Need more proof that the world is changing? Earlier this month, the president of the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, Michael Powell, told the U.S. Senate that “the largest subscription video provider in the country today is Netflix.”
If you haven't paid attention to the entertainment landscape for the past few years, Netflix is an online streaming video service. You pay $8 a month and can watch all the TV shows and movies you want on your computer, mobile gadgets or TV.
It was the first, and not the last, serious challenge to the cable companies' dominance. Even if cable companies won't admit it, they're working hard to stay relevant against growing competition from Netflix, Amazon, Google Play, Hulu, iTunes, YouTube and many other online video services.
Millions of consumers already have been lured away from cable with promises of lower prices and the freedom to watch what they want, when they want. I know because I'm one of them.
Of course, like any big change to new technology, there are challenges to overcome. Here are five things I've discovered that will help make your transition easier — or might persuade you to wait a bit longer to make the jump.
Know what's available
Watching what you want, when you want is like a dream come true. Once you try it, you'll never want to go back to scheduled programming.
Many will be available only on a paid-subscription service such as Netflix, Amazon or Hulu Plus, which generally costs $7 to $8 a month. Not every service carries every show, so you could be forced to sign up for multiple services.
Due to licensing restrictions, some shows are available only as paid digital downloads on iTunes, Google Play and Amazon. These can cost $1 to $2 per episode, and they might not be available the same time the episodes air. Buying a full season of a show can set you back $20-$50, just like a regular DVD box set.
You can see how this starts to add up quickly. If you don't plan ahead, you might find yourself paying as much as cable to keep up with everything.
You could visit the major streaming sites and look through their catalogs to find out what shows and movies they have. Or you can visit a site like Can I Stream It? It will tell you which online providers have the shows you want to watch.
Don't miss live TV
While on-demand viewing is nice, some people still want the option to watch live TV. It's great for news and sports, two things streaming video services still don't have available.
Luckily, you don't need a cable subscription to watch either one. You can pick up broadcast TV in full HD with an antenna.
No, I'm not talking about the metal eyesores that used to perch on your roof. Modern HD antennas can be sleek, stylish and mounted indoors.
I sell one that costs less than what most people pay for a month of cable. It's slim enough to hide behind a painting and will give you 20 or more local and network channels.
Major networks also are starting to stream live TV online. ABC is doing a test in New York and Philadelphia right now. ESPN and Disney already offer WatchESPN and Watch Disney.
For now, these services require you to log in with proof of a cable or satellite account, but that could change in the future.
Watch in comfort
When streaming online video first appeared, your only real option was watching it on a computer. That was fine for early adopters, but regular consumers wanted the full living-room experience.
Thanks to smart TVs and streaming video boxes, that's no longer a problem. Inexpensive gadgets like Roku, Boxee and Apple TV, or any modern video game system, will stream video from all the popular services right to your TV. If you're buying a new TV, you can find smart TVs with online streaming built right in.
Visit www.komando.com/tips/index.aspx?id=13762 to learn more about buying smart TVs and streaming gadgets.
A less expensive option, if you already have the hardware, is to connect your computer right to your TV. Many newer computers have HDMI or DVI outputs that will connect to most new TVs.
Not only can it stream video, you can turn the computer into a digital video recorder for recording live broadcasts. Or use it to browse the web, display your pictures or anything else you can use a computer to do.
The computer doesn't have to be a high-end monstrosity either. Personally, I use a Mac mini.
Watch on the go
Streaming video isn't just for TVs and computers. Maybe you want to watch video on the go with a tablet or smartphone. Because online services are web-based, it's no problem as long as you have a decent Internet connection.
Certain services work best with certain types of mobile gadgets.
For example, Amazon will stream video to almost any tablet, but it works best with Amazon's own Kindle Fire. However, it doesn't have a smartphone app, while Netflix does.
If you already have a mobile gadget, or are planning to purchase new ones, make sure they play nice with the services you use.
Mix and match
There's no rule that says you have to choose just one of the options listed. You can stick with cable for now and gradually explore free streaming video services.
Ease your way into it and find out what works and doesn't work for you. Take advantage of the free trials that the major streaming services offer.
Don't forget that cable companies want to keep you as a customer. They're upgrading their services and trying new promotions to make their offerings more attractive.
You can leverage this into discounts and savings. For example, you often can get customer service to drop the monthly rental fee for your cable modem.
Kim Komando hosts the nation's largest talk radio show about consumer electronics, computers and the Internet. Hear it locally at 94.3 WSC News Radio noon-3 p.m. Sundays. For more information, go to www.komando.com.
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