Cord cutters got some bad news Wednesday, when the Supreme Court ruled that Aereo, a service that delivered broadcast channels to web-connected devices, was violating copyright law. The decision eliminates a cheap TV solution for those who don’t care to spend $80 a month for a package of channels they don’t want or need.
Aereo co-founder and CEO Chet Kanojia said yesterday that the service “will continue to fight for our consumers” following the decision, but previously said the startup had “no plan B” for losing in the Supreme Court. Aereo could turn to negotiating deals with broadcast networks, or lobbying Congress to pass laws that would legalize its business model, but may never operate the same way again.
Fortunately for Aereo users, there are a number of great alternatives. While broadcast and cable TV stays locked up in bundles, a new generation of content providers are bypassing the cable system and creating content for set-top boxes, consoles and smart TVs.
The Best Aereo Alternatives
The No. 1 Aereo alternative might just be FilmOn, which once called itself Aereokiller. It provides local over-the-air channels through a web browser, as well as on iOS/Android and Roku devices. FilmOn charges for HD and DVR services, and requires free users to view advertisements before they can watch. Some broadcast channels are blocked, which some users report being able to overcome by lying to the app about their location.
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Unfortunately, many expect FilmOn to be affected by the Supreme Court ruling against Aereo, meaning the service may soon go extinct. If it does, there are still a number of ways to get your TV fix without a cable subscription.
Prepare To Invest In Hardware
If you have a HD TV, chances are your set has a digital tuner built-in. Connect it to a digital HD antenna for free over-the-air signals, which only requires you to attach the coaxial cable to your TV. You may need to place the antenna near a window, or outside your home for best reception, and add a signal amplifier to the mix, if necessary. A moderately priced antenna ranges in price from $40 to $70. You can find out which stations broadcast in your area, and what antennas might be a good geographical fit at AntennaWeb.
Sports fans, however, may be disappointed by the absence of some of their favorite teams, as contracts increasingly move to cable channels.
If you seek the on-the-go portability of Aereo – which allows users to watch in web browser as well as on their mobile devices – a Slingbox may be in order. Slingbox made their name by allowing cable customers to view their channels while away from home, but by connecting an HD antenna to a Slingbox, it is possible to watch your local broadcast channels on the go. However, since the latest Slingbox models lack a coaxial input, the easiest solution for cord cutters might be to add a converter box with HDMI output to the mix.
Those looking for DVR functionality have several options. TiVo has several models at differing price points, but requires a monthly service fee, or the purchase of a more expensive model with lifetime service. Channel Master sells a model that works well for cord cutters called the DVR+ ($249, $299 for WiFi receiver bundle). It uses over-the-air signals to gather information about broadcasts, negating the need for a subscription.
The Flood Of Streaming Apps
Hulu offers broadcast programming from ABC, NBC and Fox for free on your PC, albeit a day or more after the original airdate. Those looking to watch on other devices can sign up for Hulu Plus, which adds some cable shows for $7.99 a month, and offers streaming on Xbox, Apple TV, iPads, Roku and the PlayStation. Or, you could always connect an HDMI from your computer to your TV.
NimbleTV offers free access to some broadcast channels. Users can also pay for a block of cable and broadcast channels, which runs $29.98 per month for 20 channels, $59.98 for 40 or $84.98 for 90. Not quite cable TV prices, but not the cheapest option either.
Netflix, Inc. (NASDAQ:NFLX) is slowly transforming itself into more of a traditional TV channel than a library of film and TV shows, but has a number of popular programs, including exclusives like "House of Cards" and "Orange is the New Black." For many cord cutters, a Netflix subscription (now $8.99 per month) is an absolute necessity.
Amazon Prime Instant Video recently added a number of older HBO shows (three years or more), so if you are a Prime customer, you can finally watch "Deadwood" and see what everyone was talking about. Or "The Wire," for that matter. Prime costs $99 a year, but comes with a number of other perks, like free two-day shipping on products sold by Amazon.com Inc. (NASDAQ:AMZN). Someday, the company plans to deliver products in 30 minutes or less by drone, but current FAA regulations prohibit the practice.
Most of these services require some sort of Internet-connected hardware to be enjoyed in your home theater. Game consoles offer the ability to stream services, including the Xbox, PlayStation and WiiU. Streaming set-top boxes like the Roku, Apple TV, Fire TV or Chromecast are also popular if you're a cord cutter who is not interested in gaming.
Have other solutions? Let us know in the comments below.