Years ago, there were very few tools available to watch TV on your computer. It was only around 2010 when streaming services started making a dent in the armor of the cable TV monopoly.
These days, a host of major companies are trying to get into the internet TV game. Netflix was certainly a major market leader early on, but now there are companies like Sony, Amazon, Google, and Apple all fighting for a piece of the online entertainment pie.
Unfortunately, because it’s so competitive and because so many people are scouring the web for both streaming and live TV content, there are also lots of scams. There are sites that promise free TV or movies, but then infect your computer with a virus or malware the moment you download a file that you think is a movie. There are also sites that promise “live TV,” but actually offer nothing more than streaming content from other major video streaming sites like YouTube.
Your best option is to avoid all of that nonsense. What you’ll find below is a comprehensive list of sites and services for watching TV on your computer over the internet. Behold!
How to Watch TV on Your Computer
With so many options for watching TV online, it’s hard to know where to begin. So, the best place to start if you want to immediately dive into streaming TV content right away is with the big three that everyone knows and loves — Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon.
Netflix: Because You’ve Always Used It
There’s a reason Netflix became the king of streaming. People are lazy, essentially. Stores like Blockbuster and small video-rental places let people walk in and pay to rent DVDs. Netflix was one of the first companies to capitalize on the internet for the same purpose.
The benefit was that regardless of the weather, the consumer could rent a movie without ever leaving home. It all started with a mail-order DVD rental business, but then grew into the online streaming behemoth we know today.
You Have to Love Hulu
Then there was Hulu. For a long time, Hulu was the go-to place for people looking for free, high-quality TV content. At the free end of the site, you could find old episodes of shows that you haven’t seen in years. On the paid side of things, you could find a growing library of movies and more recent TV episodes. Hulu eventually converted its free offerings into a joint venture with Yahoo! called Yahoo View.
Today, if you want to get true TV content online, a Hulu subscription is one of the few places where you can watch the current seasons of popular TV shows.
Hulu is also the place to find recent hit movies, and even some original series. If you’re considering completely cutting cable for good, a Hulu subscription will go a long way in making sure you don’t live to regret the decision.
Pay as You Go With Amazon
Amazon is the last of the “big three”, but it’s a bit different than the previous two. While Netflix and Hulu give you full access to all of their content for a fixed monthly subscription fee, Amazon takes more of an a la carte approach to digital entertainment. A “Prime” membership is potentially the cheapest subscription of the three big video streaming services – only $99-per-year, or $10-a-month if you pay monthly.
There’s certainly plenty of free content available to stream with a Prime membership, but for the most part these are really low-ranked movies and very old TV episodes most people won’t care to watch.
That isn’t to say you can’t find some great stuff to watch within the free Prime library, but for the more recent or higher quality movies or TV shows, you’re going to have to cough up anywhere from $2.99- to $19.99-per-rental.
If you only watch a couple of movies each week, that still isn’t a whole lot of money. But if you’re a TV fanatic who loves to binge on the latest TV shows and movies every single night, Hulu or Netflix are probably better suited for you.
With that said, the world of streaming movie and television content over the internet to your computer has exploded by leaps and bounds. These “big three” are no longer the only options. Some might even say, they are no longer the best options either.
Other Ways to Watch TV Online
Whenever anything becomes popular, every company large or small tries to jump into the game. This is most certainly the case when it comes to streaming entertainment on the internet.
Watching TV With Walmart?
The American company, Vudu, started out offering its own devices and a proprietary peer-to-peer technology where people could use to stream TV and movies over the internet to an actual television. In March of 2010, Walmart acquired the company. The hardware is no longer supported, as the Vudu service has shifted to offering a library of thousands of movies and TV series for streaming to third-party hardware, computers, or mobile devices.
Vudu’s pricing for individual video rentals is competitive with Amazon’s pricing structure, with the added competitive advantage that there’s absolutely no membership fee for signing up with Vudu. You simply pay for whatever you watch. The movie selection at Vudu is just as plentiful as Amazon’s library, without many of the one or two-star “free” movies you’ll find at Amazon that nobody cares to watch anyway.
Speaking of which, Vudu has a free section as well called “Movies On Us”, where anyone can choose from a selection of hundreds of free movies or TV-shows. The only catch is that they also come with ads.
Not a bad compromise considering many of these selections are really good movies and TV shows.
If your main goal here is only to watch the most recent TV shows you’re interested in, Vudu is a good place to turn.
There are families that pay well over $150-a-month for a cable subscription and really only watch two or three of their favorite shows each week. By using a subscription-free service like Vudu instead and simply buying the shows you want to see (like an entire season of The Walking Dead in SD for only $26.99), you can save a lot of money every month.
Xfinity Doesn’t Care What Device You Use
This isn’t to say that all cable companies are evil. The reality of the world today is that everyone in every family likes to watch television in whatever way is most convenient for them. In any given household, you may have:
- Dad laying on the couch in the living room and watching The Walking Dead on the TV.
- Mom working on the computer in her office and watching The Voice on her laptop.
- Big sister lounging on her bed after school and watching Deadpool on her smartphone.
- Little brother watching an episode of Spongebob Squarepants on his tablet in the basement.
Comcast caught onto this trend and through their Xfinity brand, are quickly expanding their entertainment offering to include internet-based media streaming services. The service offered to all of their customers is called Xfinity Stream.
This service allows customers to choose from a collection of popular (and recent) TV series and movies that are just as bursting at the seams as Netflix’s collection. In fact, I’m currently catching up on the latest episodes of The Voice using Xfinity Stream while writing this article.
iTunes and Google Play
Did you think this list was over? Not even close. Those big companies getting into the entertainment streaming business include Apple and Google. Both companies also provide digital content streaming through their iTunes and Google Play services, respectively.
Prices for both movies and TV episodes are comparable to other services like Amazon and Vudu, but of course you get the added benefit of quick access to iTunes from all your Apple devices.
Prices are generally equivalent to iTunes prices, but again the benefit of using this service is how quick and easy it is to access all of your favorite entertainment straight from your Android mobile devices. Fast, easy, and with no subscription required.
Best Buy: Don’t Buy. Stream.
You know Best Buy is the first place you go when you want to browse laptops or digital video cameras, right? Well, did you know that Best Buy now also offers an subscription-free online digital streaming experience called CinemaNow?
CinemaNow is Best Buy’s foray into the digital entertainment marketplace. It includes an impressive collection of not only old and new TV episodes, but also documentaries, season downloads of your favorite network shows, and a giant library of just about any movie you can think of.
As far as pricing goes, many of the more popular or recent movies are only available as full-download purchases, while other movies are available for one-time rental fees at a fraction of the cost. Thankfully there is also a “New Rentals” category, if you’re more interested in cheaper one-time rentals. The selection of rentals isn’t bad – but most of the best movies are only available here at full purchase prices.
Fandango Streams TV?
Fandango has been around for a long time as one of the internet’s most popular movie review sites. Now the site is also the place you may want to go to watch movies as well. The streaming service is called Fandango Now.
Prices at Fandango Now seem pretty close to Amazon’s prices, but of course without the annoying Amazon Prime subscription fee. The beauty of a service like Fandango Now is that it’s such an inexpensive alternative to paying over $100 for a monthly cable subscription. You can easily find a new hit TV series like Mars, and purchase the entire season for $9.99 (in Standard Definition).
Some TV series, like Game of Thrones for example, will cost upwards of $27.99 for an entire season.
But considering an entire season is 15 to 20 episodes, you’re looking at almost a month’s worth of nightly entertainment for a fraction of the cost of cable.
The real secret to saving as much as possible on your digital entertainment is to shop around. For example, the movie The Road is only available as a $9.99 purchase on CinemaNow and Google Play, but it’s included as part of a Netflix subscription. Start out by thinking about what you want to watch, and then check all of the available streaming services for the best possible price, before you buy.
How to Watch TV Online for Free
It may seem like all of the digital streaming services out there are now offering some form of pay-only option, but you don’t always have to cough up money to watch great TV or movies.
If you have a favorite TV show, the first place you should always check is the website of the network running the show. Often you can watch each new episode of a show merely a day or two after the show airs on TV. The following are some of the most popular network stations that let you watch streamed episodes of their most popular shows for free.
There are still also some decent free video streaming sites available online. The content there is not quite as varied or recent as some of the options listed above, but there’s still some great entertainment to be found there.
- Crackle – Older shows and movies
- LinkTV – Colorful and cultural shows produced by LinkTV
- YouTube – YouTube has more free video content than any other site out there
As an honorable mention, the following sites offer subscription access to multiple channels of online content.
- YouTube Movies – Premium movie rentals, some as cheap as $0.99
- SlingTV – Digital streaming service similar to Xfinity Stream, but starting at $20-per-month instead of a cable subscription.
- PlayStation Vue – For as little as $29.99-per-month, get access to major live TV networks.
- DirecTV Now – For as little as $35-per-month, you can watch live TV, and for a little more watch some premium channels as well.
Still Have Cable? Why?
These days, with so much amazing content available on the internet at prices much lower than any cable subscription, it really doesn’t make sense for anyone to remain bound to a cable box. You’ve got options to watch just about any movie or TV show your heart desires. So, what are you waiting for?
Which streaming service(s) do you use to watch your favorite movies or TV shows? Do you have a particular favorite or do you use several? Please share your thoughts with us on this topic in the comments section below!
Image Credit: Diana Grytsku via Shutterstock.com
Originally written by Ryan Dube on December 30, 2008