If you have a modern TV, one way to watch all of the free video on the Internet is to connect your computer directly to your TV. It might sound scary but it's not too hard.
People don't realize that many modern TVs come with a computer input. Your TV acts like a large monitor. Simply connect your computer's VGA monitor cable to your TV (If you have a laptop, you might need to buy a VGA cable):
If you want the sound to come out of your TV's speakers, you'll have to connect a second cable for audio. On my TV, there is a 1/8" stereo input just below the computer VGA input (shown above) for this purpose.
Here is a photo of my Mac Book Pro connected to my TV (audio and video cables shown):
Here, I am watching a full episode from CBS.com on my TV for free. If you use a Roku, Apple TV, or any other set-top box, you'd have to pay for this episode. If you have a Windows PC, you won't need the white adapter - just use your existing VGA monitor cable. You might need to adjust your TV's display setting to get the picture to fill the whole screen.
The audio cable is be a 1/8" stereo cable. Plug the 1/8" end into your computer's headphone or line output and the other end into your TV. But before getting this cable, make sure your TV has this input first.
If you have an older tube TV, it's a bit more complicated. You'll have to get a video adapter. Exactly what kind depends on what kind of video inputs your TV has. Check your TV's manual. You might need a VGA-to-composite adapter as shown here:
This is a neat way to use an old computer or laptop instead of buying an Apple TV or a Roku. It's even better than those units because you will have the ability to watch a lot more free content on the Internet like Hulu or the network TV sites as I have shown above!
There are some downsides. The user interface is that of a computer - it's not streamlined like a TV. You can't just surf channels by clicking a remote, however, you can come close with my free Internet Remote Control. Just go to that page on your computer and select a "channel" to watch.
A computer also takes a long time to start up compared to a TV, so you might want to keep it in suspend mode.
The other problem is how to use a mouse and keyboard all the way from your coffee table. You can get long cables for your laptop or keyboard or use wireless versions. But you might not want these big ugly things cluttering up your coffee table. Here is a cool solution though - a small Bluetooth keyboard with built-in touch pad, so you can control the computer from across the room.
This incorporates a keyboard an touch pad in one small unit so it doesn't clutter up your coffee table.
Google Chromecast finally did this right. It allows you to watch anything that is in your computer's browser on your TV... wirelessly. However, it only works with modern TVs with HDMI input (sorry, not tube TVs), and you'll need Wi-Fi. If you satisfy these two requirements, Chromecast is fantastic. You can read a full review at my blog.
If you own a newer Mac (mid 2011), you might be able to use Apple TV to stream wirelessly. OS X allows wireless "Airplay Mirroring" from your computer to your TV screen. You can read my review of Apple TV here.
Many people have discovered ways to get some free TV programming by hooking up their iPad to their TV. If you have an iPad generation one through three, you can do this using an inexpensive 30-pin to composite video cable along with a 1/8" stereo cable for audio:
This type of cable doesn't "mirror" what you see on the iPad display, but rather sends certain content from the iPad to your TV such as YouTube videos, for example. Certain apps work with it and others don't. I've heard that Netfilx works but Amazon video doesn't. The advantage of these cables is that they will connect to old tube TVs.
Unfortunately, the iPad generation four doesn't have this analog video output, so you have to buy a much more expensive HDMI cable which only connects to newer TVs (not tube TVs). This cable dongle is called a "Lightning Digital A/V Adapter" and costs $49 from the Apple Store. The advantage of this cable, however, is that it will mirror whatever is on your iPad display on your TV.
You can also get this functionality by purchasing an Apple TV, which does the same thing, but wirelessly. Not only does this mirror exactly what is on your iPad's display, but it enables you to watch other content from the Internet like Netflix and iTunes on your TV. Read my complete review of Apple TV here. It's the perfect device if you want to mirror your iPad or iPhone to your TV.
How watch broadcast TV on your computer (advanced)
You can also watch broadcast TV on your computer (and ditch your regular TV altogether). This is more tricky to do and I don't recommend it unless you're pretty techy. You'll need a video tuner card for your computer. These are in the $99 range, but require you to open up your computer install a card, install drivers, and install software. Often this software is buggy and uses up a lot of computer horsepower (don't try it if you have a really old computer). You know whether this is your cup of tea or not. Here are some examples:
After installing the card in your computer, connect your antenna to the card.
Another downside of all of this is that the user interface for computer TV software is not as elegant as your TV's. Some are downright clunky and slow to start up. I also found that the tuner card in my computer was not quite as good as the tuner in my TV, meaning that I couldn't pick up as many TV stations on my computer.
You can also turn your computer into a TiVo to record programs that you receive from your antenna when you're not around. The downside of this is that you'd have to have to leave the computer on all the time, something that you might not want to do (it does waste power).
One added bonus of installing a TV tuner card into your computer is that they usually have a composite video input, meaning that you can use it to rip VHS tapes to your computer. I did this and got rid of boxes of VHS tapes and eventually my VHS player altogether. Not only did this save room, but it made the videos easier to watch. Using my Roku, I can even stream them to my TV and watch them there.
The best of both worlds (very advanced)
The solution might be to have two antennas: one for your TV and one for your computer. When just watching TV (not recording), you would use the antenna attached to your TV, thus avoiding to have to boot up your computer. When you want to watch pre-recorded shows or make a new recording, you boot up your computer.
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