How to Watch TV on Your Laptop
With all the hoopla over Amazon's Fire TV, you may be thinking you need some sort of box or stick to take advantage of the growing number of entertainment offerings on the Internet. You don't. Your laptop will do just fine on its own. If you want a big-screen living room experience, all you have to do is hook it up to your flat-screen with an HDMI cable. Then start sampling content a la carte.
04/03/14 6:54 AM PT
The big TV news this week is about hardware, with Amazon launching its Fire TV to rival Roku, Apple TV and Chromecast. For a while, speculation was hot and heavy that Amazon would launch its own pay-TV service, but that hasn't happened... yet. That's what the real TV wars likely will be fought over, though -- how content reaches consumers.
The Supreme Court later this month will hear arguments on both sides of cord-cutter startup Aereo's business plan. Aereo lets users stream or record live television programming. Broadcasters are fighting tooth and nail to stop it. The company will live or die on the Supreme Court decision, according to its chief backer Barry Diller, chairman of IAC/InterActiveCorp.
You've probably heard the term "cord-cutting," but if you're unfamiliar with it, it refers to the abandonment of a traditional cable- or satellite-TV subscription in the home, replacing it with online, Internet pipe-fed media.
Cord-cutting generally has cost advantages at the consumer level, not least because your media can be consumed a la carte. You don't need to buy the cable provider's filler programming that you're never going to look at.
Disadvantages, though, include less comprehensive sports coverage compared to classic cable offerings, and with some free services, less immediate programming.
From live streaming to downloading, there are a number of paid or free options. You don't need a set-top box to access them, either. Your Internet-connected laptop is a perfect tool to experiment with these services.
You can watch on your small screen or hook it up to your big living room flat screen with an HDMI cable.
Here's a rundown of three of the major players and some tips on how to go about trying their services. You may decide you don't need a cable subscription -- or anyone's box or stick.
Hulu's Free Service
Hulu has a paid subscription service -- Hulu Plus -- but it also offers free, ad-supported on-demand TV and movie streaming to U.S. users. Its offerings are largely from NBC/Universal, Fox and Disney/ABC.
Content is hosted directly in a Web browser. Delivery of TV-show episodes can be delayed by eight days.
Step 1: Open a web browser on a laptop and enter "Hulu.com" in the address bar.
Step 2: Browse the site for content.
Step 3: Add content to a queue by hovering your mouse over a show tile. Create a free account on the resulting popup. An account also allows you to add favorites.
Amazon Instant Video - Paid
With Amazon Instant Video, you can stream or download -- rent or own -- TV shows and movies. Rentals start at US$2.99 for a 24-hour window.
If you're an Amazon Prime member, you can access tens of thousands of titles at no extra cost.
Streaming requires an active Internet connection. Downloaded content is available for viewing when you're offline. However, geo-restrictions are in place, so you can't download content and then watch it outside of the U.S.
Amazon content includes movies and many of the latest TV shows, often at $2.99 an episode. Entire recent seasons can be purchased in HD, typically at a cost of $22.99.
Step 1: Open a Web browser on a laptop and enter "Amazon.com" in the address bar.
Step 2: Click on the Shop By Department dropdown and choose Amazon Instant Video Store.
Step 3: Choose the TV -- Latest Episodes link, and then the Sort By: Release Date dropdown to browse the most recent TV episodes. Yesterday's will appear first.
Step 4: Buy the episode or entire season using the buttons on the right side of the screen. Amazon will prompt you to create an account if you haven't already.
Aereo - Paid, With a Free Month Trial
Aereo is a service that maintains a micro-antenna dedicated to you at its location. It then squirts common over-the-air broadcast programming at you via the Internet. A cloud-based DVR service is included. Twenty-hours of DVR space is available for $8 a month.
Aereo currently is established in 13 cities and operational in 11, including New York, Boston, Atlanta, Houston and Dallas. Diller promises to bring it to every major city of the Supreme Court ruling goes in the company's favor.
Step 1: Open a Web browser on a laptop and enter Aereo.com in the address bar.
Step 2: Click on the Coverage Area tab.
Step 3: Enter your ZIP code to check availability. If Aereo is available in your area, you will be prompted to start a free month's trial.
There's no Aereo hardware to install, and common PC browsers are supported natively.