In a feature for Wired News, Robert Lemos was asked to unplug the coaxial cable from his television and to entertain his family of five with only “legally available Internet content.” With a mixture of iTunes, Xbox Live Marketplace and network sites like CBS and NBC, he managed well enough to kick his cable provider to the curb. If you’re willing to take a few ethical liberties, however, you can do even better.
Social ritual is certainly a part of family TV viewing, since the television has replaced the hearth as the center of the domicile. While Robert went out and bought a Mac Mini, the hardware specs necessary to create a media server don’t have to be that robust. A last-gen Intel box running Linux will do the trick if you’re on a budget. More tips after the jump.
He also wasn’t allowed to view satellite or terrestrial broadcast television, which as he pointed out, meant no nightly local news and no live sports. For local news, there’s always blogs. But the NFL and MLB streaming sites both screen customers to make sure they aren’t in the United States or the local team market, respectively. Which is nothing a pre-paid credit card and an IP proxy can’t fix.
Another problem is that paying for shows and movies a la carte can really add up. If one was feeling thrifty (and a little naughty), they could register for an account at Eztv. Add the shows you want to watch to your “My Shows” page, and it will custom generate an RSS feed of torrents that you can plug into a BitTorrent client like Azureus to automagically download.
And nothing says “cool parent” like downloading movies to watch while they’re still in the theater. VCD Quality lists what current movie releases have been made available online, and then it’s simply a matter of finding a well-seeded torrent on Mininova or Torrentspy. Think of the background noise and silhouetted spectators in the “cam” versions as adding an immersive movie theater ambience!
What’s the problem with this picture? Well, for starters, that’s a lot of hoops to jump through to get some content. And of course, there’s a certain lawlessness to being a chronic copyright infringer. Finally, if you actually take full advantage of your broadband connection, you may wake up one day to find your transfers throttled.
One conclusion is that content providers have a golden opportunity to improve the whole experience and charge accordingly. Another is that if downloading content is outlawed, only outlaws will download content.