Got broadband? There’s no need to shell out your hard-earned cash for movies and TV shows


Cable and satellite TV deliver a lot of shows and movies, very conveniently… and very expensively. If you want features like DVR and high-defi nition cable TV and a few extra channels, your bill could easily hit $100 or more a month. That’s a cool $1,200 a year. If you’re a sports junkie, count on adding another few hundred bucks a year to follow your favorite team, player, or sport. Is it possible to satisfy your TV and movie jones while ditching the cable/satellite bill? Sure it is—the secret lies in that broadband connection you already pay for every month. Let’s look at ways to fulfill our couch-potato cravings for fewer dollars.

NETWORK AND CABLE TV SHOWS
Whether you’re a hardcore fan of a particular TV series or you just like the occasional episode, you can fi nd the current episode of most of your favorite TV shows online. If you know the network or cable channel, you can go directly to those sites and watch recent episodes. Few of these are real-time streaming—in other words, you may have to wait a few hours or days aft er the show airs to catch it online. Aggregator sites, particularly Hulu.com, also off er recent episodes of many series. The base Hulu service is free, but coverage of shows is spotty. It’s also in standard defi nition, and you can only technically watch it on a PC. Hulu Plus, which costs $7.99 a month, is Hulu’s premium service. Hulu Plus adds high-defi nition support, more shows, and compatibility with a variety of different devices, including Apple iOS devices, the PS3, and certain Internet-enabled TVs. But even with Hulu Plus, coverage can be spotty; sometimes this service leaves out a couple of episodes of a given season.
Netflix Watch Instantly, ata minimum cost of $7.99 for the streaming-only service, off ers an increasingly large array of shows, plus access to a huge variety of movies. What we like the most about Watch Instantly, though, is ample access to shows not commonly available on Hulu, such as documentaries and BBC miniseries.

OVER-THE-AIR HDTV
Windows Media Center, built into Windows 7 Home Premium and Windows Ultimate, also contains an Internet TV streaming service. Coverage of shows is inconsistent, however, so you may only see samplers of various TV series with just a few episodes to give you a taste. Our preference—and one of the hidden secrets of HDTV— is to add a high-defi nition, over-the-air TV tuner to our HDTV or our HTPC. This is particularly useful if you live in a metropolitan area with a large media market. Free OTA high-defi nition plus Windows Media Center gives you full DVR capabilityfor local stations, without added cost. You don’t need Media Center, of course. Third-party applications like SageTV (www.sagetv.com) also support HDTV tuner cards and have similar scheduling soft ware built in.

MOVIES
Film buff s have a rich array of online services to choose from when it comes to great content at low cost. We’ve already mentioned Netflix Watch Instantly,at $7.99 a month, which is probably the best deal on the planet right now. Other streaming services, like Amazon.com’s Video on Demand and CinemaNow charge per movie, either for renting or for owning a DRM’d version. That can get pretty pricey pretty fast. If you’re happy with standard defi nition on your PC, Hulu off ers a variety of free movies, although advertisements are present.
A variety of “free” movie aggregator sites exist, but the legality of many of these are questionable. These sites don’t actually host movies, but stream from other sources, including off shore sources and BitTorrent sites. Our guidance here? Approach with caution.
If you really want free and legal, a number of old movies, documentaries, and shows are now in the public domain. Sites like Entertainment Magazine Online (www.emol.org) offer tons of free, legal movie downloads, albeit of older films. EMOL also aggregates links to TV network and studio sites that off er free streaming of their shows.

SPORTS
Watching your favorite teams online is usually not a bargain. You can watch some less-popular sports events at sites like ESPN.com, but major sports, like the NFL, Major League Baseball, and NASCAR can’t be found legally, unless you’re willing to pay substantially. In a pinch, we’ve used aggregator services, but these sites exist in a gray area. For example, www.atdhe.net, one such popular aggregator service, had its domain seized by the U.S. government for copyright infringement during the course of us writing this story.
If you do follow a single sport, then the cost might still undercut cable. An NFL all-season pass, for example, is $14.99 a month. But that’s not exactly cheapskate territory.
The two best deals around are the NBA and MLB. Both off er aff ordable season passes, and both allow you to watch games across diff erent devices—your PC, smartphone, and, in the case of MLB, your PS3.
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