Have you ever wished that you could receive all of your favorite TV channels for free? I know that I would love to find a way to do so. So, when I saw an advertisement promising such an opportunity, I couldn’t resist the urge to investigate further.

With this in mind, I then contacted my son-in-law who is knowledgeable about available electronics. He told me that, when he came to meet us this past weekend, he would bring a gadget he had bought. The gadget he had was not the one in the advertisement, but appeared to offer the same free access to TV shows. This particular gadget works via a USB Internet connection. The fact is that I had personally never known such a device existed until my son-in-law showed me what he had bought. The device on a USB stick, sold for $6.90, was purchased from what I can best describe as one of those free throwaway ads that we constantly receive courtesy of the USPS. What the advertisement claimed was that by inserting this USB stick into any computer, one would be able to access over 5,000 television stations and over 2,000 radio stations from around the world.

My son-in-law further explained that the device he was showing me claimed that there was no need to install any software onto your system because this amazing device apparently contained everything that one would need to access this incredible amount of entertainment. The only requirement it did have was that one needed a high speed Internet connection to locate and access all of the TV and radio stations that the ad claimed were available for free on the Internet. What gave me pause, however, was that this particular device had no brand name printed on it, making me question who was marketing it. The only sticker that was affixed to the device claimed that the USB stick was manufactured in China.

Wow! What a deal! But does it work?

Since everything, it seems, is now manufactured in China, I wasn’t too surprised by this, so I decided to see how it worked. Once the USB dongle was plugged into the PC, the preinstalled software asked us to select from one of a dozen different languages before we could continue. We selected English and the device started to load. In general, I felt like the software appeared to be something from the era of Windows 98. The video quality of the TV stations that we found were in standard definition and, for the most part, were fuzzy, blurry, or faded in and out. We had similarly poor quality results when we attempted to access one of the promised radio stations. In other words, if you expect to get network TV stations or local radio stations using this particular USB device, you will be disappointed.

I took a look on the Amazon website and found a similar USB stick selling for $16.73. However, like with the device we tested, most reviewers claimed that the device performed poorly and offered poor channel selection. Among the complaints:

  • Doesn’t work.
  • This is a piece of junk.
  • Waste of money.
  • Not what you want.

Over all, the reviewers were extremely negative, however, I took one piece of advice and performed a Google search for free software. I found one piece of software, over at CNET, that looked promising. This software is called Readon Free TV and Radio Player, and was rated a four out of a possible total of five by 10 reviewers. I downloaded the software and took it for a spin.

The software installation was clean and without issues. However, like many websites, the software is ad-supported and takes up a portion of the screen with commercial banners. Since I know that this is just a part of using any free software, this is not an inconvenience for me. Another factor, if you are into design, is that you may find that the GUI is not very attractive. However, since the price is right and since one should be concentrating on functionality rather than display design, it should be easy enough to overlook this small defect.

Upon firing up, the GUI will start in TV mode but can easily be changed over to radio or sports mode. Whichever of these you choose can then be searched to find your favorite programming choice. One issue I did find disturbing, though, and one you should be aware of before trying the Readon Free TV and Radio Player, was that some stations may request that you install a download or plugin to access the desired program. If you choose to do so, the software program will install the download or program automatically but may require you to then restart the program.

Once installed, this particular software will also allow you to configure the program, from a list of presets, to fit your lifestyle and listening pleasure. The presets include specific categories that include Country, TV/Radio settings, Movies on Demand, Live Sports, and several other features.

My experience with this software was positive in comparison to the software I had tried on the USB stick. The variety of channels was actually impressive and, over all, the Readon Free TV and Radio Player worked fairly well. I also found the software easy to use and the video quality was actually quite good. Some of the links don’t work, but the program includes a dead link reporting system.

In my opinion, I would not recommend the current USB sticks. If anyone has a different opinion or recommendation for a USB stick that works, please feel free to leave a comment.

Comments welcome.

CC licensed Flickr photo above shared by Maayan Alexander