Saturday, December 24, 2011
Christmas shopping is seldom an enjoyable experience, especially when you’re still frantically searching for that perfect gift this late in the game. Luckily, the magic of the Internet allows you to skip the need to even step outside of your home to make up for your gift-shopping procrastination habits.
Digital subscription services have made a huge splash on the web this year. Giving the gift of digital love is bound to make even the pickiest friend or family member’s eyes glow with holiday joy. Even better, these gifts can be purchased on the spot and shipping is a non-issue.
Here are a few suggestions that both the tech-savvy and technologically inept will enjoy this holiday season.
For the music fan
What it can replace: Crates of vinyl, 8-tracks in need of a pencil, scratched CDs, an iPod.
2011 has been the year of on-demand music with the introduction of Spotify in the U.S., but Rdio is a little blue gem that doesn’t get as much attention as its green peer. Like Spotify, Rdio is a streaming music service that offers users the ability to stream more music than you could ever hope to listen to you on the desktop and on your mobile device. Both services offer free, ad-supported plans: a $4.99 a month unlimited streaming, ad-free plan and a $9.99 a month plan that allows you to stream music to your Android or iOS device.
Rdio differentiates itself from Spotify in three main categories: user interface, social music discovery and its web player.
Saying that Rdio’s UI is cleaner than Spotify’s is a serious understatement. Rdio replaces Spotify’s iTunes-inspired interface and unruly playlists with a clean and easy-to-understand web layout. You can sift through your music by artist, album or song without the need to create a new playlist for every new addition to your library. Rdio visually lays out your most-played artist and albums so it’s easier to find your recent guilty pleasures.
If you’re a playlist fanatic fret not, because Rdio offers the ability to create those as well.
Being a web application gives Rdio greater flexibility than Spotify’s desktop client. You can access your entire music collection from any web browser without needing to install a native application. Rdio also offers a desktop client that offers the same UI as their web app, mobile apps for Android and iOS and an iPad app.
Rdio lets you see what your friends are listening to through Facebook integration just like Spotify, but also lets you “follow” anyone else who uses the service. Users range from no-name music junkies to music publications. It’s a great way to discover new music if you don’t necessarily get all of your music suggestions from your friends.
For the television/movie buff
What it can replace: A cable subscription (for some).
When it comes to streaming television and movies, Netflix is probably the first thing that comes to mind, which is why we’re recommending Hulu Plus. It’s safe to say that nearly everyone you know has a Netflix account (or is using someone else’s). But chances are you don’t know many people with a Hulu Plus subscription, which is a shame.
Like Netflix, Hulu Plus offers a plethora of movies and television content, but Hulu Plus really excels in the latter category. Hulu Plus gets more TV shows than Netflix does and also offers many current-season episodes of popular shows shortly after they air on cable and satellite. Hulu Plus also has an extensive catalog of classic shows and while its movie collection may not be as robust as Netflix’s, it does one-up Netflix by offering the Criterion Collection for streaming.
You can watch content from Hulu Plus pretty much on any device that supports Netflix streaming, including computers, smartphones, tablets, gaming consoles, Blu-ray players and set-top boxes.
Hulu Plus costs $7.99/month, with the ability to gift up to a year’s subscription for $95.88. There are some advertisements, which is kind of a bummer, but it’s a small price to pay for its wealth of content.
For the sports fanatic
Online Season Passes
What it can replace: Real-life season passes…ok maybe not.
Choosing one service over the other is just asking for a heated debate over sport superiority, so here are a few of the major options available.
MLB offers a streaming plan for $199.99 that allows you to stream every 2012 regular season game in HD and watch full-game archives of this year’s games. They also offer the ability to watch more than 150 select 2012 Spring Training games live.
NBA offers two plans for the fan and the fanatic. The “Choice” plan lets you follow up to five teams to watch throughout the regular season for four payments of $29.95 or a one-time payment of $109.00. The “Premium” plan lets you watch all 30 teams throughout the regular season for four payments of $46.95 or a one-time payment of $169.00.
Oddly enough, there isn’t a live streaming option for the (American) football fan in your life. NFL Game Pass, which lets you stream live games, isn’t available in the country that birthed football, but you should still check out Game Rewind. This allows you to check out games after they have aired on television, including some 2010 and 2009 games. There is a Seasons+Playoffs plan that lets you watch regular games and every Playoff game commercial-free for $24.99, and a Playoffs plan, which lets you watch only the Playoff games for $19.99.
For the gamer
What it can replace: Expensive gaming PCs
OnLive is the gaming service from the future. OnLive is a cloud gaming service that streams games to your Mac, PC and even your iPad or iPhone — no discs, downloads or expensive gaming PC rigs required. All of the back-end stuff is handled by OnLive, which lets you enjoy nearly lag-free, console-quality gaming over nearly any internet-connected device.
OnLive gets many recently released titles, such as Assassin’s Creed Revelations and Batman: Arkham City. You can purchase games individually or you can get a PlayPack subscription that lets you play more than 100 games in OnLive’s library.
OnLive is offering gift packages for both individual games and their PlayPack service. You can purchase individual games from $19.99 to $49.99. PlayPack subscription prices range from a one-month $9.99 subscription, to a $99.99 yearlong subscription.
You can also choose to have an OnLive game system bundled with your purchase so that the gamer in your life can also stream games to their fancy HDTV. You can get a system with one game purchase for $119.99 or for $159.99 you can get a system plus a 12-month PlayPack subscription.