Satellite and cable television subscriptions are expensive. You’re paying for a lot of content you will never see, nor ever have the desire to. In this article, I will illustrate the cheaper (and more sensible) alternatives to getting your couch potato fix. Mind you, these television substitutes vary largely on your location, proximity to heavily populated areas, and access to a high-speed internet connection. If you’re reading this via a 56k modem, just stop reading now (and/or watching the photo above load line by line) and go watch your overtly expensive DirecTV (which is currently in a legal rights issue with NBC and CW, thus not offering any of their content to their paying customers in my Metro-Boston area). For those of you who understand what such nomenclature as “HDMI,” “WiFi,” or “1080p” means, you’re right at home.
For those of you with a reliable internet connection, there’s a world of televised and cinematic entertainment at your fingertips. I’m not talking about downloading things illegally (which I don’t condone, in spite of Draconian governmental regulations in place against them), but rather online subscription models like Netflix Instant Streaming, Hulu Plus, Amazon Instant Video, and so on and so forth. The majority of these services offer “next day” streaming (i.e. the capability of watching something the day after it airs on television) and back catalogs of previous seasons. Pricing models all are typically under 10 dollars a month, with Amazon offering their services free for all Prime members. All of this instant-gratification-entertainment-for-the-eyeballs is just fine and dandy, but how do you get this onto your television in the living room?
First off, most HDTVs today are “smart televisions,” with built-in apps that allow for ease of use; however, for those of you with “dumb televisions,” you’ll have to find another way around it. If you have a video game console (Microsoft Xbox 360, Sony PlayStation 3, or a Nintendo Wii), you can use these devices to access a lot of streaming content. I prefer the PlayStation 3 to be my multimedia device, as it’s also a pretty fantastic Blu-Ray player. The Wii isn’t the best, because it only outputs 480p video (which is considered standard definition) and has a clunky interface and dearth of apps. For those of you who don’t want a clunky video game console in their entertainment center, there are also alternatives such as Boxee, Roku, and Apple TV. These low profile devices offer the aforementioned services, plus social networking apps, music apps like Pandora, and plenty more time-wasting apps to keep you on your couch for days.
But what if you want to watch things like major sports events or televised awards ceremonies to be timely with your snide/sarcastic tweets? There’s a world of free high definition content floating around you right now. All you’ll need is an indoor or outdoor over-the-air HD antenna, with prices varying from 20 to 100 bucks. The antenna just connects via coax cable and allows for 20+ basic cable programs. This is perfect for those of you who enjoy having people over for drinks and wings to watch the odd football game, or to poke fun at the forthcoming Grammy Awards. This basic cable perfectly augments more premium content you’ll get through online services. Mind you, with this set-up, you’ll still have to pay for a high-speed internet connection; however, you’ll end up saving $50-$100 a month in the long run (results may vary on how much premium television content you pay for).
Of course, this isn’t for everyone. There’s those of you who need to have the multitude of ESPN channels at your finger tips, or have shows on HBO, AMC, Showtime, etc., to watch and you don’t want to wait an extra minute. For those of you with a DVR and fat pockets, more power to you, you’re all good in the hood, c’est la vie; conversely, for those of you like me who don’t appreciate paying absurd monthly bills just to sift through channels of garbage to watch a select few of television programs, there are alternatives out there that are not only less-expensive, but more convenient and intuitive. Rumor has it, cable and satellite providers are tinkering around with “pay for what you want” models, and if they want to remain relevant with the modern consumer, this would be a very smart move on their part. In the meanwhile, I’ll remain very open to any alternatives to such an antiquated and ridiculously expensive monthly subscription model.
(I must add the caveat that Hulu Plus is only halfheartedly recommended by me. It’s flawed in many different ways: You’re still subjected to advertisements in your subscription model, not all content is available for streaming on HD/mobile devices [looking at you, "30 Rock"], and it is also flawed on a technical level with poor streaming performances and glitches galore. Instant streaming programs have room for growth, with Hulu Plus needing the most work.)