Here are some tidbits of information that fall outside the discussion of Free TV either because they 1) have nothing to do with broadcast or streaming entertainment (optical disks), 2) require extraordinary effort or expertise (PlayOn/PlayLater, Plex), 3) are not ready for prime time (mohu channels, Simple DVR, Tablo DVR), or 5) benefit very few cable cutters.
Digital to Analog
On June 12, 2009, all full power television broadcasters in the US were required to be digital. On that day, analog televisions could no longer tune broadcasts from these stations without a digital to analog converter. The transition to digital began in 2005. Beginning July 1, 2005 all televisions with screen sizes over 36 inches were required to include a digital tuner. On March 1, 2006 the mandate was extended to televisions with screen sizes over 25 inches. By March 1, 2007 all devices designed to receive a television signal were required to include a digital tuner. Devices manufactured before those dates continue to be sold. Use this information (year of manufacture and screen size) to determine if your television is capable of decoding digital signals.
There are a lot of these boxes out there. The most basic convert digital to analog and include a remote control for changing channels. Some can pause programs. Others record programs. Some include program guides and/or universal remotes. Wal-mart and Amazon are good places to shop for a digital to analog converter because returns are easy, reviews are plentiful, and prices are reasonable. The most important consideration is connectivity. If your TV only has an RF (coax) input, make sure your converter has an RF output.
Increasingly, televisions, streamers, and other devices are doing away with composite, component, and RF connectivity in favor or HDMI. Most of the converters are expensive or have problems. I strongly advise people to match components to a television. I also recommend that you try to match the number of ports on a set to the number of devices you will use. HDMI switches require more power and another remote. Retire devices you no longer use. Believe it ir not, there are HDMI VCRs.
Blu Ray Discs
Contrary to popular belief, optical media has not gone away. Blu ray discs remain the highest quality media that can be played on a television. With prices falling hard, you can accumulate a library of your favorite movies and television programs for the cost of a couple years of Netflix plus internet.
Your old DVDs look pretty great on a blu ray player too! Most blu ray players do a great job upconverting DVDs to HD quality.
PlayOn is software that streams files from web servers to your television. Channels, scripts, and plugins format files from web servers for your television. The files include episodes from many cable programs. For cable cutters, PlayOn is a lifeline to the Food Network, the History Channel, and other compelling programming.
PlayLater is a DVR for this programming. PlayLater lets you store programming you would watch with PlayOn for viewing at a later time. The stored programs are saved as MP4 files that can be viewed with any software on any platform that supports the MP4 format. PlayCast is a browser plugin that streams whatever is playing in your browser window to a PlayOn client.
PlayOn and PlayLater are software packages that can be purchased from MediaMall and must be installed on a Windows PC running Internet Explorer. This PC must be running when you are watching or recording shows.
Learn more about PlayOn/PlayLater here.
Plex is a media server which also streams internet content. If you ripped all of your DVDs (before the Librarian of Congress decided this was no longer Fair Use), you can stream the video files from the Plex server to televisions on your network. Plex also streams content from the internet. Learn more about Plex here.
Whole House DVRs
I’m reluctant to recommend the Simple DVR or its competitor because they have had a lot of problems. I decided to keep them on the list because each provides a link to live TV and recordings on your network and from remote locations that, for me, is worth the aggravation.