Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Cutting the Cable on Cable TV

In the beginning, there was broadcast TV. And it was free. All you had to do was use an antenna on top of your TV or roof.

You could watch all the TV you wanted for free, paid for by advertisements, of course.

When cable TV was introduced, it provided subscribers with extra content, free of advertisements (commercials).

Somewhere along the line, paid TV started to include advertisements and the idea of paying for TV without advertisements went the way of the dodo bird.

So, although most of us pay for our TV and have advertisements, too, it’s attractive to fi nd ways to eliminate both paying for TV and advertisements.

The simplest way to eliminate advertisements is through what’s called “time-shifting.” This is done through the use of a DVR (digital video recorder), which is often available through the cable company, or by using a third-party DVR — the most popular ones are from TiVo.

Time shifting allows you to record your shows and then play them back when you want to watch them. By doing so, you can quickly skip over advertisements, but you still have to pay for the cable television service.

Another way to cut out your cable TV costs is to go back to using an antenna. Analog television broadcasts ended nationwide last year. But digital television broadcasts are now readily available for free, including many High Defi nition (HD) stations.

If you put an antenna on your home, you can pick up most local television stations (ABC, CBS, NBC and the like) with what’s called over-the-air, but won’t pick up the “premium” channels offered by cable companies, such as HBO, Disney, TNT and others. You can combine over-the-air television with a DVR to drop advertisements and have commercial free television for free.

But the biggest breakthrough, in my opinion, is television over the Internet.

If you’re OK watching television on a small screen (e.g. your computer), there are quite a few free Web services that will let you watch many shows. Here are a few:

  • Hulu.com: This is a site that combines much of the content from a number of broadcasters and makes it available online for free, albeit with advertisements that can’t be skipped.
  • Abc.com: This site provides much of its primetime programming online for free, again with advertisements that can’t be skipped.
  • YouTube.com: While content uploaded for free by people like you and me is limited to 10 minutes in length, some companies are paying to have longer content made available.

Making this an even more attractive alternative, some televisions now have connections that hook up to your home Internet to access these shows directly.

There are also products such as Roku that can receive Internet video and display it on your television.

NetFlix has connected its service with many companies to allow customers to watch movies on their television without having to mail DVDs back and forth. NetFlix is available on Roku, Sony PlayStation 3, Microsoft XBOX 360 and more

The biggest type of content you can’t yet watch free is so called “premium” content. The HBOs, Starzs, A&Es and other networks of the entertainment industry just don’t (yet) make their content available online for free.

Furthermore, most content available online is prime time. Most daytime shows such as game shows, soap operas and talk shows simply haven’t found it worthwhile to make their content available.

But it’s quite possible to have a satisfying television experience without paying for cable TV. What this means is that people will be relying more and more on their Internet connection to provide not only their entertainment, but telephone and computer access.

Mark Mathias, a 30-plus year veteran of information technology and a resident of Westport, Connecticut, was named by Computerworld magazine to their inaugural list of “Premier 100 IT Leaders.” This column was originally published in the Westport News on Wednesday 20 January 2010.
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Thursday, January 7, 2010

Tech Resolutions

The start of every new year is a time when many of us make resolutions to do things differently — and presumably, better.

Well, here are mine:

Simplify: Over the course of the years, the technology in my home has continued to grow. Multiple computers, multiple printers and wireless connections, among other devices, make running a home an even more challenging task.

While the growth of technology usually means an increased need, sometimes the technology grows just for fun.

I resolve that when a new computer or device enters my home, it will replace another piece that is on its way out. By doing so, I will at least keep the number of physical devices in my home from growing.

Don’t download stuff: The Internet has made it so easy to download stuff, whether it be music, videos, software or something else. Downloading music and videos generally only takes up space.

Downloading software can cause major disruptions to your computer due to hardware or software confl icts on the “nice” end to viruses and bugs on the “not nice” end of the spectrum.

Before I download any software, I will think twice about whether I really need the software and whether it’s worth risking the loss of my computer for a few days if the software doesn’t play nice with everything else on my computer.

Backup my data: Luckily, I’m pretty good at this. I use the Mozy (www.mozy.com) service to back up my data on the Internet, but there are other similar ones such as Carbonite that essentially do the same thing.

What I like about these online backup services is that they tend to run when I’m not using my computer and they store it outside of my home. While home-based backups are much faster and cheaper, the problem is that if a fire, flood, or other disaster hits my home, both my computer and the backup will probably be destroyed. To me, the $50 per year that these services charge is worth every penny.

Get a personal mobile device: We used to call these telephones, but mobile devices are now really portable computers that have a phone function on them. While I have used PDAs and other mobile devices for business for years, I’ve avoided getting one for myself.

While I enjoy going “offline” for a while, I’m finding more and more uses for these mobile devices, such as GPS, mapping, and, yes, personal e-mail. Right now, the iPhone and Google Droid phones are my top contenders, but new versions are coming out all the time.

I do want to have one that I can use for wireless Internet access for my laptop when I travel so I don’t have to pay an additional monthly fee for wireless Internet access.

Cut telecom costs: As my technology usage has increased, so has my telecom costs. From land lines to Internet access and mobile phone plans, it seems as though my telecom costs continue to rise.

I resolve to review all of my telecom costs in order to see what I really need and what I don’t need, and then take corrective steps to ensure I’m paying the least amount for what I really need. It’s the plethora of carriers and plans that make this hard to do.

So, while all of these items will take time, each one will make my life easier and better. Let me know what your New Year’s tech resolutions are.

Mark Mathias, a 30-plus year veteran of information technology and a resident of Westport, Connecticut, was named by Computerworld magazine to their inaugural list of “Premier 100 IT Leaders.” This column was originally published in the Westport News on Wednesday 6 January 2010.
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