"Oh God, How I Miss TV!”
August 6, 2016 1:12 PM   Subscribe

We don't have cable or receive OTA signals. We'd like to watch some TV (NetFlix, YouTube, network streaming). We have WiFi, a Samsung SmartTV(450, 2010?), a Toshiba TV, a Wii, an old MacBook w/ dying monitor (6,1 OS X 10.6.8), an old iPod Touch (4th Gen?), and an iPhone 5. Please suggest setups and options using the resources we have or cheap peripherals (<$100) that would make our TVing satisfying.

In our previous home we got some OTA signals and watched NetFlix using the Wii and Toshiba TV and were quite happy; we don't watch sports and programs we didn't get OTA could usually be viewed on network websites via the MacBook. Now we get bupkiss OTA and the monitor connection for the out of warranty MacBook is starting to die. I figure the Toshiba & Wii will continue their partnership, either in the basement or bedroom, and we'll use the Samsung (Which doesn't have built-in LAN or WiFi) in the main living/TV space. Our family is a big fan of CBC's children's programming, much of which is on YouTube, and it seems like the SmartTV/MacBook may be a better way to view and access it than fighting with the Wii's YouTube app.

The most straightforward solution seems to buy a MacBook Mini DisplayPort to HDMI connector and use the Samsung as an external monitor for the MacBook. While straightforward, this means we'd have to constantly get up (Boo!) and open the MacBook and browse for media, go on NetFlix, etc. Or could we use our iPhones and iPod Touches as remotes and turn the MacBook into a media centre that we never physically have to access? Or are there options within the Samsung that could do this? Should we look into Chromecast?

What would you do with these options?
posted by Alvy Ampersand to Technology (18 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Is there a reason you can't get an Apple TV box? Ours was $99 new and I imagine you could get something second-hand for even less. We use ours for Netflix and MLB, and my three-year-old niece turned it on herself and found YouTube after five minutes with the remote. So easy!
posted by ficbot at 1:24 PM on August 6, 2016 [2 favorites]

We watch Netflix, YouTube and Hulu on our Wii. Is there a reasonn you can't do that?
posted by soren_lorensen at 1:27 PM on August 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: A Chromecast is only $35 and is compatible with everything except Amazon Prime.
posted by hobgadling at 1:43 PM on August 6, 2016 [10 favorites]

Would a better antenna get you OTA? That's worth some investment. And seconding the chromecast.
posted by gingerbeer at 1:55 PM on August 6, 2016 [2 favorites]

Refurbished 3rd Gen AppleTVs are $59 at Apple. You get the same one-year warranty as a new one.
posted by JoeZydeco at 2:00 PM on August 6, 2016

The Chromecast option would mean that you'd be relying either on your MacBook or your iPhone as your remote control. (Or possibly the iPod touch, if there's a compatible app for the older version of iOS that's on it.) I'd find it annoying to have my phone "tied" to the TV like that, but you might be all right with it. If you use the MacBook as the remote, you're committing yourself to replacing it when it dies. (You may already be planning to do this.)

If you don't want to use either the iPhone or the MacBook as your remote, then you'll need a more stand-alone TV-over-IP device, which basically means either an Apple TV or a Roku. I have been a loyal Roku fan since I got my first one in 2010; they're small & unobstrusive and do everything an Apple TV can do except for integrating with the iTunes ecosystem. Plus, they're cheaper (CAD 60/CAD 80 for the basic /mid-range models, compared to CAD 90 for the older model of Apple TV.)
posted by Johnny Assay at 2:03 PM on August 6, 2016 [2 favorites]

Get the Roku Stick. $50. Comes with a dedicated remote. More platform agnostic than either Apple TV or Amazon Fire devices, plus you don't have to use your phone as a remote like the Google Chromecast.

Overviews of your options:
The Wirecutter: The Best Media Streamers
Gizmodo: The Best Set-Top Box for All Your Binge-Watching Needs

I enjoy my 4th Gen Apple TV (I wouldn't get a refurbed 3rd Gen as they don't have access to the new app store and the upcoming "universal sign-in" update) but it's ~$130 at discount stores, so above your price range.
posted by bluecore at 2:13 PM on August 6, 2016 [6 favorites]

Response by poster: Is there a reason you can't get an Apple TV box?

An Apple TV 3 is about $90, but we're reluctant to get yet another box, especially as we have this MacBook that still has some time left in it before it goes to a farm upstate. Some tepid reviews here in Canada as well, plus my antipathy towards anything with a vague whiff of iTunes. We're just interested in streaming, not digital rentals or purchases, so Apple TVs, Rokus, Kodis, etc., also feel like overkill for our needs right now.

We watch Netflix, YouTube and Hulu on our Wii. Is there a reason you can't do that?

I find YouTube a real PITA to navigate on the Wii. Whenever I've tried using it for anything other than Netflix (Which also sucks on the Wii, but as a rule Netflix's interface sucks on any platform) I end up frustrated and annoyed.

Would a better antenna get you OTA?

Sadly no, TV Fool's map says we'd get maybe two channels (Out of a maximum of 5) with a 25-foot high antennae here.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 2:32 PM on August 6, 2016

Response by poster: Get the Roku Stick. $50. Comes with a dedicated remote. More platform agnostic than either Apple TV or Amazon Fire devices, plus you don't have to use your phone as a remote like the Google Chromecast.

And pretty much the same price as Chromecast...
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 2:43 PM on August 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

Chromecast does work really well if you want to use your phone as the browsing medium, and then just throw it to the tv. It's also easy to set up and cheap. I feel like it might be complicated for kids, but then I remember that kids are actually usually better at that kind of stuff, so it would probably be fine for kids.

I find wii's apps to be POSs, and avoid using the wii for anything other than wii games.

I bought my parents a roku for christmas a few years ago, and its netflix app is a complete nightmare. I like the system and it's afforable and easy, but really, the app is horrendous. And this is coming from someone who had a microsoft zune.

For a media computer I used a small mini-box with the tv as a monitor for years, and got a wireless mouse/keyboard that sat on my coffeetable. So if you wanted to use your macbook, that's a way. Seems overkill for just using netflix and youtube, which are both simple apps, but you'd just have to get a wireless keyboard, so that's affordable and easy! Then you don't have to get up to browse!
posted by euphoria066 at 3:47 PM on August 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

I got an android TV box. They're about $50 on Amazon. Kind of finicky to set up, but once set up you can watch just about anything, with the exception of any-live-tv-you-want. There is some live tv, but you can't just assume you'll be able to see any channel. It is "another box" but very small. Also, it's android so you can run just about any Android app on it. So for example, I installed Media Money on mine and now can use the TV as my stereo, too.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 4:39 PM on August 6, 2016

I really like the roku 3. I find its Netflix app totally great. It has been updated multiple times.
posted by k8t at 4:42 PM on August 6, 2016

Use the Macbook connected to the TV like you said, but buy a wireless keyboard with a touchpad! I have similar setup!

It's hard to beat having a real computer connected to your TV.
posted by gregr at 5:37 PM on August 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I was leaning towards the Roku Stick, but it looks like the channel pickings here in Canada are really slim and streaming programming from CBC and other Canadian OTA broadcasters non-existent, and I'm not interested in the workarounds & hacks Googling suggests would maximize my experience.
Which puts me back in MacBook/monitor or ChromeCast territory, at least for now.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 6:11 PM on August 6, 2016

Do you want "channels" or do you want content? The android box isn't necessarily the best for channels, but it will have every show or movie you might want. I watched the One Day at a Time pilot on a whim, the other day. There are no geo restrictions, so watch whatever you want whenever you want.

If you get a Trakt.tv account (free, basically last.fm for tv and movies) you can use it to keep track of what you want to watch next.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 6:34 PM on August 6, 2016

Oh and there's a dedicated cbc add-on for Kodi (the viewing software on the android box). You can get the usual shows elsewhere so that doesn't matter, but the nice thing about it us that there's an option for the most recent entries edition of The National so you can always watch the news.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 6:37 PM on August 6, 2016 [2 favorites]

I have a smart Sony DVD player that runs every streaming service, has a nice interface for all of them and allows me to pick up red box movies. I think it was about $70.
posted by fshgrl at 6:49 PM on August 6, 2016

Response by poster: UPDATE, Because I'm Sure You've All Been On Tenterhooks

I ended up hooking up my 2 year old desktop to the TV, which satisfied our needs. Far easier to navigate YouTube w/ wireless keyboard & mouse, annoying but familiar NetFlix browser interface, and a good way to access and enjoy any other content we came across like streaming radio, watching shows on network sites, etc. However, the tower sort of looks like hell up there with the TV, and I don't use the computer for computering. For whatever reason I don't like using a PC when it's hooked up to a TV and I'm not sitting at a desk, which is why I didn't list it as an option - it's great for media, but not a permanent solution.

So last week, we bought a Roku. And HATED it. Blah app-style interface, login to yet another account to keep track of, having to give billing info when I have no intention of consuming anything billable, YouTube's a pain on it without a keyboard, meagre/shabby/shady/crashy channel options ("And such small portions!")... anyhoo.

So tonight we returned the Roku and on a whim exchanged it for a ChromeCast, figuring I could return that if it didn't work out, judgement of BestBuy staff be damned. I was leery of inviting yet more Google into my life, but it seems to be exactly what we're looking for. So far we've just used it with the MacBook, and it works great; I was concerned ChromeCast needed the device/browser to remain on the tab from which the content was cast, and was happily corrected. We'll probably try using the iPhone tomorrow (Not keen on it, given my 'App For Each Thing' allergy), but with its hinky monitor & aging battery, the MacBook doesn't stray far from the living room anyway.

So yeah, ChromeCast FTW so far. Thanks everyone for your suggestions and perspectives, it's been super helpful!
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 10:51 PM on November 15, 2016 [1 favorite]

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