When we lived overseas, we barely watched television because we didn’t understand the language well enough to enjoy the effort involved. Any time we wanted to veg, we either played a game, read, or popped in a DVD.
Once we returned to the States this past March, though, we were eager to get our hands on the “new” technology that arrived since we last lived in the U.S. Yeah, so some of these options aren’t exactly new anymore — but big picture, things have changed so much so rapidly, and technology provides myriad ways to customize entertainment for each family.
Sure enough, it’s become so much easier and cheaper to enjoy movies, television, and other forms of media — to be honest, I don’t feel like there’s much of a need to have satellite or cable service any more (though I understand there are exceptions).
I’ve mentioned before, both here on Simple Mom and in my book (especially in chapter 4), that we’re not big television watchers. I have no problem with the occasional show or movie, so long as it’s intentional. It’s just that I’d rather do 20 other things with my time.
That said, we do like watching quality entertainment. Here are easy to use (read: you don’t have to be a geek), frugal ways to stream it into your home.
Netflix is the go-to source for renting DVDs without leaving your home. A monthly subscription currently costs $10 in order to rent unlimited movies that will be delivered to your mailbox, and also to instantly stream movies from an Internet access. For $8 per month, you can have the option to only stream movies from the Internet.
You don’t have quite as large a streaming movie selection as you do by receiving them in the mail. But honestly, there are plenty — more than we can watch. I love that my children can have a wide option of children’s shows without the clutter of owning DVDs, and without the issue of watching less than savory commercials.
We rented the outstanding Planet Earth series last spring, and that’s become a favorite in our home. I also love watching documentaries, and there’s a great thought-provoking selection.
We don’t live anywhere near a Redbox station, so I also personally love that we don’t have to leave the house to rent movies.
Hulu offers hundreds of television shows you can watch instantly with an Internet connection. Typically, you watch the most recent five episodes of a series, though there are times when producers allow access to an entire season’s worth, so you can play catch up.
We don’t have Hulu Plus, but with this $8 monthly service, you can watch Hulu off your computer using different devices (see more on that below). This is a nice option when you want to watch Hulu without typing up your computer.
The main problem I have with both Hulu and Netflix is that they’re US-only. I’m sure this is for copyright reasons, but these services would have been invaluable to me, when we lived overseas and were homesick for The Office.
With Amazon Video On Demand, you can both purchase and rent digital movies, and often their connection is faster than with either of the services above. Prices are reasonable, at around $1-$4 for movie rentals and typically $10-$15 for movie purchases.
4. Pandora or Last.fm
I love Internet radio. Love, love, love it. We have music on in our house all the time, and I listen to it when I work on all my writing projects. With Pandora (and Last.fm, particularly if you’re outside the U.S.), you can customize stations so that you listen only to music you like. The more you ‘thumbs up’ or ‘thumbs down’ songs, the most personalized your listening experience.
How to use them
You don’t really need any extra device save a computer for using any of the above services. If you’re not big on these forms of entertainment, watching or listening from your computer should be fine. You can even use a composite, VGA, or HDMI cord to tap your computer to your television (which ones depends on the type of TV).
We watch all sorts of things on our new Dell Inspiron All-in-One desktop. It has THX sound and a 24-inch monitor (bigger than our actual TV!), not to mention tons of storage space — 1 terabyte, in fact. This is quickly becoming our main entertainment source, since the picture and sound are so clear, and because it has 6 gigs of memory.
The biggest downside to using a computer is that it ties it up from doing other things on it.
A Roku is a little box that serves as a portal to your digital subscriptions and channels them to your television. You simply plug it in to your television’s video-in port, and use the remote to add subscriptions.
With our Roku, we can access our Netflix, Flickr, and Pandora accounts. You can also add You Tube, Facebook, Hulu Plus, Amazon Video OnDemand, and about 100 other channels. This has freed up our computers so that we can watch a show on Netflix without tying up our computers. We’ve also connected the Roku to our sound system, so our music from Pandora streams crystal clear.
3. Game Consoles
If you’ve got an Xbox, Playstation3, Wii, or some other digital gaming device, you can use the same features as a Roku directly on your console. We’re not gamers so we don’t have experience with this, but have a number of friends who take advantage of this nifty feature.
You can also use a DVR, but having one makes sense mostly if you also have cable television. And of course, you can watch any Internet-related media site when you’re on the go on a smartphone, laptop, or iPad.
One caution to streaming your entertainment from the Internet is that it might eat up your bandwidth. Depending on how much you use the Internet, your online connection may slow down when you stream several things at once.
We have a very low bandwidth where we live, and every now and then a show on Netflix has to refresh. But honestly, it’s not bad at all. For us, we don’t live and breathe entertainment enough to make this a major hassle.
The trick is to use media for good and not “evil.” Regularly keep a tight rein on why and when you watch entertainment, and do so intentionally. Make a family movie night a regular tradition, or set one night per week to watch a movie with your hubby.
These services and devices allow you to choose what’s on in your home (minimal commercials!). Do so appropriately, and you’ll have a much more personalized, enjoyable experience watching entertainment at home.
At $30 per month minimum for cable or satellite, I simply can’t justify paying that price when I can hand pick movies and television shows with a $8 monthly Netflix subscription and a one-time $80 Roku purchase.
As a side note: We are relaunching Simple Living Weekly in 2011 as Simple Living Monthly — the first revamped issue will be sent out tonight, so if you don’t receive it yet, there’s still time to sign up! There’s original content from me in each issue, links to the best posts and comments from each of the sites, Facebook and Twitter highlights, and occasional exclusive giveaways from sponsors. It’s a fun way to see more of the “behind the scenes” of SLM. January’s issue will be sent out this evening, so don’t miss it!
What’s your favorite way to stream movies, television, and other forms of media at home?