On February 4, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill extending the
deadline for TV stations to switch broadcasts to all-digital service. Instead of
February 17, the cutover is now scheduled for June 12. Media reports indicate
President Obama will sign the measure, which earlier had passed in the U.S. Senate.
But whatever happens to your local stations, there's plenty of television -
analog and digital - available without using rabbit ears, or cable or satellite
services. Indeed, there's a bit of a revolution going on in the TV world: more and
more people are "watching" television untethered from any traditional link.
Optimal viewing requires a broadband, or high-speed, Internet connection of some
stripe, whether it's wireless or wired. Such connections are growing in
availability, even free in many locations, such as restaurants, cafes and hotels, so
finding one shouldn't be a problem. And, the vast majority of today's notebook
computers are equipped with both Ethernet ports for a wired link and 802.11-based
Wi-Fi radios for the wireless service.
YouTube.com, of course, started it all: you can watch short video clips, or some
programs chopped into 10-minute segments, to your heart's content. The stuff is so
available that you can watch it on an iPhone on demand, among other places. It's
not the way I'd want to watch an episode of "Kojak," but in a pinch, it'll
do. And for shorter clips, such as singer Paul Potts' amazing performance of
"Nessun Dorma" on a British TV talent show, it's a great resource.
But there's far more than YouTube. Jump over to www.hulu.com to watch recent
episodes of NBC shows (and others), with limited commercials and picture quality to
rival cable. Here, I can catch up on "30 Rock" any time, as opposed to making it
"appointment TV" on Thursday nights.
A plus with Hulu.com, and YouTube, among others, is the ability to enlarge the
picture to "full screen" mode, which enlarges the image to your full screen.
More often than not, that's a good thing - the programs I've viewed have come
across with little in the way of "pixellation," or the blurry dots that arise
when a picture is pushed to too large a size. It happens occasionally, but not
often; YouTube, for example, offers a "high resolution" mode for many videos to
And if a video stream is pixellated, you can usually drop the image
down to a size that's still large enough to view but small enough to enjoy
Along with Hulu, Joost.com offers other TV shows, and ABC will offer replays
(commercials included at no extra charge) on its www.abc.com Web site. Assuming your
office computer's firewall cooperates, lunchtime in a cubicle can be a lot more
entertaining, although headsets are recommended.
While some of this might give the TV ratings people fits - you can measure online
viewing, but how to sync that up with a given broadcast? - its giving end-users a
highly viable option on how they want to view TV. In my opinion, this
is the key feature.
Many other cable networks offer some or all of their programming online. Religious
stations and networks seem to lead the way here, although the World Wide Internet
Television Web site, wwitv.com, which I discovered when U.S. Airways Flight 1549
landed safely in New York's Hudson River, lists hundreds of local stations and
global networks offering streaming video as well.
Yet another means of television delivery is buying episodes of current shows from
Apple Inc.'s iTunes service, available on both Windows and Macintosh platforms.
Shows up to HD quality are offered, and prices are generally reasonable. And, users
of cell phones from AT&T, Verizon Wireless and Sprint can obtain streaming live
video as well.
The bottom line: that brave new world of digital TV is already crowded with options
Philo Farnsworth, television's inventor, never thought of, many of which are
linked to your computer.