The media pantry

Published January 19, 2006

With the current deluge of media available to most consumers, designing your media diet can feel a little like picking dinner from a 500-item menu.

Sure enough, fitting quality fare into overbooked personal schedules and exploding choices can be a challenge. But there are some technologies which make it easier to be more selective about what media you consume.

Here's a quick look at what's available:

EPISODIC TV ON DEMAND: Tired of waiting for shows to air on network TV? ABC offers episodes of Desperate Housewives and Lost through Apple's iTunes service for $1.99 each, downloadable directly to your home computer or iPod www.apple.com Beginning this month, subscribers to Comcast cable services (in markets with CBS stations owned by the network can watch episodes of CSI, NCIS, Amazing Race and Survivor for 99 cents each. NBC Universal now offers video on demand access to shows from the network and cable channels such as Bravo, Sci Fi Channel and USA Network through a special digital video recorder offered by DirectTV. Bright House Network digital cable TV subscribers in the Tampa Bay area already can access shows from HBO, Comedy Central, A&E and many other channels on demand. Other deals, including CBS shows on Google and shows from FX and Fox downloadable on DirectTV, are also expected this year.

RSS FEEDS: Known as real simple syndication, this technology allows users to custom-design their own media use by having regular Web site updates delivered to their computer desktop. Using a program called a news reader (FeedDemon or Pluck are well-known), users can develop a list of Web sites that will deliver their updates automatically to the computer - from Time magazine to the reality TV-focused Web log, Reality Blurred.

PODCASTING: This technology allows users to automatically download audio files into an MP3 player or desktop computer. Using a program such as iTunes or iPodder, users can download a wide range of audio files for later listening, from episodes of National Public Radio's Fresh Air to audio versions of the New York Times.

THE DVR: Digital video recorders are computer hard drives which record video images. Whether provided by cable companies such as Bright House Networks or sold separately like TiVo, DVRs allow users to easily program which shows to save. Viewers can assemble their own schedule of TV consumption, regardless of when the episodes actually air. And with technology allowing users to download TV shows to some DVRs or move shows saved on DVRs to other devices, such units can be especially attractive to those assembling a custom-made media diet.