Nomads must master the art of efficiency. Almost every item has to have some inherent value or utility, otherwise it simply takes up more space without use. A few personal, sentimental items are given a pass in this regard. But, by-in-large, most items must have utility and value. So, we are going to begin a series of posts on efficiency and what we have found has the best overall value in size, performance, price and utility as well as services or processes that we have found that makes our life more efficient, less stressful or both.
We are starting this series with a common known medium, the TV. Many people subscribe to some sort of cable or satellite subscription service in order to get the entertainment programming they seek. the bill for this runs anywhere from $50 up to $200 per month, just for entertainment packages alone. And, if you want to watch a show at a different time than when it is on, you have to record it in some fashion, which is commonly an extra hardware cost. If you are watching a show and need to get up for some reason, unless you have the aforementioned hardware for recording and time-shifting, you have no options. Our Nomad family likes to make our own decisions, plot our own course and watch shows when and how we want.
This may be of no surprise, but we do not subscribe to cable to satellite for television. We move too frequently to be able to do so. But, before we began traveling around, we cut these types of subscription services out of our budget years ago. So, what do we do? I am glad you asked.
Having a heavy information technology background, we have had a computer of some sort hooked up to our living room TV since 2001. I realize that this is not easy or preferable to most. Actually, unless you have a significant information technology background, I would not suggest it. But, with a computer in the living room, it gave us a tremendous amount of options that others did not have. When TV networks began to put episodes on their websites, we could watch them direct. Some shows would even duplicate and host their episodes on YouTube or Vimeo. We could watch those also. However that was not our primary sources to watch TV and movies.
We subscribed to 2 services: Hulu and Netflix.
Hulu is a website that offers on demand, ad-supported, streaming video of TV shows, movies, clips, webisodes, trailers and more. They offer content from the major networks like ABC, Fox, NBC, TBS and others.
If you go to their website with a computer (desktop or laptop with a full operating system) you can watch content for free. You can create an account for free and add shows into your queue. So, when a new episode comes out, it is automatically added to your queue. Most episodes have an expiration dates. However that expiration date is commonly about a month or so. Additionally, most 30 minute TV shows that are on broadcast, cable or satellite services include 8 minutes of commercials and each are at least 30 seconds long. On Hulu, there are about 2 minutes of commercials and they range from 15 seconds to a minute. Sometimes they will ask if you want to watch a 2 minute commercial at the beginning and enjoy the whole show without commercial breaks. That is great when that comes up.
If you want to watch Hulu on anything other than a device with a full operating system, such as a smart phone, tablet, smart TV and others, you will have to subscribe to their paid service. It is called Hulu Plus. Hulu Plus is a whopping $7.99 per month. When you get Hulu Plus you can watch your shows on your smart phone, tablet, laptop, desktop, smart TV or other streaming device. Additionally, all of the shows that are in the Hulu Plus subscription grants you access to all seasons. You can go back to the first episode of the first season all the way to the latest one.
There are even ways to get free weeks or months from Hulu. The first way is through referrals. They will give you a link. All you have to do is email it to someone who you know, if they click on it and sign up, you get 2 weeks free! It is as easy as that. The link will look similar to this http://www.hulu.com/r/Tw9xSg. That is the link to our Hulu Plus referral. So, if you do sign up, show us some love and click the link when you do.
The second way to get a free month is through Bing, the search engine. If you go to Bing.com, there is an icon at the top right that says Sign In. you can click on it and sign in with a Microsoft Account or your Facebook Account. I had a Microsoft Account for all of the benefits that come with it (Outlook, One Drive, Calendar, Word, Excel and more) so I used it to connect and sign up with Bing. All you have to do is your normal searches. You do not have to install anything or do anything special, other than making Bing your default search engine. When you search, you earn points. When you reach enough points, you can trade them in for different things like gift cards from Amazon, Groupon, Applebee’s, IHOP, Starbucks, GameStop and many, many others, including…you guessed it…a Hulu Plus subscription good from one free month. You can grow your points quicker by referring people. Each person you refer that reaches silver status (that just means you took the tour, set a goal for a gift and reached 200 points) grants you enough points for a free month of Hulu Plus. Through my referrals and my own searches (this does not include the other Nomad family members) I almost never have to actually pay for my Hulu Plus subscription. If you want to sign up for Bing, throw the Nomads some more love and sign up here. You are going to do searches anyway, why not get rewarded for it. Especially if there are no additional strings or catches.
The other service we subscribe to is Netflix. Netflix built its business on mailing DVDs to the home and having no late fees. They were reaching meteoric heights and then they decided to change their model. the public reacted, Netflix realized they messed up, course corrected and they have been great ever since.
If you still want DVDs delivered to you, which, if you are traveling, it is not optimal. However, you may be in a place for a while and decide to have DVDs delivered. The prices are $7.99, $11.99 and $15.99 to have 1, 2 or 3 discs (respectively) delivered to you at a time.
What we are most interested in is their streaming plan. They have an extensive library of movies and TV shows available for instant watch. Their prices are $7.99 per month for 2 separate screens at a time or $11.99 for 4 separate screens at a time. Both include the HD option if the movie or TV show is in HD. Additionally, Netflix has been producing some shows of their own that have been very good and received extremely positive reviews, like House of Cards.
Netflix also allows you to set up multiple profiles. You can set up one for Dad, Mom and each kid if you like. That way if Dad wants to watch his types of shows, he goes to his profile and only things pertaining to him are listed there. Netflix asks you from time to time to rate movies. The more you rate, the better their suggestion engine works. It has suggested quite a few shows that I did not know existed. And, you can put a Kid designation on a profile and no shows over a G rating are available to that profile.
So, if you do not have a computer hooked up to your TV, how do you watch these services? Some TVs have the connectivity to these services built into them. We have personally used a Toshiba Blu-ray DVD player that had built-in WiFi, a Roku Streaming Box and a Western Digital TV Live Streaming Box. We took the WD TV Live with us on the road. It is about 3 inches deep by 4 inches wide and 1 inch tall. It can watch Hulu Plus, Netflix and a whole host of other services. One we like is Flixster to show us movie trailers and previews. One additional benefit to the WD TV Live is that it has a USB port on the front. you can have a movie on a flash drive, plug it into the front and watch it. Or, if you have one saved on your computer and you know how to share folders on the network, it can access the movie from your computer. No matter which device you choose, Blu-ray player, Roku, WD TV Live or some other streaming box, the cost is commonly under $100 for the device. And that is brand new off of the shelf.
So, for the price of an average cable or satellite bill you can get a streaming player, subscribe to Hulu Plus and Netflix and still save money. Even without referrals or using our points from Bing, if we paid full price, we would spend $15.98 per month plus tax for TV and movies delivered when we wanted to watch with limited or no commercials. That is the type of freedom and efficiency that this Nomad household seeks. It might not be the exact mix for you. But there are so many services and options, with a little bit of research, I am sure you can find a combination that fits you just fine.