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Some folks might think that I’m a crummy, consumer-driven American for writing about the kind of big-screen TV that I have or how we use it in our home, but I’ll politely disagree with you. Enjoying quality entertainment on quality technology in quality ways isn’t about consumerism for me: it’s about enjoying my life.
Our family recently stayed at a home where they had a record player with about 200 albums. So we played whole albums. We touched our music. It was FABulous.
Entertainment like that is priceless and full of memories and emotion, so let’s begin with the assumption that ALL of us really like our entertainment.
As I’m a Generation X’er, I prefer to watch my primary entertainment — films & TV shows — on a large screen, and not on my smartphone. Not that I’m alone in this preference, of course. As it is written in Exodus 16:9…
“And it shall be an abomination in the eyes of the Lord to behold films by David Lean, Stanley Kubrick, or Kathryn Bigelow on tiny visioning devices.”
Like many other Gen X’ers, I grew up with a TV in the family living room and still like having one there now. But not just any TV… As long as I’ve purchased my own equipment, I’ve chosen TVs with larger screens. That way, I could be immersed in the action when viewing epic TV shows or movies.
There’s a small journey here, so stick with me as I time-travel for a bit.
How It Started
It was 2004. I bought an old, no-name LCD flatscreen TV. It was 32 inches diagonally and weighed about 475lbs. I kid, but not by much. It was an early model LCD TV and it did its job pretty well. More importantly, it also fit on my narrow fireplace ledge, because it was slightly less than seven inches thick.
(Remember: back in 2004, the term “flat screen” didn’t mean “skinny”, it just mean that the screen wasn’t curved like older cathode ray tube - or “CRT” - TVs.)
Eight years later, when I got married, my wife and I enjoyed curling up together on the sofa. Only now, my trusty flat-screen TV seemed small. And old. There were dead pixels on various parts of the screen and the plastic casing had chipped or broken in multiple places. It was time for an upgrade, so I did what I do best:
I sold my old TV via Craigslist and used the cash to fund the new equipment that I’d researched and built us… a home theater! It. Was. Awesome. Everyone joined us for movie night. And when I say “everyone”, that includes our neighbors from across the street who could see the projected images on our living room wall from their dining room. #TrueStory
Because so many of our friends asked questions about how I’d done it, I decided to write a “short document” which I could give to folks. That way, they could better replicate what I’d done. I sat down to write it out.
EIGHTEEN MONTHS PASSED.
My “short document” became a 120+ page book. Oopsie! That being said, it’s a very funny and informative book, so I invite you to purchase it. While it’s about six years old now, it’s absolutely worth reading if you’re looking to cut the cord, set up a home theater, or save money by using technology. You’ll also really like it if you enjoy a bit of irreverent humor.
Click the cover art or button below to grab it:
The New Home Theater
Time passed, technology changed and we moved to a new townhome in 2014. Our new space wasn’t large enough for our previous home theater setup, so… I pivoted. After doing an absurd amount of research in the Fall of 2020, I purchased our first, new TV in over a decade.
It was a very good investment during the pandemic as we’d stopped going outside of the house for… well, just about everything, really.
What I Purchased
I chose the TCL 65-inch 5-Series 4K UHD TV for about $750. It’s an amazing and large-screen TV that features an ultra-high-definition (often called “4K” or “UHD”) screen and comes with a built-in Roku device, something I’ll explain in the next section.
If you’re looking for a new, amazing, and affordable TV, here’s my affiliate link for you to learn more and purchase this great piece of tech.
The model I purchased back in 2020 was actually the wildly popular but older “65R635” model. It was close to being discontinued then and looks to be now. Not that you’d want it: the newer “65S535” model that I linked to above has a better screen and includes the ability to pair with any Amazon Alexa device, a nice bonus.
TCL is a Chinese company that’s known for making affordable, “prosumer” level TVs. They’ve earned a great reputation along with tens of thousands of positive reviews from users and experts alike. Their products are also very affordable when compared to similar models from companies like Sony, Samsung, Phillips, and LG. However…
The sound from the TCL is crap. That’s the case with nearly all modern TVs, so the assumption, now, is that you’ll have your own, far-better sound system to connect to your TV. So you should. In our case, we still had our affordable LG soundbar from our home theater setup. I’ve got that plugged into our TCL and it makes the listening experience far better. Here’s my affiliate link for you to purchase the same soundbar for your own home theater for about $110.
Wait: What’s a Roku?!?
What good is owning a large screen if you can’t use it in the exact ways that you like?! For example, some people connect their gaming consoles to their TCL TVs. Others, like me, connect their computers to it, in order to surf the web, check email, or watch movies and see photos stored on their computers.
Of course, connecting a computer to your TV also makes it possible to log into Netflix, HBO, Hulu, or Amazon to watch videos on those platforms. But that’s complicated because it requires another device, a wireless keyboard and mouse, and a whole lot of elbow grease if you’d like to do all of that from the comfort of your sofa from across the room.
What if there were an easier way to jump between live TV and any of the most popular video platforms to which you’ve subscribed? Well, there is: and it’s called Roku. Roku is a system of two devices that makes watching videos on your TV a breeze: the first device is the Roku streaming unit which lives inside of your TCL TV; the second device is the simple-to-use remote control.
Roku is an open platform, so it works with thousands of streaming platforms, including both free and paid content. Do you like watching free PBS, YouTube, or NBC programming online? No problem. How about paid content from Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon Prime? Can do. Maybe you’re a sports buff who wants to stream games from any of the major sports leagues in the US, Europe, and beyond?
There’s a Roku “channel” for it. And, getting those channels is a simple process:
Connect your TCL to your local network
Create a free Roku account, connecting your TCL to Roku’s servers
Use the remote control to navigate to the channel store and… download all the channels that you desire
Now, when you turn on your TCL, you’ll not only be presented with all of the devices that are connected to your TV (a cable box, antenna, gaming console, for example), but also with every channel to which you’ve subscribed. Just use your remote control to navigate to any of the devices or streaming platforms that you like. You’ll be asked to sign in to your account the first time you use any channel.
But never again.
The Revolutionary Stuff
My readers know that I don’t throw words like “revolutionary” around much, if at all. In this case, the word fits. What I’m about to share with you has 100% changed how my wife and I now watch all of our entertainment.
Bring The Awesome, Part I
Earlier, I mentioned that when you first set up your TCL and Roku, you’d download the channels you need and then sign in to each service one time. That wasn’t a lie. Unlike computers, tablets, and cellphones, your TCL’s Roku remains signed in to all of your streaming accounts, even after you’ve turned off your TCL.
That’s already a huge time saver, but there’s more…
Bring The Awesome, Part II
Wanna blow your mind? Press and hold the microphone button on your Roku remote control and then… TALK to your Roku device! Just ask for a general topic, a specific streaming platform, or even a specific show. Your Roku will search across EVERY channel you’ve loaded and then place the results on screen for you to select with your remote.
Amazing. And accurate! This, by the way, is how I’ve found some super cool trash truck videos for our three-year-old son to watch on YouTube.
Bring The Awesome, Part III
Now we get to the feature that I think is revolutionary. To make use of this feature, you’ll first need to download and install the Roku mobile app onto your smartphone or tablet. The setup is easy and takes 5min tops:
Open the Roku app and sign in with the same Roku account credentials that you created when you set up your TCL
Make sure your phone/tablet is on the same network as your TCL
Find and add your Roku-equipped TCL from the list of devices that the app can see on your network
Now comes the fun. Once your TCL is connected to your Roku app, all kinds of magic can occur. For example, you can now use your Roku app INSTEAD of the physical remote control that came with your TCL. The app looks almost identical to your physical remote control, so you won’t need to learn anything new.
Although, you’ll want to!
The app features a built-in keyboard that you access by clicking an icon right on the app (in orange, in the pic below). You’ll need that keyboard occasionally, trust me. Use it. Enjoy it.
Best of all, there’s a “private listening” button on the app (in green, in the pic below). If your headphones are connected to your phone or tablet… you can now listen to what you’re watching in the privacy of your own ears.
I own a pair of wireless earbuds and now - for the first time - I can suddenly hear EVERYTHING that the sound designers have inserted into the TV shows and films that I watch. Background ambient noises like crickets, rain, and wind? Check. Low-playing music to set an emotional tone? Check. Softly-spoken dialogue? Double-check.
Now, I’m IN whatever I’m watching, even if I close my eyes. It’s incredible and reminds me of what happened when we all started listening to music on our headphones in the 1980s.
And, just like listening to music on headphones, no one else can hear what you’re watching. Unless, of course…
You WANT others to join you in your audio awesomeness. Which, now, they can.
Bring The Awesome, Part IV
Everyone… in their own personal audio world in your living room or bedroom?! Yeh, that’s a thing now:
Roku supports up to four different mobile devices streaming the SAME programming on your TCL. All that’s required is for every mobile device to have the Roku app installed and connected to your TCL. Even better: like everything else on your smartphone, you get to set your own, individual volume. It’s an INSANE game-changer in our house and I’m certain it will be in yours.
The complaining I get when my lovely wife hears me munching on food on the sofa next to her while we’re watching something? GONE.
The polite arguments we have over volume? GONE.
Worrying about if we’re going to wake up our toddler son when we watch an action film? GONE.
Now, we put in our Bluetooth earbuds, grab our iPhones, open the Roku app - choose our own individual volume! - and then start streaming away. A more peaceful evening on the sofa we’ve never had.
Now…. if there were only a way to be able to have this same kind of volume and programming control… over some of the people that I know. 🙌🏼
I kid. But, not really.
And that’s a wrap for today’s episode, everyone. Thanks again to my free and paid subscribers for supporting independent technology journalism. I also thank you, in advance, for using the link below to share Tech Talk with your friends, family, and colleagues.
As always… Surf safe.
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