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Getting Ready

September 19, 2011
By Dave Hecei (dhecei@post-journal.com) , The Post-Journal

Another TV season is about to start. I have to say that I have a love/hate relationship with my TV. I hate having to pay so much for my cable. I hate how every channel has those 'bugs' and moving advertisements on the screen during their shows. I especially hate how the volume blasts me when a commercial comes on. But after all that, there are several TV shows that I love and don't want to miss any new episodes. So yet again, I'm getting ready for a new season of network and cable TV.

Television has gone through a transition. Back in the days (before even I was born), to watch your favorite show you had to hook your set to some sort of antenna. I can still remember the day when our small town put in a cable system. It was only eight channels, but what we got were clear, not so with a roof antenna.

Today, you can still get TV over the air with just an antenna, but it has now gone digital, which may or may not be HD (High Definition). Even cable has been transitioning to digital/HD. Along with the major cable providers (Time Warner, Cox, Comcast, etc.), there are two digital satellite providers left Dish Network and Direct TV. All of these are what I will call traditional outlets. They are, or should be, scared because the Internet is starting to make its move.

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The Internet has the ability to bring programming directly to the viewer. No longer do you have to subscribe to hundreds of channels, most of them you never watch. You can watch just the shows you want, sort of a la carte. The quality of Internet video used to be a problem, but not anymore. More people have high-speed connections and fast computers. These two things, along with new compression technologies, allow you to watch near HD quality video online. While online video content may not replace Blu-Ray, it is starting to rival the quality of digital cable and satellites.

Watching Internet programming on your HDTV used to be a hassle. Home Theatre PCs were the thing of computer enthusiasts they were complicated. Now you can choose from several set-top-boxes like the Roku, WD Live TV, Apple TV, and Boxee Box. You can even find these capabilities built into new HDTVs, and Blu-Ray players. You can even watch some Internet video using game machines like the Wii, PS3, and Xbox 360.

If you want to watch actual network television then you will need to either go directly to the source, or subscribe to services like Netflix or Blockbuster, both of which have a large library of TV shows and movies you can stream. Of course Apple has both TV shows and movies available through iTunes. Apple allows you to either buy or rent these titles. Current shows can be viewed from websites like Hulu, or from the network's own website. Netflix and others will have previous seasons of shows available, if you want to catch up, or just watch them again to refresh your memory.

Another service that is starting to expand is Amazon. They have plenty of videos in their on-demand service, which you can pay a small fee for each show or movie, or you can become an Amazon Prime member and get free access to their library. Amazon Prime costs $79 a year (just over $6 a month) and gives you free access to on-demand video, plus gets you free two-day shipping and $3.99 overnight shipping on most Amazon.com orders.

My setup is a little different. I've kept my cable service but I also use an older Mac mini as my streaming box. I have it connected to my HDTV and use it to watch streaming content from Netflix and content directly from network websites (abc.com, nbc.com, cbs.com, tnt.com, etc.). I occasionally watch content on hulu.com, but it seems to me that they have been struggling to keep good content on their site. Or maybe they keep the good stuff for their subscribers. They also have Hulu Plus, a subscription service that gets you more content for $7.99 a month.

The other reason I am using a Mac mini is a TV tuner box from Elgato. I have the Elgato EyeTV 250+. This is a USB TV tuner for the Mac. The 250+ essentially turns my Mac mini into a DVR (Digital Video Recorder). Now I can record current shows to a hard drive, even some HD ones. The 250+ can receive the free Clear QAM channels on my cable system. This includes my local network channels, plus a few cable network channels.

Elgato devices come with one of the best media center programs ever, called EyeTV (currently at version 3.5.3). This App works with TV Guide online (first year is free - $19.99/yr after) to give you what is essentially a TiVo on your Mac. No it's not really TiVo, which is a brand name for one of the most popular DVR devices. But the EyeTV software makes it easy for me to see what is on and with just a click have it record a show. I have to say that the HD recordings the 250+ makes are excellent.

So now I just have to sit back and get ready for what I hope is a decent fall TV season. There are a number of new shows this fall. Some look very interesting. Plus, there are a couple of my favorites from last season that ended in cliffhangers that I can't wait to see what happens.

Check out my Apple Blog for more info on other Elgato video devices. www.post-journal.com/page/blogs.list

 
 

 

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