So you’re trying to figure out how to get free cable. Maybe you’re just moving out and feel like you can afford to be spending $60 a month on T.V, maybe you’re just tired of your cable company and their bad customer service or maybe you’re just looking toward the future and can foresee a time when all of our television content is provided over the internet (this is inevitable in my opinion). Whatever your reasons, you’ve ended up here.
Of course stealing cable is illegal and not the focus of this page but there is a lot of great content out there that you can access for free without any need for a cable bill so I’ll take you through some of the better ways to access it without breaking the law.
XBMC (Xbox Media Center) began its life as a hack to turn the original Xbox into a home media center for playing all your movies, music and other digital content on your television. Don’t be fooled by the name though, XBMC has grown from those humble beginnings to become the best media center software available today bar none. And the best part? It’s 100% free and supported by an enormous community of developers and enthusiasts. XBMC will allow you to access all the local and online content you need in order to finally snip that pesky cable cord once and for all.
Obviously the first thing any media center needs is to be able to play any content you have stored locally on your home network. This could be on your computer, external hard drive, network attached storage, USB drive or any other storage device. If you’ve purchased television shows/movies/music digitally or ripped them from disc for space and organizational purposes XMBC will be able to find and play it without a hitch.
Ever notice how most television networks these days allow you to watch full episodes of their shows on their website for free? XBMC plugins can pull content directly from these sites and play it back in full screen mode with quality that is virtually indistinguishable from regular television. There’s also add-ons for everything you could possibly think of and more including: Youtube, Hulu, Vimeo, Netfilx and TED Talks as well some that are “adult oriented” and some that pull content from less legitimate streaming sources (I won’t get into those ones here though).
A more in-depth look at installing, setting up and customizing XBMC will be posted in the future but in the meantime there’s tons of great resources on the subject can be found on the official forum here.
Although XBMC originally only supported the Xbox there is now a wide range of hardware that it can be installed on. This includes:
- Raspberry Pi (This is probably the cheapest option)
- Apple T.V (Needs to be Jail broken first)
- G-Box Mini HTPC
- Acer RL70 (pre-built minicomputer)
- Build it yourself HTPC (more time consuming and expensive but greater capabilities and customization). I’ll probably post a guide on building your own HTPC here on nerdszone at some point.
For more hardware options check out my Media Center PC post.
XBMC Bottom line: This is an incredibly powerful and customizable media center but it requires a fair amount of tech-savvy and patience to get set up and working.
Boxee by D-Link
Boxee is basically a beginners friendly version of XBMC modified by the people at D-Link (XBMC is open source so anyone is free to add to or change it). D-Link has created two devices running the Boxee software: Boxee TV and the Boxee Box. These devices boast many of the same features as XBMC that allow you to get free cable though they lack much of the customization and advanced options provided by a true XBMC installation. D-Link has done a good job though of making devices that are incredibly easy to set up and offers most of the core functionality you need to get free cable. After creating a Boxee account and connecting to the internet Boxee will automatically display a huge selection of shows pulled from various legal sources online. The Boxee TV comes with a tuner in case you aren’t ready to completely snip that cable and there is a $50 tuner add-on available for the Box. Additionally, the newer Boxee T.V comes with a built in digital Antenna so there’s no need to go out and buy your own, you can watch live television over the air without switching out of the Boxee interface.
As you can see from the image above, 990 shows is nothing to scoff at. The only slight annoyance is that after selecting a show you’ll be shown the full website for the television network in question and will need to click on the “full screen” button to watch the show on full screen.
Despite its limitations Boxee remains the best alternative to a true XBMC box (mainly because it’s based on XBMC itself )
If XBMC or Boxee aren’t your cup of tea there are a few other “streaming boxes” on the market and some of them are pretty good as well.
- Roku 2 XS: The Roku line of media streamers is great for getting your Netflix, Hulu and other content from online as well as for playing games such as angry birds. However it isn’t so great if you have some of your own content you would like to play from your computer or external hard drive.
- WD TV Live: Better than the Roku for playing content on your local network but not as great for streaming and installing new apps
- Apple T.V: This is a pretty good device in its own right but is a bit too restricted in its functionality and customizability by Apple to be a true cable cutter device. Installing XBMC on this device will allow you to do a bit more with it.
- Google T.V devices: Unfortunately most of the cable companies got a bit scared of Google T.V and went around blocking anyone using it from viewing their content online. It’s still not bad for Youtube and the more common apps though.
I’m sure you’ve heard that back in the day they had these things called Antennas which received television channels broadcast wirelessly over the air. Most people think these are hopelessly outdated and provide terrible quality but in fact you can receive HD quality television for free by putting up a small antenna. You have two options for an Antenna: A smaller but cheaper indoor Antenna that you can just put on top of your television or a full blown outdoor Antenna to put on the roof. The external Antenna will get you more channels but is more expensive and difficult to install. You can of course hire people to put one on the roof for you but that will set you back even further.
For an indoor Antenna I recommend the Mohu Leaf Paper-Thin Indoor HDTV Antenna:
It works pretty well and has a much nicer appearance than your old fashioned style antenna.
My outdoor Antenna of choice for those looking to get a few more channels is the RCA ANT751R Outdoor Antenna Optimized for Digital Reception:
This outdoor antenna is still fairly small and relatively easy to install but should provide you with access to more channels than an indoor model.
Although using an Antenna isn’t a good enough alternative to cable in and of itself because of the limited number of channels, combine it with a media center device and you’ll be wondering why you’ve paid for cable all these years.
Please remember when you are looking at antennas that broadcasters no longer support analogue devices so make sure you don’t purchase an old antenna that will be unable to pick up digital signals.
If you’re trying to figure out how to get free cable the best way to go is to use an Antenna for your basic local channels such as the news and weather then install a media center in order to stream all your favorite television shows from the internet straight to your T.V. Which media center you choose really depends on your budget and technical knowledge: for beginners I recommend the Boxee devices while experts should consider installing XBMC on one of the various hardware options listed above. Just make sure you have a large enough bandwidth cap on your internet plan to handle all this media streaming!