options for watching tv shows "on demand"
April 17, 2007 7:44 PM   Subscribe

what kind of solutions are there to watching tv shows "on demand." i have to watch my budget and the $1.99 charges are uneasy. i know torrenting is a possibility, but i've been becoming more and more wary of torrenting. i use an imac running os x 10.4 - are there any solutions to be found there?

is tivo (or a similar dvr) my only option here? i'm aware that i could set up a box running mythtv, but i have neither the time nor resources for that. i have come across software (via google i must admit) -- alchemytv that says it is a dvr app for os x, but the imac has no coax in. if i were running a windows tower, i'd just install a new video card, but not with the imac. i'm also not willing to crack open the imac to install a video card (if that is even a possibility?). is there some sort of external coax solution?

after writing this all down, it seems i may have ruled out all my options already! just figured it couldn't hurt to look for some more options, or if i haven't explored all fully.

thanks for your help and input - it is very appreciated.

posted by willmillar to Computers & Internet (15 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
You could always pay for a usenet provider and download episodes off of alt.binaries.tv or the like... It's not P2P, if your wary of P2P or bittorrent for some reason.
posted by yeoz at 7:49 PM on April 17, 2007

You could use Relakks along with torrent.
posted by bigmusic at 8:03 PM on April 17, 2007

is there some sort of external coax solution?

Yes. This would be an external TV Tuner card that connected to your Mac via Firewire or USB. For example, here is one that uses USB.
posted by mmascolino at 8:05 PM on April 17, 2007

if they're popular shows, you can find them on the numerous youtube-ish sites online. it might take a few days, but i can almost always find the show that i want to see online. there are sites out there that aggregate the shows available online.

an idea: i know that on the Windows side there are USB-based external capture devices (look at ATI's TV Wonder line). there might be something available for your mac along the same lines.

if all else fails, go for the torrent. i'd go to jail before i'd miss an episode of Entourage.
posted by jivesoul at 8:07 PM on April 17, 2007

I'll tell you what I did when I decided I wanted to wait for the dvr (standalone or PC based) options to develop (and the prices to come down): I finally replaced my defunct VCR and kept an eye out on a good deal for a bunch of blank tapes. No, it isn't very sexy and it is not as slick as a digital player (though I imagine the software versions come with their share of headaches) but it works, it only takes a few minutes to program a show, I've yet to miss anything I wanted to watch and the whole package cost less than 60 dollars.
posted by nanojath at 8:41 PM on April 17, 2007

In addition to the Miglia linked to by mmascolino, there is the Elgato EyeTV Hybrid, which is much smaller - and as a recent customer, I can attest that their customer service is excellent. Also, they are the creators of the software that the Miglia uses, so why not go to the source - if you are contemplating the dongle route. BTW - there is no non-customized TV tuner card to install into the non-hacker-user inaccessible iMac.
posted by birdsquared at 8:55 PM on April 17, 2007

If you want to do this completely aboveboard you can always buy DVDs of TV shows once/when/if they're available.

Otherwise, usenet is a (very) good bet. TV episodes are typically 200-300MB. On my cable broadband connection it'd take about 15 minutes. If you have a computer with output to a TV, you're golden. Otherwise, there are a plethora of programs to convert AVI/MPEG/WMV/MOV/whatever into MPEG2 DVD format to burn. I believe that MacMini's can readily be made to output to TVs.

binsearch is a good tool for finding what's available. Plug in the TV show you're interested in (and play around with the "advanced settings" if nothing [much] shows up at first). You can then make NZB files which many newsreaders can use.

You can use something like TV.com (formerly "TVTomb.com") to find exactly which episode you want (season/episode) so you can search either by SxxExx (SeasonXXEpisodeXX) or by episode name.

I'm very happy with, and know that they carry groups that are repositories for TV shows, news.astraweb.com but there are other providers such as giganews &al.

If you do go down this route, PARchive (OSX program) and it's ilk will probably be indispensible (what is PAR?)

You'll have to find a newreader for OSX that has good binaries support, though, which I'm not familiar with.
posted by porpoise at 9:00 PM on April 17, 2007 [7 favorites]

In addition to buying the DVDs, there is also Netflix and your local video stores for renting the disks.
posted by mmascolino at 9:53 PM on April 17, 2007

The ElGato boxes are the closest thing to Tivo that you can currently do on a Mac without getting into MythTV. That said, they don't hold a candle to an actual MythTV box, but since you ruled that out (and it is a pretty serious weekend project, plus it requires a spare computer -- it's an appliance, not an application), I'd say it's the solution you're looking for. The workflow to get your shows to your TV, assuming you don't want to watch on your monitor, isn't going to be as easy as a real set-top-box, but it's not hard to burn things from the EyeTV program to DVD.

And if that looks like it's too technically complicated or expensive, then I'll second the recommendation of just getting a good VCR with on-screen timer programming, and doing it that way. Couple of years ago I picked up a Sony professional VCR on surplus for $35, I expect they're even cheaper now. Get something decent with a good interface, and (assuming you are OK with it not taping any of those high-numbered digital channels), plug it directly into your cable line through a splitter, so its internal tuner changes between the analog channels. Then just program the weekly timeslots (time, channel, and day) for your favorite shows and put a Post-It note somewhere to change the tapes weekly (use good quality tapes if you're going to use 6 hr mode). You shouldn't have to do anything, as long as the power doesn't go out and you remember to put tape in it.

I watched time-recorded TV from VHS for years before I discovered the joy that is MythTV; it's still (IMO) lots better than actually watching the live signal (you can pause, FF the commercials, etc.), it's just not quite as nice as the real PVR experience.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:33 PM on April 17, 2007

You could always pay for a usenet provider and download episodes off of alt.binaries.tv or the like... It's not P2P, if your wary of P2P or bittorrent for some reason.

Seconded. If you're wary of torrenting because of a likelihood of being caught, downloading from usenet is much more anonymous.
posted by doofgod at 12:51 AM on April 18, 2007

Thirding the usenet route. Check with your ISP to see if they provide usenet access; I know Verizon does. At school I use newshosting.com's unlimited package ($15/month) and newzbin.com for NZB files (£1/month, which is ~$2). I get every TV
posted by cosmic osmo at 1:52 AM on April 18, 2007

...sorry about that. I get every TV show I'd ever want to watch, including stuff on premium channels (HBO and Showtime) and stuff that hasn't aired in years (full seasons of Twin Peaks, Ren and Stimpy, 90210, all sorts of stuff). New shows are almost always posted within an hour or two of them airing. I'm on OS X and using iGrabNews for a newsreader--Panic's Unison is also good, but I use iGrabNews because it gives me a chance to specify where to save the file every time I download a new NZB. You'll also need something to unpack the RAR/PAR files, I use MacPar Deluxe.

A good general guide to newsgroups can be found here and the forums at dslreports.com are usually helpful as well.

Overall I'm extremely satisfied with using newsgroups as my primary source of television (and other media as well). $17/month is about a third of what I'd be paying the cable companies for a fraction of the content, plus newsgroups are generally considered "safer" than torrents, etc.
posted by cosmic osmo at 2:00 AM on April 18, 2007

Oh, one more added bonus: LOST airs an hour earlier in Canada, and is almost always posted right after it airs, right around the time it starts here in the US. With my school's connection it takes me only a few minutes to get the episode, so I frequently have finished watching it before it even ends over here. Heroes aired on Sundays in Canada as well, so I was watching those eps an entire day early.
posted by cosmic osmo at 2:03 AM on April 18, 2007

TVShows. Yes, it works with torrents, but install SafePeer and you should be fine.

Really, though, if you pay for cable, it might be cheaper to go the $1.99 iTunes route.
posted by stance at 6:27 AM on April 18, 2007

Piggyback question: Can you find old episodes on Usenet? Like House MD. first season?
posted by Memo at 2:20 PM on April 18, 2007

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