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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.

By Stacy Johnson Jul 19, 2010 8:12AM

This post comes from Dan Schointuch of partner site Money Talks News.

 

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.

 

You might not know it, but you can watch HDTV with an antenna. More than 99% of U.S. TV households can receive at least one local station over the air, while 89% can watch five or more. The picture is perfectly clear thanks to the switch to digital TV completed on June 12, 2009. You'll either see a crisp, beautiful image or no image at all (static is a thing of the past). And the best part? Your favorite programming will be in HD.

 

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.

 

What about shows that aren't on broadcast channels? Two of my favorite shows, "The Daily Show" and "The Colbert Report," air on Comedy Central, which isn't a channel you can receive with an antenna. Fortunately, Internet to the rescue!

 

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.

 
Other sites to watch sports? MLB.tv has an $80-a-year membership that will let you stream every regular-season baseball game (with a few exceptions) right to your computer/PS3/etc., live or on-demand, and in HD when available.
 
But what about "premium" shows, like the ones on HBO, Cinemax and Starz? Some shows can be purchased individually from sites like Amazon.com or Apple's iTunes Store a day or two after they air. If you do the math, you'll find that purchasing your favorite show is likely to be cheaper than paying for the channel it airs on month after month.

 

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.

 

How does all this Internet video get on my TV? While streaming video to your computer sounds great, most people want to watch television on their TV. Fortunately, there are tons of options to get your favorite shows on your big screen.
 
First, check your computer for an output designed to work with either an external monitor or TV. If you've got one, you may be able to buy a cable and adapter that will plug your computer directly into your television. Doing so is a bit like putting together a puzzle: You want to find pieces that connect to each other. This can be a little tricky, especially with all the different possible connections on the market. If you're not tech savvy, you may want to get a little help from someone who is or check out this video from Howcast called "How To Connect Your Laptop To Your Television."

 

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.

 

More from Money Talks News and MSN Money:

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