To Vongo or not to Vongo

For those of us who can't get local television reception (tough to get a good signal from Detroit stations all the way out here) or satellite television (too many trees around our house) and refuse to pay the devil-that-is-Comcast for cable, viewing options are limited. Granted, a handful of TV shows are available for viewing -- either free on the network websites or for purchase through services like iTunes -- but the pickings are pretty slim. And, yes, one could -- hypothetically speaking -- master the complicated world of bit torrents and download illegal copies of network TV shows, arguing (albeit weakly) that the moral breech is justifiable given these shows use the free public airwaves and it's not OUR fault we can't get any reception with said airwaves even after working our way through a frustrating and increasingly expensive series of antennae.

Hypothetically speaking, of course.

The plus side is that since there's nothing on the TV to watch but fuzz, I don't just turn it on and waste away a snowy day on the couch. (Well, I waste it away, but not watching TV.) I have a Netflix account, although I'm beginning to wonder if it's worth it and, besides, it doesn't do you much good if you're suddenly in the mood to watch a dumb romantic comedy and you've had a copy of Munich sitting on your coffee table for three weeks.

Enter Vongo, a brand new service that lets you download and watch movies online. I just signed up for the free 14-day period. After that, it's $9.99 a month. Here's how it works -- you peruse their movie supply, click on the one you want to download, schedule a time to download it and it adds it to your library. You can watch it as it downloads, pause it like a DVD, etc. and you can watch it as many times as you like before it expires -- the ones I've looked at expire anywhere from a month to a few months after download.

Sounds like a brilliant idea? Here's the problem I'm running into -- Vongo, which is brought to us by the Starz movie channel, has a relatively limited number of movies available at any given time. They say there are 2200 available but I'd say a small portion of those are of interest to me. I suppose the content will rotate as movies appear to be licensed to Vongo for distribution for limited periods of time. There are a lot of movies on there that seem like real duds and mostly older ones at that.

On the other hand, I'm finding it useful for watching movies I've already seen but haven't watched in years (Wings of the Dove, The English Patient, etc.) which is precisely the kind of viewing I like on said snowy, lazy days, when I just want something lovely to keep me busy. I've already watched five or six movies, including a few indies that I'd been curious about but never rented, and I suppose that's worth the $9.99 price tag alone. (You can also order some "premium" pay-per-view movies for $3.99 each.)

You have to watch the movies on your computer, I suppose, unless you've got an S-cable hookup and can play laptop movies on your TV. I have no problem watching my laptop which, when propped on my coffee table or my lap, is far closer than my TV. You also have to watch your space, since each movie seems to take up a huge amount of space on your hard drive. Fortunately, you can delete them from your library as soon as you're finished watching them.

Obviously, the jury's still out on this Vongo service, although I will go on record saying I think it's a terrible, terrible name. I think I'll keep it for another month or so and keep my eyes peeled for Netflix's coming service that will let you watch their movies online. I'll keep you posted because I know you're as fascinated as I am.

Oh! And speaking of my technological dabblings, I finally got set up with Skype. If you're not familiar with Skype, it's an internet-based phone service that lets you make free calls via your computer to any other Skype user in the world -- all you need is a microphone and/or headset. (You can get a decent one for about $20.) Plus, we're thinking of ditching the long distance service on our landline and paying the $14/year that allows us to make unlimited long distance calls from Skype to any land phone in the US. And their international rate for calling a landline phone is just two cents a minute, which is less than we're paying now. Yay, savings!

I actually got an account a while ago but didn't get the headset set up until this week. Looking forward to chatting for free with other Skype members, especially my friends overseas! So if you're a Skyper, let me know and we'll be new best friends and talk all day, every day.