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December 11, 2009

Tech Torture with Topher, Day 5: Back to cable TV?

Posted: 05:06 PM ET

Editor’s note: This is the latest in CNN.com’s ongoing “Tech Torture With Topher” video-blog series, in which we “torture” CNN.com staffer Topher Kohan by depriving him of a technological convenience for a week to see how he copes with it. This week, Topher is trying to watch all his beloved TV shows online instead of on his TV.

Hey all,

So today ends this week's experiment. Here are the 4 things I've learned from this one:

1. I watched less TV this week and I really liked it, so hopefully that will continue.
2. I won't give up watching TV on my cable box and DVR, but I will start to supplement it more and more with TV online.
3. Hulu is my favorite site for watching TV.
4. And the downside? I couldn't find a way - legally, that is - to watch live sports and premium channels like HBO online.

So can you watch all your broadcast TV online? Yes - if you're not a sports fan and don't care about watching a show the night it airs.

Thanks for reading and for being part of my blog. If you can take the time, leave a comment below on what you like and don't like about this week's "Tech Torture with Topher." And please suggest ideas for future "tortures" I can try.

Also, don't forget to hop over to my Twitter feed (TopherAtl) and join the conversation there.

Editor’s note: Topher Kohan is the search engine optimization (SEO) coordinator for CNN.com, a “Star Wars” aficionado, a tech dork and an all-around good guy. (No, really, he is — just ask him.)

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jason   December 11th, 2009 5:56 pm ET

I have been watching sporting events http://www.channelsurfing.net. I have no idea if it is legal, but hey...it's there and I watch it.


david c   December 11th, 2009 8:14 pm ET

we cut the cable about a year ago. other than netflix dvds 100% of our tv viewing is online. this has forced us to abandon some broadcast shows but many of the shows we like are available online. as a bi-product we watch more independent content and feature films. it seems that overall, we end up viewing material that is more artful and thought provoking than the run-o-the-mill stuff on broadcast tv.


Valkor   December 11th, 2009 9:18 pm ET

I'm not the biggest fan of sporting events, unless it's a championship game, so me personally, i am not at a loss. So watching my favorite shows online like on Hulu or other sites works better for me than owning a DVR, as I don't have to pay for the service and I can watch my shows anytime with the same features, with limited commercials. The only drawback to this method is not being able to watch original series on the premium channel, because I've gotten ridden of my premium package for basic which works just fine. I can always purchase the box set or there are methods to see these shows.


JeramieH   December 11th, 2009 9:27 pm ET

Most of my media watching is either Netflix "Watch Instantly" (streaming) or Hulu. We have a DVR but I still greatly prefer online any day of the week... but as noted above, I do not care to watch either sports or day-of content.


David W. Alexandria, VA   December 11th, 2009 10:52 pm ET

I've been planning to 'cut the cord' in the near future. I already watch the few dramatic/fiction shows I find interesting (FlashForward, V, and Stargate Universe) online so that they are on my schedule, not the network's. I watch them on the network's own websites, and, with the new PC I bought for Christmas, they stream flawlessly. With a contemporary dual or quad core system, and a few gigs of Ram, you can work on your desktop while streaming video to your HDTV, with no problem, crosstalk, hiccups, or memory loading issues. Most now come built with dual video outputs, so you dont even need to add a second video card.

In looking for more 'content' I found some gems on Hulu – in the form of TV series that were cancelled – that I never saw on television at the time, but have been of better quality than most of what they keep renewing. Notably, TotalRecall2070 (based more on PKDs Blade Runner than on his Total Recall) and Journeyman (a 2007 clone of Quantum Leap which was superior to QL in every way) were quite rewarding. From other sources, I have downloaded and am starting to watch Charlie Jade, another excellent one-season sci-fi series prematurely consigned to oblivion. If you want to see the five best episodes of ABC's martyred "Defying Gravity", you have no choice but to download them, as the meatball network axed the series before they were aired.

In the time it takes to cook dinner, you can download all episodes of Fawlty Towers, or Yes, Minister, or the BBC adaptation of Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (much better than the recent film version). In recent years, I've accumulated some 200 GB of documentaries, few of which have I had time to watch, in the thicket of live incoming television. That's all about to change.

Ironically, my biggest reluctance to cut the cable is CNN itself. Surfing through two minute clips is an annoying distraction when you want "Newsac" to drone in the background. I can get CNN/IBN to stream live for free, although the screen presentation IBN chooses is a bit clunky (pops out of full screen when you click on the desktop) and the Indian channel, though in English, is a bit garish for American tastes. However, CNN, beware: France24 streams live and free, and is an acceptable substitute for CNNi or BBCN.


Mitch R. DuPont, WA   December 12th, 2009 5:02 am ET

The Slingbox PRO HD from Sling Media lets you watch your living room television programming from almost anywhere by turning virtually any Internet-connected notebook, desktop or cell phone into a personal television. It works like a long-distance remote, providing full control of up to 2 standard-definition and 1 high-definition A/V devices, including PVRs, digital cable boxes and satellite TV receivers. For only $300, this is a great legal way to watch your local TV programming on-the-go!


JTL Valley Forge   December 12th, 2009 11:05 am ET

This week I am assembling / building a CoreDuo desktop to help fulfill new years goal to access, master, and refine content from on-line sources to enable cutting the cable soon – when my 2 college students at home graduate and Move-On (Out!)

N. American sports and some News are about the only things I require real-time, all else preffered to enjoy on my own schedule!

Thanks to all for tips and experiences revealed! Is anyone Aware of Blog Site/s that serve as good sources for - technical and implementation guidance, For – identification of (same source) content for replicating content or choosing new productions to watch , And for – reviews of various sites content ( such as David W's & others helpful submissions above). Recently I have been exploring the content lists of HuLu and a few others – finding choices and alternatives in one place would save Much time and effort.
EnJoy Your Freedoms!!


Sday   December 12th, 2009 11:31 am ET

I cut my cable in May and have been doing the online thing since then. I think it's great! Hulu is the best. Other sites will link you directly to their shows (ABC, Fox, etc.).


Scott Gallagher   December 12th, 2009 1:14 pm ET

Thank You

I'm not a sports fan and I don't care to watch a program the day it is run. Therefore, according to you, I'd be be good for web TV at this time.

So, I hook up my computer / laptop to my big screen. What about a remote to control my laptop? Is that a wireless mouse and keywords?

Are there other solutions I can buy to control my computer and TV that is more like a TV experience?


Brent in Keswick, ON   December 12th, 2009 1:21 pm ET

Come on Topher, that's all you found in one week on the net? There must be more than that that is interesting to watch? I am sure if I had a week to spend finding what is good to watch with online TV, I could have come up with more than two or three alternatives. Here's your next 'torture'... quit while your ahead, you failed this assignment dramatically.


Eric Godfrey   December 12th, 2009 3:48 pm ET

Tach Torture ideas:
Bad: Ditch your smart phone.
Worse: Ditch mobile internet and text messaging.
Worst: Ditch your cell phone all together.


cyberone   December 12th, 2009 4:32 pm ET

I feel your pain. Get a Roku box for that Netflix subscription. Hang in there. You can do it.


Patt Barrington   December 12th, 2009 8:01 pm ET

For NFL football, although not a TV display and just a little delayed the same moment, I watch the flat line look of play by play on http://sports.espn.go.com/nfl/gamecast. I've lived at my place since '95, never had cable, HDTV took one of my local channels away, and I only want news most of the time. I'm big into books – any kind – not TV.

Lived in Mexico for a year and wish I could see futball (international soccer) every now and then.

Patt Barrington, Orange, Texas


Andrew   December 12th, 2009 9:17 pm ET

You can watch some live sporting events with ESPN360


Andreas   December 12th, 2009 9:59 pm ET

If you wanna watch older TV shows, go to Fancast.com. It has the same variety than Hulu.com and more... I hope other people will share their favorite web sites too...


DonChawanano   December 13th, 2009 12:26 am ET

We cut the Cable nine months ago. NetFlix, Hulu, ITunes and over the air we have not missed anything, and saving $70 a month more than pays for broad band. Watching TV without comercials (or very short ones on Hulu) is fun.


Scott   December 13th, 2009 9:16 am ET

When we moved recently I decided not to turn on cable. We currently get 12-16 Mb/second internet speed through comcast for $23.00 a month. That's the real plus here. I'm paying very little for 12 months of internet (60 something after the deal ends) and choosing what I want to watch rather than being force fed.

Hulu and the station sites work fine. Less comercials, wide selection of stations ( remember much of the world speaks english with different stations than we have) , you watch what you want when you want it, you don't feel like you're getting 5 stations that you want and 3000 you don't want because of some cable package, and you can't beat the cost.

Cons are that it's not just flipping through channels, wish it was, but it actually takes a minute to surf around and get what you want. Some shows are not put online by the networks and premium channels have nothing. You need a computer for the living room. Remotes to control your mouse from a distance along with a cordless keyboard can get expensive.

I currently have a corded mouse and keyboard. So I sit on the floor for a minute in front of the tv. Find what I want to watch when I want to watch it. With a few mouse clicks I'm enjoying one of hundreds of thousands of videos that are waiting for me to discover. For just the cost of internet (after the initial computer set up cost).

Wasn't hard for me to decide to stop paying over a hundred dollars a month for cable I hated.


Delton   December 13th, 2009 10:16 am ET

I ran into some hard times with this economic recession and was forced to make the choice... and canceled my cable. I wasn't a BIG tv watcher to begin with... now I watch all my tv on-line. Now that I'm well into the change, I feel like I was being ripped off by my local cable provided and never realized it. Cancel your cable and deal with the transition... it's not worth the price you pay. I may be a-typcal though.... 23in monitor in my bedroom and dvi input on my HDTV in the livin room helps out. & I do lots of Netflix.


Hooman   December 13th, 2009 12:57 pm ET

I cut cable back in March and haven't looked back. I don't really use Hulu. My mac mini, Plex and torrents + netflix make for a system SO much better than cable or TiVo. I've blogged about it all at http://macminihometheater.blogspot.com .


CW   December 13th, 2009 2:14 pm ET

I prefer to watch video with the highest technical quality possible. Watching herky-jerky low definition streaming video passed off, in some cases, as high definition, is not my thing.

News is one thing, entertainment is another. If I want a total entertainment experience, watching a fuzzy image downsized on a computer screen is not the answer.


Richard   December 13th, 2009 3:20 pm ET

Our household has been cable-free for just over a year now. I work long hours and my wife's work schedule doesn't match up to mine ever, so we rarely get more than 1 or 2 hours a day together.
Watching television together isn't considered "quality family time" so we canned the cable. It helps our relationship by spending time doing things as a family. It also puts x amount of dollars back into our budget and savings. We won't go back to paying for that "service".
And if we ever do want to watch the news, weather, series or show, more than likely it is on the internet.


Darrin   December 13th, 2009 4:33 pm ET

I have to say that cable should be scared.
Cutting the cord is a mind-set. Instead of asking, "What is on tonight?" You have to ask, "What do I want to watch tonight?".
On Monday night I notice us running around to get dinner ready for the Monday line-up of How I met you Mother thru the Big Bang. Why? We have been programmed to take whatever is on right now.
Not to mention the commercials have gotten longer (sometimes you even forget what you are watching)...of course then they throw commercials at the bottom of the screen while you are trying to watch a show.
Some shows aren't available online...yet. They will be. Enough people say no, they will look for other avenues to sell you something.


Peter   December 13th, 2009 5:11 pm ET

ESPN 360 is a decent website for some live sports. I watch out of market live college football on there. I don't know if it was mentioned in the other days of the torture.


Matt   December 13th, 2009 5:55 pm ET

A very interesting experiment here, I appreciate all the comments. I've used Hulu before and liked it, but I never though of going completely on-line for TV. I may have to try my own 'tech torture' week!

I have also had a problem finding quality, free sports events on the web. as mentioned earlier, ESPN360 seems to be pretty good, but it depends on your internet service provider whether you get it for free or not, and I believe it only shows select sporting events (although in my experience the selection has been commendable).

As for future 'tech tortures', I would recommend trying no phone/cell usage outside your home or office, like a revert to the age before cell phones. When I've with a lost cell phone or lack of service, it has forced me to plan ahead and think more creatively about how I communicate.


Ronnie   December 13th, 2009 11:10 pm ET

Moderator, please pull my comment. I now understand Tropher.


Lou   December 14th, 2009 9:12 am ET

Try Sopcast.com for sports. I watch Premiere Leage soccer matches that way.


WARSTEINER   December 14th, 2009 9:18 am ET

I watch my programs useing the net purposely. I shut my cable off years ago you can buy a box so you can transfer your shows to a tv instead of a moniter. I can watch anything thats on or has been on and I can see current movies. I get all my news its great I love it.


MAOM7   December 14th, 2009 10:09 am ET

The only reason I have not given up television entirely is that I could not watch my favorite Cardinal's baseball (now only on cable these days) and Sunday/Monday Night Football. Everything else I can get elsewhere. I'd love to get rid of that massive cable bill every month...


JDT   December 14th, 2009 1:15 pm ET

Tech torture old school – go without your glasses... not sure if that fits your audience. How about tech torture go without your monitor. The idea is to put a spotlight on accessibility solutions for vision impaired users. I hear that Microsoft is currently not compliant in this area. It would be interesting to see how many of our most commonly used online tools are simply inaccessible to users with disabilities, and how many federal regulations aren't being enforced.


dw   December 14th, 2009 1:34 pm ET

I use web for TV and it is a work in progress at best. Examples: there are no standards for how each provider presents formats or functions; some service providers do not list dates with the programs so it becomes a frustrating battle to determine the correct one; it is rare to have captioning— even on films; no logic to when programs become available after network broadcast; some programs are NEVER available after network broadcast; some advertisers do not maintain your local view settings and force you to reset after their ad runs (infuriating), etc, etc.
Until such stuff is uniformly and rationally provided, web TV will remain a step-child at best.


Eric R Roberts   December 14th, 2009 2:54 pm ET

For Netflix, you can also use the XBox 360 and, last I saw, several of the newer DVD players include software to watch the "Watch Instantly" content. I use my XBox 360...

I am not a sports fan (I think I am the only male in the Chicago area who isn't hehehe), so that isn't a hindrance. Many of the shows that I do watch are on Hulu (which has superior quality over the actual networks that the shows originated on), though occasionally I do have to go to the network or to fancast. Hulu is supposedly going to go to a pay model. Good side of that is , I think, that they are going to be offering more HD content.


Eric R Roberts   December 14th, 2009 3:00 pm ET

One other thing...most of the newer graphics cards support DVI, some will also work in conjunction with the sound card and provide and HDMI port (this may be just with onboard sound and graphics). I have a 22" HD LCD and the quality is awesome. I have thought about getting rid of my 27" analog TV and just get a DVI switch for my monitor and use that, in conjunction with my computers 5.1 surround, to cable. What I would like to see is the cable companies come out with a add on card or usb/firewire device even that replaces the cable box so I can just do everything through my computer. Currently, you can only watch basic cable via a TV tuner card. Any digital, OnDemand, or pay content, you still need a cable box.


ryan   December 14th, 2009 3:14 pm ET

1 word – Antenna. I dropped cable almost 2 years ago, and use a combination of netflix/hulu, and a digital Antenna (clearstream4 from antennas direct 65 mile range) mounted in the attic. I get 16 chanels including fox, cbs, abc and PBS (live in rhode island) Also when hooked to a windows vista home premium or windows 7 machine you can use a tv tuner which will interface with media center, and give you a guide and recording capabilities much like a dvr. I will NEVER go back to cable. im saving over 1200 dollars a year now for a total investment of under $1000 with a media center pc hooked via hdmi to my lcd tv (dell studio hybrid for under 600 dollars which also acts as my primary home computer) antenna for 140, amplifier and misc. cables for around 50


Mike   December 14th, 2009 4:21 pm ET

It must be nice to be so comfortable with your income that you can blow so much money with cable TV and DVR service. Or maybe you're afraid of what your parent company (with so many cable TV stations) would say if you hadn't ended on a high note for cable TV.

The more people that believe it's not as much torture as you claim, the more you'll end up paying to keep the cable companies' profit margins so high. In other words, less customers will have to pay more to keep the share-holders happy.

I'm not opposed to paying for good entertainment, but what the cable companies do is highway (or cable-way) robbery.


Airwaves   December 14th, 2009 5:04 pm ET

We cut the cable and went over the air. The picture is clearer and we'll recoop our costs in less than a year.


ME   December 14th, 2009 5:26 pm ET

Though expensive you can order the NFL ticket for the web. ESPN 360 gives you access lots of games. NBC shows Sunday night football free. ESPN 360 is your best bet for sports.


JP   December 14th, 2009 5:43 pm ET

Best of both worlds is to hook up an xbox to your TV. Not only can you access Hulu through the xbox (via playon media service), but Netflix as well. Our family almost never watches cable any more. Those two services give us about 90% of our TV desired viewing, for a whopping 8.99 a month.


L   December 14th, 2009 8:15 pm ET

The main hassle with Hulu and others is that if I'm re running behind on a series, it might be taken off Hulu or the network's before I have a chance to see it. I have zero interest in sports, but typically watch a show not days after it airs, but weeks or months. To maintain that flexibility, I have a computer-based DVR (Sage). It records and stores what I want (broadcast or cable), and I can then watch it at my convenience, even years later, if I so choose, and easily zip past the commercials in a couple of keystrokes or remote-control clicks. I can stream from my media server to my desktop or to my main TV, can set and change recordings online, etc. If Comcast didn't throttle my upstream bandwidth, I could watch remotely as well, but that's not a priority. (On rare occasions when I travel, I can just copy the shows I want to watch onto my laptop.) I still have cable, since I haven't found a good alternative for live news. If MSNBC and CNN streamed live, I could be that much closer to cutting the cable cord.


deadbug   December 14th, 2009 8:55 pm ET

Check out http://www.ovguide.com It is an online guide for what you can watch on your computer. Everything from old to new in every category you can think of.


Ari   December 15th, 2009 3:19 am ET

Would I be able to get the email address of Topher? I have a question for him. Thank you so much.


Wes   December 15th, 2009 8:24 am ET

Hi can anyone tell me where to get good american programming on websites when one is in Europe? I am in Ireland and HULU will not work it recognises my DNS or whatever it is called and that I am in Ireland. Can't watch a thing. I'd even be willing to pay a small amount if it was good quality and legal. I have a 3 mg. broadband speed. The only American shows we have here on Sky, well a few that come to mind that I like, are Ugly Betty, CSI, Special Victims Unit, Charmed, Buffy, Angel, Desperate Housewives, I do not know if there are more recent series going on but if so can't see em over here. Please help.


Vel   December 15th, 2009 9:30 am ET

we cut our cable completely about 6 months ago. we bought rabbit ears for the tv and hooked up a laptop to it as well as the dvd player. we have 4 kids, it hurt them the most for about 4 months. and it nearly killed my husband when he couldn't watch all the Yankees games on regular tv. however, we have found that between hulu, fancast, netflix, abc, nbc, cbs, and abcfamily, and a few pbs sources watching online is so much better. we can monitor what our kids watch better. and, we don't worry as much about the content of the commercials between programs that we watch as a family. with the rabbit ears we get pbskids, regular pbs, abc, sometimes nbc, and sometimes fox. we've played more games, we've spent more time outside, we've read more stories, we've spent more time around the dinner table talking, and we've spent more time doing things as a family. it has strengthened our marriage, and our bond to our children and our children's bond to us. our 17 year old actually stays home to see what we're going to do next!


Elizabeth Moody   December 15th, 2009 10:31 am ET

I have used a tv tuner card in the past as well as watched things on hulu.. my biggest problem is that I require captions/subtitles to understand the television (i'm Deaf). This is not available on downloaded or streamed movies thru netflix and blockbuster or on just about ANYTHING available online. Even shows directly from the network are not captioned or subtitled. Some things are even illegally released on DVD without captions or subtitled(especially from Discovery). If they are REQUIRED


Elizabeth Moody   December 15th, 2009 10:32 am ET

... keyboard malfunction..
if they are REQUIRED by law to be captioned when put on the TV, WHY on earth arent they put up with it available??? It is possible. the software exists!


Blake   December 15th, 2009 12:24 pm ET

I really enjoy the high quality of the Hulu broadcasts. I also love the wide range of current TV series they offer (with the noted exception of anything from CBS. I have to go to cbs.com for those)
What I really do not enjoy was Huku's announcement a couple months ago that they will be going to a subscription model sometime next spring. When that happens I will be deleting my Hulu bookmarks and account. I use Hulu simply because the cost of cable and/or satellite is too expensive to justify. Especially since I cannot get the channels I want without getting a very expensive mix of things for which I have no interest or use.


Allison   December 15th, 2009 1:01 pm ET

If you have kids still watching Disney channel and Nickelodeon then I would think twice about giving up the cable. Downgrade to a package that still keeps what the kids watch.


Daniel   December 15th, 2009 2:43 pm ET

You want torture... take away your 'mouse' for a week...


Natas   December 15th, 2009 4:08 pm ET

Wes, have you tried going to the websites abc.com, nbc.com, cbs.com? They stream the current shows on their sites, but I don't know if they block out of country users.


Virginia   December 16th, 2009 10:14 am ET

My TV broke 2 months ago. I was going to buy the TV during Christmas sales then I found out I don't have to have TV. I don't miss it at all. So I disconnect the cable, save me lots of money. I watch news at internet. My 17 years old boy spend more time with me instead XBOX and his grade goes up.


ryan   December 16th, 2009 10:29 am ET

There is lots of over the air programming for kids. especially on the weekends, it is all cartoons after 9 am basically. Besides, kids got along fine without nikelodeon and disney for thousands of years so im sure they will turn out just fine without it, and probably even better if you took that money your saving each month on brain garbage like disney and put it in a 529 college savings plan.


Ari   December 16th, 2009 10:51 am ET

Any chance of getting Topher's email address? Thanks.


Online Video   August 1st, 2010 5:00 am ET

Hey Topher. We've done all the work for you here at
Online Video Directory. Easily find  thousands of video websites all categorized into their niches.


Infrared Camera   November 24th, 2010 6:41 pm ET

cable tvs these days are rapidly being converted into a digital service which offers more value added services ':'


Billye Cosden   June 28th, 2011 3:19 pm ET

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GESTS OF GE   October 27th, 2011 4:07 am ET

This is the DICK CHENEY we all know...TORTURING with TEA PARTY.
DICK CHENEY is going to go to JAIL this time.
OSIRIS- PETWOOD – HYDRA.
And TOPHER talks with LOGS.


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microsoft office professional 2010 product key   May 15th, 2012 12:40 pm ET

You could certainly see your expertise in the paintings you write. The world hopes for more passionate writers like you who aren't afraid to mention how they believe. At all times go after your heart.


Elizabeth Orrill   April 29th, 2013 2:48 pm ET

Since its debut, CNN has expanded its reach to a number of cable and satellite television companies, several websites, and specialized closed-circuit channels (such as CNN Airport Network). The company has 36 bureaus (10 domestic, 26 international), more than 900 affiliated local stations, and several regional and foreign-language networks around the world. The channel's success made a bona-fide mogul of founder Ted Turner and set the stage for the Time Warner conglomerate's eventual acquisition of Turner Broadcasting.,

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