Categories : Best Of Series

 

Now that 2009 is now upon us, it seems that it would be good to take a few minutes to highlight what made high points for me in 2008. Taking a quick glance at the list of items that made the list this year, it seems that the very early 1980’s seem to be related to almost all of the items that make the list for this year. The influence of the 1980’s will be readily apparent as you check out the list. And I’ll point those out along the way for those who might not quite see the influence.

Without further ado, I now present My 9 Most Incredible Things of 2008, in no particular order…

Mamma Mia! The Movie

As an ABBA fan, and one who likes “Mamma Mia!” (The Musical) the biggest event of the year for me was “Mamma Mia! The Movie.” I know it seems that it should be a given that an ABBA fan should like “Mamma Mia!” but trust me when I tell you, there are ABBA fans out there that absolutely despise “Mamma MIa” and what it represents. I, however, am not one of those people. I loved “Mamma Mia!” the very first time I saw it, back in San Francisco in October of 2000.

Well with the casting announced in 2007 as to who would be in “Mamma Mia! The Movie” it wasn’t a surprise it was going to be Meryl Streep playing opposite Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth, and Stellan Skarsgård, and chomping scenery with the wonderfully talented Christine Baranski and Julie Walters. I had no clue who Amanda Seyfried nor Dominic Cooper were at the time, and it didn’t matter, I wasn’t going to find out until I saw the movie anyway.

One of the things I was most looking forward to about the movie version of the show was that it was going to have a cast album. Finally, there would be a good cast album in English. The original London Cast which makes up the soundtrack of the only officially released English language version of the stage show, sounds horrible and I can’t stand listening to it. I think the biggest offense Björn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson committed was not authorizing a Broadway cast album with it’s original cast (who sounded far better than the original London cast ever could dream to sound like). So now to have a cast album with Meryl Streep tackling some of ABBA’s biggest hits as Donna in the film, was certainly one of my most anticipated purchases of the year.

As March rolled around, one of the Australian members of the ABBA mailing list I was on at the time spotted an announcement for a test screening of “Mamma Mia! The Movie” that was going to occur a couple of days later here in San Diego. I managed to get into the screening and was part of the very first audience to ever see “Mamma Mia! The Movie” and I got the opportunity to leave some feedback. And I enjoyed myself immensely. The only bad part was I wanted to see it again and listen to the soundtrack and it was still another three months away from getting another chance to do that. I wrote up a review of the movie recounting every detail I could remember and posted it here on this site, click here if you want to read it.

As July rolled around, I ended up seeing “Mamma Mia! The Movie” an additional three times as a guest of Universal at screenings prior to the official opening of the movie. One of those screenings was the Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in Los Angeles. My first time ever seeing a movie there and I had just the best experience there. When the movie finally released, I caught a midnight showing with a former roommate of mine, then I later took my mother to the first showing at one of the theaters near her. Oddly enough that day was my brother’s birthday, and I was even able to treat myself to a screening of Mamma Mia! for my own birthday as it was still playing two and a half months later, which is very unusual for movies these days.

Ultimately I saw “Mamma Mia! The Movie” on the big screen 10 times during the course of its run. I’ve never seen any movie that many times on the big screen. Had I have had more free time, I probably would have caught it a few more times. I do have to give a shout out to my friend in the ABBA fan community, Mary Ruth McConnaghy who by October 4th had seen it 28 times on the big screen and probably a few more time since. Simply amazing.

I even had a bad camcorder copy of the movie on my iPod by the time the movie opened, and eventually replaced that with a screener copy I downloaded, until the movie was officially released on DVD, where I officially own a copy of the Australian release (the first official release anywhere in the world), the single disc version from Wal-Mart with the exclusive bonus disc, the two disc collector’s edition, and the Blu-Ray version. I would have had a Southeast Asia edition (the first NTSC release anywhere in the world) and a UK Blu-Ray edition (the first Blu-Ray edition anywhere in the world) but due to problems with the orders I ended up canceling each of them.

If you’d like to get a copy of the movie for your collection, then I highly recommend both the US Two-Disc DVD Edition and the US Blu-Ray edition of the movie. The US Two Disc set includes a couple of bonus features not present anywhere else in the world, and the US Blu-Ray also includes the Sing-Along bonus feature which wasn’t present on the UK Blu-Ray edition. Get the US Two Disc Special Edition here and the US Blu-Ray Edition here from Amazon.com.

The soundtrack is pretty much standard anywhere in the world. It got released as a regular edition, and then later on a bonus edition which included a DVD of special features. If you want the bonuses then the deluxe edition is the one to get, available here. And if you don’t care about the bonuses, just get the regular CD available here. And to touch back into the early 1980’s, the movie’s biggest song is Meryl Streep’s rendition of “The Winner Takes It All” which hit the top five of my most played songs ever on my iPod this year. The ABBA original was recorded and released in 1980.

Xanadu

XanaduNo, I’m not talking about the movie from 1980 that starred Olivia Newton-John. The “Xanadu” that is hitting my best of list of the year is the stage musical that is very loosely based on that movie. The stage show kept the songs and the basic premise that a Greek muse comes to Los Angeles in 1980 to inspire Sonny Malone to open a roller disco. From there, the movie and the show are very different things.

“Xanadu” ended up being a surprise hit on Broadway in 2007 and even got nominated for several Tony Awards. A national tour was announced and because Christopher Ashley, the director of “Xanadu” on Broadway, had been selected to become the Artistic Director of the La Jolla Playhouse in San Diego, “Xanadu” was going to launch its tour from the La Jolla Playhouse. (This very similar to how the La Jolla Playhouse got the very first production of “RENT” outside of New York when the La Jolla Playhouse hired “RENT”‘s director Michael Grief as Artistic Director back in the mid 1990’s.)

I’ve been a big fan of Olivia Newton-John since I was very young. She was one of my first favorite artists ever, and I have always had a soft spot for “Xanadu.” I’m one of the few people who actually enjoys the movie (I even own a copy of it on Laserdisc!!), so I was eagerly anticipating “Xanadu” coming to San Diego as a stage show. Although when it was announced that the Broadway show was going to be closing in September, I was a bit worried about how good this stage show could be and hoped it wasn’t going to destroy my affection for the movie. I did buy the Broadway cast album to kind of get a feel for it, but I found the singing on it to be very shrill and bad for lack of a better term.

So even though I found the cast album to be unlistenable, I bought a ticket for the La Jolla Playhouse production, and shortly there after I got an e-mail from Goldstar, which is a company that offers half-priced tickets plus a service charge to shows in San Diego and several other cities. They were offering half price seats for on-stage seating the week before the show I bought a ticket to already. So for less than $20 I decided I was going to take advantage of the deal and see the show a week early, and it sounded like it would be neat to try an on-stage seat and see it from a vantage point I wasn’t going to get from my regular seat the next time I came to see the show.

Well the show was absolutely brilliant. The premise of the show is that Elizabeth Stanley, as Greek Muse Clio, goes in disguise as Kira and aims to help Max von Essen as Sonny Malone fufill his destiny to open a roller disco. Along the way Clio is aided by her fellow muses Erato (Talia Brinson), Thalia (Jason Michael Snow), Terpsicore (Julius Thomas III), Euterpe (JB Wing) and undermined by the jealous muses Melpomene (Sharon Wilkins) and Calliope (Joanna Glushak) while trying to rent the “Xanadu” theater from Danny Maguire (Larry Marshall). Kira succumbs to the influence of her evil sisters and does the forbidden, tell a mortal she is a muse, fall in love with a mortal, and create art herself and must accept her punishment before Zeus. Can Sonny Malone love her enough to save her from her punishment?

I had a phenomenal time from my vantage point on stage with the cast zooming all around me on foot and some on skates. And in some cases we were part of the show too. It was just the most unique experience. I just adored the show. The story that Douglas Carter Beane wrote to replace the plot of the movie actually makes sense. It feels more like a musical than the movie ever did. And with all the tongue in cheek jokes about jukebox musicals and stage shows based on crap movies, it’s a show that doesn’t take itself seriously (much like “Mamma Mia!”) and you leave the showing having had a great time and learn that leg warmers are far more important than you might think.

In fact, one of the bigger surprises for me was how the song “Magic” really fit into the plot. In the film, it’s used as background music while Olivia Newton-John is skating around so you don’t pay attention to the lyrics. And with the song being as much of a pop hit for Olivia Newton-John, again, you just don’t read much into the lyrics. But with the stage show, the songs are propelling the story forward and you realize how tied into the plot the lyrics really are. The song tells how Clio is guiding Sonny to his hopes and dreams in much the same way the Law of Attraction brings people together with what their thoughts and feelings resonate.

Well I enjoyed the show so much, I had to see it again. I checked to see if Goldstar had another half priced seat on stage for the following night, and they did, just one left. It was meant for me, so I bought it. And was back in the world of “Xanadu” the next night. Ultimately, I saw the show seven times during it’s run at the La Jolla Playhouse. Seven is significant for me because when the La Jolla Playhouse had “RENT,” I saw it six and a half times (The half time was because I snuck in during intermission the final night of the show). I ended up taking friends to see the show and even took my mother to see “Xanadu.” I didn’t tell her we had stage seating that night until we were being seated. (She didn’t want to be on stage, but ultimately had a great time.)

Special shout outs go to cast members, Vincent Rodriguez III (Swing, Specialty Skater, and stepped in as Thailia in one of the performances I saw), and Sharon Wilkins (Melpomene). I got to know Vincent through another website before “Xanadu” started playing, and is a friend so it was always fun to come see a show where you know someone in it. And Sharon recognized me from being on the stage seating so many times she’d always do a little something extra to play with me. The night I took my mom, she was entering stage right behind where my mom and I were seated and she whispered, “Back for more, eh?” to me. And was a pleasure to chat with following the show too.

After seeing the show, I certainly found the original Broadway cast album to be much easier to listen to. I guess its one of those shows it’s better to see it first then you can fully appreciate the soundtrack later. In fact, since I started going to see the show at the La Jolla Playhouse, I’ve added the stage show tracks to a playlist on my iPod with the original film tracks.

One of the fringe benefits of the Broadway show doing so much to make “Xanadu” more relevant, Universal Pictures issued a remastered DVD of the movie so now the original looks better than it ever did. Universal even produced some bonus features and packed the DVD with the CD soundtrack, making it a bargain to get the original film and soundtrack in one package. Get your copy of the “Magical Musical Edition” of Xanadu on DVD with the soundtrack CD here and get your copy of the Original Broadway Cast Recording of Xanadu here from Amazon.com.

And for those of you lucky enough to be in the Chicago area, go see “Xanadu” and get your tickets for Xanadu here from TicketMaster. And if you live in Boston, Chicago, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, New York, San Diego, San Francisco, or Washington D.C. you should consider joining Goldstar and getting the opportunity to purchase half price tickets through there. Click here to join Goldstar.

9 To 5: The Musical

9 To 5 Autographed ProgramIn much the same way that “Xanadu” was a brilliant re-imagining of 1980 movie, “9 To 5” resurrected the classic movie of the same name. Except here, the challenge to bring it to stage was not a faulty plot, but rather a lack of songs. Considering how legendary the title track song already is, it seemed like a natural choice to ask Dolly Parton to pen the songs for the musical version of the movie and having never written a musical before, Dolly simply said that she would give it a try and see. She even gave the producers the option to replace her as song writer because she wasn’t quite sure she’d be up to the task of writing songs for a musical.

Well according to Patricia Resnick, the writer of “9 To 5” both the film and movie, Dolly was absolutely amazing. She would literally come back with songs as soon as the next day and one of the easiest people to work with. She never took it personally if she or the director, Joe Mantello (Who also directed the Musical phenomenon “Wicked”) need to change direction with a scene and needed a different song to go with it. Dolly has even reported said that the way she was able to write the songs for each character was by envisioning she was the character and write the songs according to each character’s motivations.

Well “9 To 5” will be hitting Broadway later this year in April. But fortunately the musical was tried out for a short run in September and early October of 2008 at the Ahmanson Theatre in downtown Los Angeles. I made a trip up to Los Angeles to see it with a few of my friends from the Los Angeles area that are also big ABBA fans.

The musical is set roughly in “1979 or thereabouts” as it states in the program. Its a visually stunning show that needs Cirque du Soleil like precision as a cast member out of place at the wrong moment could be hit with set pieces coming from all directions or fall down a trapdoor that opens to bring in props and set pieces from below the stage. All of it designed to recapture the essence of the movie and push it through with new songs.

All of the favorite scenes from the movie have found their way into the show in some form or another. The big surprise was how they were going to pull off the pot smoking scene where each of the three women have their fantasies about how they’d deal with Mr. Hart. Especially since Violet’s fantasy involves a fairy tale like poisoning of the boss with animated characters. And a minor change that since it’s not practical to do a car getaway in a stage show, it’s a chase around the hospital with the realization it’s not Mr. Hart’s body as they are about to put the body in the trunk.

While a lot of musicals tend to build up to one song that is the “showstopper” that defines the show, “9 To 5” really has that kind of moment for each of it’s main characters. Doralee Rhoades as portrayed by Megan Hilty (Dolly Parton’s role in the movie) has hers in the first act where she proclaims she’s more real than she looks in “Backwoods Barbie” (The song is also available on Dolly Parton’s most current album “Backwoods Barbie.”) Violet Newstead as portrayed by Alison Janney (Lilly Tomlin’s role in the movie) gets her chance to steal the show early in the second act where she has a brilliant song called “One Of The Boys” showcasing how her character is just as good as any man at managing the office. Judy Burnly as portrayed by Stephanie J. Block has her showstopper towards the end the of the show where she proclaims to the her ex in “Get Out And Stay Out” that she is now a strong woman and doesn’t need her ex in her life to feel good about her life.

Even outside the trio, there’s also songs for Roz and Mr. Hart to have their moment of glory on the stage. Roz as portrayed by Kathy Fitzgerald, gets a song called “5 To 9” where she actually expresses melancholy about her hours outside of work. And Mr. Hart as portrayed by Marc Kudish gets a chance to twirl around on highwires contemplating his fate as he’s strung up on a wire in his own bedroom by the trio while singing “Mundania.” And let’s not forget that the show opens and closes with Dolly Parton’s classic anthem “9 To 5.”

The only downside of having caught the show in its pre-Broadway run is that there’s no chance to take home the songs as there won’t be a cast album at least not until the show opens on Broadway and most likely will not hit stores at least until the show’s been open for at least six months. But regardless of this limitation, I’m glad to see such a fun and brilliant movie get a new lease on life with a stage version. I hope it does really well as its a fun show and Dolly Parton wrote some really great songs. I wouldn’t be surprised to see her name attached to another Musical score sometime in the future. And in case you haven’t seen the original movie this musical is based on, click here to get your copy of “9 To 5” on DVD from Amazon.com.

Duffy

DuffyEvery once in a while I download the free song of the week from iTunes, and one week in 2008 the free song was “Mercy” by Duffy. Up until “Mercy” I have never been completely blown away by any of the free songs of the week, but this one had me completely hooked. I loved the whole retro sound of the song which to me was very reminiscent of artists like Dusty Springfield. I would literally just set the song on single track repeat on my iPod and let it play for hours on end. And within a very short period of time the song was in my top most played songs on my iPod.

Well I wrote about how the song was impressing me to the ABBA Mailing List I was on at the time and it sparked a whole discussion, with mostly the UK members of the list chiming in with how much they were liking her too since her album was already released over there. One very kind member of the list attempted to send me MP3s of the entire album, but only one song got through which was “Distant Dreamer” and I loved that song so much that I knew I wasn’t going to wait the month and half before Duffy’s album would be released in the US, not when it was available right then and there in the UK, so I just placed an order for a UK copy and within a week, I was able to enjoy the album in full.

It’s been a very long time since I was that excited about a new album from a new artist. The “Rockferry” album was wonderful. I liked the whole album, which is very unusual for me. I was quite pleased with it and once it finally did come out in the US, I ended up giving copies of the album as gifts to a few people as well.

By summer I got word that Duffy was touring the US and that she was going to be performing in San Diego, so I bought tickets. I was very excited about the show. Unfortunately the person who was supposed to go with me cancelled at the last minute and I was scrambling to find someone else to go with me, and ultimately ended up going to the show alone. No worries though, I had a fantastic time at the show. Once the dreadful opening act was over and done with it was a fantastic evening with Duffy. She performed her entire album plus one of her b-sides to the “Mercy” single as well as a new song called “Rain On Your Parade” which was going to be released as her next single.

One of the things I was amazed with was how the audience was singing along with Duffy to all the album songs, they knew those songs like the back of their hand, unfortunately I didn’t because I had stopped playing Duffy’s album the moment I got the “Mamma Mia! The Movie” soundtrack and had been playing that non-stop pretty much until I saw “Xanadu” for the first time. It definitely seemed like a good sign to see that kind of reaction to Duffy. Hopefully her follow up album does as well here.

Strangely enough, the US has not yet seen a release of the new Deluxe Edition of Duffy’s “Rockferry” album, so again, I had to bypass her domestic record label to get a copy of it. The Deluxe Edition features a bonus disc with more songs including the awesome ‘Rain On Your Parade” song that she performed live in concert. If you would like a copy of the Deluxe Edition of her album, I highly recommend CD-Wow and you get it by clicking here and doing a search for Duffy (at the time of this writing you can get the Deluxe Edition for $13.99 US with free shipping and handling). If you want the standard version, Amazon.com is a great place to get it, and you can do so by clicking here.

Arrival

Ryan Cameron Meets Arrival in Anaheim, October 12, 2008One of the best concert experiences I’ve had this year was with Arrival. Arrival is an ABBA Tribute Band from Sweden headed up by Vicky Zetterberg. I’ve seen rave reviews of Arrival from many ABBA fans around the world that have gotten the chance to see them. And it wasn’t until 2008 that I finally got a chance to see Arrival, not just once, but twice. And they certainly have earned the right in my book to call themselves the best ABBA Tribute Band in the world.

Arrival just gets everything right when it comes to recreating the ABBA experience and Vicky has painstakingly ensured that that is the case. Every detail is gone over from the costumes being faithfully recreated under the supervision of original ABBA costumer, Owe Sandström, to the choreography being faithful to how ABBA originally did it during their 1977 tour (as featured in ABBA: The Movie) and their 1979 tour (as featured in ABBA: Live In Concert). And what should be a no-brainer for ABBA Tribute bands, but yet Arrival is the only one I’ve ever seen do it, is that the right performer sings the songs. Nothing shatters the illusion of ABBA more than seeing “Frida” sing “Chiquitita” or “Agnetha” doing “Fernando” to those who know. And to ensure authenticity, Arrival brings out on tour original ABBA musicians who had originally taken part of the ABBA tours. The shows I caught had Finn Sjöberg, one of ABBA’s original guitar players, who not only toured with ABBA, but he even brought out his guitar that he played with ABBA which makes him even more easy to spot in the concert footage in ABBA: The Movie.

And let’s not forget the performers who step into the roles of ABBA. Vicky Zetterberg performs the role of Anni-Frid “Frida” Lyngstad. Jenny Gustafsson recreates Agnetha Fältskog. Henrik Paulsson brings the role of Björn Ulvaeus to life, and Rolf Ivraeus channels the spirit of Benny Andersson and together they create the ultimate ABBA concert experience. And the added bonus is that they’re all Swedish too so the accents are authentic and they can sing those ABBA songs in just the right way that native English speakers just aren’t quite able to recreate.

Arrival tours constantly and they put on the best ABBA show around, check them out if they come to an area near you, you’ll have a great time. Check out Arrival’s website here to hear samples of their songs, see videos of their performances, and to keep up to date on their touring schedule. And if you see them live, be sure to stay after the show and say hello to the Vicky and the band and let them know that I sent you.

Invisible Shield by Zagg

My Devices protected by Zagg's Invisible Shield - Sirius Stiletto 100, iPod Classic, iPod Touch, T-Mobile Shadow, NOT SHOWN: Casio Exilim EX-600 Digital CameraIf you have gadgets such as a cell phone (mobile phone for all you folks outside North America), an iPod, a PDA, a digital camera, or even things like laptops and such, then you need Invisible Shield protective films for your products. The Invisible Shield is derived from technology designed for military applications. The protective film was originally created to protect helicopter blades from damage, so if these skintight films can prevent helicopter blades from being damaged from rocks and other debris, imagine what protection they can offer your gadgets.

As you can see in the photo I’ve included photos of some of the devices I have purchased Invisible Shield skins for. As you can see, the skins are barely visible and you can easily tell that the devices show are a Sirius Satellite Radio Stiletto 100, an iPod Classic, an iPod Touch, and a T-Mobile Shadow. The only device you can’t see is the Casio Exilim EX-S600 camera used to take the photo.

The main thing with Invisible Shields is that you’re making a one time purchase for each gadget, the film will protect your device from scratches and the like. You can literally take a protected iPod and literally run keys over it repeatedly in the attempt to scratch the device and it will not get a single scratch. So you don’t have to buy any additional protective covers for your devices. You don’t have to worry about throwing your iPod or phone in your pocket with a set of keys because it’s going to remain scratch free.

iPhone 3G Scratch Test

I took advantage of Zagg’s Halloween sale which took 40% off the purchase price, but even if I hadn’t, when you purchase more than one shield at a time, they offer you discounts. When you buy 3 or more you’ll get 30% off regularly. So definitely consider getting them for all your devices at one time. The shields also come with a lifetime replacement warranty, so in the unlikely event your shield ends up damaged, let them know, they’ll ship you a new one, and you send the old one back and you’re covered.

I liked the results so much with all my protected devices that when I added an iPod Touch to my menagerie of gadgets in December, right after I purchased it, I went immediately to a store that carries the Invisible Shield so that I could protect it right away. I wasn’t even going to use the device until it was protected in an Invisible Shield. And since each Invisible Shield never shows scratches, I know it’s just a one time purchase. Get some for your devices and I’d love to hear what you think of the Invisible Shields. Click here to get Invisible Shield skins for your devices.

Sirius Satellite Radio

Well Sirius Satellite Radio is only really available to residents of the United States and Canada. Although it is possible to subscribe to Internet only access to it which is available to people outside the US and Canada.

One of the things Sirius did during the summer to promote “Mamma Mia! The Movie” is that they turned one of their music stations into an all ABBA radio station for a few weeks prior to the release of the movie. And on it they played all kinds of ABBA related music, such as songs from the musical “Chess,” which was co-written by Björn and Benny with Tim Rice, to both the movie and stage cast albums of “Mamma Mia!” as well as various solo works, and even songs written for other groups like Gemini.

In fact you’d even hear occasional songs from Björn and Benny’s previous groups, the Hootenanny Singers and the Hep Stars respectively. They also had guest DJs to come in and play their favorite ABBA songs such as Per Gessle of Roxette and Andy Bell of Erasure. Not to mention Billboard Magazine’s Fred Bronson, a noted ABBA fan, was invited in to interview Björn and Benny and clips from those interviews would be mixed in between the songs.

It was all ABBA, all the time for a few weeks during the summer. And then it was reprised again for a couple of weeks in December in time for the “Mamma Mia! The Movie” DVD release. Now if they’d just make it permanent station like they have for Elvis, The Grateful Dead, and Jimmy Buffet, I think it would be even more awesome.

Well when I got Sirius, initially I was gravitating towards the music channels. I found that I was loving the 80’s station the most, which is no surprise since my all time favorite era for music is the early 1980’s. And it’s nice to see Sirius has all the original MTV VJs as hosts, so it’s definitely a big touch of 80’s flashbacks between the music and the voices in between the songs. Occasionally I’d venture over to the top 40 station, and some of the 1990’s. And my carpool buddy often liked the “Hair Nation” channel which is specifically devoted to the Big Hair Metal bands of the 1980’s and I must admit I was liking a lot of the songs there too (must be because they’re from the 80’s). I was also playing a lot of “The Spectrum” channel, but mostly for the Nordic Rox program which covers Scandinavian music and Per Gessle of my all time favorite band, Roxette, is involved in the programming for that weekly program.

And then probably the scariest thing of all happens to you as you get older. Something I swore would never happen to me. My parents switched from music stations to talk radio at some point during my childhood and I swore it would never happen to me, but with Sirius it happened to me too!!! The shock and horror as I cruised the higher number stations which are all devoted to talk radio. Some of the shows I looked forward to hearing were the Derek and Romaine show, Diana Cage, Sean Hannity, Sonya Fitzpatrick’s Pet Psychic show, and then I found my favorite show on Sirius, Angels On Call, with Mary Occhino.

I was shocked I was starting to like the talk radio shows more than the music programming. But I’m okay with the change. I guess it’s something that happens to every one eventually. Maybe I’m getting old. Anyway, check out Sirius, it’s now even better due to the merger with XM so now you can get all of the Sirius programming including Martha Stewart and Howard Stern with the best of XM like Oprah and Friends all together on one service. You can sign up for Sirius Satellite Service and even get a radio from Sirius directly by clicking here or you can do what I did and buy a radio separately from eBay by clicking here.

The Netflix Box by Roku

Roku Netflix PlayerThe Netflix Box by Roku is a little Internet enabled box that connects to your TV and allows you to stream movies and television shows directly from Netflix to your television. It’s the ultimate low cost, on demand system available anywhere. And the best part, if you’re a Netflix customer with any of the unlimited monthly plans (starting as low as $8.99 a month), your subscription fee already includes unlimited instant viewing.

The box gives you a variety of options on how to connect it to both your television and the Internet. It offers connections video connection in HDMI, Component video, Composite Video, S-Video, sound output via HDMI, Optical TOSlink, and stereo RCA connections. And it connects to the Internet through either the Ethernet input plug or you can wirelessly connect it to your router. And you can set the video output to 720p HD, 4:3 (standard TV definition) or 16:9 (widescreen TV definition). And once you’ve set up the box, you can even take it on vacation with you so long as you have Internet Access and a way to connect it to the hotel TV, you’ve got your own portable on-demand video device.

As for content, Netflix offers over 12,000 choices. Most of the content is older films and television shows, such as “Xanadu” (which I must admit it’s been a hell of a lot easier to just tell the Netflix box to show me “Xanadu” than to get up and find the DVD in my collection.) But through a partnership with Starz, they are able to offer more current offerings on a limited time basis where some movies are only available for a couple of months before they become not available to view instantly. Netflix has also been partnering up with some current television shows, such as Heroes and CSI where you can watch the current season with new episodes becoming available within 24 hours of it’s airing on television. Although I’m really pleased the first three seasons of the new Doctor Who from the BBC have been added so I can always get a little fix of the Doctor and Rose Tyler the Doctor and Martha Jones.

And Netflix has also been making the instant viewing technology available to other manufacturers as well too, for example you can purchase Blu-Ray Players from both Samsung and LG that feature the Netflix option built right in and it’s also available to users of the Microsoft’s XBox 360 and TIVO DVRs. And Roku is adding additional functionality to their Netflix Player boxes. They just recently announced it will be partnering with Amazon.com to be able to offer Video On-Demand services, which will open the box up to 40,000 titles that you can rent on a pay-per-view type basis, where when you purchase the rental, you can watch it as many times as you want in a 24 hour window. This will allow some movies and television shows to be watchable the same day they get released on DVD.

If you’re already a Netflix subscriber, then the Netflix box is a no-brainer that should be added immediately to your home. If you aren’t then you should certainly consider getting a box. They are available directly from Roku by clicking here, or find a deal on one at eBay by clicking here. And don’t forget to add a Netflix account by clicking here.

And don’t forget with your Netflix subscription, you also get the DVDs in the mail from the one at time on the low end up to eight at a time on the high end. Additionally all instantly available content can be watched on your PC or Mac. All you need is Internet Explorer for the PC and the Safari browser on Mac.

Fresh & Easy

And last but not least, there is Fresh & Easy. This is going to be a meaningless item to people outside of California, Arizona, and Nevada, but Fresh & Easy is a new grocery chain that’s a subdivision of the British Tesco that’s looking to expand into the US. Well their Fresh & Easy stores are smaller than full grocery stores and offer mostly Fresh & Easy brand products. The draw to these products is that they’re made with fresher and more natural ingredients. A lot of the products are organic or prepared with out preservatives.

Fresh & Easy is very much in the same vein of stores as Trader Joe stores that are found across the US. Like Trader Joe’s they a big selection of wines, as well as prepared meals, and some frozen meals, in addition to offering quality brands in addition to their own house brand. The stores also promote environmental responsibility and offer really great deals on natural products. I’ve really enjoyed their selection of products and have made most of my grocery purchases this year at a Fresh & Easy store. The only downside for me is that there isn’t one really close so I have to hit up the store that’s not too far from my path home from work.

Check them out on the web by clicking here and if you’re in California, Nevada, or Arizona be sure to check them out. They’re awesome and I hope they can spread their way across the nation.

 Posted on : January 23, 2009
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