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SALT LAKE CITY — Cable and satellite TV prices have been on the rise. The FCC recently reported subscription TV services increased their prices by as much as 7 percent in 2011, and many others reported similar price hikes in 2012.
With cable and satellite prices steadily rising, cutting cable is on a lot of people's minds. Although there is nothing that can completely replicate the full experience of having cable, with the streaming services and technology today, you can come pretty close.
With these tips you can say goodbye to your cable provider and still enjoy your favorite TV shows and movies. There may be some upfront cost, and a few subscriptions, but nothing compared to the ever-rising prices of cable or satellite.
Buy a streaming device
Somehow, you're going to need to get content from the internet to the TV in your living room. Many prefer the simplicity of a dedicated streaming system.
- Roku:Roku makes great streaming devices. Their lineup ranges from $49 to $99 (on sale now for $89), and all models have what you need to stream videos from the internet. Behind a myriad of features, the basic idea is to add "channels" to your Roku, most are free, some cost $1 to $4 a month, that allow you to watch online content.
- Apple TV:Apple TVs only differ from Roku in two main ways. First, they integrate with iTunes very well. From an Apple TV you can browse your computer's iTunes library and play video straight from there. The other main difference is they have a lot fewer connections to streaming services. For example, Amazon Instant is unavailable on Apple TV. The Apple TV has a few other fun features, like the ability to mirror what's on your iPhone or iPad's screen onto your TV. It also allows you to play your iTunes music through your TV's stereo.
- TVs and Blu-Ray players: Some TVs now have these capabilities build in. So if you're in the market for a new TV, keep your eyes open for one with the words "Internet Connected," "Smart TV," or "Apps." Some Blu-ray players, DVD players and gaming systems also have the ability to connect to the most popular streaming services, like Netflix and Hulu Plus. Subscribe While there are a few free streaming providers out there (like Crackle), their selection is limited. Between the three most popular content streamers, Netflix, Hulu Plus and Amazon Instant, you should be able to find everything you're looking for. Take a look through their libraries, and see which services best fit your needs.
- Netflix:Netflix was the first to popularize the online streaming of content, and it has over 30 million subscribers today. Their online streaming collection is $7.99 a month and includes access to an immense online library. A one-month free trial is available. They do not have any ads with their content.
- Hulu Plus:Hulu Plus is Hulu's solution for streaming to mobile devices and internet connected TVs. It includes most of your favorite current TV shows, as well as past seasons of those shows. Note that while watching Hulu on your computer is free, a Hulu Plus subscription is required for any other device (like a Roku, or internet-connected DVD player) is required. Hulu Plus has a one-week free trial, and a subscription is $7.99 a month. They include ads before and throughout their content.
- Amazon Instant:Amazon Instant is rapidly growing its user base. They have a vast collection of TV and movies available for free unlimited streaming to subscribers of their "Prime" service ($80 a year). What sets Amazon apart from Netflix and Hulu is that Amazon allows you to rent movies and watch them instantly for about $4 if the title is not available for free (with Prime) streaming. Using these one-time rentals, you can stream almost any show. If the idea of a monthly subscription to one or more of these services is not appealing to you, just put it in comparison to your current cable or satellite bill.
Antenna and tuner
Don't forget, there are still TV stations that broadcast for free over the air. Most, if not all, TVs have tuners built in. Old TVs might need a new digital tuner (like this one), but new TVs will have analog and digital tuning capabilities. Usually, all you need to do it plug in an antenna to get access to these free channels.
If you need to buy an antenna, make sure you look for one that supports analog and digital bands, as there are stations in most areas in both bands. The website tvfool.com is very useful for finding the best location for placing your antenna, and will let you know if a simple "set top" antenna (like this) will work, or if you'll need a bigger antenna mounted in your attic or on your roof.
Use your computer
One way to get a lot of content to your TV is via your computer. If you have a large collection of movies stored on your computer, or just want to use your web browser to stream movies, a computer can be an easy way to go. If your TV has room nearby for your computer, all it takes is a cord.
Old TVs may require a few adapters to connect with your computer, but not relatively new TVs. Most TVs now have inputs for HDMI, DVI, or S-Video, and most laptops have at least one of those outputs. Some computers may require an adapter, like this one for Macs.
It can be hard to navigate a computer's desktop while sitting on the couch, however. A wireless mouse and keyboard let you control your computer from across the room, but a computer's text can be hard to read on a TV.
On the Roku, there are many apps that you can be installed both on your computer, and your Roku, to allow video to be sent from the computer to your TV. Some of the popular apps for this are Plex, Roksbox, Chaneru and Play-on.
One of the biggest benefits to cable or satellite is the DVR it comes with. Everyone likes to record their favorite shows in case they miss them when they're live on air. There isn't much need for a work-around with this one because most TV shows become available online the day after they air, at which point you can watch them at any time.
For that one show you have to see live and watch over and over again, though, it's possible to record any channels you receive over the air, or need to pause in the middle of the show. To replicate this functionality you will need to hook you computer up to an antenna (see above) using a tuner card and something like Windows Media Center or XBMC. Or you can wait until the day after the show airs, and watch it on something like Hulu Plus, or Amazon Instant.
No matter how you set yourself up, there will be a few compromises. It's impossible to fully replicate the experience of having hundreds of channels instantly on your TV. But for many it can be worth the small compromises to cut cable and save potentially over $100 a month.
Taylor Wilson is an IT professional at a small Utah company. He has a passion for helping people with technology. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org