Is there more to TV online than iTunes?
February 1, 2008 10:28 AM   Subscribe

I wanna download TV to watch on my TV; where do I learn...


OK, I’m liking iTunes for commercial-free TV viewing a LOT, and gonna go for an Apple TV (don’t really care about the movie rentals so far; Netflix working fine for that...) but hating how little seems to be available, how I can’t tell when or where any given show is going to be available, willing but not geeky or young enough to understand how to use bitTorrent or Usenet or even Unison, or make sense of any online “explanations” so far found, don’t know if there’s any way to get streaming episodes to be viewable or worth viewing on my HD TV...Sheesh, I guess I’m Lost. And on a Mac, btw.

Where’s my downloading for duffer dummies resource and/or my one-stop overview of legal options and offerings while I wait for this industry to get its act together?
posted by dpcoffin to Computers & Internet (15 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
99% of the TV shows on bittorrent or usenet are there illegally and don't support all the hard work of the writers, actors, and crews.

The simple fact is either you support a show by watching commericals or you support a show by buying it in a service like Apple TV, Amazon Unbox, or Vudu
posted by sharkfu at 10:45 AM on February 1, 2008

Although it's not commercial-free, I find shows on itself have only 3 (or is is 4) commercial breaks and it's only one commercial.

Not ideal, but fast and legal. I believe other networks have similar stuff going on their websites as well.
posted by Gucky at 10:50 AM on February 1, 2008

Any reason why a PVR (e.g. TiVo) won't work? You can fast forward commercials and it's totally legit. Finding shows is based on their standard airtime and you can setup reoccurring recordings automatically. In terms of straightforwardness, it's going to hard to find a simpler solution.
posted by Nelsormensch at 11:02 AM on February 1, 2008

I think the original poster is thinking what a lot of us are: now that there are legitimate options for getting the TV shows I like outside of subscribing to cable (and without commercials, even), can I just ditch the cable bill and arrange my own programming?

Unfortunately, things are still in flux right now, and there's no one answer for paying for, and watching, only the things you want, through your television.

If the iTunes store starts carrying every show ever made, that'd be one way to do it.

But right now, you'll have to roll your own.

At my house, we still have a cable bill, but a lot of the things we watch are downloaded and streamed through the Xbox to the TV. We're flirting with the idea of paying just for the shows we want, but so far a lot of them are missing from iTunes.

For what it's worth, Tomato Torrent makes things stupid simple on the Mac.
posted by bryanjbusch at 11:21 AM on February 1, 2008

Maybe that would be a good project for a MeFi member:

A site that tracks which shows are available as a legitimate digital download, which system you can watch it on, etc. I'd subscribe to that.
posted by bryanjbusch at 11:29 AM on February 1, 2008

Torrent Episode Downloader is available for windows, mac and linux, and works really well. It's not 100% perfect, but it is an invaluable tool for finding torrented television, capable of following seasons and checking to see if a new episode is available. As sharkfu noted above, the torrents that TED finds are not "supporting the show" and may not be kosher in that sense.
posted by waraw at 11:33 AM on February 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

Bittorrent is the best. I recommend the simple, attractive, and regularly updated Transmission client. Then simply go to a legal torrent site, as opposed to an illegal one such as the fairly comprehensive, search for the program you want, download the torrent, and then open that torrent with Transmission. Your download should start automatically.

The free VLC media player will be able to play pretty much any video file you find.

If you were to use Mininova, or another site such as The Pirate Bay to download your videos illegally, which I am not recommending, be aware that you would be sticking it to both The Man and The Writers Guild of America. Sometimes it's fun to stick it to two people at once, just for variety's sake. Though it's best to get permission first, unless your girlfriend is in another time zone.
posted by 1 at 11:38 AM on February 1, 2008

Keep in mind the Original Poster said:
I wanna download TV to watch on my TV
posted by bryanjbusch at 12:21 PM on February 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

I watch downloaded TV on my TV, because my video card has an S-Video TV-Out.
posted by waraw at 12:45 PM on February 1, 2008

If you have a good way to get your content (downloading or whatever), it's still hard to beat a hacked original XBox running XBox Media Center (XBMC). I feel it lack the horsepower to do even 1080i hi-def, but it can play just about everything under the sun. If you do the hack-work yourself, it's also a pretty cheap solution -- used XBox ($50-100) + hack chip ($30-50).

The XBox 360 does hi-def well, and XBox Live provides a nice, legal channel for downloading content, similar to Apple TV -- and, IMO, there's not a whole lot of selection there, either. For playing files you downloaded from other places, I find it to be (deliberately) frustrating -- you need a PC running to stream the content, not sure if it can stream from Mac. It can play from memory stick or USB external drive, and supposedly recognizes the Mac ext2 filesystem (but not NTFS!!), but I'm a PC guy so I haven't tried that yet. (MacDrive software will let PCs read/write ext2, I'm told.)
posted by LordSludge at 1:00 PM on February 1, 2008

So, given that I know what I like and can spend my own effort and bandwidth to obtain the bits, why is there no legitimate way for me to directly compensate the "writers, actors, and crews"?

No, it's not about that. It's about an infrastructure of control.
posted by Caviar at 1:18 PM on February 1, 2008

I know my fiancé records television shows with a Mac-based PVR (EyeTV) and then converts the raw (HUGE) files for playing on his AppleTV. The process is crazy simple, and he even makes stupid little "album" art for the shows so they look pretty on the AppleTV.

Now neither he nor I are recommending downloading television shows illegally. However, if you were to get your hands on some television shows that weren't already in an iTunes-ready format, it wouldn't be difficult to convert said files for quick-and-easy viewing on an AppleTV. If you're on a Mac, try VisualHub. I'm sure a little light-weight googling would find you a PC solution.

He also uses Lostify for properly organizing and tagging the files.
posted by Becko at 1:44 PM on February 1, 2008

If you can get a hold of DIVX files (that's what you'll get with BitTorrent, usually), the way I watch them on my TV is with the Philips DVP 5960. This DVD player will play video files that have been burned to a disc OR put on a USB drive. I've got a 2 gb thumb drive that I load up with a couple of videos at a time.

In fact, I just did this on my new 50" HDTV, and it looked great!

You can usually pick these things up for about $60.

You'll just want to be sure not to get the files with "HR" in the filename, as the 5960 doesn't support super high-res video. It also doesn't play the iPod format.

The only other caveat is that the 5960 will only show the first 8 characters of a file name, and it doesn't necessarily sort them in alphabetical order, so, if you're watching a bunch at a time, you'll have to abbreviate your file names so you can see what's what.

As for where to get the files in the first place -- I've heard good things about all the clients mentioned so far, and I also hear that makes it ridiculous easy to find weekly episodes, should you decide to risk it.
posted by natabat at 3:22 PM on February 1, 2008

Response by poster: Great answers, everybody; I’m feeling much better informed. Thanks!
posted by dpcoffin at 3:42 PM on February 1, 2008

Forget torrents. Get a rapidshare account for a few bucks a month. Google for "{name of TV show} rapidshare" and you'll find plenty of links to get whatever you want. Shows are almost always in xvid / divx format, about 350mb an episode, and usually consist of four RAR files (3 x 100mb plus 1x ~50mb). Use UnRARX (google it) to extract them. Note any password required before you close the link page!
posted by obiwanwasabi at 3:41 AM on February 2, 2008

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