No need to put up with cable TV
The average cable subscription costs $900 a year. But you can cut the cable entirely and still watch everything you want.
Almost a year ago I moved into a new apartment and did something revolutionary: I didn't set up cable or satellite TV.
I was frustrated by the lack of choice (only one cable provider), lengthy contracts, and inexplicably high prices. As someone who watched a lot of television, this seemed like a truly difficult problem, but I resolved to find a way to see my favorite shows without paying a cable or satellite bill.
Fortunately, it was much easier than I thought.
Start by watching the following news story, where I'm interviewed by Stacy Johnson of Money Talks News. Then keep reading on the other side.
Now, let's flesh it out with some additional details.
HDTV is more expensive for local stations to produce, so it's common to see a station broadcast in regular standard definition during the day, but switch their signal to high definition for prime time. So while the local news may not be in HD, your favorite shows like "Glee," "America's Got Talent," and "The Bachelorette" will be.
Of course, you will need an antenna to make this work, and your HDTV will also have to have an HDTV tuner. If it's not built in, sometimes referred to as "integrated HDTV," you'll need to buy a separate HDTV tuner that connects your HDTV to an antenna. To check, you may have to consult your TV's manual, do a search online, or contact the manufacturer.
AntennaWeb, a site provided by the Consumer Electronics Association and the National Association of Broadcasters, will show you exactly where to point your antenna for the best reception at your address. It will also let you see which stations are broadcasting over the air in your area. There may be more than you think.
If you have a computer and Internet access (there's no way I'd be able to live without paying for Internet), both shows can be watched in their entirety on their respective websites for free. Like most online shows, you'll have to sit through a few commercials, but fewer than you would see watching the same show on television and without having to pay for the privilege.
The popular website Hulu has hundreds of shows available to watch online, all free and commercial-supported, but it's not the only option.
Netflix is a great way to watch past seasons of favorite shows, which can be ordered as DVDs through the mail or streamed instantly to almost 100 devices like your computer, Xbox, PlayStation, Wii, iPhone (soon), etc. You can stream as many as you want for only $8.99 a month -- compared with the cost of a cable or satellite subscription with premium movie channels, a pittance. Plus, they have almost every movie you've ever heard of, offer a two-week free trial, and let you cancel whenever you want.
Hulu has announced a new premium membership called Hulu Plus. For $9.99 a month, it promises current seasons of many popular shows that can be watched on your computer, through an iPhone/iPad app, or on a compatible television, Blu-ray player or gaming system. Currently, the full Hulu Plus catalog is only open to those who request an invitation, but look for wider availability soon.
Where do you watch live sports online? If you're getting your Internet from one of these providers, you can access ESPN3, a "broadband network for live sports programming." The site is in beta and not every game on TV is available online, but you can watch thousands of games and events live with chat, stats, scoreboards, and picture-in-picture.
For everything else, you'll have to be a little patient and wait for the inevitable DVD release of last season. The typical DVD set for one season of a television series costs between $25 and $35, so you could buy several sets each month and still save over the cost of cable or satellite. However, if it comes out on DVD, chances are it'll show up on Netflix, where that $8.99-a-month subscription is now looking really good.
You might also want to look at media-streaming boxes. Like the cable box you'll be ditching, these connect to your TV and allow you to watch programming you wouldn't otherwise be able to see. The big difference? You can watch free and paid Internet content.
Depending on the box, you'll be able to stream video from Netflix, Amazon, MLB.tv, Hulu and YouTube, audio from Internet radio stations, Pandora, and Last.fm, and watch movies or look at photos that have been stored on your home PC. Think of media-streaming boxes as mini computers for your TV. Some examples are the Roku digital video player and the new Boxee Box by D-Link.
Google will soon enter the market to pair TV and the Internet with Google TV, a software package developed to be built into TVs, Blu-ray players and set-top boxes. It's sort of a super-TiVo that will let you watch and record broadcast programming while seamlessly switching to Internet streaming when what you want to watch isn't on a channel you receive. Upcoming devices with Google TV built in have been announced by Sony, Logitech and Intel, but won't be available until later this year.
Also, Apple TV is like an iPod for your TV. It'll let you stream videos and audio from your iTunes collection.
How much does all of this cost? While the average cable bill is $75 a month or $900 a year, I was paying closer to $150 a month or $1,800 a year to see everything I wanted. Now I pay $8.99 a month for my Netflix subscription and watch everything else for free online or over-the-air broadcast. I don't need a TiVo (you can just hit pause on a website), and I use an old, cheap computer running Boxee hooked up to my TV as my "media center." My $1,800-a-year expense is now only $108 and I can watch just about everything I want, whenever I want.
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