Living with Technology: Cutting the cable on cable TV
Published 1:02 am, Wednesday, January 20, 2010
In the beginning, there was broadcast TV. And it was free. All you had to do was use an antenna on top of your TV or roof.
You could watch all the TV you wanted for free, paid for by advertisements, of course.
When cable TV was introduced, it provided subscribers with extra content, free of advertisements (commercials).
Somewhere along the line, paid TV started to include advertisements and the idea of paying for TV without advertisements went the way of the dodo bird.
So, although most of us pay for our TV and have advertisements, too, it's attractive to find ways to eliminate both paying for TV and advertisements.
The simplest way to eliminate advertisements is through what's called "time-shifting."
This is done through the use of a DVR (digital video recorder), which is often available through the cable company, or by using a third-party DVR -- the most popular ones are from TiVo.
Time shifting allows you to record your shows and then play them back when you want to watch them. By doing so, you can quickly skip over advertisements, but you still have to pay for the cable television service.
Another way to cut out your cable TV costs is to go back to using an antenna. Analog television broadcasts ended nationwide last year. But digital television broadcasts are now readily available for free, including many High Definition (HD) stations.
If you put an antenna on your home, you can pick up most local television stations (ABC, CBS, NBC and the like) with what's called over-the-air, but won't pick up the "premium" channels offered by cable companies, such as HBO, Disney, TNT and others. You can combine over-the-air television with a DVR to drop advertisements and have commercial free television for free.
But the biggest breakthrough, in my opinion, is television over the Internet.
If you're OK watching television on a small screen (e.g. your computer), there are quite a few free Web services that will let you watch many shows. Here are a few:
"¢ Hulu.com: This is a site that combines much of the content from a number of broadcasters and makes it available online for free, albeit with advertisements that can't be skipped.
"¢ Abc.com: This site provides much of its prime-time programming online for free, again with advertisements that can't be skipped.
"¢ YouTube.com: While content uploaded for free by people like you and me is limited to 10 minutes in length, some companies are paying to have longer content made available.
Making this an even more attractive alternative, some televisions now have connections that hook up to your home Internet to access these shows directly.
There are also products such as Roku that can receive Internet video and display it on your television.
NetFlix has connected its service with many companies to allow customers to watch movies on their television without having to mail DVDs back and forth. NetFlix is available on Roku, Sony PlayStation 3, Microsoft XBOX 360 and more.
The biggest type of content you can't yet watch free is so called "premium" content. The HBOs, Starzs, A&Es and other networks of the entertainment industry just don't (yet) make their content available online for free.
Furthermore, most content available online is prime time. Most daytime shows such as game shows, soap operas and talk shows simply haven't found it worthwhile to make their content available.
But it's quite possible to have a satisfying television experience without paying for cable TV. What this means is that people will be relying more and more on their Internet connection to provide not only their entertainment, but telephone and computer access.
Mark Mathias, a 30-plus-year veteran of information technology and a resident of Westport, was named by Computer World magazine to its list of "Premier 100 IT Leaders." Contact him through his blog at http://living-with-technology.blogspot.com/