Thursday January 29, 2009

How I Learned to Stop Paying For TV Shows Twice and Love the Internet. More.

A couple weeks ago I was surfing around Hulu and had a much-delayed epiphany: Dude, almost everything I watch on my satellite TV service is online. Of course, I’ve long been aware of options like Apple TV, Boxee, Mac mini hacks and torrent sites, but honestly those options involve purchasing hardware or fiddling with alpha (or questionably legal) software. I just don’t have any desire to mess with all of that right now. I have a TV. I have a computer. And I have shows streaming from Hulu, Fancast, NBC, CBS, ABC and on and on. Certainly, I thought, there’s a relatively easy way for my wife and I to watch online content together on the TV with a minimal amount of fussing.

The Setup.

Caveat lector: My setup is terribly simple. I am no electronics wiz. I will probably be of no help to you if you ask for my advice.

My goal was to:

  • Continue to be able to connect my iTunes library to my stereo via Airport Express.
  • Use my stereo for audio. I accidentally discovered that the audio from Hulu’s 480p videos actually sounds quite awesome through my little shelf unit.
  • Avoid any cable switcheroos when I was ready to watch TV. Plug video & audio into the laptop and watch something quickly.

Below is a schematic of how all my components are connected:

Schematic drawing

And here is a photo of the whole setup in action:

Photo of my media center

It’s Not All Rivers of Chocolate and Lollipop Forests.

There are plenty of downsides, but I’m willing to live with them:

  • The laptop is not always left connected to the TV, so that has to be connected to video & audio first.
  • The stereo has to be turned on to AUX.
  • The TV acts as the primary display, and it’s kind of hard to see what’s on screen because of the scan lines (yes, I have a lame TV). I usually have to navigate to the video I want to watch on the laptop display and then drag the browser window to the TV and fullscreen it. The reason I don’t have my laptop set up as the primary display is that some video services (ABC’s is one, I believe) will only go fullscreen on the primary display (nice job there). Most sites will allow fullscreen viewing on whichever display the browser is on.
  • Yeah, you have to go find the video online. Though by using Hulu’s RSS feeds I can use Google Reader as my video dashboard and quickly get to new shows.
  • New shows aren’t online till the next day.
  • Videos aren’t up forever, so you have a window of time in which to watch an episode — or lose it.
  • No remote control.
  • No audio from the TV’s built-in speakers, though I suspect that I could connect a composite audio cable from the DVI adapter to the TV and remedy that. Not that I miss my janky TV speakers…
  • No live TV, though I am considering the purchase of an HD antenna to pick up local channels.
  • The biggest headache with this setup is that I have not yet found a way to keep my stereo connected to the Airport Express and the laptop at the same time. I tried running both the laptop audio cable and the Airport Express audio cable to the stereo by using a 2 Male-to-1 Female 3.5mm Y-adapter, but with both male jacks plugged in the sound is horrible. I’m not sure exactly why it’s so bad. So, for now, I have to unplug audio from Airport Express and plug it into the laptop when I want to watch a show.

Not True Love, But Close Enough For Now.

So that’s basically it. Not all roses, but not bad as a new feature of a service I was already paying for. And though I no longer have the equipment by which to compare the two, I swear that (at least) Hulu’s 480p video quality is better than what I was getting with satellite. And now that I am using my stereo for sound, the audio is better, too. Despite an expected number of downsides, this switch to internet-only TV is turning out to be a major win—not the least of which is that I don’t burn away hours in front of the TV watching stuff because it’s there. The act of watching TV is now so deliberate (and slightly annoying) that I spend more time doing things like writing nerdy blog posts about TV instead of watching TV. Um, win?

Oh, and Hulu: I love you.


Hulu » 4610 days ago #

I love you more.

Parag » 4609 days ago #

“No live TV, though I am considering the purchase of an HD antenna to pick up local channels.”

Have you looked at those DTV converter boxes? Even a regular rabbit ear antenna works just fine with it. I’ve been using this setup for some time now – get about 30 channels with great quality – certainly a lot better than regular/“digital” cable.

Chris J. Davis » 4605 days ago #

There was once, in a far away magical place, an AIR app that allowed you to interact with Hulu with a remote, etc and make this whole process quite painless.

That has since been destroyed by Hulu. That being said we in the Davis household love Hulu as well, and yes the 480p (standard def) version of their videos are grand. They have also added buffering to the service which is much ass kicking in my opinion.

Welcome to the realm of free tv Jared, we missed you!

lauren » 4600 days ago #

i too have abandoned conventional tv methods in favor of internet… instead of a remote, i bought a keyboard (with mouse pad on board), which is wireless and has a usb remote to computer. highly recommend!

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