Though rarely acknowledged, one of the realities of cutting the pay-TV cord is that piracy can easily fill content gaps. Can't find your favorite show or that movie you've been wanting to see on a legitimate service such as Netflix, HBO Now, or Hulu? There's probably a bootleg stream somewhere, or a torrent you can latch onto.

I tend to avoid such methods, due to issues of safety, morality, and convenience. Visiting torrent sites never feels particularly safe, and it requires some advance planning. New sources of peer-to-peer streaming--such as Popcorn Time--are better, but they won't render you lawsuit-proof without a VPN service. And for me, paying a VPN provider to enjoy someone else's content is an ethical boundary I'd rather not cross.

All of which brings me to TVMC, a free program for Windows, Mac, and Android that makes video piracy uncomfortably easy. TVMC is a customized version of an existing program called Kodi, pre-loaded with all the add-ons you'll need to find whatever movie or TV show you might want. And it does so without exposing you to malware, unsavory ads, or the same level of legal risks that peer-to-peer file sharing will.

Kodi, demystified

While Kodi (formerly known as XMBC) is already beloved by tech-savvy cord-cutters for its power and flexibility, using it for streaming video can be a pain. Finding good sources involves wading through dozens of add-ons, the best of which might reside in repositories that you must download from outside the main software.

TVMC does all of that legwork for you, coming pre-configured with several popular add-ons. After a quick installation, all it takes is a few minutes of mindless clicking to discover troves of movies and shows, all streaming for free with no advertisements.

Here's just one example: From the home screen, clicking on "Genesis" in the video section takes you to a menu for movies or TV shows. From here, you can click "Latest Movies," which brings up a list of new releases. Some of these films, such as Kingsman: The Secret Service and Focus, are--at the time of this writing--legally available for purchase only; you can't rent them and you certainly can't stream them for free. But with TVMC, clicking on either film brings up dozens of sources, all streaming for free and in high definition.

Where does this stuff come from? It depends on the add-on you're using; but for the most part, TVMC sources its content from a vast network of legally dubious streaming websites. Visit these sites directly and'll discover that they're a hotbed for scummy ads, obnoxious pop-ups, and malware attempts. The magic of TVMC is that it bypasses all the cruft and shows you only the video, so the actual source doesn't even matter.

TVMC also claims that its system is legally safer than peer-to-peer streaming sites such as Popcorn Time. Copyright-enforcement groups are known to monitor peer-to-peer activity, occasionally sending legal threats and extracting settlements from offenders. That's not likely to be an issue if you're streaming directly from a website instead of helping seed a network of illicit content.

Still for (unscrupulous) geeks

If there's any consolation for the movie and TV industry here, it's that TVMC still isn't as user-friendly as modern streaming services such as Netflix, Amazon Prime, and HBO Now. From the start, it's not clear what each add-on accomplishes, so you'll spend a lot of time bouncing around and feeling things out.

Even after you get a handle on the software, finding what you want can involve wading through level after level of menus, some of which can take a long time to populate if servers are responding slowly. It's sort of joyless in its utilitarianism, with none of the rich artwork or smart suggestions that legal services provide.

That's assuming you can access the software at all. At present, TVMC is available only for the Windows, Mac, and Android operating systems. That limits its living-room appeal to folks with home-theater PC setups. The average Roku or Apple TV user might never know of TVMC's existence. If you believe piracy is best kept as quiet as possible--even when it's incredibly easy--maybe that's for the best.