As if you needed another reason to ditch cable in 2011, it looks like prices are going up at some of the biggest providers. So if you’re finally tired of getting fleeced, here’s how to cut the cord and go cable-free the Apple way. You even have more options than you did the same time last year, too.
Option 1: The Mac Way
This is the most powerful and versatile option, but it’s also among the most expensive. You can get away with spending relatively little by using a Mac mini. The idea is to set up a Mac computer connected to your TV as a media centre. The Mac mini is perfect if you want to dedicate a computer entirely to this task, thanks to its small form factor and HDMI port. If you’d still like to use your computer as a computer, too, then getting a Mac notebook might be a better solution.
The benefit of using a Mac is that you have all of the power of a full desktop computer. That means you can browse the web, access Flash-based video sites (Hulu, network sites), and even play full-featured video games using USB or wireless game pads if you like. You can also use Boxee, XBMC or Plex (media player and organization apps) to make your Mac more easy to control and navigate with a remote in a home theater setting.
You can use Netflix on your Mac using the web interface, but there are better ways. Boxee has a Netflix app, for example, which makes it far easier to control. There’s also possibly a native Mac app in the works from a third-party developer, and Netflix itself might get in on that game when the Mac App Store launches next week.
- Hardware Required: Mac, HDMI or VGA cable (depending on which port your TV has available), Mini DisplayPort-to-VGA adapter (if you’re using a Mac other than the Mac mini).
- Cost: $$$$
- Advantages: Full computer at your disposal, supports Flash.
- Ideal for: The advanced Mac enthusiast who wants to have it all.
Option 2: The iPad Way
Using an iPad to cut the cord is probably the easiest option to overlook, but it’s also among the simplest. It can even provide HD output via the dock connector-to-VGA peripheral, though using the Apple Component AV cable will only provide standard definition video.
The iPad is also limited in terms of content sources. Obviously, it won’t play Flash content, and not all apps provide video-out support. Hulu Plus is a notable example of one that doesn’t. Some very crucial ones do, however, like Netflix. If you purchase or rent most of your video content through iTunes, though, the iPad will work well for you.
Finally, remember that controlling your iPad while watching video through your home theatre system could be quite awkward, and the device will have to remain tethered to your TV if you don’t have an Apple TV to stream to. But the iPad is a good choice if you’d like to also be able to take your media with you and access it on the go.
- Hardware Required: iPad, Dock Connector to VGA Adapter, Apple Component AV Cable.
- Cost: $$$
- Advantages: Also a standalone portable solution.
- Ideal for: The infrequent TV-watcher who spends most of his/her time out of the house.
Option 3: The Apple TV Way
The new Apple TV is a great option for Apple cord cutters, since it’s small, cheap, and easy to set up. It provides access to iTunes rentals and Netflix, and it provides HD quality video (720p). If you’re not really amazing at using OS X, and you want a set-it-and-forget-it solution, this is the way to go. It’s even quite portable, since it’s so small and only requires two cables, as I’ve proven many times by taking my own when visiting friends and family.
Apple TV does have some downsides to consider. Unlike the Mac and iPad, there’s no way to browse the internet from the device, which could limit your content sources. In fact, as of right now, you’re only able to get video from Netflix, YouTube, and iTunes, unless you’ve stored your own content on a computer attached to your local network in an iTunes-friendly format. Flash video isn’t anywhere near an option, unless you go the jailbreak route. Also unlike the Mac and the iPad, you won’t be able to store any media locally on the device, so you can only watch what you can stream from other sources.
If you have an iOS device, AirPlay provides another reason to consider Apple TV. You can stream content from your iPhone, iPad or iPod touch (providing you’re using iOS 4.2) from your device to your Apple TV easily, although the type of content that can be streamed is limited to YouTube videos, local videos synced from iTunes, pictures and music.
- Hardware Required: Apple TV, HDMI cable, optical audio cable (optional).
- Cost: $
- Advantages: Portable, cheap, easy to add to an existing home theatre setup.
- Ideal for: Average Mac user who wants to primarily use Netflix and the iTunes store for content.
Any other tips or ideas for ditching the cable subscription with the help of your Mac and Apple devices?
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