Thursday, 27 December 2018

Scott, I hear you ask, how do you manage to watch all these wonderful old movies on your TV screen without needing a DVD player?

To be strictly accurate, three people have asked me this question recently, and I promised each of them I'd post some advice: here it is. I'm sure there are other ways of doing it, but I'm no expert, so I'll just describe how I've gone about it. For starters, we own a Samsung "Smart" TV - i.e. a set which can be hooked into your broadband network and which is festooned with USB ports so you can plug other devices into it. We used to be able to access YouTube videos from the TV, but the app was pretty useless, and was finally removed. In order to restore this capability, I bought an Amazon Fire Stick (approximately £50 when I last looked) and connected it to the TV vis a USB port. (As far as I can tell, the Fire Stick communicates wirelessly with your broadband router, rather than piggybacking on any connection between your TV and your broadband network.) Instantly, I could once more choose to watch any of the thousands of films available for free or pay to rent one of their pay films (the only movies I pay to watch on YouTube are those offered by the company itself - many other pay films are available on the platform from other providers, but they all require a monthly subscription, and ...

...I suspect some of those deals are hard to cancel once you sign up to them).

This arrangement satisfied me for while, but I was frustrated by the large number of vintage classics I wanted to watch, but which simply weren't available on YouTube. So I signed up for a 30-day free trial with Amazon Prime Video, which, again, gave me access to a shedload of extra free movies, and ones I could rent for between £2.49 and £3.49 for 48 hours (once you've purchased a film, you have 28 days to start watching it and a further 48 hours to cram in as many viewings as you can stomach).

But I still wasn't satisfied! I kept coming across arty and foreign classics on Amazon which required another  monthly subscription to something called the BFI (i.e. British Film Institute) Player. As they were offering a three-month free trial, I signed up - and hundreds of extra films were suddenly available to me (their range of Japanese and German classics is particularly impressive). There are a number of other specialist film subscription services available on Prime Video - for instance, several Hollywood studios are peddling their back catalogues - but the choice seems fairly limited, it would mean taking out yet more subscriptions, and there just aren't enough hours in the day to squeeze in yet more films! After all, we're Sky subscribers, so we already have access to vintage films on a number of TV channels, including Retro TV (which is once more available after disappearing into the ether for a spell), and Movies4Men, which both offer a selection of old films whose copyright has lapsed, and which are therefore in the public domain - and, of course, TCM and the deeply wonderful TalkingPicturesTV, which continues to shine out like a good deed in a naughty world.

Despite all that, there are still some classics which appear to be unavailable anywhere online. Some of these are available on DVD (I hate cluttering up the place with these things, but I caved in this Christmas and bought myself two noted noir titles - The Glass Key and Phantom Lady - and the 1949 British film version of Pushkin's The Queen of Spades - and I may have to give in and order The Big Clock, The Clock and Gun Crazy).

We also have a Netflix subscription - but their vintage film offering is risible.

I know all that sounds like a bit of a palaver - and a trifle expensive. But, if you just have the occasional hankering to watch one of the hundreds of great old films available for nowt on YouTube - but in comfort and on a nice big screen - all you really have to do is buy a Fire Stick and plug it into your TV. As for the gems available on YouTube, I'll list some of the standout titles in another post.

Three warnings to end with. First, I'm not sure what the minimum bandwidth requirements are for streaming films painlessly on your TV - especially those in high definition - so I'd check, if I were you. Second, the prints of many old free films on YouTube are in such a shockingly bad state, you won't be able to bear watching them (by the same token, I'm astonished by the excellent quality of many of them). Finally, if you find a YouTube film you're really keen to see, watch it quickly, because copyright issues mean they can disappear in an eyeblink.

Happy viewing!

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