More Free (or reduced cost) HDTV – Cut the Cable/Ditch the Dish (cont.)

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Bubba says there’s an easy way to get free HDTV, no cable boxes, satellite dishes, or monthly fees. Upset with the high cost of pay TV and cable channels and other expensive programming alternatives, more and more folks are looking for ways to lower or eliminate the monthly payment for video entertainment. Young people are leading the charge, finding ways to put internet programming up on their big screen televisions. It’s cable cuttin’ and dish ditchin’ time. Cable companies are becoming alarmed at the rate that folks are turning in their cable boxes. Keep in mind, it was only a few years ago that every home and apartment and office had a wired phone line. As recently as 2005, almost every home had a phone; now, that figure is down to one in three homes. In addition to the rise in folks giving up on paid television providers, new, younger heads of households are becoming “cable nevers”, those who don’t bother to connect in the first place. That figure is already at almost 20%.

So how and where can you get all this new programming available without paying outrageous monthlies? As we outlined in a previous article, you can put up an old fashioned antenna to receive free broadcast television.  For other options, there are two things you need to consider: the hardware you’ll need to nab programs off of the internet, and the programming source.

What’s Out There?

Netflix. Easily the most popular source of movies and TV series. While it started out as a mail order DVD rental service, it branched out to offer many movies and television series. These services are now available as separate subscriptions, and while they’ve made some strange management decisions in how they divide up and price these services, it still seems to offer the best bang for your buck.  Their internet interface is one of the best, it’s easy to find and choose programming to watch.  Put them in your online queue, and they’ll be ready to watch when you are. (There is also a pretty good on screen menu.)  Lots of documentaries, classic and contemporary movies, kids programming, plenty of TV series and even some concerts.   Super recent blockbusters are rare, (you can always add the DVD rental option to keep up with new releases. Their rental library is still second to none.) Content is rotated fairly frequently.

Hulu and Hulu plus.  Hulu started out as an alternative to Netflix, but rather than movies, they concentrated on delivering familiar network programming like sitcoms, drama, and other daily programs. Most of the major networks are represented, and are willing to allow Hulu to air their programs the next day. If you insist on seeing your programs in traditional “real time” when they air live, this is not for you.  But if you can wait until the next day to catch your prime time fare, you’re in luck. Hulu plus gives you access to a full season’s worth of programming, (sometimes more), while the free, standard Hulu only keeps a couple episodes available to you (usually five).  Movies on Hulu are generally B grade or worse, while Hulu plus tries to get a few recent releases. Definitely the way to go if your tastes run to generally TV programming. (and just like regular TV programming, you will have advertising inserted into many of the shows, though not nearly as many commercials will run.)

Amazon TV. Rather than monthly fees, Amazon has concentrated on a pay for play experience. Just like premium pay movies on cable, Amazon has some blockbuster movies for rent.  Episodic TV shows and sitcoms are about 99 cents apiece. You can also buy a whole season.  Recently, they started offering availability to a movie  and TV library as part of their “Amazon Prime” membership.

Other options. Most of the networks are making some of their programming available directly. This content will have advertising of course, and most won’t be available until the day after air. Other movie channels are available, mostly ancient old specialty collections. Live sports are tough to find on the larger services, because they are putting together their own season pay packages. Major League Baseball for example allows you to buy a season of games on their streaming service.

Streaming Hardware: How to get these new programming options on your TV.

Kid’s video games. Yep, that’s right. You know how you’ve lectured your kid about how worthless his Wii or his XBox 360 is?  Well, it might be worth confiscating for a day or two and setting it up to receive these various channels. Play Station 3 will also receive most of these channels. You will need an internet connection to these games, but once hooked up, there is not additional expense to connect to some of the program options listed below.

Roku.  This inexpensive Roku specialty box is one of the best and easiest ways to get connected to programming. Set it up with an ethernet cable or a wireless network connection, connect your TV with an HDMI cable, or even component or composite connection and you’re set to receive almost all of the services mentioned above. A simplified remote control and easy graphic interface make this one a no brainer. This one is truly easy enough for grandma to use.  Small footprint, and a couple models to choose from.

Boxee Box.  Another huge favorite in the streaming world. Not only that, but the D-Link Boxee Box will play back video content that is resident on the local computer network.  Have some home movies on your computer?  Play them back, or easily switch over to the Netflix app to stream a Hollywood movie. It’s also set to go receive broadcast networks currently offering streamed programming. As with Roku, other streaming services are also quickly setup and available: Pandora, photo sharing sites, weather forecast sites, etc.

Other boxes. TiVo, the original hugely successful DVR, is still trying to reinvent itself after the cable companies began to install hard drives in their cable boxes. They are still successful at a smooth user experience and great user interface, not to mention their still-the-best-ever peanut shaped remote control.  TiVo Premiere XL High-Definition Digital Video Recorder New Blu-ray Players sometimes offer on-line connectivity and access to various services.  Apple TV offers a streaming box based on their popular itunes platform, though it will also access Netflix and stream local network content.

New TV’s. A segment of the newest generation of HDTV flat screen sets have streaming capability built in. Some are referred to as “smart TV’s”, some promise built in “apps” and “widgets” to receive specialty content.  Arguably, some of these are not as slick as the above mentioned boxes; though each offers different user “friendliness”.

Bubba says to think twice about cutting the cable lifeline before you shut if off completely.  If you’re used to coming in and having some old movies on to watch at any hour, or watching a huge range of sporting events every weekend, you will have to think through what will be available through the combination of your hardware and these new free and pay services. With a local on-air antenna and one or two of these services, you could easily cut your home entertainment bill in half, or more and have plenty to choose from. But it will be a different experience, much of it dependent on internet available content. Keep in mind, some of these programming prices will rise in the future, just as cable had over the last many years. Producers and content owners are also seeing their revenue dip in relation to customers abandoning old pipelines. As Netflix experienced when they renegotiated contracts with streaming programming sources, these low prices may not stay that way forever.  Just like phone and cell phone providers, electricity providers, and internet connections, you will have to be constantly comparing what level of service and content you prefer against the various costs of hardware and delivery. Bubba never said it would be easy!

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