How to get rid of cable and watch TV online

Photo © Meddygarnet, used under Creative Commons license.
Every once in a while on Facebook or Twitter, I see a plea for help to get rid of cable and start watching TV shows and movies online since cable may be slowly going the way of the dinosaur. I have been doing this for about three years and wouldn't go back. But I'll be the first to admit, it's still a wonky system that requires a little finagling on your part. There is definitely more micromanaging than just scheduling a season pass on a DVR. But a benefit is that you only watch the shows you actively want to watch, and save time by not channel surfing and settling for trashy reality you wouldn't ordinarily watch.

There are two methods that will help you with this: a digital media receiver (or set top box) like Roku, Tivo, AppleTV, or most of the game consoles. But I hook my HDMI-enabled television to a laptop, which gives me more freedom.

The set top device method is fairly straightforward: purchase the device and it will enable you to access your current streaming media choices like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime. In some cases, like AppleTV, you'll also get access to their full streaming library for a small fee per show or movie.

What you'll need:

(Note that the focus is on viewers in the U.S.)

  • A laptop (or a desktop PC with a cool wireless adapter like StreamHD)
  • HDMI-capable television
  • A wireless mouse and keyboard (unless you're looking to add a little more excercise into your routine or again, have the wireless adapter option). I use this setup.
  • Clicker.com for researching where to find a show on the internet in places like Netflix or one of the station websites.
  • RottenTomatoes.com or IMDB.com DVD listings
  • Something to keep track of your television shows. (I actually use a janky Notepad file!)

Access to any or all of the following:

  • Hulu Plus
  • Netflix streaming
  • iTunes
  • Amazon Prime

Once you've done your research and have a little pool of shows you want to start (or continue) watching, use a site like Clicker.com to figure out where everything is streaming.

For movies, I head over to the upcoming DVD listings on RottenTomatoes.com or IMDB.com for what's new to download from iTunes or find on a streaming site. This way I also get to see a lot of movies that fly under the radar and don't hit cable networks.

Streaming sports

Watching sports is a different beast altogether. Sports networks are still lagging behind in embracing their internet viewers, but some sites like MLB.com offer live streaming. You may end up just having to hit the sports bar or a friend's couch.

Final thoughts

There will be times where you just will not be able to find that show that you want to watch, especially lifestyle and cooking shows, sports, and some of the premium network shows. This is a bummer, but waiting for the DVD set of the season isn't so bad. You can marathon it in your jammies on a weekend and really experience the arc of the season. I'm pretty sure The Oatmeal knows a little something about this stress, too (and about shady sources I won't mention here.)

And finally, some of the best content is created FOR the web. Check out Above Average or Geek and Sundry on YouTube for some quality web programming.

If this sounds doable to you, cut the cord with cable and contribute to the big push to get cable networks on board with content via the web.

This post originally appeared on Movie Gnome.

  1. As for sports, NFL is going to start offering an online streaming package this year. Unfortunately, you can't get them live, but it's still a step up in the watching-sports-online-legally business. Also good if you are like me and only want cable for football games.
    You can look at the options here: https://gamerewind.nfl.com/nflgr/secure/packages?ttv=7&ttp=2&wl=PIT&team=PIT&nlrefer=PIT&icampaign=PJ_GR_fb_PIT&affiliateId=73677&clickId=423949855&affiliateCustomId=

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    • From what I've heard, football was one of the harder sports to find online. Nice find!

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  2. I've grew up without cable, still had TV though like ABC, NBC, CBS, PBS. However my mom could never get her digital converter box to work – so she's been without tv at all for a few years now. In college, not wanting to pay for cable, I started watching online and never looked back! now my whole family is a hooked on watching tv via the web – and with all the sites offering it, it's super easy. Sports are the only thing we miss out on but like you said, what a great excuse to hangout with friends, have a party, or hit up a sports bar!

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  3. I've been doing this for about 3 years now. I find that between the networks that screen their prime time shows, hulu, and netflix streaming–there's very little I feel I miss out on. We have a digital antenna that we use for sports (and currently for the olympics as well).

    We have our set up with a tower PC directly into our tv and then two side speakers and a subwoofer for sound.

    We use a wireless mouse and keyboard for the computer that live on our coffee table, so it's really nice for playing PC games as well.

    4 agree
  4. You can also use Netflix and Hulu Plus through an Xbox. I do not know about iTunes or Amazon Prime. I haven't used either of those to watch things.

    I think you can also do it through a Wii (And, presumably other game systems that connect to the internet).

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    • Yeah, most (if not all?) of the major consoles let you do this. It's very convenient.

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    • The last time I checked, Hulu Plus and Netflix were Gold account features for XBox.
      Wii is free. I BELIEVE it's free on PlayStation, as well.

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      • Dootsie is either the most skilled Googler ever or just an evil genius.

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      • But the wii is not HD, is it? That may make a difference to some people. And, I thought, the wii only has wifi, and not direct, internet capabilities, which is a sadness. Could be wrong at this point, though.

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        • The Wii is not HD, but the WiiU comes out at the end of this year! :D

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      • This I can confirm. We have a Netflix streaming subscription, and in order to be able to watch it through our XBOX we have to pay for an XBOX gold subscription, which I think is $30-$40 a year. It's an added cost, but it comes out to about $11 a month total.

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        • Also, with XBOX Gold you have access to the Zune Video and Zune Music apps. The video app is great because some shows get updated with the new episode the next day. We kept up with Mad Men this last season that way, as well as Walking Dead. Knowing there was a new Mad Men to watch at the end of the day made Monday not so terrible. You do have to pay per episode or season, and I don't remember how much it was, but if you love a particular show it may be worth it to you.

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          • And via XBOX Gold you can access http://espn.go.com/watchespn/xbox which gives you some sporty watching ability if one so chooses. And you can rent movies via the Zune movies (with that pesky point system that XBOX uses). There's also YouTube access. Of course there's also that $300+ initial investment problem though… :(

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      • This is why we opted to keep our playstation instead of our xbox. I'm not paying for stuff I can get for free somewhere else!

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  5. We've done this for the better part of 2-3 years now. We never had cable before that though, we just did watched in our office huddling over our desks! A TON of people give us weird looks when we say we don't have cable, followed by questions of how we watch TV, what we do in our off time if there's no TV, and there's always the question of "Well, don't you WANT cable?"

    Also, a note, you can do this with computer monitors as well. That's what we started with, a 22 inch monitor mounted on a wall. And if your TV has crap audio, you can use computer speakers with an audio extension cord (We got ours at Radioshack) to get "surround sound".

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  6. We rarely watch actual TV, and only have basic cable for local channels. One of the local channels plays music videos all day so that's fun. We use the Xbox for Netflix and Amazon on the TV, but we use the mac more often. It's only if we really want good surround sound or want to sit back further, that we use the TV/Xbox. I have found that unless you are looking for something very specific, there is plently of content on line to be entertained by.

    p.s. I love Geek and Sundry!

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      • Eek! I haven't been over there for a couple months. There is so much to watch and so little time! So now I'm wasting time at work.

        1 agrees
  7. I've been doing this for YEARS! My favorite place for TV Links is http://www.sidereel.com ,if you make an account you can 'track' the TV shows you like and it gives you a personalized schedule. It has amazon, itunes, hulu, xfinity, mtv, abc, nbc, etc…and some less mainstream links too. I swear by it.

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  8. We have the same set up – HDMI compatible TV connected to our laptop. For fathers day I got my husband an HDTV Antenna that receives HD network broadcasts over the airways/ by magic. So now we watch our cable shows via the lap top and our network shows via the Antenna. So great and it is all free (not counting the cost of internet).

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  9. This is all great if you live some where civilized and have good internet, but for the rest of us, it just won't work. We have our internet through a verizon hot spot. Limited data, streaming is not an option. Hell, I don't even watch Youtube videos, cause I don't want to use up our limited data…sadface.

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  10. Yes!!! Everyone should be doing this! A Roku is only about $60, is small, and works really well!

    Be wary of trying to use a Wii if you have an HD tv – from what I know, they aren't made to stream HD and are really slow and glitchy if you have an HD tv.

    3 agree
  11. Another great youtube channel is VlogBrothers, and also CrashCourse.

    Honestly, this (being the Olympics) is the only time I regret not having TV. There's not the possibility to watch it online unless you have cable so that sucks.

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    • Yeah, my husband was in a funk all weekend, desperately trying to find ways to watch the Olympics. He ended up finding some stream of someone else watching it? Janky!

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      • For people with an iPad there's a free app for watching all the Olympic events, on your own time.

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    • I hear this. I'm always looking for ways to stream the Oscars and other awards shows too.

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      • Honestly, my friends and I used to make those nights (big games we wanted to waitch live, or the Oscars, etc.) big date nights. We would all either go to a bar/restaurant with a TV that we knew would be showing it, or head over to the one friend's house that still had cable, and make a night of it. Always fun. :)

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  12. We don't have cable. I have been too poor for cable since before the internet made it not suck so bad.
    For those hard to see things (College football, award show, Olympic openings etc)a bunch of other friends and I will sometimes rent a crappy hotel room, bring food and booze and make a party out of it. Not free, but usually cheap and really fun. Plus it's really only a couple of times a year, if that.

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  13. We have a Roku box and use the Plex media app. This lets me watch all my digital files streamed from my external hard drive, as well as many "channels" I use ABC, CBS, and SyFy chanals mostly in Plex and it lets me watch the newest episode of my favorite shows, use the youtube channels, and watch Hulu instead of Hulu plus. I just have to have my computer on and the program open. When the internet is down I can still stream my movies and TV shows.
    I also use Roku for both Netflix and Amazon prime videos. There are cooking and workout channel as well. Some are subscription or one time buys, but I think it's been worth it so far. We also got the nicest one so we can use a USB stick to watch files if plex isn't working or if a friend brings something over.

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    • We have a Roku box, too, that we use primarily for Netflix and Hulu Plus. Sure, we could stream from our laptops or a game console (and our Blu-Ray also streams Netflix), but Roku is very simple to use. For people not wanting a complex or high-tech setup, look into Roku.

      3 agree
  14. My poor husband, he isn't crazy about tons of tv but I have a probably unreasonable distaste for it bordering on loathing, so he will find shows on line and watch them on his laptop with headphones. My dislike comes from my addictive nature and the fact that I will end up watching for days if I let myself so I don't. Having to find a show on line where there may only be 4 or 5 episodes does help head off the 48 hr marathons of crap tv

    1 agrees
  15. My husband and I have two Roku boxes, one in each room and use the Xbox for everything else. We do use HBO Go though on the iPad and Xbox. Just find a willing friend with a TV subscription ;) we also have an HD antenna which gets us our local news and NBC. We love not having to pay a cable provider as well as all the fun new shows we start watching. It gives you a great chance to watch that show you always wanted to see but never caught on TV. Also- BIG PLUS – way less commercials :D

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  16. I haven't had cable for almost a year now, and I seriously don't miss it. I use an HD antenna (it was $35) to watch TV over the air (watching the Olympics in HD right now!) and I stream everything else through the applications on my Blu-Ray player. I pay a whopping $29 a month for internet…its my favorite bill every month! I find I watch a lot less crap and more PBS and Doctor Who this way!

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  17. We had an old-fashioned tube TV (my husband's from college in the late 90's!) up until last fall. When we finally caved and bought a flat-screen, we went with a Samsung SmartTV, since we were planning on giving up cable. TOTALLY WORTH IT. The picture quality is generally better, and it's wonderful to be able to use the remote to surf, stop and start, etc., instead of leaning over and fiddling with the computer. Some of the apps are still buggy (we still use our computer for HBO GO) but most work quite well.

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  18. We have never had cable. We have rabbit ears hooked up to our TV and get all of the over-the-air stuff for free. We also pay for Netflix streaming (great for kids TV too). And you can find lots of recently aired things on Hulu for free too. Not bad at all if you don't mind being a little bit behind in your viewing. If you live in an area where you have high speed internet from a provider like Cox or Time Warner, you can probably get tons of sports streaming for free on watchespn.com. We get tons college football, some MLB, NBA and about anything else you can think of. It seems like they have most of their on-air offerings on there now (subject to blackout just like TV is). We don't miss cable because we have never had it! We just feel like the $$ isn't worth it and if we had cable, we would probably get sucked into watching all of the reality and other crap on TV.

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  19. For the more computer nerdy out there, a great cheep device option is the Raspberry Pi. It doesn't compete on the plug and play market as well but it has it's up sides. It's only $25 and as it requires you to install an OS and configure it, it's very customize-able. For those Linux people out there, or those with less money and more time, it's an interesting option.

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  20. Woe be those of us who live in rural areas and do not have internet fast enough for streaming. QuQ Some day … some day I will have REAL internet.

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  21. Would say this is "US specific" vs. "US focused". Then again, I find posts here sometimes are (*cough* 4th of July *cough*) – but hey, that's largely the demographic, right?

    Canadians have some options, including limited Netflix, VERY limited itunes. Personally I go with watching network shows via the network's website – either through my ipad apps (I believe all the apps are apple-specific, unfortunately) or through our boxee box on the tv.

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  22. We gave up cable about a year ago and haven't looked back! We use Hulu Plus and Netflix (online only), our laptops, XBox, and PS3 as the platforms. We also spent a whopping $11 on "rabbit ears" for our living room TV for watching network TV, football, local news, and whatever other channels we can get on the air… and it's in HD! (We plan to get another set of rabbit ear antennas for our bedroom TV, too).

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  23. I know I'm a little late on this, but there's still a few days left of the Olympics! We don't have cable, just Roku + Netflix. I wanted to watch the Olympics, but on the BBC – I didn't want crappy NBC coverage, so I signed up for a three-month subscription to http://www.whatsonthebox.com. It's just a proxy server thingie that gives you a UK IP, but that means you can watch all the streaming content on the BBC + you can download and save it. It's splendiferous. Their Olympics coverage is 1000 times better.

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  24. What's so frustrating about cable is that they routinely increase your monthly rate after, say, 3 months of a promo, and then offer a crazy low rate for new customers, so you end up paying $50.00 a month more on average than a new customer will pay for the 1st year. You almost have to check their site each week to catch the specials, because Time Warner Cable will NEVER just go ahead and lower your rate to match what new customers are paying. When you think about companies that care about customer good will, and then you see the sneaky stuff Time Warner Cable does to existing clients, should they be surprised when customers are cutting the cord in droves? I support blogs like this that help consumers find a more affordable, fair alternative. Keep on cutting the cord people!!!!

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  25. Watching tv online can be very easy, from work, in your car, from mobile devices and so on… Online tv streaming has become a fenomen in the last 5 years, i am from germany and when i travel , i like to watch some TV channels like news and music.
    Try German TV online it's free and easy to use, no special software or proxy.

    3 agree

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