the Ooma telo (black box) and an additional Ooma handset, so I’m never far from a phone.

To be fair, among all the black boxes is an essential white one: an Apple AirPort Internet router. It connects all the pieces in my wireless network. You might say it puts the weeeee in my “wee-fee,” as some call Wi-Fi.

Black or white, these boxes do amazing things and offer more options than traditional providers. The only thing they don’t do is find more hours in the day to fit in all the programming and services now available.

Maybe that will happen with next-gen black (or white) boxes.

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