In all the articles I read about streaming TV, one theme keeps cropping up: only geeks ditch cable, because internet TV still isn’t “there yet.”
If you want to be a slave to $100/month cable bills because you have to see “Grey’s Anatomy” when it airs (or on DVR two days later), be my guest. But maybe you just don’t realize how non-geek the newest streaming TV options really are. You have myriad choices, almost all of them pretty darn good.
And you’d have to try really hard not to save money by switching, one of the biggest upshots of all. (Calculate exactly how much with our Internet TV Savings Calculator.) This overview will give you a sense of what your options are, what would work best for you, and how to get the most for your money.
How Does Streaming TV Work?
You already have a computer, and an internet connection, and a TV, right? On your computer, you watch YouTube and Vimeo videos; maybe you even visit NBC.com, ABC.com, Fox.com, MLB.tv or another TV network website to catch episodes of certain shows. You do that by “streaming” them over the web.
Then, on your TV, you watch cable programming. You pay for a certain package and HD channels, and they come through on your TV.
Streaming TV brings these two mutually exclusive ways of watching TV programming together. You can watch TV episodes (through various sources; see the content sources in the table below) directly on your TV, using the internet instead of cable. Plus, you can access most of the content available on the web, like YouTube, Netflix streaming movies, and even the TV episodes, music, and movies you download via a pay-per-download service like iTunes or Amazon Video on Demand.
If you need more content, you can trick out your streaming TV using software or services. For example, there's Playon, a Windows-based software program that licenses content cable lovers will miss—like live sports, Comedy Central, etc.
- GoogleTV (Check out these Google TV Products)
- Digital Rabbit Ears (Check your local signal strength first)
- Wii, Xbox 360, PS3 and other video game consoles that are wireless media enabled
- Hulu Plus™
- Network websites
- Amazon Video on Demand
Different setups provide different content at different price points. For example, if you have the $99.00 AppleTV streaming to your TV over your wireless connection, you can watch Netflix, YouTube, and anything in your iTunes library (on any of your home computers—pretty neat if you're big on iTunes).
With the $59.99 Roku, you can watch Netflix and internet content, Amazon Video on Demand content, PLUS Hulu Plus™ content. (You probably already watch Hulu TV on your computer; Hulu Plus has all current episodes of 45 current shows plus full runs of other shows for $7.99 a month.) You could also add Playon for even more content (one-time charge of $79.99 or 39.99 for year one of an annual subscription—ESPN3, Comedy Central, and more). It works with video game consoles, Roku, and more.
Why Switch to Streaming?
- Save money. There’s no contest about this one. You will save money if you cut the cord, particularly if you pay for extended cable every month. (Read our article about ditching your bundle package.) Instead of paying for cable internet Netflix or other subscriptions, you’ll pay internet Netflix and/or other subscriptions (if applicable) and a one-time charge for your hardware, which will vary depending on which you choose. If you’re already paying for internet, this is a no-brainer—e.g., Netflix and Hulu Plus are both less than $10/month.
- On-demand. You don’t even have to program your DVR. Although, of course, there are limitations—if you’re scraping by with Netflix, you may want to use a service like Shufflr to figure out when and where to watch your other shows. Word is that Netflix is negotiating to get more and more recent network content, which would help AppleTV users avoid hacks to watch their shows (or a few bucks per episode via iTunes). Meanwhile, all eyes are on the Roku / Hulu Plus™ combo, which is the best deal going if you need current content streamed to your flatscreen.
Why Keep Cable?
Because it’s easy. If you’re rolling in cash, go for it. Basic and extended cable packages are competitively priced and come with a wide array of options, and you’ll get your live sports without a hassle. Also, it's just easier-- for now-- if you're big on current TV seasons. Admittedly, "Glee" fans will have to be more proactive about their internet TV than people like me, who are watching "The X-Files" again... yes, some Netflix content is outdated. But Mulder never gets old.
A case in point: a neighbor of mine keeps his cable contract intact because he can’t live without NFL Sunday Ticket. That doesn’t sound like a good investment strategy for me, but I don’t watch football, so I probably just don’t get it. In turn, he thinks it's more than a little weird that I've got rabbit ears sitting on top of a nice flat-screen TV. To each his own.
Early adopters, techies, and cheapskates like me are already on board. I have digital rabbit ears hooked up to my flatscreen wth an HD converter and AppleTV with a Netflix subscription going through an HDMI cord. And my TV’s wall-mounted, so I save space and energy, and I can stream content from any computer or device in the house (like our iPhones, iPods, computers and iPad – we’re a Mac family) to my TV crisply and clearly. For me, this is ideal-- better than cable and far, far cheaper.
As with music and radio, if you want to pick and choose your content—and pay accordingly—the options now are better than ever, and getting cooler and cheaper every day. Use our Internet TV Savings Calculator to find out exactly how much you would save.
And then kick back, microwave some popcorn, and enjoy the show.