With the economy being in the toilet at the moment, a lot of people are trying to cut costs. Cable and satellite are both expensive. If you get a decent package that includes basic channels, the “expanded” tiers of programming that include the basic cable channels that you want to watch, and some premium channels like HBO or Showtime, you could be looking at a hundred bucks a month or more. So one thing to scale back on is cable or satellite.
Fortunately, we’ll show you how you can watch all of your programs minus a cable or satellite bill. Here’s what you’ll need.
First, if you want to watch broadcast TV, you’ll either need an HDTV (we recommend the Samsung LN32B650) and an antenna (go to Radio Shack or Best Buy and pick up a regular old TV antenna, it should cost you $10-15 depending on the model; there’s no need for anything fancy, they’re all basically just a pair of wires) or an analog TV and a digital TV converter box (we recommend the Tivax STB-T8). Now you can watch live broadcast television.
If you want to watch shows after they’ve already aired, programs from basic cable, or you want to catch up on old episodes, you can probably do that for free online. The best resource is Hulu.com. Hulu is an online TV venture from some of the major studios. You’ll find a pretty good selection of past and current TV and cable offerings there, along with a few movies. And best of all, Hulu is 100% free. Some studios/networks (notably CBS) don’t tend to offer programming on Hulu. But you can probably find episodes of those shows on www.CBS.com. Hulu and other online TV offerings sometimes have time restrictions on programming; so for example if you’re a fan of IT’S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA, Hulu only has a few episodes at a time. And sometimes they’re delayed for a few days as well. But they’re free.
Some basic cable networks and most premium channels (HBO, Showtime, etc.) don’t put their videos up on Hulu or even on their own websites. If you want to watch TOP CHEF or MAD MEN, you’ll have to pay for it. That’s where iTunes or Amazon on Demand come in. Most standard-definition shows are $1.99 per episode, and most HD versions are $2.99 per episode. If you think about the tens or hundreds of dollars you pay for cable or satellite per month, even if you couldn’t find any programming on Hulu or other free online services and bought it all by the episode, it would still work out cheaper on iTunes and Amazon on Demand. Plus, if you use Amazon on Demand and you purchase a Roku Digital Video Player, you can watch your programming on your television. Perhaps even in HD! The one drawback to this is that Showtime and HBO both wait on making available their shows until after they’ve aired, sometimes long after, in order not to hurt their subscription base. Our guess is that as video on demand revenue continues to rise and eventually equal or eclipse subscription revenue, this will change. But for now, you’ll have to have a little patience when it comes to shows from premium cable channels.
The next step in our TV On the Cheap Guide is Netflix Instant Watch. As we’ve said before, we’re a huge fan of this service, which is a free benefit with any Netflix unlimited plan (those plans start at $8.99/month). And you can sync Netflix Instant Watch up to your Roku box as well or your Xbox 360 via Xbox Live. Netflix Instant Watch offers thousands of films and TV shows, including most of the Starz network’s offerings (PARTY DOWN is a fantastic, hilarious show).
That’s all there is to saving thousands of dollars a year on cable or satellite, without missing your favorite programs. With your newfound cash, maybe you could pick up a point-and-shoot digital camcorder; we recommend the Flip UltraHD.