With the fall television schedule in full swing, many of us are back in the habit of plopping down in front of the tube at night to catch the latest installment of our favourite show when it's scheduled to air. That means clearing your schedule to watch the show and then sitting in front of the TV for a whole hour just for 43 minutes' worth of programming. That doesn't seem very productive, does it? Luckily, this viewing season there are more ways than ever to catch the latest episodes of your best-loved shows without becoming a slave to the prime-time television schedule. So forget the fall lineup as you know it, because this year you're going to watch TV on your terms.
1. Stream Your Favourite Shows Over the Internet
Most major US television networks have all embraced full-episode streaming online through embedded flash video players on their homepages. Some of the content requires you to jump through a few network hoops—like commercial interruptions and the like—but these streaming episodes direct from the source provide one of the easiest and quickest ways to find and watch a recent episode of a television show. In fact, ABC is even streaming episodes in HD.
The main limitation of streaming episodes is that you're subject to the whims of the network, meaning that not all new shows are streamed and often content isn't available immediately. Once the show you're looking for is made available, though, it's there for you—on demand—whenever you want it (provided you have a high-speed internet connection). You can find the big three networks' shows here:
Additionally, you can always find tonnes of shows and clips on sites like YouTube or one of several other online sources, but I won't go into much depth on that here—especially since there's enough content there to warrant its own feature.
2. Roll Your Own DVR and Watch TV on Your Time
It's never been easier to turn your current or old computer into a dedicated digital video recorder with which you can schedule, record, and watch your favourite television shows—and none of these methods require any sort of pricey monthly subscription. There are tonnes of great media centre apps, the most popular of which are Windows Media Center (XP or Vista), SageTV, BeyondTV, GBPVR, MediaPortal, and MythTV.
We're partial to Windows Media Center and SageTV, and if you're looking to get started in this direction, we can help you out:
Windows Media Center:
3. Find Your Faves on BitTorrent
Whether the show you're looking for isn't available for streaming through your browser, you want files you can watch when you're not connected to the internet, or you're looking for a higher quality, commercial-free experience, you can find just about any show—popular or not—available for download with BitTorrent. If you're new to BitTorrent and don't exactly understand how to get started, we've got you covered. First, check out our Beginner's Guide to BitTorrent. Once you get the basics down, check out our Intermediate Guide.
To really streamline your BitTorrent TV downloads so that your BitTorrent client grabs the latest shows as soon as they're available, you can either use your BitTorrent client's built-in RSS downloader or simplify the process with torrent episode downloader (ted) (Windows/Mac/Linux) or TVShows (Mac only).
4. Watch On-Demand Content with Joost
Joost is a cross platform (Windows/Mac), freeware television streaming application. By partnering with different network and cable content providers, Joost provides very high quality, on-demand streams of a wide range of shows, from CSI to Aqua Teen Hunger Force (the list grows regularly). For a closer look, check out our screenshot tour of Joost. Even better, Joost just dropped their invite-only requirement, so if you haven't tried it yet, now's your chance.
5. Do It All with Miro
The cross platform, open source video application Miro (previously Democracy) is sort of a mashup of several of the options described above. Not only does Democracy handle BitTorrent downloads (it's pretty good for season-passing your favourite shows), but it also handles video podcasts, YouTube videos, and virtually any video you download to your computer. Miro started off slow but is constantly improving, and is certainly a viable tool for finding, downloading, and watching your favourite shows.
6. Tape It Off the Internet
Previously mentioned web site Tape It Off the Internet (TIOTI) is an online television aggregator of sorts, allowing you to search for a show you want to watch and then offering several different options for viewing it. For example, if you're looking for the latest episode of Heroes, TIOTI may provide you with one link to a streaming online video of the episode, another link to a torrent to download the episode, or an additional link to buy it in iTunes—among other helpful information like episode summaries. If you've got a preferred method of streaming or downloading your favourite shows (for example, you really like BitTorrent), TIOTI probably isn't the first place you want to go. But if you've had trouble finding a show using other methods, you might get lucky and find a link that'll take you to the episode you're looking for at TIOTI.
I tried to keep the options I listed above in the free realm, but you can, of course, also download shows for a price. iTunes sells tonnes of shows (that you can only play on your iPod or in iTunes), and Netflixing a season of a show you're into is always a good option. The methods mentioned above are listed no particular order, but they do vary in several ways. For complete ease of use, method one (Stream Your Favourite Shows Over the Internet) probably wins out. In terms of flexibility and complete control, method 2 (roll your own DVR) and method 3 (BitTorrent) are tops. Let's hear your favourite non-traditional way to catch your favourite shows in the comments.