I’ve said this numerous times, but I’ll say it again – I’m a TV junkie. Reality TV, medical dramas, regular dramas, comedies, movies, cooking shows, you name it, I watch it. For the past several years, I’ve enjoyed these shows from my DirecTV satellite DVR on a huge 65″ RPTV. But one month ago I sold the TV and had DirecTV put a hold on my service for a few months. Did I suddenly decide that TV was rotting my brain and make the choice to disconnect for awhile? Ummmm, no 😉 On the contrary, I’m doing a complete remodel of my basement and had to clear everything out in anticipation for the work. At first I didn’t know how I would survive without my shows, but it didn’t take me long to figure out an alternative – one that is working out way better than I expected.
While many houses have multiple TVs, we’ve only ever had the one set at my house. No TV in the kitchen or bedroom. Just the big Mitsubishi in the basement living room. To give you an idea of just how much TV we watch, here’s a list of our must see shows for the week:
Big Bang Theory, How I met your Mother, Good Wife, Amazing Race, Survivor, Mercy, Grey’s Anatomy, Private Practice, Biggest Loser, American Idol, Ghost Hunters, Ghost Hunters International, Lost, Celebrity Apprentice, Desperate Housewives, Dancing with the Stars, 20/20, Vampire Diaries, Modern Family, Happy Town, and probably a lot more that I can’t remember… Yes, that’s quite a few shows. A waste of time? Some probably think so… but it’s how I like to relax after a stressful day at work.
The first weekend after we sold the TV, I was wondering how we would be able to keep up with our favorite shows and what we’d do in the evenings. My first idea was to use my Macbook Pro sitting on the coffee table to play rented DVDs from Netflix. But then I had a much better idea… I would move my main computer, a 27″ iMac upstairs and would use the MBP as my main computer in the interim. 65″ to 27″ is a big step down, but it’s not nearly as bad as 15″.
The iMac’s display would work perfectly as a TV, but how to get content would be the next hurdle. First I tried a USB TV Tuner connected to my 30 foot TV tower. I had high hopes that I would be able to pull in HDTV network broadcasts over the air from the Indianapolis stations. Unfortunately, that idea fell through. The only station that would come in halfway decently was a CW station and it would pause every 15-20 seconds.
My next idea was to use Hulu. I had played around with Hulu a couple years ago and found it to be fun, but I thought it was mainly for watching older shows and not a way to view the latest and greatest. Boy was I wrong!
If you’ve never heard of Hulu before (do you live under a rock?), it’s a web based video streaming site that has TV shows and Movies that can be watched for free.
When you look up the title of a show, you will see the different episodes that are available to watch.
I figured we could use it to at least watch some old classic shows. But then I discovered that if you create an account, you can subscribe to shows and have the site send you an email when a new episode becomes available. I then did a quick search and it turned out that about 75% of my current favorite shows were available on the site. Jackpot!
Unfortunately Hulu doesn’t have all the major network shows we watch though. It seems like they carry most, if not all ABC shows, but no Fox shows and they only offer links to shows on CBS that then stream from CBS’s website.
You also need to know that you won’t be able to watch the shows live or even the same day. They usually turn up on Hulu within 12hrs or so though.
When you find what you want to watch on Hulu, clicking on the thumbnail will start streaming the show. There’s an even an icon to make it full screen.
Clicking icons and playback controls is the first semi-annoyance I ran into. Using the GlideTV wireless remote helped a lot, but even with the cursor enlarged to the maximum size, it is still hard to click the tiny Play/Pause controls using Hulu’s built in web player when you’re sitting 8-10 feet awhile from the display. I didn’t complain too much though as I was super happy to have a way to watch my favorite TV shows. I actually used this method for 2-3 weeks until I found an even better method…
Plex is a wonderful media center application that will allow you to play video, music and display images. It also has an app store with free add-ons for viewing internet content from Hulu, Netflix, MTV, HGTV and lots more.
It takes full advantage of Apple’s $19 Remote, which I had ordered months ago but had never even opened the packaging. Using this remote with Plex is infinitely more user friendly than using the GlideTV with Hulu’s web interface because the text is large and you are not required to move a cursor around the screen.
The first thing I did was install the Hulu app, which takes almost no time to do. Then you plugin your Hulu user name and password and you’re all set to watch the shows in your queue.
It even shows a large thumbnail for each show as you scroll though your queue list and also displays the length of time for each episode.
Of course it also offers full screen mode.
Pausing and Playing is super easy with the Apple remote and allows you to easily see how far along you are in the program. There are a few caveats though. You can’t (as far as I can tell) skip forwards or backwards in a show. Resuming playback if you exit out of the app and come back in doesn’t work even though it asks if you would like to resume. Also watching Hulu shows through Plex doesn’t mark those shows as watched, which is kind of a bummer. These small annoyances are easy to live with when you don’t really have an alternative though 😉
I have been very happy with the performance of Plex and Hulu. Overall picture and audio quality have been very good… although I do have the volume on the iMac set to maximum. I expected playback (via WiFi) to suffer from start and stop problems like I sometimes see when I watch YouTube videos. Luckily, this has been a very rare occurrence. It might happen a couple of times a week if that. We’ve even been watching a show streaming via WiFi while surfing on two other computers via WiFi at the same time and have not had any issues. That’s pretty impressive if you ask me considering that my T1 line is only 1.500Mbps up/down.
I would have no problems saying good bye to DirecTV for good, if Hulu or some other service had live network streaming. But I really miss being able to watch shows like Survivor and American Idol live. Watching delayed broadcasts of reality shows can be a pain because I don’t want to accidentally hear who was voted off before I see the show
Anyone else ditch cable or satellite service for Hulu?