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Making Sense of Streaming Media Options

I can watch Hulu Plus and Netflix content on my Xbox 360--do I still need to pay for traditional cable TV service?

Hulu Plus debuted yesterday on the Xbox 360, and HBO launched its HBO Go app for iPhone and iPad. It is quickly getting to the point where anything you can watch on traditional cable or satellite TV can also be watched via streaming from the Internet, but for now the options can be a bit confusing and intimidating.

Between services like NetFlix and Hulu Plus, and the lineup of streaming content from channel-specific sites and apps like ABC, CBS, and HBO, it seems like you can get virtually all of your visual entertainment streamed over the Internet, and just abandon traditional cable and satellite TV. But, choose carefully because no single streaming media option has it all.

I currently have AT&T Uverse for my home television entertainment. I pay some astronomical amount of money (like nearly $120 per month) for the ultimate package Uverse has to offer--the U450. For my $120 I get about 370 channels to choose from, including 50 or so premium channels. Granted, many of those 370 channels are just HD duplicates of standard definition channels, and most of the premium channel options are just variations of HBO, Cinemax, Showtime, and Starz.

When it comes down to it, it's probably really less than 300 unique channels. But, do you know how many channels I actually use on a monthly basis? I don't know for sure, but I would guess that it's less than 10.

I could save myself a ton of money by ditching cable and just using streaming options, right? Well, yes--except that I first have to figure out which streaming services I need in order to see the shows and movies I want, and some of the shows I like may not be available at all which might make me regret giving up my old-fashioned cable TV.

Netflix seems to be everywhere, and has established itself as the de facto leader of streaming media. You can watch Netflix content on virtually anything from set-top units like Apple TV, to Internet-enabled TVs, to mobile devices like an iPhone or iPad, to gaming consoles like the Xbox 360 or Nintendo Wii.

Netflix service starts at only $7.99 per month, and provides access to a massive library of movie and TV show content. But, Netflix doesn't offer content from the current season, and it has been shunned by some networks with original content like HBO and Showtime.

Enter Hulu Plus. Where Netflix is the king of streaming movies and legacy TV series, Hulu Plus fills the void for current TV content. With Hulu Plus, I can still watch my favorite shows like The Office. The catch is that I can't watch it until the day after it airs on TV, though.

I have an issue with the fact that I have to pay a subscription fee, and yet still have to watch commericials. On the other hand, "commercial free" pay channels like HBO and Showtime actually show more commercials it seems--they're just all for their own content. There is also a problem with the fact that, although Fox is supported on Hulu Plus, American Idol episodes are not available, and CBS doesn't play with Hulu Plus at all so no Big Bang Theory.

So, now I have $7.99 a month going to Netflix in order to watch movies, and another $7.99 going to Hulu Plus so I can watch current shows, but I still can't see American Idol, Big Bang Theory, or current original HBO content like Game of Thrones.

The HBO Go app does let me see current HBO content, but only if I am a paying subscriber to the traditional HBO network, which means I have to maintain my cable TV subscription in order to get access to the streaming HBO content. And, there is a TV.com app for iOS which does provide some CBS content--like 60 Minutes and Hawaii Five-O--but still doesn't have Big Bang Theory.

I am sure I could save a ton of money by abandoning my Uverse subscription and just using streaming media. But, with my old-fashioned cable TV I don't have to try and figure out which service or app to use to get to the movie or show I want, or miss out completely on some content. I just pick up the remote and it's all there.

Still, I could cut down to the base Uverse package and subscribe to HBO, then subscribe to both Netflix and Hulu Plus, and get access to the vast majority of what I want to watch for less than half of what I am paying now.


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