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Ditch your TV: A guide for those who want to watch TV on the Internet

I have not owned a television in almost two years. Don’t get me wrong here. I’m not about to expound elitist pretenses about how television rots your brain and is the demise of my generation. I’m a true TV addict. Television is the background of my life, and often the forefront of my daily activity. But let’s get with the millenium. Television in the classic sense lacks freedom and is full of commercials.  The internet is fast and free and you’ll never find yourself saying “There’s nothing on TV.”

Benefits:

  • Complete programming freedom: anything you want, uncut and commercial free (usually)
  • High quality. You heard me.
  • Free (after the cost of high-speed internet, which you probably pay for anyway)
  • Portable (if you have a laptop)

Downsides:

  • Cable companies give you shit about not buying “bundles”
  • Less “live” programming (ie: not good for sports fanatics)
  • occasional Japanese or Turkish subtitles
  • morality debates
  • “You WON!” is very annoying at 2:00 AM
  • Your program won’t be available for 1-24 hours after the original air time (unless you live on the west coast, in which case you might be watching it an hour before your friends)
  • Pop-ups and malware

What can I watch on the internet?

Anything. Literally.  All ten seasons of SG-1? Yep. Bewitched? You betcha. Lost? Entourage? Dexter? Anything you like, someone has found and uploaded.

Is it illegal?

Some sites like Hulu are 100% legal. Networks distribute episodes and the site is paid for through advertising. Other sites, like Ninjavideo and TVshack have contributors who record shows and upload them to the site. They are then available to stream. These sites fall into a  legality gray zone, but don’t worry. You aren’t downloading anything, so you aren’t at any risk. 

What do I have to do before I start?

Nothing, really, but I do recommend a couple downloads. First, you’re going to want to download DivX (http://www.divx.com/). It’s free and many of the better sites use it. Second, you’ll want to make sure that you have anti-malware protection. Jumping from site to site streaming can open you up to some ugly malware. Malwarebytes is a good free one. (http://www.malwarebytes.org/mbam.php)

So how do I do it? Where do I go?

There are many ways to go about finding your show, so I’m going to break down the best of the best sites.

1. Hulu www.hulu.com

Hulu is the place to start. Pros: high quality, hundreds of shows, lots of modern and classic programing. Cons: commercials! you only have about two minutes of advertising per 45 minute episode, but you’re going to find that after you’ve been doing internet TV for a while, this is a lot.

2. Ninjavideo www.ninjavideo.net/tvshows

This is where you’ll find quality that rivals Hulu, but all the episodes and shows that Hulu misses. Pros: clear, crisp images; no commercials; usually three links to each episode with at least one that works.  Cons: have to download DivX (free) and open an applet; occasionally redirected to advertisement sites. This site also has a lot of the “You Win!” banner ads.

3.TVshack www.tvshack.net

Pros: easy to use, most links generally work.  Cons: only Flash videos, so quality is poorer.

4. Stagevu www.stagevu.com

Pros: beautiful, high-quality DivX streams .  Cons: mostly a movie website (big pro if you’re looking for movies), ridiculously slow streaming.

5. Project Free TV http://www.free-tv-video-online.info/

Pros: multiple links to many episodes, vast number of lesser-known shows Cons: one of the ugliest websites I’ve ever seen; many broken links, many links to trashy, poor quality sites like Youku; long lists of episodes that can be hard to navigate

6. OVGuide www.ovguide.com

Pros: very attractive site, good for learning about new websites that host TV shows  Cons: opens everything in a new window; many links are for articles and clips or for places like Amazon where you can buy the DVD; best links take you to the sites already mentioned

7. Crackle (http://crackle.com)

Pros: Fun site for original web shows; some new movies, high quality, some older shows that Hulu doesn’t have Cons: limited shows, commercials

Well, there you go. These are the sites I depend on the most, pretty much in the order I go to them.

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