I don't want my MTV.
September 8, 2009 10:42 AM   Subscribe

I want to dump cable, but I still want to be able to watch particular shows. Can I do this?

I don't want to pay for cable any more, but I still want to watch Mad Men and a few other shows on my tv. Plus, I'd like to be able to record certain shows from the networks. But I'm completely overwhelmed with the possibilities on how to do this. I would rather not shell out thousands for an HTPC, nor do I have the time to build my own for cheap.

If I hook up a new non-apple laptop with internet access to my SDTV, will I be able to watch hulu, or shows I've purchased via Amazon, etc.? Also, if I wanted to record shows off of PBS without a VCR, would I be able to subscribe to tivo and have that happen without cable access? Will the quality of these shows suck? Again, we're only talking standard definition tv right now. I just want to be able to watch shows w/out jaggy, stuttery playback. Should I buy an Apple TV?

I'm completely flummoxed by the possibilities. If someone has a step-by-step guide on how to do this, I'd appreciate it.
posted by nushustu to Computers & Internet (24 answers total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
Yep, you can just display the Hulu feed on your TV. iTunes has Mad Men. Not sure about the feasability of Tivo without cable, but the quality should be perfectly fine.

Apple TV is, basically, not what you want; it's primarily geared to paying for stuff on iTunes, and won't (eg) stream Hulu.
posted by Tomorrowful at 10:48 AM on September 8, 2009

To clarify, you want to watch shows on your actual TV set and not on a regular monitor?
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:48 AM on September 8, 2009

Tivo is just a VCR. It assumes you have cable.
posted by GuyZero at 10:52 AM on September 8, 2009

AppleTV can be hacked to display Hulu or Boxee.
posted by kenliu at 10:56 AM on September 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

No real guide but you have a few options - note the shows you want to watch will dictate the best solution for you.

1. Hulu on a PC. The Hulu desktop app isn't supposed to be used on a TV but the interface is made for it. This is good only for shows on Hulu.
2. Boxee on a PC. Includes Hulu (sometimes - they do this in a hinky way and Hulu isn't pleased) and provides a few more options for video. Does NOT do Amazon right now.
3. Roku box. This thing is awesome but right now mainly does Netflix "Watch Now" items and Amazon on demand (does baseball which is important for some).
4. BitTorrent and a PC. Honestly its not legal but right now this is the only way to watch any show on TV. This can be combined with Boxee as an interface.

I'm not sold on the AppleTV device. Its kind of cool but overpriced IMHO. Another solution is to check out some of the TV apps for the XBox (if you have one). I'm not an expert in this but it is another option and is generally already connected to the TV and the internet.
posted by bitdamaged at 11:00 AM on September 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

The xbox360 is actually a surprisingly good video player.

0. Make sure that you get the extra video codecs from Xbox Live.
1. Download the video you want. How you get the video is up to you.
2. Convert it so that it's understandable by the 360. MP4/DivX/MP3 at the original resolution and sound bitrate should work just fine. (MeFi mail me if you want some sample software/settings for how to convert. I prefer to use MediaCoder, but there are a lot of options out there.)
3. Put the video on a big USB thumb drive.
4. Plug drive into 360, where the second controller would go. (Or, the back, if that works better for you.)
5. Go to Videos, and choose Removable Device.
6. Watch and enjoy!
posted by Citrus at 11:10 AM on September 8, 2009 [2 favorites]

While the Xbox has netflix support out of the box, the PS3 is superior as a media player. It plays pretty much anything you throw at it without transcoding, has a blu-ray player, and can play the full range of streamed content (netflix, hulu, tv.com, etc) using PlayOn
posted by Oktober at 11:24 AM on September 8, 2009

To do this waaaaay more cheaply, you can also just buy a monitor to HDMI adapter and an HDMI cable and plug your laptop into your TV to watch whatever you want that way. Full size and viola.

At the same time, you could get the audio from a pair of regular speakers plugged into the laptop, or if you have a receiver, through a headphone to RCA cable, plugged into the back of the receiver and the laptop. I watch stuff this way on my TV all the time and it works great, no special equipment (other than cables) or technical expertise needed. Videos of any source work through this method too, so no extraction, conversion, whatever needed.
posted by urbanlenny at 11:33 AM on September 8, 2009 [5 favorites]

The quality of hulu (and other streaming video) depends a lot on your local network connection. However most of the major networks offer at least a selection of the current season for free. If you have decent local reception, you can get an HDTV tuner (between $80-150) which will record scheduled shows on your laptop's hard drive.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 11:37 AM on September 8, 2009

I recently went cable-free and I like my setup. I have a Mac Mini connected with a DVI-HDMI cable to my 1080P screen.

Reasons for Mac Mini vs AppleTV:
-- DVD player
-- AppleTV hardware doesn't (yet) support Netflix streaming
-- Mini is easy to get driving 1080P

Reasons for MacMini vs other computer:
-- Mini is almost completely silent
-- No customization/etc required for hardware configuration (I'm capable of it; I'm just lazy)
-- Easy to use with the Apple Remote I already had for my laptop

I'm using Plex, which is a Mac-only media center application simliar to Boxee (I tried both and I like Plex better). Through Plex I get:
-- Hulu
-- Netflix streaming
-- DVD playback
-- Comedy Central
-- Music playback (but the library management isn't as good as iTunes)
-- Playback of video files on my external hard drive

My experience so far is that streaming quality is excellent, unless I'm doing something like Bit Torrenting at the same time, but that's to be expected. Video and audio quality is great, via HDMI to my TV and an optical cable to my 5.1 system. The only time I've regretted not having live TV is for sports, but running ESPN 360 streaming in a browser at full screen actually gave me pretty damn good quality.

No experience with playing videos purchased from Amazon, but playing from iTunes hasn't been a problem -- it's just another "file source" to add to the media center application.
posted by olinerd at 11:40 AM on September 8, 2009 [9 favorites]

I'm a fan of the Mac Mini route, too. Seriously overpowered but nothing will be "missing" later, either. You can either buy episodes of your favorite shows from iTunes or download them elsewhere. And Hulu etc is as-usual, since it's a regular computer.

Note that if you don't need to watch new episodes live, this gets a lot easier. The latest episode of anything popular is available to download the next day, usually.

Also note: mysterious new AppleTV model coming soon, possibly even tomorrow.
posted by rokusan at 11:55 AM on September 8, 2009

On the xbox 360 note, you can also stream media from your PC to the xbox, cutting out the flash drive. I use one for my media hub, split between DLC and the watch it now features on Netflix.
posted by craven_morhead at 11:58 AM on September 8, 2009

USB TV stick tuners at Newegg. Almost all of them come with PVR software.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 12:09 PM on September 8, 2009

Just to clarify on Tivo -- depending on the model you get some of them do support using an antenna, so you could record PBS, ABC, NBC, CBS & FOX depending on the reception in your area. But there you have the expense of buying the Tivo box plus the monthly (although I do believe reasonable) monthly fee.

I've tried a couple of the USB TV stick tuners with very mixed results. The two I've tried are very resource intensive and the bundled DVR software that comes with them is abysmal.

That being said, if you can hook up your "new non-apple laptop" to your analogue TV, yes you could watch something like Hulu on your TV. Problems with the video quality would depend on the quality of your internet connection and your laptop's ability to process the signal.

If you haven't bought this laptop yet, maybe you want to look at one with a built in TV receiver? I would assume that if the manufacturer sells it as a built in feature, they would have made sure that the laptop has a good enough video card/memory, etc. to handle the TV signal easily. (One would hope.)
posted by jerryg99 at 12:38 PM on September 8, 2009

None of the items you listed has anything to do with an Apple TV.

On any PC you can watch Hulu, Amazon downloaded shows.

If you want to record TV, you'll have to buy a OTA (over the air) TV tuner for your laptop. There is surprisingly a good number of free channels. Premium content like Mad Men you'll have to purchase.

Personally, I use Windows 7 on my TV as an DVR / Media player. All free channels (20+), and I occasionally watch Hulu.

I have several Macs and would not recommend them as a TV-displayed devices (other than the Mini for form factor). Windows Media center is hands down the best PC based DVR and general media playback.
posted by wongcorgi at 12:47 PM on September 8, 2009

I can talk about the watching shows online part of your question. I recently set this up with my laptop. It was pretty easy. My laptop had an S-Video output port on the side, so I hooked that up to the S-Video Input on the back of my TV. Then I took a 1/8th inch to RCA adapter and plugged the 1/8th inch side into the headphone jack on my laptop and plugged the red and white side of the RCA adapter into the audio input jacks that were next to the S-Video input on the back of my TV. At this point I figured out that I had to toggle a FN key on my laptop to turn on the right video output. I hit the FN key and there was a key at the top that looked kind of like this |o| , I hit that and it changed the video so that instead of using my laptop screen things were displayed on the TV.

That was about it for watching online shows on the TV. In my experience, it works pretty well to stream TV over a strong wifi connection from a cable modem. If you are using DSL or a wireless internet connection, you are probably going to have issues with stuttering in the playback.

I don't really have any input on the recording end, most of the tuner cards that I have seen are usually used with cable. PBS has a lot of shows online at their website, though. You might be able to use a program or the Video Download Helper firefox extension to download shows to the laptop. You can also use this to grab videos so you can watch them without buffering issues, but many of them won't work with Hulu or other protected content.
posted by jefeweiss at 12:59 PM on September 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

the PS3 is superior as a media player. It plays pretty much anything you throw at it without transcoding...

How are you getting this experience? My own PS3 won't play more than half of all the torrented TV episodes that I download... but my Macs and PCs handle them fine.
posted by rokusan at 3:48 PM on September 8, 2009

Yeah, without cable I think you need to abandon or rethink this "recording" component of your requirements, because you have nothing to record.

What you want to do, most probably, is just download things that other people have recorded, whether pros (iTunes store etc) or amateurs (everyone).

Remember: BitTorrent is God's Tivo.
posted by rokusan at 3:49 PM on September 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

For a standard definition TV I recommend what I do: an original Xbox (<>
Cheap, the Xbox has a good form factor, you can play games (and emulators!) on it, good interface (there are a lot of different themes, I'm sure something will float your boat), and it will play literally any video file you can throw at it as long as it's not HD resolution.
posted by bradbane at 4:04 PM on September 8, 2009

Woops, I guess I should have checked the preview for that < there, that should have read:

For a standard definition TV I recommend what I do: an original Xbox (< $50), XBMC, and a bittorrent RSS feed. I know this isn't technically legal, but it's what I'm using until the networks get their act together and offer a similar solution.

Cheap, the Xbox has a good form factor, you can play games (and emulators!) on it, good interface (there are a lot of different themes, I'm sure something will float your boat), and it will play literally any video file you can throw at it as long as it's not HD resolution.
posted by bradbane at 4:05 PM on September 8, 2009

@rokusan - you do know that you can get free TV over the air? I get ~30 channels with a small antenna (YMMV). For the OP: 3 PBS stations, one in Spanish. A few are repeats (SD/HD)

My W7 Media center guide listing.
posted by wongcorgi at 4:14 PM on September 8, 2009

We have a Roku box and we love it. Amazon does have some good tv shows-I can't remember if Mad Men is one of them.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 7:00 PM on September 8, 2009


Do you have your PS3 connected to the internet? Are you running firmware 3.0?

I've watched tons of downloaded shows and movies, the only thing that's every given me trouble is the softsubs that some anime use
posted by Oktober at 9:02 AM on September 9, 2009

Hm. I do have the 3.0 update as of last week but I haven't tried videos in awhile. If they added more codecs, it might be better now. Time to revisit, I guess.
posted by rokusan at 9:57 AM on September 9, 2009

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