The future of TV, the death of cable?

Web-enabled TVs and streaming video suggest the days of paying for cable are numbered

I have two devices in my living room that stream movies and prime time TV shows straight from the Internet to my TV—and no, the setup wasn’t sourced from a scene in The Matrix.

One of the devices is a Blu-ray player that I bought for $129; the other is a Nintendo Wii, which I lovingly refer to as the video gaming system of choice for slightly overweight parents. Both have the ability to stream movies or download other content direct from the web, which means you can to it, too.

Several new Blu-ray players can stream movies. All you need to do is connect the device to your home network, either via Wi-Fi or Ethernet to your router, then configure the device using the on-screen menu (enter your network password and select the services you want, such as Netflix).

To stream content with your Wii, you’ll first have to be patient: Its streaming service won’t launch for a few months yet. ( to learn how to connect your Wii to the Internet and explore the various web-enabled functions currently available.) Streaming delivers content as you watch it; it doesn’t involve downloading big files. When the show is over, nothing is saved to your device but you do need a high-speed connection for it to work.

The power of these devices to deliver entertainment content on top of the other useful functions (like the ones they were designed and marketed for, playing DVDs and gaming) makes me think the cable box will soon become an endangered species.

Further, in these times of economic belt-tightening, media players that can connect to the Internet offer another benefit: You can cut the cable (or satellite) cord and save a lot of money without having to say goodbye to your favorite TV shows. Although this may be news to some, people have been flocking to the web to watch TV shows and view live sporting events (through sites such as and for quite some time now—and the numbers keep growing.

Hulu has become a powerhouse, with 40 million unique visitors a month, according to comScore. Although most users still watch web programming on their laptops, more and more folks are realizing that they can connect their computer to their TV and stream videos onto a proper screen.

If you haven’t already joined this revolution, you probably will eventually—so why wait?

There are a few cable-like boxes that deliver Internet content to your TV, including the Roku box ($79) and a very cool soon-to-be-released device from D-Link called the Boxee Box ($199). Roku enables users to stream Netflix movies, watch on-demand videos from Amazon, listen to music on Pandora and watch any major-league baseball game—no traditional monthly cable subscription required. Roku also interfaces with other channels to bring social networking (, Flickr, Facebook, etc.) to your TV.

Boxee, on the other hand, already has nearly one million people using their free web-based beta. The company will soon fuse the net and the traditional TV experience with their Boxee Box, which will utilize both a remote control and wireless USB keyboard. The device will package Boxee’s popular open source software into a playful-looking, cube-shaped device that attaches to a TV and enables users to view video content—including movies, TV shows, music and photos from sites such as Netflix, YouTube, Comedy Central, Pandora, flickr and Facebook—on their TVs.

While there have been bumps along the way (including a recent feud with NBC that led to Hulu blocking Boxee users from streaming NBC content through its site) the company remains determined to work with networks and websites to develop pay-per-view and channel subscription packages as needed.

Further forecasting the death of the traditional cable box, Netflix has partnered with the manufacturers of nearly 100 different devices (mostly TVs and Blu-ray players) to give consumers the ability to connect and stream Netflix programming using enhanced electronics by the end of this year. LG, Sony, Samsung, Insignia, Toshiba and a host of others will come equipped with the technology—straight out of the box, no extra bells or whistles (or expense) required, aside from a monthly Netflix subscription (from $8.99 a month).

This technology means if you really like Dexter or missed most of Lost last season, you will soon be able to stream it direct to your TV via Netflix. The same goes for movies, too.

One drawback, however, is due to contract restrictions with some Hollywood studios, not all movies and TV shows will be available to stream. Still, this should not be a deal-breaker: Those titles will still be accessible the old-fashioned (OK, 2007-fashioned) way, through Netflix’s original, mail-based model.

While this may deter some, the potential savings may outweigh the occasional inconvenience: The combined cost of streaming content and receiving DVDs by mail starts at less than $10 a month—a fraction of the average cable bill.

Netflix started direct-to-TV streaming in 2008 and while it is currently the most influential player, it’s not the only one. Samsung offers its Internet@TV service, which allows its TVs and Blu-ray players to stream movies and other videos from Blockbuster, Amazon or YouTube; get news from Yahoo; update Twitter; track fantasy football standings, and browse eBay—all while other programs are being viewed on the same screen.

I realize that having eBay on your TV is hardly necessary, but that’s not the point. This is about having an Internet-connected TV that allows you to ditch your monthly cable bill, then pick and choose (and pay for) content as you please. It’s about only paying for content you actually want and not paying for channels you rarely, if ever, watch.

The technology is at our fingertips and more device options are flourishing. Pretty soon, your living room will look a lot like mine—if it doesn’t already.

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