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Technology advances allow TV viewers to pick and choose what they watch

(Illustration by Cathryn Cunningham/Albuquerque Journal)

(Illustration by Cathryn Cunningham/Albuquerque Journal)

A decade ago, TV viewers’ choices were pretty much limited to the broadcast channels or cable and satellite packages.

Thanks to advances in television and Internet technology, viewers now have a dizzying array of options that allow them to pick and choose what they watch instead of paying for stations they don’t want.

Many are doing just that.

An August 2015 report by analyst firm Pacific Crest estimated that the number of U.S. households with cable had fallen 10 percent over the previous five years, as viewers chose alternative sources for their TV and movie watching.

For example, Netflix saw the number of subscribers to its online streaming services soar from 23.4 million at the beginning of 2012 to 45.4 million by the end of 2015.

And there are plenty of other subscription-based services that offer viewers a chance to watch their favorite shows or movies on their TV or computer monitor.

There are also many ways to watch for free either via the Internet or using an antenna.

It all depends on your budget and your entertainment preferences, said Chris Zamora, a salesman at Baillio’s in Albuquerque.

Choices range from Hulu to Comcast

Netflix, Hulu, YouTube Red, Amazon Prime and Sling TV are some of the services that offer different viewing options and pricing structures.

  • Netflix: offers movies, TV and original programming. Streaming costs from $8 to $12 per month depending on how many devices you want to be able to use simultaneously. Netflix still offers disc services; DVDs cost from $5 to $16 per month and Blu-Ray (high definition format discs) from $6 to $20 per month, depending on the number of discs you want.
  • Hulu: offers TV shows and movie streaming and costs $7.99 per month if you are OK with watching commercials, or $11.99 per month for commercial-free content.
  • YouTube Red: for $9.99 per month it offers commercial-free shows, new series, movies and music. Plus, you can download shows to play later on your mobile device.
  • Amazon Prime: $99 per year, offers free streaming of TV and movies as well as free two-day shipping on eligible products and access to streaming music.
  • Sling TV: a subsidiary of Dish Network launched in 2015. It costs $20 per month and gives access to multiple TV channels especially those dear to sports fans such as ESPN, ESPN 2 as well as AMC, Food Network, A&E, History, TNT, El Rey and HGTV.
  • The most popular Comcast package in Albuquerque, which includes broadband Internet connectivity and about 140 TV channels, costs $70 per month for the first two years and $103 per month after that, said Comcast Area Vice President Chris Dunkeson.
A Roku Streaming Stick that plugs into the USB slot on your TV gives viewers access to stream shows from hundreds of different sources via the Internet. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

A Roku Streaming Stick that plugs into the USB slot on your TV gives viewers access to stream shows from hundreds of different sources via the Internet. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

Plug-in devices put control in your hands

If you opt for a TV that doesn’t come with streaming apps loaded, there are several devices that will plug in to the set to access hundreds of apps, via an Internet connection.

  • Low-cost options include the Google Chromecast at $35 and the Roku Stick at $37 to $50, which plug into the set’s HDMI port and need a source of power such as your TV’s USB port. They’re small (about the size of a pack of gum), lightweight and easily transported.
  • A Sony Blu-Ray player that can play shows in 3D and provides access to streaming entertainment from multiple sources. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

    A Sony Blu-Ray player that can play shows in 3D and provides access to streaming entertainment from multiple sources. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

    Set-top boxes are a little larger and more expensive but offer faster streaming capabilities, according to digitaltrends.com. Popular set-top boxes include: the Roku models, which range from around $50 to $130; Amazon Fire TV, around $70; Apple TV, which is compatible with Apple products including iTunes, prices for the latest version range from $149 to $199. Video game consoles like XBox 360 and PlayStation 4 can also be used to stream TV and movies.

“Customers go for these because they can pay for exactly what they want,” said Jennifer Reagan, a sales assistant at RadioShack near San Mateo and Academy.

Some devices allow you to download and store movies and shows, but if you want to be able to play DVDs or Blu-ray discs you will have to buy a DVD player.

Browse the Internet for free programming

As long as you have a broadband Internet connection, there are lots of TV programs you can watch for free online on your computer.

Check out Comedy Central, TV Land, Crackle, Popcorn Flix, Shout Factory TV, HGTV and more. Not all content is free but you can usually find some.

A smart TV on display at Baillio’s in Albuquerque. The screen shows some of the streaming apps that are preloaded on the set. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

A smart TV on display at Baillio’s in Albuquerque. The screen shows some of the streaming apps that are preloaded on the set. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

‘Smart TVs’ include streaming apps

So-called “smart TVs” come pre-loaded with the most common entertainment streaming apps, which can be accessed via a wi-fi or hard-wired Internet connection. Smart TVs typically cost more than sets that don’t come with the apps. Higher priced smart TVs include a wider variety of apps, some even have full web browsers and voice-command capability.

High definition, or HD sets have screen resolution of 1920 pixels horizontally by 1080 pixels vertically. Pixels are the tiny dots that make up the image. New technologies available with sets labeled UHD or 4K give much greater picture detail, but also cost several hundred dollars more. A ConsumerReports analysis said the benefits of greater resolution are more apparent on sets with screens larger than 65 inches, measured diagonally.

Indoor antennas made by RCA, like the rabbit ear style model on the left and the flat panel digital antenna on the right. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

Indoor antennas made by RCA, like the rabbit ear style model on the left and the flat panel digital antenna on the right. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

Old-time ‘rabbit ears’ have come a long way

If you want to access over-the-air broadcast channels but don’t want to pay for cable, try an antenna.

RadioShack and Baillio’s carry the RCA brand of indoor antennas. They range from the retro set-top rabbit ears to a new style of flat panel devices that can be hung on a wall and painted. Prices range from around $20 to $60.

Mohu is another brand of antenna that comes in several models with varying capabilities at prices ranging from less than $20 to around $100.

One advantage of using an antenna, you won’t risk losing your channel if your local cable provider has a dispute with a network. However, nearby buildings, trees and adobe walls can affect reception and finding the best placement for optimum antenna reception can be a process of trial and error.

Some antennas are directional, meaning they need to be oriented toward a broadcast tower. Multidirectional antennas receive signals from all directions.

Amplified antennas can pull in a directional signal from a greater distance, but they need to be plugged into a power source.

The number of channels available via antenna has increased beyond the main broadcast networks, to include Fox, PBS, Univision, The CW and others.

The websites tvfool.com and antennaweb.org will show you which stations you will be able to access at your address. The website groundedreason.com gives information about how to receive over-the-air broadcast TV signals and explains many technical terms about how antennas function and types of signal interference.

For a guide to what’s playing on different channels, go to titantv.com and type in the name of your local cable provider and city.

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