Friday, March 27, 2015

So you've cut the cable. Now What?

Okay, so you have just gotten rid of the cable. What are your options now? You have many options, and if you are reading this blog on a computer, then you probably have the technical know-how to explore your options. here are things to consider.

Old-fashioned TV over-the-airwaves

All modern HDTV flat-screens have tuners that allow them to get TV over the air. All you need to do is get an antenna (remember Rabbit-ear antennas? Well, they're back, and now they're digital), and plug it into the same coax connector that your cable box was connected to. Once you plug it in, you'll need to go into the menus of your TV, using the remote control, and autoprogram, which will detect and set up the channels in your area. In most cases, you'll see 20 or more channels.

There are multiple options for antennas. There are $10 antennas that will work just fine for lots of people. If you live in a more remote location, though, you may want to upgrade to the longer range antenna. The ultimate antenna is an outdoor one that you can mount to your roof, which will offer the greatest number of channels.

When you first turn on your TV, and set up the over-the-air channels, you will notice right away that the channels are all clear, sharp, and in High Definition (for high-def broadcasts. some programming, especially re-runs of pre-HD programming will not be High def). For many people, this is just fine, and all they need. It's good to play with this for a while, and see if you like it. See if there are enough channels to keep you entertained. Just remember, you can always explore other options while watching stuff over the air.

Satellite Television

Seriously? They're no better than the cable company! Their prices are just as high, and you'll still be paying $100/month.

PC + Internet = TV

Most HDTV sets can be plugged directly into your home computer. Even many laptops have an HDMI port on them, so that you can use your TV as a big monitor for your laptop. It's almost impossible to not be able to hook your PC up to your TV. At the worst, you'll just need to get a 15 or 20-foot cable. Just hooking your PC up to the TV will allow you to instantly show movies using Youtube, Netflix,Hulu, Amazon Prime instant Video, Vevo, and Vimeo.

Many of us have also taken the less-legal route of downloading movies and TV shows from Peer-to-peer networks. This will be enough to satisfy a lot of people. Many of us have actually set up a dedicated PC, hooked up to the TV, so that you can surf the web while someone else watches downloaded or streaming video on TV.

Streaming TV devices

If you don't want to have a whole PC set up to watch TV with, are on a budget, or just want to have a traditional remote-control to use with your TV, there is the option of one of the dozen-or-so streaming TV devices. You essentially plug them into your TV's HDMI port, and it hooks your TV up to the internet for streaming video, using a remote control similar to what you're used to with cable. All of these devices are literally small, but powerful multimedia computers, which have special software on them to make online video look and feel like cable TV. Even some Videogame consoles, such as Microsoft's X-Box, The Sony Playstation, and the Nintendo Wii, have built-in ability to do this, but they do almost cost as much as a whole computer. Here is a quick breakdown of the different devices available, for comparison:

Device Price Description Fee required?
Roku $49 - $89 Roku offers several models of streaming boxes, including one that works on older TV sets. It uses a very friendly, familiar remote control, and the user interface is very easy to use. NO
Apple TV $69 - $79 Apple TV is a box that is similar to Roku, but users like Roku better. Apple TV is tied into the i-Tunes store, so a lot of content isn't free. It offers a really good user-interface, but far fewer channels than the competition NO
Amazon Fire TV Stick $39 The Amazon Fire TV Stick is tiny. It's tied to your amazon Prime account, which means that to use it, you need to have Amazon Prime, and you need to pay the yearly fee. It offers a slick user interface, ease of use, and a remote that has just a few buttons on it. It runs Android, and is hackable, too. more on that, later. YES
Amazon Fire TV $99 The Amazon Fire TV box is the Fire TV Stick's larger, beefier brother. It has better performance than the Stick, and boasts Dolby Digital Surround output. YES
Google Nexus Player $89 The Google Nexus Player is a hockey-puck shaped device that integrates your Google services with Android TV, and gives you access to thousands of streaming channels and online video. NO
Matricom G-Box $69 - $109 The G-Box is a tiny set-top box that runs Android and XBMC/Kodi. It's got a quad-core processor, and is set up to automatically update whenever updates are available. The Quad core processor makes it high performance. NO
Sungale Smart TV $79 The Sungale Smart TV line of streaming media boxes offer the same features as Roku and Google Nexus. The included software connects you to all of the web-based video services like netflix, Hulu, Crackle, and so on. NO
The Jynxbox $79 Another streaming media box, but with a very dubious name. I wonder if the manufacturer realized what a Jynx is? Anyway, it streams all the usual direct content that FireTV, Roku, G-Box, and others do. NO

Raspberry Pi

I mention the Raspberry Pi here, but it is a more DIY alternative to the above streaming devices. The Raspberry Pi is a tiny, powerful computer that's the size of a cigarette box. One of the images you can install on your Raspberry Pi is called "RasBMC", which, when it boots up, is a fully functional, networked, multimedia center, with super-powerful capabilities, and tons of support.

The RaspBMC-equipped Raspberry Pi will require some computer skills to set up, but once you get the hang of it, you can access entire worlds of streaming movies and TV, for free. RasBMC is a Raspberry Pi version of KODI, an open-source media center that does everything that your cable TV providers kept promising, but never provided. Kodi has tons of add-ons and plug-ins available for it, which allows you to watch live cable TV feeds from all over the world, watch movies for free, and watch TV shows for free. All of this, is technically, not legal (illegal), and you would technically be a video-pirate if you did all of that. Fortunately, though, there currently is no law enforcement or cable-provider crackdown on it. In fact, if you were getting "Copyright Violation" emails from your cable company when you were downloading bit-torrents of movies, you won't see them when you start using Kodi. So it's doubtful that anyone can really detect when you're pirating video. This could change in the future, so keep updated on the latest trends to avoid fines.

KODI, The All-powerful

So now that I've introduced KODI on the Raspberry Pi, I should mention that KODI is available for multiple platforms. it runs on Microsoft Windows, Linux, Apple OSx, Android devices, iOS (I-Phone), Apple-TV, and Ubuntu. In other words, it runs on darn near everything. It can even be installed on many of the above devices, like the Amazon Fire TV devices, Apple-TV, and others. KODI is free. It is supported by thousands of users, worldwide, and if you set it up with enough add-ons, you will be able to watch shows from nearly all countries in the world, free of charge, all just using the internet. You can even use it as your portable media center, as it runs on smart-phones. Take it with you on your laptop. You will have free TV anywhere there is a live internet connection.

I close this article with KODI, because after exploring all of the above, this is what I ended up using, and am sticking with at the current time. I have already started articles about setting up KODI, and will update them when I have a chance. Check out KODI if you haven't already. It will change the way you watch TV forever.

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