How To Cut The Cable And Watch TV Without A Monthly Fee

If you have cable, think for a second about the cost of your monthly bill. Then, write down the shows you watch on a regular basis. Are any of those shows on ABC, CBS, NBC, PBS, or FOX? Remove them from the list. Are any available online easily? Remove those as well. What remains is all that you’re paying the cable company for. However high your bill is, whether it’s $40, $80 or more, you are probably paying too much for watching television.

What follows is a basic guide to cutting the cord. If you’re willing to spend some time getting your set-up right, you can save hundreds of dollars a month by saying NO to cable subscriptions and taking your media consumption into your own hands. Sure, it might not be as effortless as cable and there will be a few things some will miss that aren’t available streaming, but for a lot of people the money saved is more than worth it. Let’s begin:

1. The Trusty Antenna

Rabbit ears were a thing of the past until digital TV brought them roaring back. Before digital television, TV signals through an antenna were fuzzy, looked terrible, and were prone to interference. With the digital switchover, however, all of that changed. Now every local station is broadcasting over the air in glorious uncompressed HD, and in most cases it looks even better than HD from your cable provider. Sound comes in 5.1 surround sound, and any HDTV with a TV tuner can pull in the basic broadcast channels for free.

The tricky part with an antenna is buying the right one and putting it in the right place. AntennaWeb is an excellent resource that can help you out. Enter your address and you can see how far and in which directions the broadcast towers are away from you, and how powerful of an antenna you’ll need to pull them in. For people living close to the towers, a basic $10 RCA antenna should do the trick. If you live further away and need a little bit more power, an amplified antenna like this Terk model might be better.

Plug the antenna into your TV and do a channel scan and see what you get. In most cases, you’ll be able to get ABC, CBS, NBC, PBS, and FOX. You might need to mess with the positioning and direction of your antenna to get everything, but with a little bit of work and tinkering, you’ll be watching your favorite broadcast shows in HD without a monthly fee.

2. Streaming and Downloaded Media

For shows that aren’t available on broadcast television, there’s also plenty of streaming options. From standalone boxes like the Roku and Apple TV to full blown Home Theater PC’s and the Mac Mini, there are options for everyone on any end of the technological spectrum.

For the best access to streaming media, your best option is a full-blown PC or Mac hooked up to your TV. This will allow for streaming from individual TV show websites as well as sites like Netflix, Amazon, and YouTube. You can also play downloaded movies and TV shows, which is a feature that most standalone boxes are lacking. The Mac Mini is the most integrated and compact solution, but hardware geeks like myself can build their own HTPC for less money. If you’re not concerned about looks, really any tower with enough power will fit the bill. The easiest way to hook up a Home Theater PC to your TV is through an HDMI video card, highly recommended for anyone building their own.

Media software for HTPC’s is plentiful, some use Windows Media Center which is installed by default on Windows 7, others like XBMC, MediaPortal, or Plex for Mac. The best part about these apps is that they are all free, so you can try them out and decide which one you like best.

If you’re not wanting to go the route of a theater PC, the Roku box is another solid choice. With Amazon, Hulu Plus and Netflix streaming, you’ll be able to get a significant chunk of the content you’ll be able to get on a HTPC, but not all. Once you have your setup ready to go, Moki.TV is an excellent directory of what is streaming where, so you can find out how to get your favorite shows.

3. Live Sports and Other Potential Drawbacks

While cord-cutting can be great for most TV watchers, the one area that hasn’t totally caught up is live sports. Of course, the biggest events are on broadcast TV and if your ISP supports ESPN3, that can be a great option, but it doesn’t cover everything.

ESPN3 does not carry ESPN’s Monday Night Football broadcast, for example, and if you’re a fan of a team that isn’t regularly on broadcast television the lower-tier sports channels like FSN and Versus rarely have official streaming options. College Football and College Basketball junkies might want to think this one through before canceling their cable, as you might miss more games than you want and be forced to find bootleg streams of questionable quality.

The other place where streaming hasn’t quite caught up is with children’s programming. It’s hard to find streams of full shows on networks like Nick, Cartoon Network, and the Disney Channel. If you cut the cord with a kid around, it will be hard to find age-appropriate material on many streaming sites, and DVDs will be your only option.

The age of insane cable bills seems to be behind us. With over the air HD and streaming solutions up the wazoo, there is less and and less need for a cable box piping pre-selected programming into your tube. Netflix, ESPN3, and Hulu put the content at your fingertips when you want it, and the empowerment feels great for most people. So go, cut the cord, and make sure to let us know how it goes for you.

Do The Neilson TV Ratings Matter Anymore?

There was a time when Neilson reigned as the king of ratings and advertising money was dependant on where you ranked. But things have changed and the monopoly that Neilson once enjoyed is being challenged. Not because Neilson ratings no longer matter, but because people have left their couches for watching TV on portable devices. Even if you don’t own a portable device, you can still view TV programs on your computer at home or on the road. A few months ago I had a conversation  with a gentleman who had bought a laptop PC with a HDMI connector and was streaming TV programs to his HDTV. So how can Neilson come up with accurate ratings for a generation who is leaving the living room TV for mobile TV watching?

In a recent article it stated that:

Nielsen, the market leader in traditional TV ratings, is having a tough time tracking eyeballs elsewhere. It has yet to offer advertisers an accepted way of measuring viewers who watch video on their home computers — let alone on portable devices.

There are so many different ways today to watch TV programs that it may be difficult for Neilson to keep up. How can you monitor those of us who watch Hulu on their home PC or Hulu Plus on other streaming devices? How can one separate the change in viewing habits that is leaving the traditional TV watching habits stuck in the 1950’s?

Times are changing so fast in the mobile TV market that Neilson may be left in the dust trying to keep up.With companies like Apple, Google, Roku and others who are offering alternatives to traditional TV, 2011 should be the year we see major changes on how we watch the tube.

I know my next laptop computer will have a HDMI output so I can stream directly from Hulu to my HDTV.

How to you get your TV fix?

Comments welcome.

Roku Is Becoming The Little Engine That Could

One would have thought that when Google and Apple entered into the streaming video market place, that the little Roku would be swallowed up by the big guys. Instead the Roku has doubled in sales and are approaching 1 million units. So what makes the little box so attractive?

The units are inexpensive. I have purchased two of the Roku XD 1080p units from Amazon for $80. The little box is simple to set up using your home wireless network and a HDMI cable to your TV. Once it is set up you can start to select channels from the channel store and begin streaming.

So how are sales?

Today, as last-minute Christmas shoppers flock to Amazon, Roku is placed high on its list of the best-selling electronic devices. (Amazon represents about 25% of Roku’s sales, according to Wood.)

The $80 Roku XD streaming player is #9 on Amazon’s best-selling gadgets list, while its $100 XDS player (more features) is #11. Roku’s low-end “HD” player is #42.

Meanwhile, the $100 Apple TV, which is backordered at Amazon, is #23. Logitech’s Google TV box is #110. And the other buzzy competitor, the $200 Boxee Box by D-Link, is #171.

For die-hard Apple fans, Apple TV might be the best product, Wood concedes. But for everyone else, you can get similar features from Roku for $60, and more features than Apple TV — including 1080p output — for $99.

If you have a Netflix account you can set up streaming movies via your computer and they will appear in your Netflix queue on your Roku. I found this the easiest way to set up movies for viewing later.

Comments as always are welcome.

You can order a Roku directly from Amazon here.

Source – Business Insider

Google TV – Not There Yet

I honestly don’t get the big deal that comes of people being excited about Google TV. I mean, without Dish Network, who cares? Forget about any selection of local channels or anything worth watching. Not happening.

Besides being useless for most people, they are confusing to new users who think this is going to be relatively easy to jump into without much of a hassle. Wrong. With Apple TV, Roku and now, the Boxee Box being available, one has to wonder why anyone really cares?

Seems to me that Google is more bent on finding a place to push its widgets to the consumer than merely trying to provide a place for enjoying TV. At the end of the day, I think Google TV could do well. But the underlying issues of content and making the experience usable for everyone is kind of a big deal.

Hulu Plus On My Roku – Is It Worth $7.99 A Month?

When I read that Hulu Plus was finally ready to be used on the Roku, I immediately went to see what Hulu was going to offer. Once I did a software upgrade on my Roku, I was able to preview several pieces of content to check out the quality. I chose the Smithsonian Episode to view, which was a segment on the zoo in Washington D.C. It was in HD, 720P, and streamed perfectly. The color and clarity were very good and I was impressed with overall quality.

Next I opted to try a one week free preview of Hulu Plus that is available on their website. There is one condition to the offer. You have to provide a credit card number and agree to be charged $7.99 after the one week expires. The next offer I noticed was for one month of free service for those using a Chase credit card. Lucky me. I have a Chase card, which I used.

After activating the Roku, which requires entering a code on the Hulu Plus site, I was up and running. Just as an experiment, I hopped over to view an old episode of the TV program Bones. Bones is broadcast in HD and sure enough, the quality from Hulu Plus was exceptional. I watched the entire episode without any stuttering and skips.

I am going to use Hulu Plus and Netflix streaming of movies for the next month. I will be doing a follow-up review on or about 12-15-10.

Comments welcome.

Apple TV A Strong Amazon Selling Item

Honestly, it must be the UI and the HD quality available. This is the ONLY reason I can see someone going with an Apple TV over other similar priced settop boxes. Less content, no upcoming Hulu Plus, nothing.

Despite this, today I learned that Apple TV is selling like hotcakes on Amazon.com. Right now, the Apple TV is doing very well in the Amazon sales arena. And why not, a lot of cool improvements were made to this little box from performance to pricing.

The biggest issue I’ve seen with Apple TV is its closed off nature. Any content available is made available via Apple or not at all. Yes, there is the addition of Netflix… but there are no real community based channels available like with the Roku box. Let me say this. Once Hulu Plus begins its roll out on the various consoles and settop boxes, Apple TV could see a decline in its perceived value if it doesn’t catch up.

Lost Your Roku Remote? There Is An App For That

Thankfully, I have yet to lose my original Roku remote. But after looking into something called DVPRemote for the Apple iPhone, it might  be time to put the old remote control up on a high shelf. On the surface, it’s just another over Wi-Fi remote control much like we’ve seen in the past with Boxee’s Wi-Fi remote on the mobile platform. But DVPRemote provides so much more. Not only can I search for stuff with the real iPhone on screen keyboard, but I can also organize my Roku channels from the remote itself!

Now for the really cool part. Add Netflix movies to your queue, from the remote interface, select the order you want them to appear in… the list of cool options just keeps going. When you find a Netflix title you like from the remote interface list on your iPhone, select it and it will automatically scroll to that selection on your TV screen. Clearly this is the only way to enjoy Netflix in my household now.

Organizing channels, complete control over your Netflix instant videos, and the ability to search for stuff on Netflix and Amazon OneBox makes this one of the most valuable apps I’ve purchased in a long time. Even on my older Roku box, which has HDMI but is of the previous generation, the remote control application works like a rockstar. Just set it to find new Roku boxes and boom, you’re all set. Even if you have multiple boxes in your home, this application has you covered.

The final tidbit I liked about this app is, after my recent manual upgrade to the latest Roku update, I found myself wishing I owned one of the remotes that come with the new Roku boxes. Why? Because they provide instant replay, info, and other buttons not provided with the previous generation. Not to worry though, Roku’s extended functionality works with this software despite my old remote not offering me these features. Best part of it all, this app is only $3 US. Seriously, I spend more than this most weekends at the Amazon OneBox anyway. Might as well get something worthwhile with my $3 this time around!

Hulu Plus Open To Everyone

Today I ran a manual update check on my Roku box. Excited, as I have been anticipating access to my Hulu Plus account for weeks now (this is fall, right?), I noticed that it said an update was available. Awesome!

So I ran  the Roku updater, restarted my box and sure enough, it’s received some updates! A new layout for channels, and some fall leaves at the top of the screen. Oh, a clock… yeah, a clock. No Hulu Plus access yet. For now, I am fine with getting my Hulu Plus from my notebook to my TV via my notebook. After all, I can get more content choices this way as the media outlets put restrictions on what Hulu Plus can offer on devices like my iPhone and eventually, my Roku box. But why offer this update if there isn’t Hulu Plus released yet for my device?

Digging deeper, I noticed that one article indicated that Hulu Plus was being made available to everyone who wants to subscribe and we can expect to see it launching on the PS3 and Xbox this week. Based on this, I think it is safe to conclude that Roku will also be seeing this happen, possibly this week or next as well. It seems plausible to me.

Most people (still) argue that Hulu Plus is stupid because one has to deal with commercials and paying a whopping $10 per month, which is going to be dropping to less by the way. Big deal. Comparing this to what I actually watch, bundled with what my satellite bill used to look like, this is a steal. Viewing habits may vary, but for my household, this is a no-brainer.

Logitech Revue Companion Box With Google TV – Amazon Reviews Not Favorable

This morning I received a blurb from Amazon stating the the Logitech Revue Companion Box With Google TV was available for ordering. I haven’t paid much attention to this unit, since I personally think that $300 is expensive. I am getting the Roku HD unit for my birthday — which is this Sunday — and believe that $80 is enough to pay for streaming video. I did take a look at the Google TV box and I was surprised that the reviews for the device were less than stellar. In fact the unit was rated only 3 stars out of a possible 5 by 46 reviewers.

Here are some of the less favorable comments being made:

First things first I want to save time for those readers who have a dial-up or don’t have a cable box or if you have your PC connected to a TV and using it as a DVR or in a similar fashion, you can stop reading now; this thing is not for you.

First, you should know that I’m a gadget/tech hound. I’ve had everything there is out there, from Amiga to Zenith. Remember the WebTV? I had one some 15 years ago. I bring that up because, frankly, I don’t see much difference between that failed attempt at bringing the “web” (as it was called then) to TV and Google’s latest try.

The concept of Google TV is very neat and I’m excited to see where it goes, but the only place my Logitech Revue is going is back to Best Buy.

Interesting. But are these reviews fair? I went over to Best Buy to see what was being said:

First and foremost, before purchasing this product, I knew it was not ready for public consumption, but I had to try it out.

The software itself is really in beta. Lots of quirks, bugs, slowdowns… similar to how Android initially was, however it has the potential to be what Android is like today. In 6-12 months this could truly be a great platform.

Similar to another review I read, I am very tech savvy and have been installing home theaters for years. I’m sorry I have to write this negative review because I was so excited about this product. If you have an A/V receiver (I have a flagship Onkyo, not a piece of junk receiver) everything will go fine until the screen comes up that says you should see your tv picture showing. The picture appeared for a sec, then disappeared, and the sound would continue to flutter on and off. I then hooked the unit directly to my TV and it did work, but I no longer could get 5.1 audio out of my FiOS, no matter what I tried I was stuck with 2.0 stereo. I bought a $1000 receiver for the convenience of A/V switching for 5 HDMI inputs. I bought it Sat night and returned it Sun night.

Not going to go into the details covered by others, but I just want to point out that currently, Google TV does *not* fully integrate with DirecTV DVRs, only Dish Network. What this means is that, aside from controlling basic functions with the remote, you won’t get what this product is meant to do with an attached DVR — the ability to search for TV content from your DirecTV service and DVR and access it through the Google TV Interface.

On the Best Buy site the device was rated at 3.7 stars our of 5 stars by 20 reviewers.

To be fair there were also many positive reviews from both Amazon and Best Buy Web sites. Some people had no issues hooking up the device and were able to stream without flutters or stutters. I think this one statement says it all:

The software itself is really in beta. Lots of quirks, bugs, slowdowns… similar to how Android initially was, however it has the potential to be what Android is like today. In 6-12 months this could truly be a great platform.

This is not earth shattering news. It usually takes any company about a year to fix the bugs, add features and get any product fully functioning for mass consummation. I believe this is going to be a super device in about a year or so, PLUS, it will be cheaper. LOL

Next week I will let you know how the Roku works. I am still practicing my surprise look when I open the box.

Comments welcome.

Source – Logitech Revue Companion Box with Google TV and Keyboard Controller

Hired To Help People Bail On Cable

There should be an image here!Every time someone learns that I watch Hulu through my laptop via VGA to my TV set, the first question is “can you help me do that so I can cancel cable?” Clearly, there is something to consider here, both as an audience tired of being fleeced by insane cable/satellite costs, in addition to the appeal of getting TV for free or cheap… like we did when I was a kid.

At age 37, I vividly remember getting up as a child to warm up my TV for Saturday morning cartoons. To make sure my selection was not disturbed in any way, I would actually remove the “knob” from the TV set to guarantee my brother would not change the channel during an episode of my favorite cartoon show. Back then, the idea of paying for TV was not in the realm of reality of most people. 99% of the country was using a crazy contraption called broadcast TV. It cost us nothing other than time to warm up the TV set and maybe a pair of rabbit ears.

Flash forward to now. I think people are yearning for this simplicity once again. And settop devices, along with physical computers attached, do provide us with the ability to forego TV options of the 20th century once and for all.

The problem is, are they really ready for it? Do people understand that by going to a TV setup where you cannot simply have it running in the background with shows you’re not watching is where they’d be headed? On-demand TV is very different than cable or even broadcast TV. The obvious compromise, I guess, is a mixture of HD broadcast and on-demand options with Hulu, Netflix, and so on.

So no, I will not be available for hire as my friends and neighbors have asked me. Not because I cannot provide what they are asking for. Rather, because I realize its limitations are not always considered by those making the request. Once Hulu Plus comes to Roku (this fall), however, despite it being a little more limited in content than on the PC, I might reconsider setting folks up with my current home setup.

[Photo above by ellenm1 / CC BY-ND 2.0]

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iAds For Video In Development

There should be an image here!Better late than never. Apple is going to be introducing ads like we’ve seen in YouTube under the iAd brand in hopes of attracting some excited advertisers.

Assuming these video ads using the iAd brand make it to something like Apple TV, it might be possible to finally find a way to gain an edge on Amazon OnDemand once and for all.

Perhaps it would work like Netflix streaming video, and maybe we would finally have Apple TV deliver something unique and worthwhile in contrast to other settop boxes out there. They already have the 1080i resolution, now we just need obtainable content with ads instead of fees. Never mind, Hulu and Roku already beat them to the punch.

Apple TV Content Stinks

There should be an image here!Pay per view TV, stinks. And the same applies for buying from Apple, Amazon or anyone else. With the news of Hulu Plus coming to Roku for a flat $10 per month in lieu of the weak pay per use model, translates into a enormous fail for AppleTV — again. This is not to say that Amazon is doing any better, as seen from this list.

Some huge issues for AppleTV include: No House, The Office, Two and Half Men, and Modern Family. These are all hit shows, all of which Apple has NONE of. Truth is, the box that offers up Netflix, Hulu Plus AND VOD ppv content is going to the winner. Sadly the fact is Roku already wins with Amazon and will then go on to bury Apple once Hulu Plus is released.

On the flipside, other Apple products already offer Hulu Plus, today. So this is not by any means anti-Apple. No, this is a “why isn’t AppleTV simply shelved until they can get better content partners” kind of rant. Apple may have obtained tremendous influence over the years, but it seems that in the world of television, it’s strictly amateur hour with Apple. They clearly have a very long way yet to go before being ready for anyone to take seriously.

What You Can Expect From Google TV

As Google prepares to enter into the TV market with their new Google TV device, they have announced what they will have in store for us. The new device will be hitting store shelves this month, with the hopes of opening up our living rooms to the Internet along with TV programing. The Google TV box will use the Chrome Browser to open the Internet onto our TV’s so that we can view video’s, play games and basically use the Internet for an assortment of premium services and content.

In a recent article it stated:

Google has also signed up a raft of content partners for Google TV to offer premium programs and web services.

Turner Broadcasting has optimized some of its biggest websites for Google TV, including TBS, TNT, CNN, Cartoon Network and Adult Swim, while NBC Universal has created CNBC Real-Time, an application for tracking stocks and financial news on the TV.

HBO will give access to hundreds of hours of its content on Google TV via the HBO GO subscription service, and the NBA has built NBA Game Time, a real-time scores app.

Various technology and media companies have also optimized their services for Google TV, including news sites such as The N service?ew York Times and USA Today; music sites like VEVO, Pandora and Napster; and online networks such as Twitter and blip.tv.

The Leanback service from the Google-owned YouTube will deliver viral videos and personalized channels to Google TV, while there will be over 75,000 movies and TV shows to rent on-demand via Amazon, Netflix and others.

This is a very impressive list of partners Google has assembled. But it makes me wonder. Why would I want to use Google TV and not other services from Roku, Boxee Box, Apple and others?

Which of these services will eventually be the dominate service?

Comments welcome.

Source – digital spy

New Apple TV Examined

There should be an image here!Apple TV has been a long time coming. From the beginning, even the most die-hard Apple users had a difficult time getting their minds around the content it provided. Too big, costing too much for the content in contrast to cheaper alternatives, it was labeled at one point as a device for hobbyists.

As we flash forward into today, we see the new Apple TV looks to be a heck of a lot better than previous models. The size, smaller. Content selection, well, basically the same. But the menus are attractive, which can be a great boon to usability for those not used to using other alternatives instead. Really it comes down to two things that would make you choose Apple TV vs an alternative such as Roku.

Amazon HD on the Roku wasn’t quite as good as Apple TV’s HD content. Then again, Roku is available for those people out there who don’t have access to HD TVs with their HDMI connections. So really, it comes down to what is important to you. If maximum HD is important, then perhaps Apple TV is worth a look. After all, it supports Netflix on-demand as well.

TiVo and Roku Both Want To Hulu In Your Living Room

TiVo, the company that brought us digital video recording and Roku, who brought to us streaming video, both plan on offering Hulu Plus.  Hulu Plus can bring to your TV programing from ABC, Fox and NBC for $9.99 a month. These plans are just one more indication of how the Internet may just change the way we watch TV — which will be streamed over the Internet.

In a recent article it states that:

In a statement, TiVo said it will offer access to Hulu Plus to its Premiere DVR subscribers. “Adding Hulu Plus to TiVo’s content offering was really the key missing piece to the programming portfolio needed in order to deliver a truly comprehensive advanced television offering,” Tara Maitra, a TiVo vice president and general manager of content services and ad sales, said in the news release.

Roku sells streaming players at prices ranging from $59.99 to $99.99. The boxes connect to Netflix’s instant streaming service, the Pandora music site and other content. In a news release, Roku founder and CEO Anthony Wood described his company’s offering as “the most inexpensive device to stream Hulu content” to high-definition TVs.

Both TiVo and Roku are competing with larger companies such as Cupertino-based Apple, which recently started selling its $99 Apple TV device, which connects to Netflix and YouTube, as well as movies and TV shows for rent or sale on Apple’s iTunes store.

Every time a service is added to any of these digital devices it only increases the value for the consumer. The competition between TiVo, Roku, Apple, Google, Boxee Box and any other company entering the fray, will only benefit us with lower costs and better quality programming. We are entering into a new decade where traditional TV services will come under attack.

What we need now is for Walmart to enter the market just as it did with cell phones. :-)

Comments welcome.

Source – San Jose Mercury News