By Jim Karpen on Fri, 11/22/2013
Since there's so much video available for free online, I avoid paying for content. Therefore, my main use for my $99 Apple TV device has been to use the AirPlay feature to stream free content from my iPad. Most of the best channels that come with Apple TV require a subscription, such as Netflix and Hulu, or they require that you already have a cable TV service (which I don't). So it was a real revelation when I tried the two new channels that Apple TV added Tuesday: Yahoo Screen and PBS. Each offers a trove of content—and all of it is free. These two channels may be the most compelling reason yet to get an Apple TV if you're someone who's considering cutting your cable subscription.
Yahoo Screen offers channels such as Saturday Night Live, Comedy Central, The Onion, Vogue, Fashion & Beauty, ABC News, Wired, and College Football. A number of these offer selected segments. So, for example, you don't get an entire SNL show, but you do get to watch entertaining segments. You don't get a full college football game, but do get the latest news reports about college football.
PBS, on the other hand, offers many many full episodes from programs such as American Experience, Austin City Limits, Frontline, Raw to Ready, Nature, Nova, Antique Road Show, The African American, PBS News Hour, and Masterpiece.
Both of these new channels also let you browse the content according to categories such as popular and featured.
The PBS channel requires a short signup process that you do via your iPhone, iPad, or computer. But doing so then automatically gives you access to local or regional PBS content. I'm in Iowa, and one of the categories available to me is the programming from Iowa Public TV.
It's great to see Apple adding content. They've added a total of 14 new channels this year, which suggests to me they're continuing to increase their focus on TV. Plus, there are rumors that a new Apple TV is in the works. I think the content on their Apple TV device compares favorably with other similar devices such as Roku.
In addition to my Apple TV, I also have a couple of other devices that I use to stream video to my TV. Each is about the size of a thumb drive and plugs into an HDMI port on my TV. The most intriguing is Mini PC, which puts Android on my TV and that I got for $45. You control it with a mouse and keyboard, either wired or Bluetooth. Or you can just use a mouse and the on-screen keyboard. Most Android apps seem to work just fine on it: web browser, YouTube, games, weather, etc. I've used it to stream movies to my TV, including a couple I bought in the Google Play store.
I also have a Google Chromecast, which is the low-price leader at $35. You control it with your iPhone or iPad. In this case, the content doesn't stream from your iPhone or iPad, as with Apple TV, but instead your iOS or Android device simply queues up the content, which then streams directly from your router to the Chromecast device. The tradeoff of the low price is the very limited selection of channels: Netflix, YouTube, Hulu Plus, and the Google Play store. Still, it's a simple and fun device, and I enjoy using it to watch YouTube videos on my HDTV.
All of these gizmos use Wi-Fi, of course, and if you're controlling them with an iPhone or iPad, your iPhone or iPad needs to be on the same Wi-Fi network as the TV and device.