Why free TV online is now better than HD cable

As part of my transition to semi-nomadic living and gadget-consolidation project, I canceled my subscription to cable TV and returned the cable box and remote.

I assumed tradeoffs in this arrangement: I would end up with an inferior TV experience, but save money. What I discovered, however, is that the overall experience is actually better. Much better.

My TV, which I've had for a couple years, is a 42-inch Sony Bravia. My laptop (and now my one and only PC) is also a Sony: A Sony Vaio AW that has an HDMI port. To watch online TV on my big-screen TV, I simply plug the laptop into the TV with HDMI (The Vaio even comes with a remote). Other cabling options are almost as good.

Finding a show is easy: Just Google it. All major shows that I'm aware of have a link to the streaming or downloadable HD version on the first results page. You can also find clips and shows on social bookmarking sites, TV sites like Hulu, and on YouTube.

The picture and sound quality is amazing. It's not quite as good as HD programming via cable, but far better quality than analog TV or even DVDs. That surprised me. But a long list of other benefits surprised me even more.

Cable TV creates a minor anxiety. If you don't record shows, you feel the need to essentially keep an appointment each week to catch updates of whatever shows you're following. If you record them using TiVo or something similar, you feel pressed to hurry up and watch recorded shows before your available storage maxes out.

When relying exclusively on shows online, however, I don't have to think about TV schedules or DVR storage space. I can watch whatever I want whenever I want, or I can just stop watching TV for any amount of time. The missed episodes are always online when I want them.

Location independence: Of course, you can always watch your regular TV shows on a laptop. But by carrying cables while traveling, you can plug in to whatever big-screen TV is available. That laptop becomes a portable cable box. Time savings: Many shows, such as Saturday Night Live, TV news programs, the Colbert Report and others tend to be a mixed bag containing a lot of time-wasting junk, but also nuggets of entertainment gold.

We have been acclimated over the years to suffer through entire shows, essentially fishing for something funny or interesting. But TV is presented online often in the form of individual clips. One of the best sites is Hulu, which offers shows both in full format and in clip form. The clips are sortable by "Popular Clips" and "Featured Videos." The site does a great job of separating the junk from the gold. You can watch only the good bits and save a lot of time.

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