Cable-Free iPad TV


By Richard V. Burckhardt

Watching CBNS-TV on an iPad

Watching CBNS-TV on an iPad

I’m a cable TV company’s nightmare. I don’t watch sports, have no interest in shopping on TV, only speak English, have never watched any of the many government channels, freakin’ HATE reality shows and have no interest in televised religion.

There goes the bulk of the TV package cable TV companies have been shoving down my throat all of these years.  A review of the “expanded basic” channels offered locally revealed that I mostly watch the network affiliates and independent stations (primarily for local and network news and a handful of shows like “Modern Family” and “Big Bang Theory”), getting most of my television entertainment from online streaming.

I’m seriously on the way to cutting the cord completely. The only reason I haven’t is that I live in a condo and have yet to find an indoor antenna that will reliably pick up the local channels that I want. I have tried several antennas, but no luck. So, rather than a cord cutter, I am currently a cord trimmer. I kept the very basic cable TV package (around $14 per month) just to have reliable signals for the local stuff. I have no plans to go back unless the cable companies see the light and start offering the ability to create my own package (as in a la carte).

This got me to thinking about going completely online AND mobile. Could I create something resembling a cable TV package that was completely online and that could travel with me (unlike those cable company apps that tie you to your home router)? I decided to give it a go as I have no cable outlet in my office (everything is wireless) and wanted to be able to have some TV while I work.

I recruited my original iPad, which was just sitting around since I finally got around to moving everything to my iPad2. To make it more like a TV and to provide better sound, I picked up an iLuv ArtStation Stereo Speaker Dock by using up some air mile points that were about to expire (basically worthless for travel anymore). It even has a remote for on/off and volume.

So, what could I get to work on this mobile, cable-free TV experiment?

Movies

  • Netflix rules here. The free iPad app just needs the $7.99 per month subscription to go with it. Still not showing many of the more recent hits, but getting better.
  • Hulu Plus offers movies as well as TV programs included in the $7.99 subscription. Granted, the selection is a pale comparison to what Netflix offers, but you might find a gem or two in there.
  • Amazon Prime, does not offer an iPad app. Seems ridiculous, but, there is a way around the Flash barrier for watching the service’s offerings on the Amazon web site through a browser.  You’ll need a Flash-enabled browser like the iSwifter app. With it, you can surf to the Amazon Prime site and watch away. (Update: Since this article was posted, Amazon has released a streaming app).

Basic Cable

  • Again, Hulu Plus offers many current prime time shows that can be viewed using their app. Sadly, Hulu has been adding a zillion far eastern TV shows to their listings, making finding what you are looking for more difficult. You have to browse through a ton of shows you never heard of (nor probably ever want to). Hopefully, Hulu will address this issue and find a way to filter browsing.
  • There are some apps like the ABC Player for watching current shows, but what about live streaming of network TV? If you have a Slingbox, you could “sling” your cable or antenna programming to your iPad. If you have a home theater PC hooked up to a TV signal, you could use the free Orb Caster software to view your channels (which is what I am currently doing). If you either live or travel abroad, check out USTV Now.  Sign up for a free account and watch ABC, NBC, CBS, PBS, CW, Fox and My9 online through their mobile site at http://www.ustvnow.com/mobile . USTV Now offers additional cable channels that can be added for a fee and is also available as a private Roku channel. Note that this service WILL look at your IP address to determine if you are abroad. Chances are it won’t work for long if you try to use it in the USA.
  • Round out your basic cable-like options with the $4.99 TVU Player app which gives you access to all of the channels on the TVU Networks site (which I have often referred to as “world-wide basic cable”). Finding channels can be a bit overwhelming with this app as TVU offers a zillion channels in all languages from all over the world.  Granted, the vast majority will be of no interest, but I have found several jewels that made my “favorites” list including CBNS-TV, which is like the original Sci-Fi Channel, featuring classic TV shows like Star Trek, Space: 1999, the original Battlestar Galactica along with sci-fi movies. Others on my favorites list include Nostalgia TV, BroccoliTV (like the original MTV with 80s music videos), Nostalgia Sci-Fi and the Drive In Movie Club (about 30 favorite channels total).  The down side is that channels tend to come and go and video quality will vary from excellent to awful. But, other than the cost of the app, the channels are free.

News

  • Unfortunately, news is a weak spot. There are some news channels on TVU Networks like Sky News out of the UK, but none of the main news channels in the USA offer streaming sources that I can find, at least not official ones.  One non-official source I found is at http://www.zahistation.com/ which works well with the Skyfire app, loading the Flash video into a player for viewing. I can get my daily dose of MSNBC and CNN.
  • USTV Now, as mentioned above, offers the network affiliate news (eastern time zone) and the option to subscribe to their paid plan which includes CNN, CNBC and Fox News (DVR service is also available).

Music

  • I remember when cable TV first started offering commercial free music channels. At the time, it was pretty great, but now, as with my television, I want the ability to target my listening pleasure more to music that I like, rather than listen to someone else’s playlist. There are several iPad apps that let you do just that including Pandora, Spotify, Last.fm and the list goes on. Streaming radio apps like AOL Radio let you listen to news around the country as well.
  • And, of course, there’s always the ability to buy tunes from services like iTunes or Amazon to create playlists or even listen to from the cloud.

Guess you noticed that I left out sports? I am definitely NOT the one to advise on this as I don’t care for sports and never watch any on TV. That said, whatever events are offered on the networks are available along with some world sports on TVU Networks. You can also pick up ESPN with a paid USTV Now account.

So, let’s see, I have movies, network programming and news, old movies and TV shows and streaming music. Kind of makes me wish Apple either made a 50” iPad TV or that Apple TV worked with iPad apps.

Yes, this works for me. My own personal online, mobile “cable” TV package.

There are definitely channels that I would like to have that are missing and don’t seem available in streaming format yet, like TNT for “Falling Skies” but a subscription to this season on Amazon for $1.89 per episode takes care of that favorite show. And, I can watch it anywhere, not just on my cable TV.  If other shows are smart, we’ll see more of this option in the future.

Hopefully, more networks will catch the personal choice train and not be left behind with their ancient “cable packaging” business model.

Resistance is futile.

This is a post from The Web Optimist – SEO in The Desert.

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One comment

  1. Sadly, TVU Networks killed off their streaming offering. SopCast offers a few of the channels, but I have yet to find a decent solution for the iPad. There is a SopCast iPhone app, but, other than the channels that come with it, nothing seems to want to work (at least not for me). Since it’s not an official SopCast app, I doubt there will be any updates.

    So, if anyone comes across a good replacement for TVU, let me know. I really miss getting my sci-fi fix from CBNS on my iPad. By way of a native iPad app, that is. There is a way to run SopCast on your PC and pull it into an iPad through the Orb app, but that’s, well, a pain in the a**.
    Richard V. Burckhardt´s last blog post ..Hey, I’m Published! Practical SEO and Social Media Tips

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