Subscription TV services such as cable and satellite have become one of those comfort items that we realize should be better and cheaper at the same time yet we stay with it just because it is easier to not change. But the truth is that you can get nearly the same access to media for much less, on demand, and often without commercials. Who wouldn’t want that? Many of you already are using services like Netlfix and Hulu to stream some content, say if you miss a show and forgot to DVR it, but why not go all the way? There are other online guides on how to do this – many listed here – but I have done it and have helped a half dozen others move on and I can tell you how I did it and how it is going.
OK I get the whole everything in one place aspect of subscription TV – but is it really? If you have DVDs you have to switch to another device and if you have a game console you have to switch as well. You may already be watching movies via iTunes or Amazon on your computer. The truth is that in many cases you can use one device to do everything you want on your TV.
The first step is to realize that you can watch TV live, and in better quality than subscription services (over the air TV is often 1080i and not reduced by bandwidth issues). Though DVR service is claimed to be a major piece of TV viewing versus live, I know from social media posts that people do watch shows live. And with the new HD TV there is more content than just your major networks – it is now like mini-cable. Regular over the air TV likely has over 20 channels in your area with dedicated music, children’s, and even craft networks like cable, only free. You can see what channels you could receive over the air by putting in your address here.
Now, you are likely to miss watching a show here or there, and of course there are cable networks and premium networks with shows you may want to watch. You have two options here: record the live TV for over the air networks, and use streaming services to watch regular and premium networks. We will cover the latter first.
Through services like hulu.com you can watch many network shows after they air without recording – even cable networks like USA, TNT, HGTV and Syfy. The networks also often have their shows on their websites (Hulu is supposed to scrub these in a one stop shop interface but does not catch them all). Hulu is free but has a feature called Hulu Plus for $7.99 per month. What does Plus give you? It does not give you more shows, but it does give you more of each show. On regular Hulu networks may only allow you to watch the last 3-4 episodes, but Plus allows you to watch ALL of them, from any season. For $7.99 Netflix Unlimited Streaming plan has some TV and streaming movies. This includes Starz channel shows such as Camelot, Spartacus, and Torchwood , and you can even stream the main Stars channel live through Netflix.
Of course you may still miss some things such as premium cable shows (HBO, Showtime, etc.) and some sports events like Monday Night Football. In these cases you can buy or rent them from Amazon and iTunes for around $1.99 per episode, cheaper if you buy a whole season.
Yes I know, I am supposed to be saving you money but now I keep adding in these things to pay for. The fact is that even with these costs you can still save a lot of money versus cable monthly costs. With Hulu plus and Netflix streaming you are looking at around $16 per month versus around $100. Even buying a $2 show every night of the week ($60 a month) with Netflix and Hulu it would cost you $76 and still save money – and who is going to have to ‘buy’ that many shows. Let’s say you subscribe to 3 shows a week that would be around $24 a month plus Netflix and Hulu is only $40.
Finally, you can also record over the air TV. If you want to record (only one show at a time) you can hook up the antenna to your PC and in Windows 7 Windows Media Center there is a DVR program – however you will need a TV signal converter such as this one. Even with a converter and TV to PC you may want an extra antenna directly to your TV as well just in case the PC locks or dies or something or you need to use it for something else and want to watch live TV on TV. If you already have an external DVR such as a TiVo you can use it to record over the air versus cable TV.
So how do we put all this together? In my scenario in order to quit cable you will need 2 main things with various hook-up options:
The antenna is easy – any old antenna will work – yes even old rabbit ears. There are plenty of inside antenna options or you can hook up a rooftop antenna. I use internal antennas that ran about $15 each and they work fine. Depending on your TV you may need one of those converter boxes we all heard about for months before the switch to HD antenna TV. You can go straight to the TV or through a DVR – a TiVo type or a computer with Windows 7 & Media Center or another DVR program on it.
Just using an antenna gives you access to over the air TV. If you have an electronic device you can watch on or through it the other options such as Netflix and Hulu. A PC or laptop allows you to stream on it, or even hook it up to your TV temporarily or permanently, and may have DVD player so you can get rid of that thing too. Gaming consoles such as PS3 or Xbox have Netflix and Hulu and can also serve as DVD, even Blu-Ray, players. Streaming devices like Roku or a Google TV may have apps and give access to music services like Pandora and Last.fm.
If you choose to stream on your computer, it can be of any kind – a PC or laptop used for other purposes hooked up when watching not live TV, or a dedicated PC. Yes, I am suggesting you buy a computer just for the TV, yes another cost, but look at it this way – you can save around $80 a month so a $300 PC is paid for in a few months, you go down to one device so can save on energy from your vampire cable box, DVD player, and possibly even a separate DVR.
If you have a gaming console or streaming device like Roku all you need is an antenna to add over the air signals to what the console can give you. You just will not be able to record any shows but most major network shows are stream available on Hulu.
This is what I would recommend to start with using home PC dual duty.
- One Antenna to TV
- One Antenna to PC – need WinTV converter to convert TV signal to PC
- Run HDMI cable from PC to TV
- Wireless Keyboard and Mouse or wireless Keyboard with scroll wheel on it
That allows you on TV to either just watch Live TV from straight antenna input or recorded TV/Internet TV from PC HDMI input. If someone is using PC then on TV would want to watch live antenna TV, when watching PC TV the PC would be ‘unavailable’ as it is being used for TV. Of course as I said above you could dedicate a PC for TV use.
Of course now you have to factor in multiple TVs. My first question – on how many of them do you actually spend time watching non-local TV or movies other than your main big flat screen HD TV? The solution – add antennas to each and watch just TV on the ones not your main TV. Plus you can split devices among TVs – hook up a console to another TV for streaming, DVD, and games while your main TV has the full setup. In your bedroom just watch the news over antenna and if you want to watch a movie or something there bring your laptop up when you want.
So sure you can get it all set up, but does it work? Can you really see most of what you want and is it hard to find the content? Simple answer – yes, you can get most of what you want to see – you may just need to wait a few weeks to a month, even a year for some networks as you may wait on DVD availability. Depending on the users, it can be easy or hard to find the content going between Netflix, Hulu, network web sites, You Tube, etc. But remember you can set favorites, make shortcuts and even save tabs in your browsers. For my wife her biggest gripe is not being able to just put a cable channel like HGTV on and watch shows as they come up. Personally I think that is an advantage as you don’t watch TV just to watch TV then.
Some final notes. Besides the cost saving of the subscriptions there are other benefits. Streaming services have less or even no commercials – that alone is enough for me to stream versus even record and fast forward. You can easily get access to more than you did before. On Hulu for example you can watch many of your old favorites. Hulu is starting to have its own series, on You Tube people are doing web content only shows better than network shows, etc. As I stated you can save energy costs by going down to one device as your streamer, DVD player, even game system (there are PC games of course and Google Chrome browser has App games like on your smart phone). That also means less cords to allow for an easier setup and less clutter.
In summary, yes it can be done and it works. It may take a little work to set up and time to get used to, but in the end you can save money and get more out of a non-subscription TV setup.