Apple has now partnered with Fox, CBS, NBC and The Walt Disney Co. and many others to offer 99-cent TV episode rentals through iTunes. Episodes will be available for rental within 24 hours after their initial airing and expire after 48 hours.
With so much television content now available online, and hardware like the iTV (formerly Apple TV), Roku box, Xbox 360, PS3 and GoogleTV on the horizon, it begs the now age-old question: Is it time to dump your cable provider and just watch all your TV content online?
Right now if you want a cable package that includes regular network television, specialty channels such as HBO and Showtime, plus any specialized sports content, you are probably looking at a cable bill somewhere around $80-$150. But along with that hefty bill come a lot of channels, shows and other TV-based junk you simply don't want.
I have found that I spend far less time flipping through channels than I used to. I can find most of what I want to watch online, and if I want to see something on a bigger screen it's relatively simple to hook my laptop up to the television.
But tech-minded people have been able to put together their own television alternatives for some time. For most users, however, the technological hurdles to go cable-free are still off-putting. Could an easy-to-use solution like the iTV change all that?
Powered by iOS4--the same operating system that runs the iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch--the iTV is a simple set-top box able to run third-party iOS applications.
That means iTV has access to many content-based applications you can get on your iPhone or iPad right now. The new iTV can stream Netflix or download movies from iTunes. Television shows are available on HuluPlus or iTunes rentals. Even baseball fans (which I am a huge one) are covered with the MLB atBat application and a subscription to MLB.TV.
The biggest question, however, is how well iTV apps perform on your living room screen. Rentals from iTunes arent a problem since they are already designed with television displays in mind.
HuluPlus is offered by Hulu. It is just the same as Hulu but you get access to even more programming. With Hulu you usually get the latest 5 episodes of a particular show. With HuluPlus you get access to every show of every season. From my experience HuluPlus isnt worth shelling out the $9.99 just yet. It still lacks the amount of shows that justifies the pricetag. But it will get there soon enough.
Lets face it. Google is the search king. Enough said about that. Now, how many of you hate your cable or satellite providers tv guide? I am raising my hand here. Now combine Google search with your tv. You will be able to search for your favorite show, actor/actress, team etc. like you search for directions to that fancy new steak house downtown. I like that idea.
But that isnt it. GoogleTV has a built in web browser, Imagine watching a tv show and it reminds you of the funniest YouTube video you have ever seen. You can simply pull up the browser and go to YouTube and play that video all while the show is still being shown in picture in the corner. Awesome. It even has a customizable homescreen that lets you put your favorite shows on it so that every time you turn it on, your shows pop up and notifies you if there are any new episodes.
GoogleTV will be built in to some televisions and also come in a set-top box form. I personally cannot wait for this.
The specialty and Live TV issue
As far as content goes, the biggest missing pieces of the puzzle are live television events and specialty channels such as HBO and Showtime. For the most part, live TV online is improving. Newsworthy events such as the 2008 Presidential debates and President Obamas Inaguration were available online. The NFL has dabbled in live event viewing online with Sunday Night Football, and viewers outside of North America can buy streaming packages for regular season games as well as the Superbowl. Many other sports are also starting to offer paid online packages or even free streaming, but their availability within North America varies.
Channels such as HBO and Showtime, however, are very reluctant to offer a lot of content online compared with their network television counterparts. You can easily purchase the latest episode of Mad Men from iTunes, for example, but recent seasons of Dexter, True Blood and Weeds are usually available for purchase on iTunes after their DVD release dates.
So, if you're dependent on live sports or other specialty content (as I am), you may not be able to jettison your cable provider just yet. But if iTV and 99-cent TV show rentals, Google TV, HuluPlus and Netflix are your thing then there are probably a ton of you out there that are ready to set yourself and your wallet free.