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How to get TV through the internet

  • New technology is freeing consumers from cable and satellite TV companies like never before
  • Instead, people can use Hulu or run their HD televisions through their PCs
  • The younger generation is starting to make the switch from cable TV

(CNN) -- Blogger Jonathan Strickland cut ties with his cable company a year ago, yet he continues to watch all his favorite TV shows. He has saved nearly $700 over the last year and, most importantly, he tasted the thrill of telling his cable provider to shove it.

"We were having poor service, channels were getting cut back and the prices were going up," said Strickland. Although cable companies often lure new customers with special rates, he said it seemed "the longer you were staying with them, the more you were getting punished."

How has Strickland pulled this off? Mostly through a combination of Netflix and Hulu, the Internet TV service he views on his laptop.

And he's had no regrets.

An onslaught of new technology is freeing people from cable or satellite TV companies like never before by allowing customers to get shows via broadband and other means.

Some people use sites like Hulu, and don't mind with waiting a couple days after the show airs on television to watch. Others figure out elaborate set ups to run their HD televisions through their PCs using applications like Windows Media Center.

It's not mainstream yet and far from a perfect alternative, but little by little a younger generation is starting to take notice and make the switch, technology experts say.

"It's a niche audience now, but it's a concern for cable companies because this is the way things are going," said Lance Ulanoff, editor-in-chief of "They're going to have to figure out the revenue model.

"Right now, there's tension between what people want and what content providers are willing to deliver."

At a recent visit to Google's Silicon Valley headquarters, comedian Conan O'Brien told the tech-savvy crowd what it already knew: The landscape is changing fast.

"I don't know what television is going to be five years from now. There's a lot of people that think you're just going to experience it through your server," said O'Brien, between taking digs at Jay Leno and Google execs.

"People don't even know how the business is going to change. There might not be network television as we know it."

The former NBC talk-show host, who is moving to cable channel TBS this fall, then added, "Wouldn't that be sweeeeet!"

Joking aside, it's something everyone, from consumers to industry executives, is keeping a close eye on.

The cable and satellite-dish giants already have their share of critics. Facebook pages "I Hate Time Warner Cable," "I Hate Comcast" and "I Hate DirecTV" have sprung up, allowing fans to vent their frustrations.

"I wonder how many more channels on my little line-up they are going to continue removing and want me to keep paying their rising rates," one person wrote.

Another said, "All the providers for TV services suck 'cause they are all trying to suck you in and then up your rates."

Yet before consumers pull the plug on cable or satellite TV, people like Strickland say they should be prepared for the change. Internet TV takes getting used to, and there is a loss of picture quality, he said. And if you want a complete home theater set-up, it's extremely hard to accomplish unless you're an electronics whiz and know how to make end-arounds.

Web TV also may not be ideal if you're a major sports fan, experts say. Most pro leagues, most notably the NFL, have exclusive contracts with networks or cable companies.

"This is the hard part about switching to an online-only consumption model," said Ulanoff of "There are no guarantees [about what content is available]."

Sites like Major League Baseball and ESPN3 have helped fill some of the void with live streams of games, but their offerings pale in comparison to the many choices on cable. Many World Cup soccer games are available on ESPN3, although some, such as the much-anticipated United States vs. England match, were not.

Blogger Sam Grobart tried going cable-less, but he found himself longing for cable TV for a completely different reason. Quite simply, he missed channel surfing.

"This isn't a post about technology," he wrote on the New York Times blog Gadgetwise. "This is a post about behavior."

Strickland, an admitted "all-around geek," understands that sentiment. Yet he says the DVR has already helped with that mentality, freeing people of the belief that they need to tune in at a specific time on a specific day of the week.

Besides the thrill of ditching his cable bill, convenience has been the other biggest benefit, he says. "I'm going to watch a show when I want to watch it."

Strickland uses Hulu and Netflix's streaming capabilities for most of his shows and movies. He watches about half of the material on his television and the other half on his laptop.

He has used a Roku box for his TV, a cost of about $100, to help stream movies. But since he bought the device, gaming consoles such as Nintendo's Wii and Microsoft's Xbox have begun offering Netflix's streaming service, making his Roku less necessary.

In the end, Strickland says he's saved at least $55 a month. Perhaps more importantly, he says he has a new level of freedom.

"I realized how much time I was spending watching television, and now I'm doing other things," he said.


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