Time Just Slipped Ahead A Bit

It was over a year ago when I reviewed the Roku Netflix player. A few months later, Roku added access to the Amazon streaming-rental service, and in the middle of last summer Major League Baseball showed up as a channel on the Roku. I love it when early-adoption is rewarded like this, because it so rarely is. Look for the pioneers by the arrows in their backs, or so it is said. I consider the Roku the best $99 I ever spent at Amazon, hands down. But far beyond being a great way to catch up on “30 Rock” episodes, the Roku is becoming something much, much more.

I confess it: I’m a geek. And in the halcyon days between the turn of the century and 2004, I was addicted to TechTV. Leo LaPorte is, in my view, the best pure tech communicator of our time, able to seamlessly bridge the yawning chasm between the newbies and the power users. I managed to have TechTV it routed into my office at work expressly to watch “Call For Help” in the afternoons – it was almost like geek grad school. I learned more about Photoshop in Leo’s five-minute segments with Bert Monroy than in any of the several CompuMaster classes I have attended. And of course, “The Screen Savers” with Leo and Patrick Norton was geek heaven. Of course, money rules the roost, and apparently Paul Allen needed more of it than TechTV was providing. His Vulcan Ventures decided to sell TechTV to Comcast, who then folded it into G4, where it disappeared not long after.

Leo LaPorte and his TechTV colleagues didn’t take this lying down, of course. Leo started the TWiT network (TWiT stands for “This Week In Tech”), which grew from a weekly audio podcast to an actual multi-camera video production over the last four years, and has added about a dozen other programs as well. Another “Screen Savers” regular, Kevin Rose, went on to co-found the Digg website, and is one of the principles in another online video venture called Revision3 (which, coincidentally, now employs Patrick Norton as a host on several programs.) And the aforementioned Bert Monroy hosts a Photoshop-themed show on Revision3 as well.

Why am I blathering about this?

Well, tonight I updated my Roku box, and guess what appeared on my TV set? Real, legitimate Internet broadcasting, in the form of the TWiT network, Revision3, Blip.tv, a Flickr channel, Pandora radio, and others – all looking and sounding pretty good on a 40″ LCD. (And I have a severely lame 3-megabit-on-a-good-day AT&T DSL connection.) So, in effect, I got my TechTV back, albeit in a much more fragmented way. It remains to be seen if any of this can pay for itself, of course, but for now I’m a pretty happy geek. And I can see my already-constrained broadcast television viewing time getting even smaller – and even though I have to work in the morning, it’s cruising up on 1AM here in the Midwest and I’m sitting here watching Tekzilla, a Revision3 program that is a fine successor to “The Screen Savers.”

One more thing – if Leo and his pals can do this…why can’t we?

Interesting times. (PS: The same Comcast cable system that bought and then buried TechTV is now in talks to buy a large share in – of all things – NBC. Stay tuned, kids.)

Bruce A Johnson

A 1981 graduate of the Boston University College of Communication, Bruce A. Johnson got his first job in broadcast television at WFTV, an ABC affiliate in Orlando, FL. While there, he rose through the ranks from teleprompter operator to videographer, editor, producer and director of many different types of programming. It was in the early 1980’s that he bought his first computer – a Timex/Sinclair 1000 – a device he hated so much, he promptly exchanged it for an Atari 400. But the bug had bitten hard. In 1987, Johnson joined Wisconsin Public Television in Madison as a videographer/editor, and still works there to the present day. His responsibilities have grown, however, and now include research and presentations on the issues surrounding the digital television transition, new consumer technology and the use of public television spectrum in homeland security. He freelances through his company Painted Post MultiMedia, and has written extensively for magazines including DV and Studio Monthly.

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