My great experiment with TV over the Internet

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Unplug your Cable TV! Get free TV over the internet!
By Gordon Reeder

Wow! What a difference a year makes. When I first started this little experiment about two years ago people thought I was nuts (well, they still do. but that's another story). As it turns out, I'm not as crazy as they thought. There is plenty of TV programming that is being sent out on the internet that you can 'tune' into. What's more, streaming video off the internet is actually becoming quite mainstream. By now, everyone has heard about Hulu. But there is a lot more. It is now possible to pull the plug on your cable TV and still get plenty of video. And you won't be missing the $58.00 a month cable bill.

Hardware and software

First let's have a word about hardware. There are several ways to set yourself up with TVoIP.
The easiest, but not the most convienent, is to watch TV on your main computer. A variation on this is to set up your laptop for TVoIP. If you travel a lot, you will have your TV anywhere you can find a fast internet connection.
For the serious techie, there is the dedicated computer attached to the TV approach (AKA; HTPC). There are programs such as Boxee to control a dedicated media computer connected to your TV. If your TV and computer are in close proximity, you can try a variation of this. Hook up your TV as a 2nd monitor and stream video right to the TV. I have writen a separate article about setting up a dedicated or shared TVoIP System.
For the less technicaly minded, there are a few plug and play set top box solutions becoming available.
And now TV and Blue Ray players are getting into the act. Many Blue Ray disc players and TVs have an internet connection and have video streaming built in.
As if that wasn't enough. Most new TVs are equipt with USB ports. So what. So, download internet video onto a thumb drive. then walk it over to the TV, plug it in, and enjoy the video on your TV.

Formats

When you find TVoIP programs on the Internet, they will be in one of three forms:

A live video stream,
Live Streams are like over-the-air broadcasts. In fact many TV stations are making their over-the-air broadcasts available as Live streams. When you connect to a stream, it is like tuning into the station over the air. You join the broadcast in progress. You can't pause it or rewind it (unless you have some sort of PVR software).
RSS
RSS feeds are better known as video Podcasts or Vcasts. You don't need an iPod to enjoy them. Many of these programs allow you to receive and watch them on your computer.
Video on demand.
Video on demand (VOD) is self explanatory; You connect to a video server and choose the program you want to watch by using a menu. Many movies and past seasons of TV shows are available as VOD.

Content

Once you start finding TVoIP programming you will discover that this just isn't cable TV like you are used to. For one, finding your favorite cable channels can be nearly impossible. Many program providers are more concerned with protecting their franchise agreements and don't make programming available over the internet. However, A&E, Showtime, PBS Kids, Spike TV, CBS, FOX, Comedy Central, C-Span, HSN, The Sci-fi channel, Nick, Movie channel can be found on one service or another. NBC, CBS, Fox and CW have made reruns of their past shows available. With a little searching, you can find international feeds of some popular cable channels
You will also find many independent and international networks that just aren't, or can't be, carried by the cable companies. Since the Internet is a world wide resource, you will be able to tune in TV programing from around the world. You will also discover a lot of independent productions such as Bugeye, Soma Girls, Wallstrip, Indivisual, Earth channel, Green living, etc that you have never heard about. Many Soccer fans catch the latest action from around the world via TVoIP.

A few services to avoid:

Once you start looking around for TVoIP, you will very quickly find services like JohnQ.com, DishnetPC.com, PriemiumTVforPC.com, WorldTVonPC.com, WatchTVonPC.com, DTV4pc.net, and many more. You can identify them by their cheesy carnival style web sites that look like they were designed by a six year old. They promise that if you buy their software you will have access to over 9,000 channels. Don't fall for it. They rarely deliver as prommised, and anything they are selling, you can find for free.

Web based offerings:

First: The major networks and cable channels all have web sites. Many also archive their recently aired shows. There are too many to list, just try them.
ABC.com, NBC.com, CBS.com, discovery.com, nick.com, Etc...

Next: A few VOD services to check out. These services are web based and system independent. They may work with Linux and Apple
Joost is now going to a web based system. From the Guys that brought us Skype. A video on demand site. Has a very large selection of network content and full shows. Lots of independent shows like Green TV, Soma girls, Indivisual, etc. Content is selected by the Joost staff and is very good includes a lot of UK and international selections. Working to add live streams. Still in beta. One of the best selection of content.
Hulu has Video on demand movies post release. Current season TV post broadcast, mostly past seasons. Show selection equal or better than Joost with emphisis on US programing. If you prefer a viewer based offering, and like Hulu, see VeohTV, below.
Fancast: Has Video on demand movies and TV. TV is current season and a huge archive of past seasons and Classic and post release movies. Like Hulu, with some overlap of content.
Tikilive.com Like TVUnetworks. CNN, TNT, Fox News, CNBC are here. As well as some independent prerecorded shows. A desktop vewer is available.
VEOH: has a small selection of classic movies. Show selection overlaps Hulu and Joost. Veoh gives you free access to all of the great TV and film studio content, independent productions, and user-generated videos on the Web. From hit CBS, ABC, WB, ESPN and Comedy Central shows to your favorite YouTube clips.
OVGuide: One of the biggest and best collection of links to online video.
Ninja Video: An awesome video site. Requires the download of a small plug-in. Just released movies and priemium TV shows.
Truveo: Not an actual video site. It is a video search engine.
TVShack is free, but you have to register. A good selection of TV shows, but not always complete seasons. A huge selection of movies, current releases, clasics. Lots of bootlegged content. Easy to browse, huge archive, users may submit links.
AOLtv Kind of a TV central. TV listings, links to TV shows, News about TV shows, blogs about TV. Even has some movie content.
Yahoo TV Like AOLtv.
Discovery Network video viewer Now web based. Full episodes from the Discovery Network (Discovery, History Channel, Animal Planet, etc). Not much offered. Only four shows with only 4 episodes each. Althought they are recent shows.

A few streams browsers.

These sites will give you access to TV broadcasts from around the world, as well as some not so commonly available programming. They are browseable directories of on-line video streams. THese seem to be the primary directories on the web. Many other services that say they offer TVoIP actually point back to one of these sites.

World Wide ITV: Live streams of broadcast tv and web tv. Good interface, channels may be browsed by location or subject. Users may submit and rate channels
Online-media-archive: From the same Guy who brought you JLC's internet TV viewer. Has the same simple and easy to use style of the viewer. But no download needed. Users may submit channels, but the moderator can clean them out.
Livetvcenter: Has a funky interface. Not easy to surf. lots of ads
Global-itv: 8926 (at last count) TV-Stations from around the world. Slow to load up, but easy to use. Browse by location or subject. Also has webcams.

Some Viewer based offerings.

These services require that you download and install a viewer on your computer. They are much more capable then the web based services. Most are VOD services, except where noted. With all of these you can visit their web sites to view a program guide before downloading to see if you might like the service. Lately many of these services (joost, VEOH, Babelgum) are moving away from the dedicated viewer model and are becoming web based.

JLC's Internet TV Viewer: A simple, but effective streams viewer that doesn't have much overhead. It is also the only program here that can be loaded onto a thumb drive and run as a portable application (see the Read me for details). The channel guide is maintained by the users and is very complete. But I was able to find two local streams that weren't listed (they are now). Users can submit, rate and update the channels. A favorites catagory helps you corral the streams you like. Web cams, porn and spam entries are not allowed in the guide. JLC is not responsible for the quality of the streams, and some are quite poor, or can stop working without warning. The user ratings can help you choose a good stream.

MIRO: This one will do live streams like JLC, but also does RSS, torrents and Youtube. Makes heavy use of your hard drive and internet bandwidth because it wants to download everything to your hard drive. Think of it as TVIO for your internet video. The program guide is preloaded. There is very little network content and you can add your own entries. If you know where to get your video, you may like Miro.

WinAmp: Besides being a great media player and iPod manager (for both MP3s and videos), Winamp also will tune in video from Shoutcast, AOL video and a large podcast directory. You can also use any torrent catcher, podcatcher, or Youtube catcher to feed video to Winamp's library, where you can watch it or load it onto your portable media player. Unfortunatly, there is not much on Shoutcast to recomend it. AOLtv is now working and is quite good.

Tvunetworks: A combination of Live streams and Video on demand. Not as many channels as the others, but you will find Nickelodian here as well as a lot of content from China. A bit of a resource hog. Completely unusable on a 768K DSL connection.

Boxee: Windows, Linux and Apple versions available. It takes popular video sites such as Hulu, Netflix, CBS, Comedy Central, You Tube, etc and presents them in a nice 10-foot UI (user interface well suited for viewing from 10 feet away and controlled with a remote rather than up close to the computer with a keyboard/mouse).

Zinc: Based on the Mozilla browser. It takes many of the popular sites such as Hulu, Netflix, CBS, Comedy Central, You Tube, etc and presents them in a nice 10-foot UI (This is starting to sound familier). Add your own links, sites, videos and applications.

Babelgum: Another RSS based viewer. Content is accessable through the web site. But it requires a plugin for viewing.

Vuze: Video on demand viewer, doesnít offer anything that you canít get elseware. You have to buy the premium content.

Live Station Live streams only. No movies, no archive. Watch partner channals and user supplied web streams. Windows Linux and Apple compatible. User generated alert and rating system

And a couple that aren't free.

Netflix Is on a tear to become the major player in streaming internet video. Access 12,000 movies and recent TV shows (from CBS, Disney, and others). Access to the downloads is included with your monthly subscription. But now there is a stream only option. You have several ways to watch Netflix.
On your computer with a free software download.
A set top box: The Roku NetFlix Player: Plug it into your TV and the internet. You buy the box, programing is free with your monthly Netflix subsriciption.
On your TiVo (see below) You can access Netflix video from the Tivo menu.
With a TV or Blueray player. Many TVs and blueray players are now available with an internet connection with Netflix streaming built in.

VUDU is giving Netflix a run for it's money. Set top Box that will download movies and TV shows from the Vudo service Also built into some LG and Mitsubishi TVs. $129 to buy the box at Best Buy, Pay per movie. Movies are new releases and classics. VUDU Labs gives access to internet TV, YouTube, Picassa and Flickr etc..

TIVO is a live video DVR recorder. But it can also receive programing over the internet. (See Amazon Unbox below). Disney, CBS, and Netflix programming is also available. And now (later this year) videos from Blockbuster can be downloaded to TVIO.

Amazon Unbox: Plenty of shows for $1.99 per episode. Also movie rentals. You buy the programming online then watch it on your computer or have it sent to your Tivo.

In2Streams: Choose between any of the over 500 TV Series and 22000+ episodes!, $14.99/mo subscription (price varies). This service provides a play list that you download into VLC or WinAmp (and possibly MPC). This one could possibly work with Apple or Linux. Duplicates the Amazon Unbox programming selection, but at a low flat monthly fee. Just about every American TV show is available in full complete seasons.

Recomendations

First, bookmark the major networks in your browser. If you want to tune in live tv, especilly from around the world, then look into live-tv-center or global-itv.com. JLC's internet TV viewer is also a good choice. For premium content, my favorites are Joost and Hulu.
Many of the other services (TVu, VEOH, Vuze, etc) overlap content with joost. Miro is a good choice if you know where to find live stream and video rss feeds.
For an open standards solution, consider Zinc or Boxee
If you prefer the plug and play simplicity of a settop box, consider the Netflix Player or TIVO.


 
Copyright 2008, by Gordon Reeder