how to ditch cable

July 28th, 2007

no cable equation
One of the questions I get asked quite often is if there is some way to get television shows from the internet without paying 50$ a month for cable*. My answer is that, yes, I have heard, this guy I know told me that there is a way, but it’s kind of hard to explain. But the question comes up again and again and again, so it occurred to me that it might be useful to write it all down once and for all.

To get television off the internet, you need three things:

  1. You need to be able to find a torrent file of the show.
  2. You need to be able to use the torrent file to download the video file of the show.
  3. You need to be able to watch the video file of the show.

Luckily, this process has recently been made a lot easier by three quite excellent Mac OS X programs:

  1. Finding the torrent: There’s an app called TVShows that takes pretty much all the sting out of this task. It’s a ruby app that parses the feed from and presents the user with an excellent interface to subscribe to their favorite shows.


    One or two clicks and you’ve got the torrent files corresponding to your favorite shows automatically downloaded to your desktop. You can even set TVShows to start downloading the files automatically:

  2. Downloading the video file: Now you’ve got torrent files, but they just point the way to the video files — you’ll still need to download the video files themselves. There’s an excellent torrent client for Mac OS X called Transmission that can help you do that. It’s lightweight and not over-encumbered with features. This is what will download the video file that the torrent file points to. One of the things I like most about it is if you have a relatively recent router (for example, a “white” Airport Extreme router or later), Transmission has an option to automatically map the port for you:


    Without a “mapped and open port”, BitTorrent clients don’t work very well, so it’s handy that Transmission has the option to talk to the router and make this happen auto-magically.

  3. Watching the video file: Most television shows on the internet are in a format called “DivX” which is not supported natively in QuickTime, so you’ll need to find a way to open and view the file. There’s a Quicktime plug-in called Perian which can do this, but I find the most foolproof way to do watch downloaded video is via an application called VLC. VLC will pretty much open and play everything. Once Transmission downloads the video file (and this typically will take a while! I’m told!), drop the video file on VLC to play it.


* NOTE: This is probably illegal.

3 Responses to “how to ditch cable”

  1. Gene says:

    Here’s a perfectly legal way to watch TV without cable: get an antenna. In fact, golly, you can watch high def completely free over the air without paying anyone! Insane!
    That is, if you want to watch only broadcast networks.
    I’m rapidly discovering that I get far more enjoyment out of DVDs of TV shows sent to me through Netflix, which I can watch without commercials, burned-in network logos, or promos dancing across the screen during the show.
    Antenna: $20 from Radio Shack.
    Netflix: $13 a month for two DVDs out at a time.
    This seems preferable to $80/month for cable or satellite (with no premium channels)…

  2. Jeff says:

    True enough, Gene, but that only works until 2009, when the FCC sells off the TV airwave spectrum to Google.

    The above method works up to (but not including!) the time when a) gets shut down or b) networks start getting serious about policing tv show downloading, and then it’s probably time to cool it.


  3. hello says:

    check out miro – does it all in one handy dandy package