Cable TV – Do I really need it?

10 02 2009

By Casey Gotcher

With the economy heading in the wrong direction these days, many people are looking at ways they can tighten their belt.  I will not attempt to give advice on personal finance, as I seem to overspend myself, much to my wife’s chagrin.  What I can offer is a way to embrace some new advances in web and TV technology, to lower your monthly cash burn.  If you are like a lot of Americans, you probably spend upwards of $50 a month for Cable TV.  In Austin, we seem to pay even more than most communities, with Time Warner gigging us to the tune of ~$75 a month, by the time you get a couple of boxes, pay for PVR, and HD.  This is all before premium channels of course.  Add HBO, Showtime, etc. and you can end up over $100 a month. 

More and more of my friends and co-workers are getting tired of dealing with this cost, not to mention the associated taxes, and hassles the cable company puts you through.  They beginning to ask, “Can I live without cable?”  I have been looking into the answer to this question for some time now.  If you had asked me 2 years ago, I would have said no.  At least for most people.  Ask me again today, and I would say Yes!  Between over the air (OTA, ATSC), and online, you have some good options now that you didn’t have before.

The sites you are going to want to familiarize yourself with are Hulu.com, TV.com, video.aol.com, Fox.com, ABC.com, NBC.com, CBS.com, and Joost.com.  These all offer tons of free content for you to watch, on demand.  Many times, they even have HD options for better video quality.  Some other sites that aggregate from other sites are surfthechannel.com and findinternettv.com.  These will help you find what you are looking for, from a variety of sources, including those mentioned above.

In addition to the various websites that offer TV shows, you also have the Netflix option, should you choose to subscribe.  What this means, is if you have a compatible Netflix device, such as an XBOX 360, TiVo Series 3, Netflix player by Roku, or a select Blu-Ray player from Samsung or LG, you can watch several movies or TV shows on demand, as part of your monthly subscription.  Many Americans subscribe to Netflix any way, as their primary source of DVD rental.  This is added goodness at no additional cost.

Below I will outline many of the options and services, that might allow you to get rid of that cable bill, and still catch many of your favorite TV shows.

Here is a sampling of some popular TV shows, and some options on how you might watch them if you did not subscribe to Cable TV.

 

Lost – ATSC (OTA), Hulu.com, ABC.com (free) iTunes, and Amazon.com ($1.99)

Heroes – ATSC, Hulu.com, NBC.com, iTunes ($), Amazon.com ($)

The Office – ATSC, Hulu.com, NBC.com iTunes ($), Amazon.com ($)

24 – ATSC, Fox.com, Hulu.com (free) iTunes ($), Amazon.com ($)

American Idol – ATSC, (free), excerpts, recaps from Fox.com and American Idol.com

30 Rock – ATSC, Hulu.com, NBC.com (free), iTunes, Amazon.com (1.99 per episode)

Battlestar Galactica – Hulu.com, SciFi.com (free), iTunes ($)

 

In going through this exercise I found the vast majority of shows I check on had at least one free option for watching.  Most had additional premium options, if I actually wanted to purchase the show for archiving purposes.  American Idol had the most limited options.  If you are in an area where you can get ATSC (over the air HD), you are in good shape.  If not, you would be limited to what clips and excerpts they posted on the two associated websites.  All in all though, I was pretty pleased with the options I found.

One thing that you might be wondering about is DVR support.  How do I record my favorite TV shows?  If you purchased a PC in the last couple of years, you might be in luck.  For any of the network TV shows, you can use the Over The Air (ATSC or NTSC) broadcast signal to capture.  You will need a TV tuner card to enable this experience.  I recommend the ATI TV Wonder 650.  You can get it as an internal card for desktops, or as a external USB device for notebooks.  It offers fantastic quality at a pretty decent price.  You can either use their included Catalyst Media Center software, or Microsoft’s Media Center, if your PC supports it.

In addition to using the TV tuner as an option for DVR, you always have the option to buy the episode for $1.99 from Amazon or iTunes.  I have even seen software programs advertising the ability to capture Hulu content.  One such product is called Replay Media Catcher, from Applian Technologies.  I don’t claim to understand all of the legal issues or ramifications surrounding this.  That would be up to you to investigate.  I am just noting that I have seen these options out there.  Some people have also resorted to using P2P or Bittorrent services as a way to catch up on a TV show they missed.  I am not endorsing this a legal option, just noting that it has risen in popularity of late.  Of the options available to me, I prefer using the ATI TV tuner and Media Center for my own personal needs.  I get outstanding picture quality and don’t have to worry about the legalities of downloading shows from websites.  When I fail to remember to record the show, Hulu is my life line.  I use it frequently.

Hulu        TV.com

The other thing that I get asked about is sporting events.  NFL football is well represented with OTA (over the air options such as ATSC).  NBA basketball is somewhat supported via OTA, especially as the season gets into the second half.  Playoff Baseball is usually available over the air, but you may not have as many options for in-season games.  In the end, it depends on which sport you are into and how important it is for you to see every game.  For additional Online Sports Options, here is what I was able to find.

NBA – NBA League Pass online is available right now for $49 for the rest of this season

MLB – MLB.com – Basic package for $79, and Premium for $109 (HD, PIP, DVR)

NFL – NFL Game Rewind.  Weekly for 4.99 or $19.99 for season (no live option)

UFC – PPV’s on sport.yahoo.com/mma for $44, various content, clips on spiketv.com

ESPN – No games online.  Highlights, ESPN shows, and excerpts are at espn.com

NFL     NBA

ESPN       MLB

So as you can see, there are tons of options for current and rerun TV shows out there.  You may need to hook up an HTPC, Desktop or Notebook computer to a TV to take advantage of some of these, but the options exist.  If you have an LCD or Plasma TV, you will likely have the ability to hook up through a VGA port or HDMI port.  Most PC’s support VGA, although HDMI is not as common yet.  S-Video is your best option if you have an older Tube/CRT TV.  You may notice a little flickering with S-Video, but it works.  If you are in the market to buy a new laptop, I recommend an AMD Puma based notebook, such as the HP DV4 or DV5, as they come with an HDMI port.

Summary

In our area, we went through a period of time where our cable company lost the ability to display NBC content.  This forced us to look for alternatives, as we were right in the middle of Heroes and The Office seasons.  We found both OTA/ATSC and Hulu to be sufficient replacements.  What this also did was get us in the habit of watching these programs at time of our convenience, and not necessarily when they were originally aired, as Hulu (for example) wouldn’t have the show online until the following day.  Now we watch the shows when we get around to it. 

We also noticed that watching through Hulu, meant less commercials.  For sports, I watch through my Media Center, using ATSC and my ATI tuner.  I have also enjoyed using Media Center and the Fusion Media Explorer (from AMD) to watch live TV while I am surfing the web.  This is great if you have email to catch up on, but still want to watch something on TV.

All in all, I think most people could get by without a cable subscription these days, and not miss it all that much.  While not everything you have with cable will be available to you, I think most people will find the majority of the popular content is.

Resources

www.hulu.com The best website bar none, for online TV content

www.tv.com Another site with various TV shows online

www.joost.com Site with a lot of online TV content

www.nbc.com

www.cbs.com

www.abc.com

www.fox.com

http://video.aol.com Has lots to content.  Great source for older TV shows and reruns

www.surfthechannel.com  Aggregation service.  Linked to Hulu, DailyMotion, etc.

www.findinternettv.com  Aggregation service

http://www.antennaweb.org for locating and tuning your over the air channels.

          

I encourage you to sound off with your opinions and other observations.

Casey Gotcher 

www.twitter.com/caseygotcher

Technorati Tags: ,,,,,,,,,,,,,,

About these ads

Actions

Information

13 responses

10 02 2009
Sam Bhavnani

Casey,

Have you used Boxee? It integrates most of the sites you mentioned above in one fairly easy to use interface.

The quality still isn’t superb, and its not easy enough for mainstream users yet, but its getting better all the time.

-Sam.

10 02 2009
caseygotcher

I am signed up for the beta, but waiting for the windows client to become availble. I have a Mac Mini at home and have been considering getting it set up for that reason. Does it work well for you?

10 02 2009
petetweet

Casey! Nice job putting this primer together. Excellent!!! motivates me to try some new things and consume media in some new ways. Thanks.

Pete

10 02 2009
caseygotcher

Thank you Pete. I would be very interested in hearing your experiences, if you do decide to give this a try.

10 02 2009
Nigel Dessau

My problem is that there is ONLY one way to watch the Yankees in HD. That’s DirectV. MLB.com is not yet reliable enough and only shows home games.

10 02 2009
caseygotcher

Nigel,

I have not used MLB.com, so I cannot comment much on that, but I have used the NBA Leauge Pass variant. That worked relatively well for me. The only times I had trouble with it, was in hotel rooms, where I had limited bandwidth available to me. Are you using a Slingbox for getting the Yankees while you are on the road today?

11 02 2009
Gabe Gravning

What if you could watch all of your “Internet TV” content and all of your broadcast/ATSC content all in a single program guide with a remote control? That is the plan for Windows 7…pair it with an AMD LIVE! Home Cinema (aka Maui) and you have a great TV viewing experience that will pass the wife-and-kids-test. To get an idea of what is coming to the “10-foot” Windows Media Center interface, check out the content available at http://tv.msn.com. I also have all of our music, photos and home videos all right there as well to play on the 1080P LCD in beautiful 5.1 surround sound thanks to Maui.

There are other new scenarios that having a “PC” connected to my TV enable…for example, my daughter is learning about the solar system at her pre-school, so I downloaded Worldwide Telescopeplugged in a Xbox 360 USB controller and we were off flying around the solar system and looking at the planets in amazing detail…from our couch.

26 02 2009
LCD

thanks, your article is very informative.

2 03 2009
Dstation TV

Nice article .Thank.

26 05 2009
John

Samsung LN52A650
This TV is the top recommendation from Consumer Reviews (for its value and quality). I agree and I also used the recommended settings found online at tweaktv.com. I use it with Vista Media Center and it works very nicely. I use the screen zoom feature found in VMC to accommodate the various aspect ratios found in broadcast and movie sources and leave the TV set to 16:9. Make sure to adjust the resolution and any overscan settings (e.g. using the video card settings) so that you get the full benefit of the size and resolution (Nvidia does a great job of providing the proper software for this).
The only big issue I have come across is the excessive interference with the VMC IR receiver. This TV will flood the room with IR noise when certain settings are being used (I am pretty sure its the energy saver settings). This IR noise makes the VMC remote virtually useless. I found some posts regarding these settings and corrected the issue. Now, I am happily viewing with full control of my systems.
It is an impressive TV and I am happy with it so far. As for size and weight, I can see how even at 52″, I will eventually be interested in something larger but will likely go to a projector system. I think this unit weighs perhaps a few lbs less than my 27″ Sony Trinitron (and it is sooo much better)!
I have been viewing analog signals on it at SDTV resolutions…this leaves something to be desired. Switching to a digital signal and hopefully higher resolutions (for normal broadcast/cable programming) will greatly improve the quality of the image.
BTW, the 120Hz settings make a movie look like it was shot on video (very sharp image with little inertial smoothing). This is great for sports type programming but not to my liking for feature films.

3 06 2009
Anton

Cool!

31 10 2010
Marine Paint :

Cable companies are already offering bundled internet and cable tv services at a cheap price ”

24 11 2010
Anxiety Depression Support Site

cable companies are also offering broadband internet these days and the cost is cheap too ~.;

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s




Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

%d bloggers like this: