Sunday, April 10, 2011

Internet TV, 6 weeks later

Back in February, I decided to drop cable. For a bit, I had been playing with watching TV via the Internet.

Now, I don't mean pulling up a browser and watching TV shows on my computer. That's watching TV shows on the computer. I mean watching TV via the Internet. On the TV. That big ol' expensive TV we bought a couple of years ago to watch stuff on.

I figured up the cost of cable per year, and how much we could get the same shows during the same year. Some months, it was more expensive to do it via the Internet. But most months, it was cheaper. And, over the course of a year, it was a lot cheaper to drop cable. So, we did.

Here's what we ended up with:
  • Apple TV - For watching stuff bought or rented through iTunes. It also works for music. Now, Wife can play her stuff through the nice sound system, rather than those tiny little speakers on her computer, or through her headphones. And Netflix.
  • Roku - For watching stuff bought through Amazon (Amazon Instant Video, nee Amazon Video On Demand/Unbox). And Netflix. Hulu Plus. And other stuff.
  • Windows Media Center running on a Dell Zino 410 with 2 TV tuners - For recording shows over the air, as well as watching CBS shows via the Internet (CBS doesn't let its shows air on Hulu). I added plugins for Boxee and Hulu. And it comes with the ability to stream Netflix.
Yeah, that's a lot of stuff hooked up to one TV. And that means a bunch of remotes to have to maintain. Unless you get one of those universal remotes. And, in order to handle all those items, you have to get one of those expensive ones, like the Logitech Harmony One -- which is a good remote, just expensive.

There's also the loss of certain shows. Red Eye, for instance. Although there are ways to get this and other shows through what we shall call "unofficial sources." That's the biggest drawback.

Another drawback, but of lesser concern, is the bandwidth restrictions that Internet service providers are starting to put on users. AT&T has dropped restrictions (150 GB) on us, for instance. And, we went over those restrictions in January and March, but not by much. They won't start billing for overages until next month. But, we might encounter that down the road.

Rather than watching, say, Fringe on Hulu, we record it over the air and watch that. And, we're doing that for all broadcast programs. So, we get commercials, but cut down on Internet bandwidth usage.

The Verdict

So, was doing this a good thing? Well, it works for me. I like it.

But, is it for you? It depends. If you don't mind having to juggle remotes, then you're able to get a good deal of content by using Internet-based content, plus over-the-air programming.

Everything carried on broadcast channels (ABC, CBS, CW, Fox, NBC) is available on the Internet. Everything I watch, anyway; there may be something that's not available via iTunes, Hulu, or some other source, but, really, just about everything is.

Cable-only programming might be an issue for you. The only show I watch regularly that isn't available is Red Eye. Official excerpts are available (usually 1/4 to 1/2 of the total show) via iTunes. Unofficial sources are available for the full programs, usually within hours of broadcast.

If you want to use just one source for Internet TV, the cheapest way is Roku. It's pretty east to set up, too.

Another way, though more expensive, is Windows Media Center running something like a Dell Zino 410 with TV tuners -- but, like I said, that runs up some money, having a dedicated computer. Plus, the setup is a little more involved.

Apple TV isn't the best choice for a single source of Internet TV, but it's actually pretty good. And the easiest of all to set up.

It might not be for you. But, if you want to expand your current TV options, you can add either a Roku or Apple TV device.

You might not drop cable or satellite TV. But, you might find that one of those devices make your TV options a little more enjoyable.


  1. This is too involved for me, but I am linking it for the tech post this week. When does the Rockmelt review happen?

    By the way, your blog is loading kinda slow because Basil White's site is hanging.

  2. What does the Roku give you that you can't get from the Zino? We're thinking of dropping Directv to save money and because we don't watch that much tv.

  3. Nick:
    Keep in mind that the Zino is running Windows 7 Media Center. If you want to record over the air TV, then you'll need something like the Zino (or other Windows 7 computer running Media Center and a USB-connected TV tuner ... or a TiVo) to record shows. Advantage: WMC.

    You can find more info about Windows Media Center here.

    Both Roku and Windows Media Center have a Netflix ($7.99/month) interface. Advantage: even.

    Roku has a Hulu Plus interface, that lets you watch Hulu Plus content ($7.99/month subscription from Hulu), but not Hulu standard content.

    With Windows Media Center, you can add a plugin for the Hulu Desktop app, which lets you play both Hulu Plus (with a subscription, of course) and Hulu standard content.

    Advantage: WMC.

    WMC allows connection to many CBS shows (which aren't on Hulu/Hulu Plus). Roku offers content (much of the older CBS-owned content), plus Crackle (free content). Advantage: Roku.

    If you want to purchase or buy online content, such as from Amazon Instant Video, you can do it in WMC via a browser. Works, but not elegant. With Roku, it has an Amazon app built-in. Advantage: Roku.

    Roku will run you from $59-$99 for the box. The only additional cost would be if you want to rent, buy, or subscribe to content. That's paid to the content provider, not to Roku. Just like if you have a DVD player, you don't pay Sony or LG for what you watch; you buy it from Walmart or rent it from Blockbuster. That kind of thing. Roku gets you a TV-friendly interface to the content. It makes things simple.

    I have Windows Media Center, Roku, and Apple TV. If I had to choose only one, I'd choose Roku, because that's the device that gets me most of my content, since most (but not all) over-the-air content I watch can be watched via Hulu/Hulu Plus 24 hours after the show airs.

  4. Excellent review. Thank you very much for the info. I looked into this several years ago, but our best option for internet has been a Verizon wireless card. We're moving so that will no longer be the limiting factor. Even we buy both the Roku and a PC we'll still be saving money in the first year. Thanks again.

  5. I might as well respond to your old thread again. Ditched Directv and for now am using a Roku only with Netflix and Hulu Plus. At some point soon will get an HTPC. There are some shows we miss, but not for how much money we're saving. Thanks again for the info.


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