As I have mentioned plenty of times, I don’t prefer a blanket frugality. I prefer to cut costs of things that don’t give us that much pleasure and channel that money to something that is important to us. One of the expenses that went out of the door during our belt tightening sessions was cable. We had cable in the first place to bring down the cost of the internet; we are not big TV watchers. After we moved to a different internet package that didn’t require us to have basic cable to get the cheaper price, we cut the cord as soon as we could. But we do like to catch up on our favorite shows occasionally, so I tried to figure out how to watch TV for free or cheap. Here is a list of ways to enjoy your favorite shows AND stick it to the cable company.
Watch TV for free online, on a computer
Our computer screen is as big as our TV screen, so we end up watching TV online most of the time. This is the most popular option as well. Most of the time you won’t be able to watch things live. But you will be able to watch your favorite shows just hours after it airs. Here are some options to watch TV online.
- TV Networks : I started to list them here initially, But there were so many of them, I spun it off as a separate post that list all the TV networks that offer their shows (full episodes) for free online. Check this post – Watch TV shows online for free (full episodes)
- Hulu.com : This is probably one of the most visited sites in our household. All my husband’s favorite shows are there, it does have commercials but its free, so no complaints there.
- Fancast.com : Similar to Hulu but I feel there are more shows here than Hulu, esp. the shows that I like. Hulu does have a little better video quality though.
- Veoh.com : I am not sure how this is legal because there are tons of shows and movies (this is my favorite place for movies in my mother tongue). I did check, it seems legal. If you know otherwise please let me know. The only annoyance is you should have their veoh player installed to watch more than 5 mins of video. But I do like the player, I can download videos to this player’s library and watch later.
- Joost.com : Another one similar to Hulu. Apparently they have been in this business longer than Hulu. They have a smaller collection than Hulu, but if you can’t find your favorite show on Hulu, check Joost.com as well.
- Slingbox.com : This used be one of my favorites, but now it has become more confusing with Dish network. I stopped using it a while back. It used to bring in Hulu shows and add shows from other networks, sort of a one stop TV guide place. Now it lets you watch your Dish network (if you subscribe to Dish network) online and anywhere. Don’t know if it is still any good.
- AOL video : They have content from different TV networks. This is more appropriate if you are in the mood for “flipping channels” rather than want to watch something specific.
- Blip.tv : This is not a traditional TV shows website, but it has a lot of content from video bloggers, pod casts… more user developed content. It has some very interesting videos if you want to go out of the norm and feel like watching something different for the day.
- Amazon On Demand : Saved if for the end because it is not free, but cheaper than paying for cable.
(These are the ones that I know of and have used. If I have missed any online option that you like, leave a comment, I will add it to this list)
Nah, computer doesn’t do it for me. I need to watch Snooki on my 56” ginormous HDTV… no problem, read the next few options.
Watch TV for free via a media player
This is the set up our friend has. They stream their shows & the movies from their netflix subscription via a software called Playon. Playon essentially turns your computer into a media server that can download the tv shows and movies and then streams them to your TV. There are two ways you can set up this system.
- If you have the latest DLNA compliant TVs like the Sony BRAVIA 46-Inch 3D LED HDTV (or any of the smart TVs), they are already “smart” enough to recognize your streaming from the computer. So your computer becomes your “antenna” for all the shows and movies. You can have this system in your iPad, iphone or android devices and take your shows to-go.
- If you don’t have the DLNA compliant system, no problem. You might have one of these – Xbox 360, Playstation, Wii, Moxi, Roku or a variety of other supported devices, you can use them as a network media player and access them through your computer. They understand the language of Playon streaming and show the movies on your TV.
There is a PlayOn free version with much less features. For PlayOn premium, the subscription fee is $19.99 per year. You can also play a one time $39.99 license fee and have no recurring fees (Right now there is a offer for Free Roku player if you get the lifetime subscription). Not free, but much cheaper than even the basic cable.
Watch TV for free by directly connecting your TV or via a media hub
You can leave all the media player, networks devices and the software if you don’t mind connecting your computer directly to the TV. We have used our laptop to do this (computer was too cumbersome, as the TV and the computer are in two different rooms). If your laptop has HDMI output, it will work seamlessly with any HDTV. You can navigate the “TV” via at least 2 different ways.
- Just use the TV as your computer monitor : This is the simplest set up. You will use your keyboard and mouse from the computer to navigate the TV. Open up any website you want and watch it as you would watch online. A wireless keyboard and mouse will make your life easier, but it is not a necessity to watch TV. You can virtually do everything you would do on your computer – watch a DVD, your Amazon downloads, iTunes videos or Netflix streaming. My computer has a tiny little remote that came with it. I could just use that and not even move to use the keyboard/mouse.
- Install a media hub and use a remote : If your computer didn’t come with a remote and you feel the keyboard/mouse is spoiling your experience then you can try this option. This requires an extra step in the set up, but provides you with a complete “TV” experience. You can use a PC remote or a regular remote (along with a remote software). Install a media hub. Here are 5 different options you can choose from based on your needs.
- XBMC (aka Xbox Media Center) is a free, open-source media center application designed, in the beginning, for the original Xbox. But it now works with Windows,Mac,Linux,Xbox & Apple TV.
- Boxee is a popular option. It is free and open source as well.
- Windows Media Center can access all your photos, videos and music. It can also act as a TiVo without the monthly bills.
Watch free TV over the air
This is the set up we have. We have this Terk HDTVa Indoor Amplified High-Definition Antenna which works pretty well for most of the shows. The only annoying thing is we also get a ton of non-English channels, religious channels and paid advertisement channels. If you can get past that, this is a very cheap and good option.
Watch TV for cheap
So none of the free options are cutting it for you ? Ok. As long as you don’t want to watch the shows live, then DVDs might be a good option. There are a great number of low cost or free options to watch DVD.
- Start with your library : Our library has a lot of movies and shows. If the local library doesn’t have the DVD, we could always request it from another library.
- Redbox : We broke up with Blockbuster for our Friday night movies in favor of Redbox. It is only $1 per night and most of the time there is some sort of coupon to get it for free. Initially we had Redbox only in one neighborhood grocery store. Now they are everywhere. Grocery stores, Walmart, gas stations, convenience stores…
- Netflix : If you watch a lot of shows and movies, this might be worth the cost.
- Block Buster On Demand : The only advantage of this over Netflix is that they allow an exchange at the local store.
What cannot be watched online?
Final word on what cannot be watched online for free, at least not live – Sports. If all you watch is sports and you can’t bear the idea of watching it pre recorded, I really don’t have an option. I tried looking online during the Super Bowl season, but found nothing that was legit. Personally, all I care about are the super bowl ads and Hulu had me covered there. But for my husband’s sake we ended up going to a bar to watch the final few matches. Most people have parties and like to watch along with friends, so you might be able to get away without paying for cable. If you want sports all the time, live, cable might be the only option as of now. I will provide updates here if I find something.
Whew, that was a lot of options! I didn’t realize it would be this long when I started writing. Did I miss any option? Do you know of any way to watch TV for free or for very cheap? Did you try it and found that it didn’t work? Tell us why.