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There's a lot of online video and TV available over the internet. However, it's not yet a true replacement for your cable or satellite subscription.

For the past five years, I have had satellite TV. I moved to Las Vegas two years ago and continued watching DirecTV. For the past year, I've really started noticing how bad the commercials were getting. It's getting so bad that you can barely watch enough programming to know it's a program. This is what brings me to my question. Is it possible to getting both local, networks, and all the other channels off the internet to your TV? I know you can watch TV on your PC, but from what I've seen, the quality isn't that good. What about porting it over to your TV? My TV is internet ready.

The practical answer to your question is a pretty clear "no".

There are piecemeal approaches that can get you a lot, but there's still no complete replacement for getting your local or cable or satellite channels directly.

Assuming that's what you actually need.

Let's look at a few of the common approaches and their limitations.

System Requirements

The single biggest limitation to any type of online video, be it TV or otherwise, is the speed of your internet connection.

Most online video is available in either multiple formats or sizes, or they have some automatic detection of your video speed so as to adjust the flow of data required to watch video.

"The free services ... include the very thing you're attempting to escape. Commercials."

The adjustment that they make?

Quality.

Even what we'd consider standard definition TV requires a fair amount of bandwidth - it wasn't until I'd upgraded to a three megabits per second connection that I could reliably live stream SD TV. HD takes significantly more.

And, of course, if you have other devices sharing your internet connection, they can also take away from your actual available bandwidth. Watching online video might not be a good idea if one of your other computers is doing a large download, for example.

Once you get past the bandwidth issue, most current PCs are quite capable of displaying streaming video, such as TV.

Your PC and your TV

I'm not sure exactly what an "internet-ready" TV really means. In the cases that I've seen, all that it really means is that the TV can connect to the internet to update its own firmware, perhaps provide some kind of on-screen guide or other services.

It's certainly not a means to watch TV.

To do something close to that, you need to attach another device; perhaps a Roku box or an Apple TV.

Or you could do as I have and connect a PC to your TV. That way, anything that you can watch on your PC can be watched on your TV.

The question is: what can you watch?

Online programming

Let's start off with what is not available: your traditional TV channels. You won't find your local channels or most of the cable stations or premium channels online.

However, most news channels offer live streams. Even your own local stations may, but only when news programming is on.

Some public stations provide live streams.

Some international stations provide live streams, although often of lower quality due to the distances involved. Frequently, these are also geographically restricted so you may not be able to watch the live stream from one country in another.

If you're interested in specific shows currently being broadcast, definitely check out their websites. Often, the most recent episodes will be available for a limited time - either hosted directly or on sites like Hulu. (I've found these particularly handy when for some reason or another my DirecTV failed to record an episode.)

Finally, check the websites for the specific network that you might be interested in. Some have been playing with premium offerings that will allow you to stream some of their content to your PC or mobile device (for a price).

If movies and other non-current programming is more of what you're looking for, services like NetFlix or Amazon Instant Videos might be a reasonable approach. Personally, I've been using Amazon's service while I exercise to watch TV series that I missed when they were new.

What about those "hundreds of free channels" offers?

Every so often, I am asked about the services that offer to deliver hundreds of live TV channels to your PC.

The majority of them act only a front ends to aggregate streaming TV channels that you could find yourself.

If you choose to investigate such a service, be absolutely sure that they provide the channels that you care about - most do not. While they might sound wonderful, you'll probably find that they provide access to hundreds of channels that you've never heard of.

So far, I've not encountered one that is a viable alternative for traditional cable or satellite programming.

Oh, and there's a catch

It's very possible that some of the alternatives that I mentioned above might feel like a solution for you and have you ready to drop your cable or satellite.

Cool. But you should also know this...

The free services - like recent episodes of your favorite shows, the news channels, or even the free videos available from Hulu - include the very thing that you're attempting to escape.

Commercials.

Sometimes fewer, but more often than not, just as many and in the same spots.

To be completely honest, the "fast forward" button on your DirecTV remote is probably a much easier approach to managing commercial overload.

That, or waiting until the shows you care about are available on DVD or a premium streaming service.

Article C5080 - February 17, 2012 « »

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Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

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17 Comments
Scott Holder
February 17, 2012 7:13 PM

Some networks are actually taking a regressive approach regarding the Internet and the digital age. Fox, for example, will lock series episodes for eight days after broadcast, unless you have specific cable or satellite providers. Even then, it may not work (we have COX, supposedly one of the providers that will let us view episodes online the next day, but the new episodes are still locked for us). NBC is worse. They used to have full episodes available online, but they have stopped that; all that they have online now is short clips of episodes.

Damon Littlewood
February 18, 2012 1:16 AM

In the good ol' UK we have a lovely site http://tvcatchup.com/ All the channels that are transmitted over digital TV available here, as is. No additional adverts. The US needs to catch up it seems.

tracey white
February 18, 2012 9:08 PM

Our PC is hooked up to our t.v. and I enjoy not paying for both a high speed connection AND Cable service. In the fall the new season starts and you get about 8-10 episodes before your favorite show goes on hiatus and doesn't come back until the end of January. And, then it's kind of sporadic. Sometimes they give you a new episode, sometimes not. Yet, all that time that you aren't getting the programs you want, you are still paying. I take the money I would spend on cable, and an hdtv dvr and simply buy my shows. I still come out ahead. If quality is a big concern, Itunes offers a really good HD picture or you can buy shows through your playstation. I'd rather invest in higher speed for my internet than in t.v. that doesn't offer anything I want to watch for months at a time.

Lenny Vasbinder
February 21, 2012 8:21 AM

Perfect timing!!! We have been discussing this topic in the Computer_Help_And_Discussion Yahoo Group which led to me starting a new group, http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Internet_Television which will be all about watching TV over the internet

JP
February 21, 2012 8:32 AM

I checked out tvcatchup.com and had high hopes, but after browsing their forum discovered the service blocks VPN connections. (I'm in the US.)

One site in the US that offers some programming is http://www.tv.com. Much is available for free although not all. One good feature is the availability of some old(er) shows.

Kent Hartsoe
February 21, 2012 8:49 AM

I stopped using regular/cable TV 8 years ago and I don't miss it. I've used all the alternatives that Leo mentioned. Thing is they are basically all like Hulu. They start out great but as time goes by and they become popular they demand more and more and give less and less. Hulu is a perfect example. When I started watching them years ago there was no cost for any videos and there were maybe 2 commercials in an hour long show. Now they want you to pay to view many of the videos via Hulu plus and in a typical show,i.e. Fringe, they will have 10 commercials. The more popular a business becomes the less they give you and the more they demand for their services, i.e. Microsoft.

John H
February 21, 2012 9:55 AM

Simple solution to avoiding all the advertising.

Just because TV exists does not mean that we are supposed to watch it.

The purpose of TV programing is to sell advertising space. The purpose of the evening news is to sell advertising space, not to present useful news though they do have to put up a front and pretend to do so.

Your time on Earth is limited and precious ... don't waste it sitting in front of a TV.

Rezwan
February 21, 2012 12:05 PM

What about Slingbox? It streams tv via internet and is accessible on any platform.

dashrender
February 21, 2012 12:27 PM

Slingbox isn't a service, it just rebroadcasts what is pumped into it.

GREG JACKSON
February 21, 2012 12:28 PM

Off topic, but...
Let's all face the simple well known fact: Ain't nothing for free - right? John H spells it out.
I haven't subscribed to cable in over 5 years. I too put money saved to faster download speeds.
Now about the ads - I still find the total time watching ads on-line are less than 2-4 minutes via cable. I once clocked 5 minutes of ads from Bravo, that's when I dumped cable
Hulu may have ten ads, but each is only 15-20 seconds. Crackle has 3 ads [15 seconds each, and at low volume]. Crackle also plays part I & II as a single episode [very considerate, I think]. NBC, CBS, ETC, ad time is still less per slot vs shows on cable. Many times only 2 out of 3 ads actually play [but... ad volume is a big problem].

Most importantly:
Some seem to be bombarded by ads more than others. I think this may be related to a viewer subscribing to a show vs seeking it out every 3 weeks and watching a few episodes at one sitting. I say this because I have noticed my friends whine about ads [subscribers] while I never have these complaints, even with the same shows [because they 'got you' ?].

Don B
February 21, 2012 12:46 PM

Here in the northwest, some of the local stations have live news streams 24/7. My internet-ready Vizio TV has built-in ethernet and wi-fi access just for watching internet TV like Hulu, Netflix, and Amazon. The firmware updates allow adding new channels/content.

The TV remote has a slide-out bluetooth qwerty keyboard with additional function keys for internet access. I have tested all of this on my CenturyLink ADSL line. While adequate for SD, it is not suitably fast for HD content. I would have to upgrade to faster internet service and also pay for multiple premium internet services to replace my basic cable internet TV service. The one foreign-language premium channel that we watch the most is not available for internet streaming.

Perhaps in the near future, we can cut the cable TV or direcTV, but we are not quite there yet.

Don

Nick Godwin
February 21, 2012 1:37 PM

Leo, I have an "internet ready" TV (by LG) and it works fine. I use it regularly for BBC iPlayer (a TV "catchup" service here in UK). Sometimes there can be a pause for buffering, but that's not often a problem and can usually be avoided by a voluntary pause at the start, to allow the buffering to get a head of steam.

It is connected to the internet via my standard router (hard wired not remote) over the phone line. I think we are on about 2mps. of course there are no commercials on BBC, however in due course I expect the service will be extended to include our UK commercial channels such as 4oD and ITV's catchup. Then presumably it will be possible to skip over the ads. It already is if i view these services through the computer.

J. Samuels
February 21, 2012 5:55 PM

You can't get away from the commercials - they pay for the content. But, I record all the shows I am interested in and watch them at my convenience. And, I am really good at skipping at high speed through all the commercials! I am a Comcast cable user and have the extended channels and the HD channels, but no pay channels. Also, if I miss a show (football went into extra time...) I use Comcast's On-Demand service and, although I usually can't skip forward, the commercials are only about 1 minute long.

Melvin Batchelor
February 22, 2012 4:32 AM

I get my TV over internet here in Germany. It's a service offered by the Deutsche Telekom. Of course, it requires lots of bandwidth (I currently have 50 mb/sec) and is generally only offered in areas where "fiber to the curb" is installed. A special set top box connected to my in-house network is required.

Unfortunately, it doesn't solve your reader's problem. Stations with lots of advertizing (we have both public and private stations) still have the advertizing. My STB is also a digital recorder, and that's the best solution. Don't watch the shows when they're broadcast, record them and watch them some other time and you can skip the advertizing. We basically never watch private stations (the ones with the commercials) "live", always time-shifted.

Thomas Richers
February 22, 2012 5:52 AM

What you might want to look into is "smart TV". They have basically a small PC already built in, including the software to play internet tv streaming. However, they are still quite expensive.

On the European continent, most people I know have a 10-20 Mb/s VDSL broadband connection (cable or telephone line). So bandwidth is rarely a problem.

Sanuel
March 7, 2012 7:26 PM

I subscribe to DISH and I don’t know what I would do without my trusted HD DVR. It seems that I’m rarely home when my favorite shows air, so I spend most of my TV time watching recordings that I fast forward through commercials. When I started working for DISH, I learned about their site, DISHonline.com. A lot of the content there is current and free to watch without signing in, and once I do sign in as a DISH subscriber, I’m able to unlock a lot more content. Not only is it a place I go to watch new TV shows and movies, but they also have a large collection of older TV shows and films that are no longer on TV.

Mary Guhin
July 26, 2012 10:45 AM

Related topic: Why isn't my DVR "smarter?" Given the tremendous power of computing today, why am I limited to recording only 2 shows at a time? Why can't the DVR detect time shifts, so that when live events , like sports, go into overtime, the recording start times would be adjusted appropriately? Why is my storage space so limited? Sometimes I have to delete shows before I have had a chance to watch them. Especially aggravating: when I set the programming to record only new episodes of a series, and then the network broadcasts a marathon of re-runs that fill up my DVR drive. Why does that happen? An array of first world problems, i know. Thanks for taking a look at my inquiries.

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