Monday, July 7, 2008

DVR vs. internet

With the exception of a few episodes of Desperate Housewives I rarely ever watched entire shows online until this summer. The idea of watching TV online seemed silly - why watch on my computer when I can record it on my DVR (Digital Video Recorder)? For me, videos online were user-generated home movies, cats playing the piano and the random hilarious newscast from Mobile, Alabama.

Yet, last Fall I interviewed several students for a research project, most of whom stated that they watched full episodes of their favorite shows online. I am not sure why I was so surprised by this, but I truly was. Mainly those that watched full programs online had missed a previously-aired episode. In fact, it was this that gave me the idea to watch the aforementioned random episodes of Desperate Housewives that did not fit on my DVR.

Which brings me to my first question. Do people with DVR's view as many previously aired full length episodes online as those without? I feel like the obvious answer is "no." But I guess I don't want to be too quick with that reaction.

The fact is, I have not completed any empirical research to answer this question with more hard numbers. However, I do have a DVR and I do have a computer. Since I've been turned onto the world of viewing full episodes online I have to say there isn't much of a comparison - my DVR is much better! That is until I discover that has vintage episodes of old favorites I've only been able to watch in my TV history classes. So the one thing that the DVR can't do that the web can is allow us to relive old moments that even TV Land cannot deliver. On you can watch the first three entire seasons of The Mary Tyler Moore Show (the topic of a forthcoming post).

Overall, I would argue that the act of viewing is far more enjoyable when sitting on your couch and viewing a larger screen without the "streaming stutters" that occur so often with online episodes. It must be noted though that the stutters are far less than they were just 6 months ago and tend to be more frequent during regular hours here in my office - later on in the day when the network isn't as busy it is almost seamless. Even when it is seamless, it is still grainier and the screen is still smaller. Even with the hi-def option that is available for some shows on, the image is still not as clear as when I watch at home.

So, I guess I'll answer my question with a tentative "no" instead of a strong and hardy "no." It remains to be seen how much more we can develop the online viewing experience and from the looks of it, has a marked lead ahead of others. Yet, it seems as though it will never compare to the actual experience of viewing a TV show at home with a large HD television while sitting on your favorite chair. Then again, we said such things when films appeared on TV (and with commercials no less!) so I am prepared to say that in time my opinion may change.

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