I had an interesting experience while sitting around with some friends Saturday night. The subject of awkward pregnancy photos came up (my sister-in-law is weeks away from giving birth), so we decided to bring up the pregnancy category of Awkward Family Photos for a few good laughs at other people's expense. Having just installed Mountain Lion (OS X 10.8), I decided to use AirPlay from my 11" MacBook Air (best laptop ever) to my Apple TV so everyone could see better. The conversation eventually turned to politics and TED talks as it so often does, so I threw up Nick Hanauer's excellent and very controversial TED talk. Eventually control of the Apple TV was passed around the room via iPhones, iPads, and AirPlay, and in addition to playing a few hilarious rounds of Draw Something and laughing at hundreds of photos, we watched some Olympics highlights, Portal: No Escape, Lego Black Ops, the JK Wedding Entrance Dance (there was an uninitiated among us), and finally, one of Stephen Colbert's many excellent interviews with Neil deGrasse Tyson. By that time, it was getting late, however we'd barely scratched the surface of our favorite videos, sites, games, photos, memes, etc. so I'm certain we'll pick right back up where we left off next weekend.
There were three things that really struck me about the evening:
- All of the entertainment throughout the course of the night was entirely free. We did have to watch a few YouTube pre-roll ads, but they were quick and relatively tasteful.
- The evening was much more interactive than if we'd watched a movie or a few TV shows.
- The experience was extremely collaborative and inclusive as control of the Apple TV was passed around the room and everyone got to have their say in what we all experienced.
I've been a cord-cutter for a long time now which means we're as likely to spend our evenings with our phones, laptops, and tablets as we are with our TV. In fact, since I do most of my gaming either on a PC or handheld device, I've frequently wondered if we still actually need a 52" LCD taking up space in our living room. However last night was the best reason I've come up with in probably two years to keep my TV.
If you're a cord-cutter, next time you have people over, ask them to come up with some of their favorite internet content and put together your own interactive and collaborative programming. I've never been so certain in my decision to cancel my cable service as I am now.
(Note that AirPlay is not the only technology for making this kind of thing work, but in my experience, it's probably the most hassle-free. I have a Nexus Q which I hope to use more for this kind of thing in the future, and I've experimented with all kinds of streaming media solutions in the past. At least for now, Apple's technology is probably the easiest to use, most robust, and — since so many people have iPhones, iPads, or Mac laptops — it's more or less ubiquitous.)