Despite all the big tech news this week J.D. takes a few minutes to help El Kaiser work up the courage to cut the cable, um, cable. In the news Microsoft buys Nokia’s phone handset division; CBS and Time Warner finally make up; Big announcements at the IFA Berlin show; Google acquires a smartwatch maker; U.S. retailer Target gets into the streaming video game; another government agency trips through U.S. phone records; and Skype celebrates its 10th birthday.
Even though the month-long hissyfit between CBS and Time Warner Cable finally ended this week, the notion that you can still watch your favorite shows without spending a huge chunk of money lives on. If you’re one of the viewers out there thinking of downsizing your monthly bills, here are a few options to consider for cheaper television:
- Antennas. A good old-fashioned antenna won’t help for premium cable channels, but could yank down digital broadcast signal from the regular TV networks if you live within range and do not have any major obstructions. (Time Warner Cable was even offering a limited amount of free antennas at one point, with $20 coupons to pick up one at your local Best Buy instead; Radio Shack does some bang-up antenna business in some parts of the country too.) Next time you’re at the newsstand, check out the October issue of Consumer Reports magazine, which tests some digital antenna options priced between $10 and $80. Antennas in big cities can be hit or miss, but the magazine reported that testers got anywhere from no channels to more than 40 over the air. Consumer Reports also pointed out that even without a cable company-network dispute, an antenna could come in handy in other situations like ditching a set-top box for that bedroom TV you only use to watch network shows anyway, or as a backup if the cable service goes out. (Just remember that all TV signals are digital now after the switchover from analog a few years back, so your television set needs to either be digital or have a converter box attached to get the broadcasts with the antenna.)
- Network Web sites and mobile apps. You may be able to watch some shows on the TV network’s own Web site or through its mobile apps. CBS, NBC, ABC, FOX and PBS all have some shows available.
- Third-party streaming TV services. Although mired in legal battles of their own and not available everywhere, services like the Aereo and FilmOn can bring local broadcast channels right to your computer, tablet, smartphone or other compatible device. Aereo, which is available in New York, Boston, Atlanta and Salt Lake City so far, starts at $8 a month and also includes 20 hours of online DVR recording so you don’t miss your stories; your first month is free. FilmOn has a variety of subscription plans with $20 a month for HD streams as a starter course and you can pick up online DVR recording as well. You can also watch local broadcast stations in standard definition for free, with ads. And don’t forget Hulu or if you’re catching up on older seasons of some shows, Netflix.
- TV Tuner cards. If your computer didn’t come with a TV tuner, you can buy internal cards for desktop PCs or external models on USB sticks for laptops. Expect to pay around $50 or more for a good one when you shop savvy around the Web. You’ll also need the software that goes with it to view shows. If you ever had a Media Center PC or other tuner-equipped desktop that’s up in the attic, maybe it’s time to go dig it out for a second life.
- Legal downloads. Many shows are available the next day from services like Amazon Instant Video and the iTunes Store. Sure, you may be paying a la carte (unless you’re an Amazon Prime member) and the show you want is available, but hey, a season pass for a couple of shows is cheaper than taking the family out to the movies in New York City. Plus, you don’t have to sit through commercials and you get to keep the show for rewatching whenever you want.
- Slingbox. The Slingbox connects to a regular TV and lets you watch live and recorded shows from that TV over the Internet on your laptop or mobile device. The Slingbox isn’t cheap — $180 or $300 —depending on the model, but even if you keep the cable around, you can watch your shows in more places than just on the TV linked to the cable company’s set-top box.
If you do decide to totally slice the coax and lose the cable bill, you can put those savings toward a really nice television set or tablet. And the next time the local cable carrier starts dropping or blocking channels due to a corporate smackdown, you won’t have to care.
Fresh off its announcement last week that it sold 10 million Galaxy S4 phones in the first month of release, Samsung is already aiming for another media moment. The company said this week that it plans an event for June 20th in London. Press invitations for its Samsung Premiere 2013 event have gone out and new Galaxy and Ativ mobile devices are expected.
Also on the other side of the Atlantic, Google Maps app has added cycling directions for six more European countries. Google first added maps for cyclists in 2010 with information for the US and Canada and expanded the feature last year to include the United Kingdom, much of Europe and Australia. Bicycles aren’t the only mode of transportation Google is dabbling with this week. The company also plans to use high-altitude blimps and balloons to build wireless networks in parts of Africa and Asia that do not have the infrastructure for more traditional methods of getting people online.
Microsoft has an updated console, the Xbox One, coming out later this year, but the new product has people talking about more than just the hardware spex. For instance, there was some confusion about whether the Xbox One will play second-hand games. After hearing a lot of swirl on the forums, a Microsoft representative did put out a statement saying used games would be allowed. (Sony had its own batch of Twitter protesters tweeting angrily this week about any attempt at enforcing digital-rights management restrictions for used games on its upcoming on PlayStation 4 console.)
Microsoft also had its share of privacy concerns and questions, due to the “always on” feature of the Internet-connected Xbox One console and its Kinect motion-sense controller. These issues involve data collection and Internet safety, and a German commissioner even went as far as to call the Xbox One a monitoring device. Among other things, Microsoft did confirm that the Xbox One system can be shut down completely. Other news outlets have also expressed concern over a patent Microsoft has filed for technology that tracks TV viewing habits through the Xbox One.
A vintage Apple I computer made in 1976 sold for much more than its original $666 asking price at an auction in Germany this past weekend. The Apple antique sold for a record $671,400 dollars to an anonymous collector.
Yahoo didn’t buy the old Apple, but it seems to be bidding on everything else. Not long after the company made the move to buy the Tumblr blogging service, All Things D and other sites are reporting that Yahoo is possibly buying the Hulu video-streaming service. Hulu had revenues of about $695 million in 2012, so it could bring in some cash and help pay off that big Tumbler bill.
More new things are on the way. Mozilla is joining up with Chinese manufacturer Foxconn for a press event next week. The two have an announcement set for June 3 with speculation that a handset or tablet running the new HTML 5-powered Firefox OS could be in the making. Opera Software has released a beta version 15 of its Opera browser for Windows and Mac systems. The test version is officially known as Opera Next 15 and has been overhauled to run on Google’s Chromium engine for faster performance. (Opera has been working on its browser for 17 years, so it’s seven years older than WordPress blogging software, which celebrates its 10th birthday this week.)
Deustsche Bahn, Germany’s national railway company, said it plans to test small airborne surveillance drones with infrared cameras to photograph and hopefully prosecute people spraying graffiti on its rail depots. Yeah, can’t really see that sort of thing working here in New York City unless there was a Starfleet-size armada of drones — and then half of them would still show up for sale on eBay.
Roving correspondent Jocelyn Gonzales talks to ﬁlmmaker and author Anthony Artis about shooting movies on your smartphone and J.D. has a roundup of apps that will help you finish those home improvement projects. Also on the show, Pedro sets his phasers on stun and takes aim at the new Star Trek movie. In the news, Samsung prepares to unveil new Android and Windows phones; Google plans to use blimps and balloons to build wireless networks; Microsoft feeling heat over privacy concerns with their new XBox console; Yahoo continues their shopping spree; and a German railroad company plans to use drones to prevent vandalism.