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Streaming Media Players: Cutting the Cable Bill

By Edited Feb 28, 2016 0 0

With higher cable bills for broadcast television and increased pressure for cost-cutting measures at home, many Americans are looking for ways to reduce or eliminate their monthly cable bill.  If you watch 20 hours of television a week or less, and are currently paying for Internet service, there are a few great options available right now.

 

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Set-top boxes are the modern equivalent of the VCR from the 1980s and the DVD player from the 2000s.  They involve a connection to the Internet and a remote control.  Instead of paying the cable company to bring content to your television with commercials and the headaches involved with dealing with their customer service, you arrange for the content that you view on your TV. 

“Wait”, you say, “I’m not the cable company.”  However, you are forgetting something: The very nature of the Internet gives you a new alternative to the monopoly your local service provider currently enjoys.  Many channels already broadcast their programming in the clear on the Internet.  You just need a device to collect these broadcasts in the most efficient way possible.  Let’s look at the top three options to see how this might work best for you.

Let's Look at the Top Three Options:

3 streamers

As with all electronic devices, it is important to choose your product based on the functionality of the device and how it will serve you.  Looks, packaging, and hype have little to do with your long term satisfaction.  The point is that they pretty much look the same.   Is it how they work which makes them different.   Plan ahead and make a purchase with a supplier who will honor a return if needed.

Roku Streamer

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The Roku Streamer works best for newcomers.  It limits choices on the screen to a few at a time, and is broken up into channels like a TV tuner.  The main channels are Netflix, Amazon Instant, and Hulu Plus.  In addition to these there are hundreds of additional channels that may or may not interest you.   Some are free and good, more are free and worthless; others are subscription-paid and powerful. Options include channels such as mlb.tv that broadcasts all of the major league baseball games around the league except the one in your home market (caveat).  This streamer is very popular with the 55+ market who basically use it as their Netflix player. There are no DVDs to mail/return to the store, and it is $8/month. The costs would be your internet service and $8 for Netflix. Not all channels have a fee.

Latest Roku 3

The Rook 3 Streamer is a small unobtrusive box.  The third generation streamer features a faster processor and a headphone plug in the remote.  These features can become especially useful when there are kids or grandkids in your home, or for those during those hard to hear programs when someone else is in the house.  The display is in 1080p as are all products in this review.  The Rook 3 Streamer has more limited hookups, including wireless.  There is no HDMI cable included.

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Roku 3 Streaming Media Player (2014 model)
Amazon Price: $99.99 $85.00 Buy Now
(price as of Feb 28, 2016)

Multi-Platform Streaming Content

While the Rook does give you access to 100+ channels, there are 3 that everyone will consider for content.   These are available in all three streamers, personal computers, and select Blu-Ray players.  Here is a little information about each one as it will enable you to envision how you will utilize your device.

Netflix, with an $8/month membership, includes most movies and some original programming.  It is a virtual video store with a searchable database.  Sign up, enter your code (one time only), and select a movie.  The movie plays like a VCR or DVD.  You can pause, fast forward, and even resume the next day.  You can watch a series of programs.  There is a 14-day waiting period for Netflix when movies are released to the general public before they are delivered to Netflix.  Television shows are available 24 hours after they are broadcast.  Only certain shows are available.

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Amazon Instant is growing rapidly and is available as a bonus for $79 when you sign up for Amazon prime shipping service for Amazon.  I must say it is nice to receive my orders so unbelievably fast instead of the old timeframe (also known as “super-slacker shipping”).  There is a wide variety of viewable programming including TV and movies.  As a whole, their programming is a little bit more cerebral than the others.  For an average of $6.50 a month  and speedy ship, it seems like a bargain.  This product offers a free trial to see if you like it.  

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Hulu Plus -  Hulu was the big winner 5 years ago when it obtained access rights to an unbelievable amount of content and allowed consumers to watch in exchange for enduring a few ads.  Hulu plus is its current evolution that gives you a few ads for a fee $8/month.  After watching TV without ads, you won’t want to go back.  However, if you want to watch “Bewitched” from beginning to end, you won’t find it on Netflix.  Hulu specializes in television serials. 

 

WDTV

Are you comfortable with computers?  Do you have content on your home computer (family photos, old DVDs, program recordings) you would like to play on your television?  Well this year’s top of the line HDTV do the same thing for $2000 or you can buy this box.  In some ways, this is the best of both worlds.  You have a fully functional streamer without all the fluff of the Roku, and a network friendly media player all in one. Thus, it’s a streaming player like the Roku, but it’s also a media player. Think of it like a little video card.  If you put a movie file on a USB key and plug it in to the front, it will play.  By extension, if you give it a connection to your computer and access to a folder, it will play anything in that folder.   This is just like your VCR except you are giving the machine the cassette or file.  If you spend 10 hours a week or more on a computer, you will eventually utilize the compatibility this platform provides.  There is no HDMI cable.

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Latest WDTV Live v4

The WDTV is the fourth generation devise from storage device maker Western Digital.  It has the most connections, and plays every conceivable type of audio and video file.  The interface and remote have shown marketed improvement from the previous version.   This device is 1080p wireless and wired.  There is no HDMI cable.

 

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Rights of use and the need for advertising revenue complicate finding conventional television content on the Internet.  YouTube displays content and receives advertising revenue that can be downloaded with a browser add-on.  Eztv has a domain that catalogs television programs only, and acts as a bulletin board. Users enable bit torrent programs to deliver files from tiny bits assembled from different users. 

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WD TV Live Media Player Wi-fi 1080p (Old Version)
Amazon Price: $333.33 Buy Now
(price as of Feb 28, 2016)

Apple TV

Our last contestant is for the Apple Enthusiast.  Apple makes a great player that has a clean interface and brings the items that you have purchased on iTunes into your living room.  iPhoto, iTunes, and your purchased videos are sent to your TV from your Mac or iTunes account.  Detractors have commented that the only way to get content is through the pay-per-view iTunes store.  Your purchases are really extended rentals contingent upon continued use of  Apple's hardware and software.  There are free choices just as there are free books on Amazon, but it is a kiosk and its there to make money. If you own the iPad, iPhone, and iMac, then it is just one more extension of your apple universe that you should take advantage of regardless of how Apple chooses to report its earnings for tax purposes.

 

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Latest Apple TV v3

The Apple TV v3 is 1080p with wireless and wired.  It is the smallest player of the three with a tiny remote.  I have heard of people changing the software on these products, but I think when you are with Apple, you are always with Apple, and that’s the plan.   Its kind of like owning a BMW.  It costs more to begin with, along the way, and in-between, but if you take pride in owning a german sports car, its worth it.  Everyone I know who has this player loves it.  It performs very well.  There is no HDMI cable.  Try to avoid purchasing this little cable at your local electronics store.  It will cost you three times the real price.

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SOME PARTING ADVICE:

If you watch Sports, you are out of luck.  This is the one part of TV viewing I was unable to replace online.  Yes, they have premium sports packages, but even those have caveats.  Watch it with a friend, or go out to a local establishment where you can watch it and spend some of your savings.

If you watch one or two particular channels, hunt them down.  The main networks are available over-the-air.  Comedy Central releases most of their content at their website.   Home and Garden has its own streaming channel.  BBC is available on VPN.

Have you tried the smallest package from the cable companies that includes channels 2-69?  Cable companies are aware of what is happening, and are eager to keep subscribers for their advertising base.  Therefore, we are starting to see $25 a month packages for 480p channels.  These are the over-the-air channels, plus a few basic cable channels intentionally scrambled down to look worse.  My over-the-air channels look ten times better. 

 

Embrace Change and Trying Something Different

Options:

  1. Return your cable box, and try one of these set top boxes.  Consider a trial from one of the services mentioned. 
  2. Have you read my infobarrel article on how to receive Free digital TV ?   I offer instructions on finding out what signals are available in your area and how to receive them.   Over-The-Air Digital Broadcasts...

  3. Return your HD cable box, and downgrade your cable package for two months to 480p.  You could trial a set-top box, and reduce your TV watching, or start a new hobby.  If you decide to renew your large cable package, you can enjoy the introductory period all over again.  Hooray! 

 

Have a Pleasant Day!

pleas day

Sarasota, Florida

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