Apple TV ($149 - $199): Similar to the Amazon Fire, the Apple TV is fantastic for dedicated Mac families, allowing them to sync programing between iPhones, iPads and laptops. Apple also has one of the better interfaces for finding and organizing content, with an app simply called “TV” that’s designed to function a lot like a DVR, keeping the latest episodes of your favorite shows in an easily accessible queue. Note: Netflix shows can be searched via the "TV" app, but they can't be added to its queue; users are simply redirected to the Netflix app.
The cost to networks of paying huge sums for sports rights get passed on to customers in the form of higher monthly bills. Broadcast channels like Fox, CBS, and NBC are also shelling out billions of dollars on sports because it’s one of the few things consumers still watch live, which helps the companies sell advertising. Those broadcasters are raising the prices they charge cable operators, leading to higher consumer bills. Congress handed that new-revenue stream—known as retransmission consent fees –to broadcast channels in the early 1990s.
To augment your free supply of live network TV, the next step is to choose your hardware for on-demand programming delivered via your Internet connection. You may already have this capability in an existing device if you own a gaming console like an Xbox 360, Sony Playstation 3 or Nintendo Wii. Or perhaps you've bought a smart TV or Blu-ray player with built-in Wi-Fi.
Hulu is more than just a place to find some streaming originals and a lot of day-after-air shows. Last year it launched a live TV service—and it quickly became the PCMag Editors' Choice in this arena. Yeah, you pay more, but for that $39.99 you get access to the entire Hulu library we discussed above, plus lots of cable channels, including many local affiliates that stream live (depending on your location).
You can use a TV antenna to watch live TV, sure, but this isn't the 1970s. You need a DVR (digital video recorder). Consider the Tivo Bolt Vox (above), a system with six tuners and 75 hours of recording on a 500GB drive for $199.99, or get 150 hours for $299.99. Four of the tuners support OTA recording. (Don't get the high-end $499.99 version—that's cable-ready only.) The companion Vox Mini box sold separately lets you expand DVR coverage to other rooms. As the "vox" implies, you utilize voice control through the remote to run the DVR. Plus, it has plenty of built-in streaming apps. TiVo has a few other OTA DVRs, as do companies like Tablo and Channel Master.
Who says you have to watch TV on an actual TV? Take your shows and go with Wave TV on the Go. Wave TV service includes a free app so you can watch some of your favorite shows on your screen of choice. Catch great shows from your computer or any compatible mobile device. With participating channels like ABC, A&E, Cartoon Network, ESPN, sports and news stations, there is something for everyone.
1 Number of available channels may vary by area. Please refer to your local channel lineup for details. An HDTV, HD cable box and HD cabling are required to view HD programming. HBO, Cinemax and related channels and service marks are the property of Home Box Office Inc., LLC. SHOWTIME is a registered trademark of Showtime Networks Inc., a CBS Company. Starz® and STARZ ENCORESM related channels and service marks are the property of Starz Entertainment, LLC. All other trademarks are the property of their respective owners.
That six-or-nine bucks a month gets you access to some of the most popular shows on TV the day after airing, including The Big Bang Theory, Mom, Elementary, Survivor, Amazing Race, even daytime shows. There are also a few thousand old TV shows streaming here, such as Cheers, all the versions of Star Trek (the rights are owned by the CBS Corporation), Brady Bunch, The Twilight Zone, and Hawaii Five-0. You can insert your own joke here about how the Tiffany Network is for your grandparents, because I already made mine above.
If you prefer to self-install and troubleshoot your own technology, Cox Communications’ website makes that possible. Its vast resource library offers educational how-to videos on setting up, using, and troubleshooting your services. If you have a problem, just select your issue in its search tool, and it’ll direct you to the right instruction manual.
Google Chromecast. The Chromecast device differs in that you plug the dongle into the HDMI port of your TV and "cast" the screen on your phone or tablet to your TV. This means that your phone acts as the remote for the Chromecast, which makes it a little more difficult to use that other dongles. Still, the overall idea of using internet television content and placing it on your television to watch on a large screen is at play.
If you're opting for streaming you have a lot more control about your choices. While a service like PlayStation Vue brings packages that are cable-like with more channels as they grow in price, Sling TV starts lower at $25, and offers more flexibility in what you can choose to add. If you only need a few channels, picking the right provider will be everything, and without contracts, you can swap services in and out as necessary. Pick up CBS All Access with its free introductory month to catch up on Star Trek, then jump over to HBO Now to binge Game of Thrones while you wait for the next season.