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04.15.09

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Phaedra

DON'T TOUCH THAT MOUSE: Thanks to online streaming sites, computer users can keep up with Jack Bauer without ever leaving their desks.

Cut the Cable

It is no longer necessary to pay the cable company to see one's favorite TV shows

By Jennifer Jesperson


THESE DAYS, there are five words that every aspiring penny-pincher needs to remember: your computer is your friend. Trying to save money and finding out that those coveted episodes of Lost, American Idol, Scrubs and other pop-TV addictions are seemingly conspiring against your bank account? Believe it or not, there's a solution for dealing with the ravenous, wallet-emptying beasts commonly known as cable providers: cut that cable subscription.

While it may seem counterintuitive in our TV-addicted world, cutting the cable doesn't mean missing, well, anything that cable television has to offer. Most network television channels these days have an online component—such as ABC.com, NBC.com, Fox.com and CBS.com—where viewers can catch up on shows that are currently airing. Even MTV.com allows fans to see the latest shows and music videos.

While these sites were originally created to keep viewers up to date when their DVRs went on the blink, they are now proving useful for couch potatoes on a budget. For the most part, computers don't require any flashy software to watch episodes online; all they really need is a decent Internet connection that streams without too much trouble. And what's the cost to the viewer? Absolutely nothing. All they'll have to do is put up with commercial spots that generally last around 30 seconds and air approximately six times in an hourlong episode. It's that simple, and it's totally free.

One of the negatives to network television sites is that they only show what's currently airing on their network. Fortunately, for all those old Simpsons episodes, random movies and shows that saw their final days before the millennium, there are some great websites that also support the free-TV idea.

Hulu.com, MyEasyTV.com, Veoh.com and FreeTVOnline.com are just a few of the options bounding around on the net. Also, for music videos, funny commercials, live performance videos and many foreign films—which can be played because they aren't bound by American copyright laws—YouTube is the place to go.

Another option for catching up on shows or movies without shelling out the dough is to download them through torrent sites, which allow for P2P file-sharing. To download with from a torrent site, first you need a torrent client—or open-source file-sharing client—like BitTorrent, which may seem confusing at first but is surprisingly easy to use once you get the hang of it.

From there, head to torrent websites like Torrent-Finder.com, Mininova.org, ThePirateBay.com or Isohunt.com (there are hundreds of torrent sites out there, these are just a few of the more well-known ones), type in what you're looking for, hit the download button and let your torrent client do the work. An hourlong episode of a show like Grey's Anatomy can download in two hours or less depending upon your computer and connection. Once the download is complete, all that's needed is a standard player like Windows Media Player, VLC, Real Player or Quicktime (most players are free to download, too) to watch the show.

When it comes to special shows or less common finds, there are pay-for-play options like iTunes out there that are still significantly cheaper than cable. Also, cutting the cable or satellite doesn't mean throwing the TV and DVD player away. Most seasons of network shows are available on DVD, along with just about every movie ever made—so grab a subscription to your local video store or one of the mail-in options like NetFlix when itching to catch something that isn't as readily available on the net.

For everything else, park in front of the computer or get comfy on the couch with a laptop and keep up with everyone else on the latest adventures of Agent Jack Bauer. Oh yeah, and don't forget to brag to your friends about your lack of a cable bill. 

 

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