Television over internet
August 27, 2008 9:26 AM   Subscribe

I just moved. I have terrible TV reception and 24 megabit internet. Any ideas?

My house (in the UK) has terrible television reception 'cause it has a crappy aerial and is badly positioned. I'm pretty sure that I can't change the aerial without a bit of fuss (it's rented) and I don't really watch much TV - in a "sit down and watch whatever's on" way - anyway.

I do however, have 24Mbit internet access; the router says I'm getting 16 and Speedtest says just over 8. I've certainly downloaded at at least 1.5 megabytes per second via good ol' HTTP, probably higher via Bittorrent.

So what's the current tech for getting television programmes over the internet? Bittorrent and set-top boxes? What free/fee-paying options are there?

I'm not particularly interested in computer-only services - I want to watch TV on my TV, not on my laptop.
posted by alby to Computers & Internet (16 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Netflix box?
posted by ian1977 at 9:34 AM on August 27, 2008

I'm not particularly interested in computer-only services - I want to watch TV on my TV, not on my laptop.

Set-top boxes are computers.

Why go through a third party when you can just hook up a beater PC to your TV and enjoy all the torrents, streams, etc you like.
posted by damn dirty ape at 9:37 AM on August 27, 2008

I hooked up a Mac mini to my plasma and use it to watch TV from iTunes, Hulu, etc. (fill in the "etc." yourself, the first rule of it is that you do not talk about it) as well as DVDs. The mini comes with a remote and media center software, so it's about as close to a set-top box as you're going to get while still having access to the flexibility of computer-based content. You could do something similar with a PC, probably for a bit less, but the mini is a very nice unit for the task.

It paid for itself in about a year, since I'm not paying for satellite anymore. I do pay the $13 a month for local channels from the local cable franchise since I do find it occasionally handy to be able to watch live TV (and much to my pleasure, Comcast does include the HD broadcasts).
posted by kindall at 9:49 AM on August 27, 2008 [1 favorite]

A computer attached to your TV will get you iTunes, Zattoo, iPlayer, ITV's Catch-Up and 4OD (depending on your choice of OS/installed plugins...) which more than covers the 'terrestrial' channels and a handful of Freeview ones.

(For what it's worth, when we moved into the house we're in now, the TV signal was rubbish. We mentioned it to the lettings agency, and they sent someone out to fit a new aerial at no charge to us, so it can't hurt to at least ask)
posted by gregjones at 9:58 AM on August 27, 2008

2nd Zattoo
posted by chillmost at 10:02 AM on August 27, 2008

Lemme see. The legitimate mainstream online services are all DRM'd and/or streaming, so the only legit option for those is to buy a pc, and plug it into your TV. Or use your laptop plugged into your TV. There is the appletv box ( a cut down mac mini) but I don't know what it's compatibility is like for non itunes content. Personally, I built a custom quiet pc with tv tuners (for freeview recording) plugged into the hdmi port on my TV, running windows vista home premium (with media centre). I also watch xvid or x264 content I ripped from my own films and store on my storage server outside the living room.

Also, watch your quotas - most UK isp's now have an explicit monthly cap, or a hidden 'fair use' one, usually around the 40GB mark for premium 'unlimited' services, lower for the cheap ones. Entanet resellers are the only ones I know of that have a much higher one.

You've got free legit services like:
- BBC iplayer (streaming or p2p)
- channel 4 watch online (streaming)
- itv OD (streaming)
- zattoo (p2p)
- hulu (streaming)
- joost (streaming)
- twisting the arm of your landlord and get him to allow to you put up a freesat dish, on the basis that you take it with you after.

paid legit services like:
- BT vision (streaming using BT broadband is charged for; freeview via aerial isn't)
- itunes UK tv (individual downloads, limited selection)
- xbox live (individual film downloads, requires an xbox)
- renting DVDs through subscription postal services like lovefilm.

less legit options include:
- torrents and subscription newsgroup servers, downloading xvid and h264 encoded films and tv - given that ISP's now log all this crap, at least use an anonymising VPN like torrent-freedom. I use one because I don't like the UK government snooping on my 'net connection as a matter of course.
- youtube.

All the online tv services I know of are pc only, except appletv (almost a pc) +itunes, which is expensive with a limited selection in the UK.
posted by ArkhanJG at 10:09 AM on August 27, 2008 [1 favorite]

OK, BT vision On Demand doesn't require a PC, but their set-top box instead. Bloody expensive though, and you need BT broadband.
posted by ArkhanJG at 10:15 AM on August 27, 2008

I know you said you don't watch much over-the-air TV but you could try a small amplified antenna. If possible place it near a window in the direction of your local TV towers.
posted by aerotive at 10:18 AM on August 27, 2008

ian1977: netflix isn't available in the UK, nor amazon unboxed. Wish they were.
posted by ArkhanJG at 10:18 AM on August 27, 2008

A bit off-topic, but you may get improved reception with a new antenna, even if the antenna is inside the house. The old antenna may be misaligned, or just ... old (a little corrosion can degrade the signal quite a bit).

Some options:

- add a preamp to the current antenna
- set up a new outdoor antenna in your attic (and possibly add a preamp)
- set up a small antenna near the TV

This TV antenna FAQ seems like a good starting point, and here's a guide to specific models UHF antenna models. If you like to geek out on this stuff, here's more detailed info on some antenna types.
posted by zippy at 10:29 AM on August 27, 2008

arkhan: if you just wanted the netflix subscription box, wouldn't it work anywhere? Granted you couldnt get physical DVDs but you could still stream movies. I think you just buy the box, and then any netflix subscription level would get you unlimited streaming movies.
posted by ian1977 at 10:30 AM on August 27, 2008

You can't subscribe without a card with a US billing address.
posted by ArkhanJG at 10:38 AM on August 27, 2008

I vote XBox Media Center (or one of its variants, if you don't want to hunt down an original XBox) for a variety of reasons. The only drawback to XBox Media Center is that it basically can't process HDTV files (but can output in HD, go figure.) If you want full HD processing use one of the XBMC on a Mac/PC/Linux versions.
posted by bdk3clash at 10:48 AM on August 27, 2008

I also vote for XBMC, it is amazing and cheap to setup. Just download everything via bittorrent and have the Xbox read the files from your computer over the network.
posted by bradbane at 11:01 AM on August 27, 2008

Thirding XBMC and have your XBOX read from the computer over the network.
posted by fjom at 11:54 AM on August 27, 2008

PopcornHour - it's a £100 set-top box that will play any format you throw at it, and has Bittorrent built in (and will stream stuff on a networked drive, or from your computer). So I suppose it's similar to running XMBC, but with no installing/setting up required, and a less fancy interface.

I don't have one (yet!) but a friend of mine absolutely swears by his, and he's in the exact same situation you're in.
posted by jack_mo at 3:16 PM on August 27, 2008

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