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PTJ 88: Laser Beams and TV Streams

Admit it, you aren’t prepared for the onslaught of “must see” television shows airing on Sunday nights this spring on U.S. networks. That under-powered cable company issued PVR just ain’t gonna cut it. Lucky for you J.D. has some strategies for dealing with your TV watching blues. In the news, the United States Navy announces its engineers are putting the finishing touches on a laser weapon prototype; the Supreme Court decides to skip a case against the National Security Agency over bulk phone metadata surveillance;  up to two-thirds of websites relying on OpenSSL might be susceptible to a critical security flaw; Google’s Play store deals with another embarrassing mishap; Windows XP officially bites the dust; and Battlestar Galactica may get “reimagined” again, but this time on the big screen.

 

Long Drawn Sunday Night

Spring finally seems to have arrived in the northern hemisphere and along with daffodils and gentle breezes, many popular TV shows are either returning for their new weird little cable seasons — or coming into the last leg of their network airings before summer vacation. (You know, when all the good stuff happens and maybe we slide right into a cliffhanger until October.)There’s a lot to watch, and unfortunately, a lot of it airs for the first time on Sunday nights.

Not all of the good shows are on directly opposite each other, but many of them are. To get an idea just how jam-packed Sunday nights are now getting, the cable and broadcast prime-time block includes the bloody blockbuster Game of Thrones, the first half of the final season of Mad Men, Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, The Good Wife on CBS, the new tech-startup comedy Silicon Valley, Julia Louis-Dreyfus in Veep and Gillian Anderson in the Washington-based thriller, Crisis. There’s also the fan favorite Once Upon a Time, AMC’s Revolutionary War spy drama, Turn, and if you’re into British drama on PBS, Call the Midwife and The Bletchley Circle. And on top of all this, it’s baseball season and there could be some shows you’ve never heard of that your spouse, partner or kids want to watch. As the TV critic at Time magazine tweeted a few years back, “Sunday is the night you stock up your DVR for the week. It is the Costco of television.”

beepsTV1So if you have more than a couple conflicting shows on Sunday night, you need a strategy to see them all. Having multiple DVRs on multiple TV sets is one that works for people who can afford it.

Some carriers and digital video recorder companies have units that can record six shows at once. The Roamio models in the venerable TiVo line can record four to six shows at a time and with the company’s $130 TiVo Stream device, let you take your recordings to go on an iOS device, sort of like how Slingbox lets you tap into your TV from over the Internet. If you have one of these, you’re probably covered.

But what if you have a DVR from the cable company that only lets you record two channels at once, or you don’t even have a DVR? Or you can’t afford the newer models? Then you have to get creative.

  • For starters, check your TV grid for multiple airings of shows that conflict. Cable programs often re-air late at night, so maybe you can snag the 2:00 a.m. airing instead of the problematic 10 p.m. one.
  • If your cable company offers its own DVR control app, you can use it to search the program grid for shows and then set the box to record, right from your phone or tablet.
  • If you have On Demand services build into your cable package (like those at Comcast, DirecTV or Time Warner Cable, you may be able to find a lot of the popular shows there to watch whenever it suits your schedule.
  • As we’ve mentioned before on this show, network apps and websites also let you watch episodes of your favorite shows. However, they may run a week or two behind the broadcast schedule (depending on the network) or require an existing cable subscription, like the HBO GO and Showtime Anytime apps do.
  • If you have some spare cash and want to ditch the commercials entirely, sign up for a season pass from iTunes, Amazon Instant Video or the Google Play store, although you may have to wait a day to download the episode after it airs. This option also lets you watch the show on more screens besides your TV.
  • Paid services like Hulu Plus (which is $8 a month) let you stream broadcast network shows to compatible TVs, set-top boxes or devices.

TV Guide Online has a list of shows you can buy and download and what services sell them. Oh, since this is a nerd show, if the Silicon Valley show on HBO intrigues you but you don’t get HBO, you can at least watch the first episode for free on YouTube.

One advantage to doing the download or mobile-stream approach is that maybe you can fit in a show or two during your train commute or other moment of stillness where you have the time — but are not home in front of your TV.  If Sunday is not your only night of appointment viewing, now you have to find the time to watch all the stuff leftover from Sunday. Until the next Sunday.

And thankfully, Orphan Black will be on Saturday when it returns later this month.