How To Watch TV For Free Or Cheap Without Paying For Cable

If you’re anything like me you probably like keeping your expenses to the minimum – while at the same time not sacrificing so much that you’re living an austere existence.   You don’t mind giving up eating out, as well as you’re eating well at home.  You don’t mind having a pre-paid cell phone, as long as you still have a wireless plan and decent phone.  Finally, you don’t mind not paying for cable tv, as long as you can still watch the shows that you enjoy watching.

This past year or two we employed a couple of different strategies (legal ones!) in order to stick it to the cable company, and not pay for all the entertainment options we were enjoying.  In reality, if you want to, you can do the same thing at your house.  Here’s how.

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Watch TV Shows And Movies On The Computer – Online

watch-tv

The option that many people already know about is watching the TV and movies that you want to see via the internet.  There are a large number of sites that will allow you to watch TV shows free either the day of, or within a few days of the episodes airing on regular TV.    Here are a few of my favorite online video sites:

  • Hulu.com: Probably the best one out there in my opinion.  Does have commercials, but options are endless.  All my favorite shows show up here.
  • Pluto.TV: A cool online TV network of sorts for web video.  Stream it right to your TV via your Chromecast or other device.
  • TV Network sites: ABC, NBC, CBS all have good full episode streaming options available.
  • Veoh.com: Tons of content, including TV shows!
  • Crackle: great shows including Jerry Seinfeld’s web series.
  • AOL Video: Both short and long video clips and full shows.

There are a ton of other free video sites out there, this list only lists some of the ones I found to be the best.  Have some free online video options that you use?  Let us know about them in the comments and we’ll add them to the list.

Watch Free HDTV Over The Air

One option that a lot of people are just now realizing is the fact that you can watch all the major networks, and a variety of other public television stations free of charge over the wonderful new digital airwaves.  In fact, 94 of the top 100 shows are on broadcast TV!

channelmaster-dvrThe picture quality is HD and better than cable at times on broadcast TV, and all you need is a nice antenna and an HDTV tuner in order to pick up the shows.  In fact, if you’re not a big TV watcher you could get by with just the big 3 networks if you wanted to.  Here’s what we use for an antenna:

There are also a bunch of over-the-air DVRs available as well.  Over-the-air DVRS will allow you to watch live broadcast TV, record your favorite shows, or entire series. Here are the two that I think are the best. I have tried both and like them both.

We like some of the cable shows as well, however, so this option alone doesn’t cut it for us.

Watch TV Shows On Your TV Streamed Via Media Player

The option that has become the standard at our house for watching TV, movies via Netflix and a variety of other sources is a software called PlayOn.   PlayOn is basically a media streaming software that will pull the video streams from sites like Hulu.com, Youtube.com, network websites, MLB.TV, Netflix and allow you to stream them over the home network, to a network media player attached to your TV.

The options are pretty endless as PlayOn has a plug-in system that allows developers to add their own plug-ins for video sites they want added to the software.  A while back they also added a software that you can use to record online video for later use, or to take on the go on your mobile device called PlayLater.

So what do you need to set up a Playon media center?

  • Network Media player:  Any number of media players will work to view the media on your TV including Xbox One, Playstation 4, Wii, Chromecast, Fire TV.  Other supported devices can be found here.  We bought a refurbished Xbox 360 for extremely cheap on Ebay – works great!
  • TV: You need a TV that you can connect to your network media device.  We use a 50″ plasma.
  • Playon software:  The software is what allows you to stream all of your favorite online video sites straight to your TV over your home network.  The software does have a $49.99 one time fee for a lifetime subscription, which includes PlayLater online DVR software as well.  A bargain in my estimation.
  • Computer:  You’ll need a home computer that is connected to your home network that will run the Playon software and serve the video to your network media player.  The graphic below gives you an idea of how it works.

We’ve been using our Playon media setup for years now, and it works great. In fact we just watched all the seasons of Walking Dead in the past few months using this setup.  I highly recommend it. It works well because using this setup we don’t need to have a computer directly connected to the TV, and we can use our regular Logitech Harmony remote to navigate shows, pause and play, etc on the console.

Other Media Hubs

Other options include popular media hubs:

  • Media Hub Myth TV: Another popular Digital Video Recorder and home media center hub that you can install on your PC  is Myth TV.  Check it out here.
  • Kodi.TV: Kodi (formerly known as XBMC) is a software media center for playing videos, music, pictures, games, and more.  There are add-ons that will allow you to use TV tuners to record shows, etc. It can also be installed on a Fire TV stick or other streaming devices to view your media on the big screen.
  • Plex.TV: Plex media server allows you to put all your media in one place and view it on all your devices.

Computer Directly Connected To Your TV

One of the more popular options for watching streamed TV shows leaves out the media streaming software and network media device altogether, and has you just connecting your desktop or laptop directly to your HDTV.   With this option you all you need is a TV and a desktop or laptop with a video output.  Our laptop has a HDMI output, so it works well to connect it to our HDTV if we want.

Here is how you can use your computer when directly hooked up to the TV:

  • Navigate Computer With Mouse & Keyboard:  You connect your computer to the HDTV (for the big screen) and then proceed to go to your favorite websites like hulu.com, Netflix and others (see some options above) to view your shows.  You can use the Hulu Desktop application.  You can also watch shows that you’ve downloaded from Amazon, Itunes or other online video sources – or your own videos.  You will most likely need a wireless keyboard and mouse to make this easy – although it isn’t required.

Watch TV And Movies On DVD & Streaming

Another great offline option for watching TV and movies is just watching them on DVD!  Yes, I know that’s so 2000.

There are plenty of low cost or free options for watching movies and TV shows.  Here are a few:

  • Redbox:  Redbox allows you to rent a new release movie for $1 a night,  which is an extremely low cost movie rental option.  They are showing up just about everywhere including gas stations, grocery stores and Walmarts everywhere.   Search for coupon codes online for free redbox rentals, and it can be even cheaper!
  • Netflix.com: There is a monthly cost associated with Netflix , but the added convenience of keeping the movies and TV shows as long as you want, and being able to stream a selection of movies and TV shows over the computer through one of the options above, make it worth it.  $8.99 for the basic package, plus you can get a 1 month netflix free trial!
  • Amazon Instant Video: If you’ve got an Amazon Prime account, you can stream a ton of shows and movies for free. Otherwise, rentals are usually less than $5.
  • Google Play Store: You can rent shows and movies from here and view them via your networked device.
  • VUDU: Rent hundreds of TV shows and movies from this WalMart owned streaming service.
  • Sling TV: A streaming service that offers premium cable channels for $20/month.
  • HBO NowGet premium HBO content for $14.99/month.
  • Your Local Library: Your local library will most likely have  a decent selection of DVD movies that you can check out for a week or more.  In fact, many libraries will actually buy copies of new releases that you can reserve. My local library tends to be a bit picked over, but if you get on a waiting list you can usually find movies or TV shows you’d enjoy watching.
  • Borrow from people you know:  Borrow movies and TV shows from your neighbors, friends and family!  They may as well get some use out of that large DVD library they paid so much for!

Conclusion

As you can see from the post above, there a million and one ways to watch TV, movies and other video entertainment, as long as you get creative. It doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg like the cable and satellite companies want you to think.  In fact, it can be rather affordable. So get crackin!

Note:  One of the few glaring holes in this whole plan is that finding live sports via an online source can be difficult or next to impossible.  If you’re a big sports fan, until new options become available, you may end up having to pay for cable anyway. Sorry!

Do you have other suggestions for free  or cheap ways to watch TV?  What setup do you have at your house, or do  you still pay for cable or satellite TV? Are there shows that you think you can’t get by using these free video options (like sports)?  Tell us your thoughts in the comments!

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I’m a thirty-something Christian Midwestern father of one son, and have been happily married for 9 years to my beautiful wife. I love playing tennis, shooting hoops, or taking part in the occasional flag football game. Of course, I love writing and financial topics as well, and that's how this site came into being! Check me out on Google +!

Last Edited: 29th June 2015


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  1. says

    Hi There, I was wondering does this option give you many of the reality TV show channels? I like watching BravoTV (BRVO-W), OXGN, Style, E!-W and Hist-W. Are these channels included and can be seen using this method? Thanks, Sandra

    • says

      I couldn’t tell you for sure since I don’t watch many of those shows, but you may want to double check before moving forward. The more obscure the channel or show – probably the harder it is to find. I do know one friend downloaded a plugin for the playon software that allows you to search and find just about any show you might want, so that might be something to look into.

  2. bringonenergy@gmail.com says

    Better yet why not get paid from other people who watch Satellite TV…Email me for more information.

    I just went to my neighbors and they all switched from cable to Sat TV, which was cheaper, and I got a small piece when they paid their bills.

    Sincerely,
    Troy

  3. Gary Counterman says

    Ruzey.com is another website that is great for watching all kinds of FREE tv, movies, sports and news. Thanks Gary

  4. says

    My wife and I dropped our premium channels and just have basic cable and internet service via Comcast. We’re saving $100 a month and not missing a thing. The kids can watch their favorite shows on PBS and Netflix and I can get ESPN on my Xbox 360.

  5. Vivian Hana says

    Storm is amazing! Its so cheap and it provides all the channel u want like cable without the high expense.
    They also have a Canada-wide digital TV service for only $4.99 per month. No activation charge or anything. Its called Storm Digital TV. You can get it anywhere in Canada if you have high speed internet. Its the most advanced TV software I’ve ever seen so far!! It runs directly inside a web browser so no trouble with downloading and all the other trouble. I’ve been using it just for a week and i am in love! You can more info at storm.ashiqur.com.

  6. Janet says

    This is great information – information of the type that is constantly changing. I really wish when I find a gem like this, that it was dated. If I don’t know the date it was written, I cannot count on the information being current and correct. Maybe the date is right under my nose and I am just not seeing it?? – IDK. Help with finding the date this article was written would be greatly appreciated.

  7. Cheryl says

    Do you have to have high speed internet for all of these options, my cable will be cancelled april 10th so i’m looking for the cheapest way to watch tv.

  8. Jen says

    What about someone with an analog TV – will these options work with such an old TV? Are there any Analog to DTV converters that include some of these other features (e.g. combo DTV converter + xbox)? And what if my TV does not have an HDMI input?

  9. acordell says

    I cut the cord about a year ago. I have a free DVR, over the air HDTV (free) and netflix. And I get it on all 3 tv sets in my house. A free site called CableCutterGuys walked me through it. It helped me quite a bit.

  10. bb says

    I recently got rid of Comcast TV 6 months ago because they went up so high on their rates. Yesterday they did something now that you cannot use your TV to scan your channels to get any TV stations. I had this for over 6 months for free. Does anyone know a way how to get around this. Where I live I am not allowed to have a satellite dish and the mountains around me will not pick up on an antenna
    Will this portable dish work for me. I have wireless internet so I will still be able to watch Netflex. but no other TV shows…………What to do……….HELP……………….

    • says

      You can still watch some episodes for free if you don’t pay for the $8 Hulu subscription. If I remember correctly with Hulu’s free account you can watch the 5 most recent episodes for any given show. We used it that way for a while, starting the episodes playing in the Chrome web browser and then sending it to the Chromecast to play on the 50″ TV. Worth it in my opinion.

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