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.
Watch TV Shows And Movies On The Computer – Online
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.
- Fancast.com: Similar to Hulu, with tons of great content.
- TV Network sites: ABC, NBC, CBS all have good full episode streaming options available.
- Joost.com: Full episodes from a wide variety of shows.
- Tioti.com: Tape It Off The Internet is a social media site for TV shows – allowing you to view episode information, and then see where you can find the show online.
- Veoh.com: Tons of content, including TV shows!
- FreeTVOnline.com: Haven’t used this site much, but was recommended to me.
- 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 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.
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 360, Playstation 3, Wii, Moxi HD DVR, NETGEAR Digital Entertainer Live. Other supported devices can be found here. We bought a refurbished Xbox 360 for $70 on Ebay – works great!
- TV: You need a TV that you can connect to your network media device. We use a 50″ HDTV.
- 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 $39.99 fee the first year, and $19.99 every year after. 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 more than a year now, and it works great. In fact we just watched all the seasons of Lost 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.
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 are a couple of ways 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.
- Install A Media Hub Like Boxee: Another option that a lot of people use is to setup a media hub software like Boxee on their computer. They can then purchase any number of PC remotes ( or use a regular remote with an IR receiver and a software like Remote Buddy) to use with the computer to view all their media options straight from their couch without the need for a keyboard or mouse. Like Playon, Boxee can stream a lot of your favorite online video sources direct to your TV. Boxee does have a media device coming out that will negate the need for an actual desktop computer, so stay tuned for that.
- 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.
There are other Media Hub software out there as well, although by many accounts, a Boxee setup is one of the better options.
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. The picture quality is amazing, 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. We like some of the cable shows as well, however, so this option alone doesn’t cut it for us.
Watch TV And Movies On DVD
Another great offline option for watching TV and movies is just watching them on DVD! Yes, I know that’s so 2000.
- 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!
- 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. 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!
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!
Last Edited: 20th February 2012