News Column

Online TV accessible with gadgets, services

August 25, 2013

YellowBrix

Aug. 25--Getting into the world of online TV can be so confusing. But if you know where to look, you should be able to find whatever you want to watch. Here's some helpful info from thewrap.com and aarp.org about a few ways to join others watching your favorite shows online through your TV set.

IF YOU'RE A GAMER

You probably already have a streaming-capable device connected to your TV.

Devices like Microsoft Xbox 360 ($279.99, $349.99 or $449.99 depending on content), Sony PlayStation 3 ($399.99-$499.99) and Nintendo Wii ($249.99) video game consoles offer streaming video options and can download apps for services like Netflix and Amazon Instant Video. The apps are free, but you'll need a paid subscription to the service (e.g., Hulu Plus) and another to stream video through the console. For example, an Xbox Live subscription is required for the console to access the Internet. With Xbox and PlayStation, viewers can also buy just one episode or a whole season or more through the Xbox Video Store or the PlayStation Store -- if it's available.

IF YOU'RE NOT

If your TV is Internet-integrated or you have a set-top box with advanced computing and connectivity capabilities, you will need a service that streams the video you want, and it can cost you (see below).

Other options include Apple TV and Google's Chromecast, which can also beam videos from a phone or laptop to the TV screen. Apple's streaming video device costs $99, plus it requires a cable (not included) to connect to an HD TV. It's dedicated for use with Apple phones, tablets and computers. Google's Chromecast, $35, plugs into an HDMI port on your TV and mirrors the content you're streaming on a mobile device or laptop.

Also an option are set-top boxes like the Roku 3, one of the most popular devices to stream videos on a TV. But you have to use an online source like VideoBuzz to stream YouTube videos. It can be found online for as low as $40. There's also the WD TV Play from Western Digital for $60-90.

FOR FREE

You can watch network and cable shows for free, usually a day or more after they air, by going to the original channel's Web address like nbc.com, fox.com, cwtv.com and others. Crackle.com, also available on most devices as a free app, offers older and classic TV shows and films for free -- but like the network websites, viewers have to put up with ads.

Sports, premium channels like HBO and Showtime, and news are another matter. Channels such as CNN and ESPN and many other cable networks can be viewed online and on mobile only if you already subscribe to a certain cable provider. Sports fans have options, with leagues like Major League Baseball and the NBA offering subscription packages for online viewing of all games during the season. But be prepared to pay. MLB.tv's package, for example, is $129.99 per year.

FOR A FEE

Netflix: A subscription costs $7.99 per month to access all content. If you're a movie buff, it also has the rights to films from Lions gate and Paramount and partnerships with Disney and DreamWorks Animation, plus a library of an estimated 60,000 titles. But you get a lot of "C-grade movies," too. No commercials. Subtitles available.

Amazon Instant Video: Subscription and a la carte for about $7 per month to access Prime content. Past TV episodes and seasons are available -- including "Downton Abbey," "The Closer" and "Falling Skies" -- and it airs new episodes as they air from CBS' "Under the Dome." For anywhere from a few bucks to $20 or more, you can "rent" or purchase digital versions of non-Prime movies and other videos. No commercials.

Hulu Plus: A subscription costs $7.99 per month. Its little sister Hulu operates free with ad-support and includes many TV shows available the day after broadcast plus a fair number of theatrical films. But if you want to watch previous seasons of a show -- or Fox shows the day after they air -- you'll need Hulu Plus. It has a large number of TV shows, including originals, and films -- including more than 800 from the Criterion Collection. With commercials.

iTunes and Google Play: Both provide streaming video on a la carte basis. Individual episodes of shows cost about $2 each, or you can watch full seasons of current shows. Plus they have a huge library of older shows. Digital copies of films cost about $9.99-$19.99.

OTHER OPTIONS

Vudu is all a la carte. There are lots of movie rentals starting at 99 cents and $6 for HD. Digital copies will cost $14-$15. There are no monthly fees and lots of past TV episodes. It also includes a way to upload all of your old DVDs and store them in the digital cloud. But without a monthly subscription, you can rack up a huge credit card bill if you aren't paying attention. No commercials.

AcornTV has a la carte streaming of the best of British drama, comedies, mysteries and documentaries for $2.99 per month. There are 18 series to choose from each month, with new titles added weekly. No commercials.

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