What you need to know about cutting cable TV
Bob's Tech Talk
Q. My cable bill went up last month. I only watch a few shows regularly – can I ditch my cable box and watch shows online?
A. I cut the cable years ago. My wife and I knew we were ready after noticing how often we watched Netflix. At the time, our monthly bill dropped from $90 to $8.
Before making the switch, consider what you watch now and see if you can find it online. Local news is difficult to replace. The same goes for live events like sports and award shows. The easiest to find are TV shows and movies. In many cases, shows can be watched in apps from individual networks like HBO.
One advantage the Internet brings to the party is non-traditional content. Youtube.com has millions of hours of content including documentaries, how-to videos and old movies. Sites like creativelive.com stream hours of tutorials on everything from photography to quilt-making.
One last personal thought on dropping cable TV. I did not consider this beforehand, but have come to value it most of all. Going online sharply raised the quality. It cut way back on the ambient noise of throw-away programming, and added a healthy level of intention to how we spend our viewing time.
Q. What is the easiest way to watch online video on my TV?
A. There are a half-dozen good choices. Everything from Amazon’s Fire TV to the Roku Player, but I think the best one for most people is AppleTV. It is the easiest to set up, and it’s the easiest to operate day after day.
AppleTV connects directly to the Internet via Wi-Fi. While it can work with the iPhone and Mac in unique ways, it is fully functional as a stand-alone device. And perhaps best of all, it can be controlled by your voice. Rather than navigating on-screen buttons with the supplied remote control, simply saying aloud, “Show me comedies starring Tina Fey,” or “Open CBS News” is a great way to make a selection.
AirPlay is AppleTV’s other secret weapon. It enables AppleTV to play content from a phone, tablet or computer on the same Wi-Fi network. Native AppleTV apps cover most of the online media landscape, and AirPlay fills in gaps such as Amazon.com.
AppleTV is available in three models, priced at $69, $149 and $199. Skip the entry level model, it is an old design with fewer features. Unless you expect to play a lot of games, the $149 model is an excellent choice.
Q. Now that I can watch video from the Internet on my TV, I need a crash course on the different services available. Help!
A. There are two main types of services: one-time stores for purchase and rental, and streaming subscription services.
The one-time stores typically have the largest, most stable catalogs. The “big three,” iTunes, Google Play, and Amazon offer large catalogs of film and TV for rent or purchase. Most of the programs are high definition and commercial free.
Streaming services contain many of the same choices, with a couple twists. The first is original content. If you want to watch “House of Cards,” for example, Netflix is the only option. The other twist is that streaming catalogs add and drop shows. The catalogs are so big it might not be obvious, but from time to time a movie on my playlist is dropped before I have made time to watch it.
Netflix, which began as a DVD by mail service, is the oldest and most widely used streaming service. They are known for original content and a massive back catalog of films and television episodes. A monthly subscription provides access to the entire catalog, commercial free. For many years they were the only choice, but two other subscription services have entered the market, each with a different focus.
Hulu is the best place to find episodes from current TV shows. Many popular TV episodes are available the day after they were broadcast. They have two tiers of service, starting with a basic subscription that includes commercials. The second tier removes commercials entirely.
The newest service is a streaming catalog bundled as part of Amazon Prime. Perfect if you are already a Prime member, but perhaps less attractive if you still have lots to explore on Netflix or Hulu.
Wander the Web
Here are my picks for some worthwhile browsing this month:
The Other YouTube
Sometimes Vimeo is referred to as YouTube without advertisements. There is a great deal of exceptional content on here, more than enough to make this off-the-beaten-path site a useful destination. The lack of advertising delivers a pleasant, viewer-centric experience.
Find Your Favorite Movie Online
This search engine allows you to search by title for a specific movie or TV program, and it returns a list of services that offer the program. AppleTV can do some of this already, but this site has a broader reach across various services.
The First “Cable Via The Internet” Contender
Sling is barely a year old, but already the small streaming service is punching above its weight class. For $20 a month, it delivers a collection of channels that have been the mainstays of basic cable for decades, including AMC, ESPN, The Disney Channel, CNN, The Food Network, and many more. https://www.sling.com
A tech enthusiast his entire life, Bob can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.