Watch TV Online – Top 10 Online Content Distributors

Watching TV Online - Unlike traditional over the air and cable TV service, watching TV online offers a more pleasant viewing experience given the latitude of control over time and variety.

The key to watching TV online and cutting the cord is knowing where and how to get the content you’re after, and how to view it on your TV.  We’ve culled the net and outlined our Top 10 Online Content Distributors as a starting point for cutting the cord and watching TV online.  The follow-up on this article will list our Top Set Top Boxes for 2013/2014.

We expect to regularly update both Top 10 Online Content Distributors and Top Set Top Boxes on a regular basis as technology and content companies offerings progress.

Lady watching tv onlineTop 10 Online Content Distributors 2013/2014
1. Hulu
Hulu Plus provides well organized movies & tv shows for your online viewing pleasure.  Streaming is done at 1080P “when available”, which in my experience is mostly for the content we watch.  While they do show ads, yes we said ads, somehow the content selection has been able to negate this factor and brought Hulu into the regular line-up for watching tv online in our house.  Shows like Sleepy Hollow are available to steam the day after airing on networks.  The last 8 episodes aired are available for streaming.  Cost is 7.99/mo
Aereo offers online tv viewing of major networks including ABC, NBC, CBS, FOX and PBS.  Additionally they have syndication rights with MOVIES!, MeTV, Peachtree TV and Antenna.  The service also includes a variety of news, multi-lingual, weather and religious channel options including Accu-Weather, UniVision, MundoFox, and Jewelry TV.  The downside is the service does not offer contiguous coverage of the US, although they state services are rapidly expanding.  Streams are delivered at 720P HD format “when available”.  The DVR functions included in Aereo are primitive, but better than nothing.  Including Dual Channels, pause, time forward and back, single and series record options, the DVR offers all the basic requirements, and nothing extra.  Cost is $8/month, which isn’t bad if you live outside a market and are looking for easy ways to view those college basketball games in your home city via online TV.
Media Streaming
FOX delivers ads at the start of video play.  Only one!  The encoding is among the best for the big name networks, ESPN and family aside.  The browser player integration is also one of the easiest to use.  The downsides for watching TV online here is the selection of content.  Most shows are locked from viewing for a month or more post original show airing, without logging in.  Cost is Free.
4.  This service also includes ads. Three at the start, one of which includes the notification the video includes ads, and then minimally throughout play of the video.  The encoding is heavy on motion and some pretty obvious processing is being done with images, but the delivery is suitable for a laptop or pc monitor.  Cost is Free.
Netflix is still a go to source for movies and series of recent and afore times.  1080P steaming capable, as well as 3D, depending on the set top box capability.  The inventory of content for online tv viewing is respectable, although delayed for currently aired shows by at least 30 days.  Whether you’re looking for full seasons of older shows like “Cheers” or newer content like “Dexter” or “Breaking Bad”, you’re likely to find something that fits the bill and meets your time-shift viewing requirements for watching TV over the net.  Netflix continues to develop original content as well like “House of Cards”, Disney’s “Marvel Comics”, and “The Short Game” by Justin Timberlake and Jessica Biel.  Cost 7.99/mo.
Streaming TV online6. Amazon Instant
The content available thru Amazon is massive.  If you’re already doing business with Amazon for online shopping, taking advantage of the Instant features for watching TV and Movies online is only logical.  Streaming is formatted at 720P resolution.  The download to TiVo service formats video at 1080i.  In addition to your computer, Amazon Instant is available on a miriad of devices including Roku, Multiple TV Manufacturers like Samsun, Phillips, etc.   Check here for device compatibility.   Cost 79.99/year
NBC also delivers ads at the start of video play.  You can actually bypass these ads by not enabling in your browser when the request.  You’ll just stare at a blank screen for 45 seconds while the ads are not showing.  We think this is an improvement of experience in many cases.  Encoding is acceptable, although clearly pixelated.  Cost is Free.
YouTube offers tons of older content that you’d forgotten how much you love.  And, a lot of new content that will make you wish you could recover the time just spent watching it.  Finding online tv shows is easy with a little google-fu.  Shows like Taxi, Laverne & Shirley, The Brady Bunch, Star Trek, Sons of Anarchy, How I met your Mother, Keeping up with the Kardashians, Family Guy…I could keep going.  Cost is Free.
Online TV9. BBC
The recently launched iPlayer expanded coverage, but still limits content distribution for TV play over the internet.  This is supposed to be changing soon, widening access to the British shows we crave.  Shows like East Enders, Atlantis , The Graham Norton Show and Match of the Day fill our viewing schedule from this EU Content Distributor.  Users outside of BBC proper distribution area may look to some alternate DNS services to get around content blocking by country.
10. AcornTV -
Acorn TV is a streaming service based out of the UK and carries a nice line-up of British Comedy, Drama, Mystery and Documentaries.  Content includes programs like Doc Martin, Mid Somer Murders, Going Postal and Joanna Lumley’s The Nile, Agatha Christie’s Partners in Crime: The Tommy & Tuppence Mysteries and Doctor Zhivago  As a quick aside, keep an eye on OnCue, an Urban Themed channel making it’s home on YouTube and owned by the same folks that are behind the AcornTV station.  Devices supported on AcornTV include Apple TV and the Roku.  Streaming is presented up to 1080P.  Cost is 2.99/mo or 29.99/yr.  This covers shipping of Blu-Ray and DVD disk, which is a pretty sweet deal.
DNS –  Sometimes, Content Distributors block content regionally.  Alternate DNS servers, also known as DNS Redirects, can help you watch regionally blocked content, on any device, including your Apple TV, Roku, Chrome Stick etc.  Using alternate DNS service to watch TV online is a better approach than setting up a Virtual Private Network (VPN) because of the bandwidth consumed with VPN.   Sites offering DNS services are plentiful.  UnBlockUs tops the list for user interface and uptime, although at 4.99/mo the cost is a little steep.  They do offer a free trial if you want to see it work before you commit.  For a free service with good support for Europe to get back across the pond, check out Tunlr,
How we watch TV online?
Now that we’ve outline our top go-to sites for content, it seems prudent to take a minute and review the hardware we use to watch TV online.  The main viewing space in our house is the living room TV,  a Samsung 50″ plasma.  The Samsung TV is internet connected, and utilizes the Samsung Smart TV interface which includes portals for Amazon Instant, Netflix, Hulu Plus, etc.  This one device supports the majority of content viewing on this TV.  We have an Apple TV setup for iTunes content viewing, and Aereo Air Play casting.  A mac mini running Plex Media Server and Client servers in-house content to this TV as well.  This Plex server also offers nice channel presets which are handy for viewing networks and independent channels like NBC, CBS, FOX, Weather Channel etc.  Although this is configurable thru the Samsung TV, we like the Plex interface better.
Set Top BoxThe landscape for set top boxes and online TV viewing is vast and growing exponentially.  No one TV or set top box is the end all solution for online viewing in today’s market.  If you haven’t already started watching TV online, choose a set top box that supports some of the content you already know you’re interested in watching and begin to discovery the newest way to watch TV…online.
We are constantly evaluating new ways to watch tv online and would love to hear how you’re handling your over the top tv delivery.  Share how you watch tv online below.

About Victor

Victor cut the cord and canceled cable in 2008. He got tired of consistently poor customer service and even poorer programming options. Working experience in IPTV and antenna installation made the transition to off-air TV and streaming internet services a natural progression for his broadcast reception at home. Here at, Victor is right at home, continuing the effort to share the secrets of cord cutting that the cable companies don't want you to know.

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