Free and Cheap TV: So Many Options to Choose From

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Want “Charles in Charge” of your days and your nights but don’t want to spring for cable? Don’t want to feel left out during the water-cooler discussion of the last castoff from “The Voice” while at the same time avoiding a hefty satellite bill?

Many options are out there for you to see your favorite shows from the past and present for free or a small fee. New ones seem to be popping up each day as well.

Netflix and Hulu are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to cheap television viewing on your television, iPad or computer. Here are the possibilities:

Network websites (free)

All major networks offer full episodes of many shows. If your laptop screen isn’t cutting it, you can always connect your computer directly to your TV.

Among its many selections, NBC has your “Charles in Charge” fix, boasting 21 episodes of the Scott Baio classic. Other nostalgic treats available include 94 “A-Team” adventures. See CBS for the latest developments for hits such as “How I Met Your Mother” and “Big Bang Theory.”

  • Drawback: The sites don’t offer every show aired and are ad-supported, but the interruptions are generally minimal.

HDTV over the air (free)

Gone are the days of foil-adorned rabbit ears. If you bought an HDTV in about the last decade, the set should have a built-in tuner for receiving digital over-the-air broadcasts.

Most major networks along with an array of public television stations are available with a small antenna, which you can purchase for anywhere between $13 and $100 depending on the features you want.

Although the widest selection of digital TV broadcasts is found in big cities, more than 99 percent of U.S. TV households have access to at least one local digital station; 89 percent can get five or more stations, according to Crutchfield.

This option offers local programming that isn’t always available via satellite TV, with awesome HD picture quality.

  • Drawback: This option does not include cable-only channels.

Crackle (free)

This Sony-owned site has syndicated classics like “Seinfeld” and “Married with Children” and newer content such as “Rescue Me.” In addition, it offers original series — “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee,” for example.

Crackle also exhibits one of the snazzier layouts.

  • Drawback: Once again, the content is limited and scattered with commercials.

TVPC (free)

“TVPC is hands down my favorite of the bunch. It has just about every TV channel you can think of, both from here and abroad. Want to watch Danish news? Check. Puerto Rican telenovelas? Check,” says ZeroPaid.

Add to that list German sports and a Jamaican music channel, alongside Cartoon Network, HBO and History Channel shows.

  • Drawback: This site streams live television, so you have to time your watching accordingly. It’s also another site that is saturated with advertisements.

WiziWig (free)

If live sporting events are more your bag, this is the site for you. NFL games are available as well as tennis, NASCAR, soccer and horse racing.

  • Drawback: Like the other live programming, you have to catch it while it’s streaming.

HitBliss (free)

With this site, you can purchase shows with credit earned by watching commercials. For two minutes of subjecting yourself to ads, you can earn about enough to pay for an episode.

Once you view your commercials, you can continue “Keeping Up with the Kardashians” or catch up on the newest psychosis on “Bates Motel.”

  • Drawback: It might be because it’s new, but it offers very few television shows.

Hulu (free)

How much do we really need to say about Hulu? It offers programming like “The Voice” and “Family Guy.”

  • Drawback: Only available on the computer and you must sit through ads, but at least it’ll give you a choice of one of two ads to view.

This brings us to the pay options:

Hulu Plus ($7.99 per month)

If you’re a fan of the free Hulu site but want more shows, such as anything starring Gordon Ramsay, this may be for you.

Hulu Plus offers the latest episodes alongside impressive catalogs of previous seasons.

With payment, your viewing options expand to connected televisions and Blu-ray players, gaming consoles and mobile phones.

New episodes are available soon after airing.

  • Drawback: Like regular Hulu, it still contains ads.

Netflix ($7.99 per month)

New “Arrested Development” episodes. Need I say more?

With a subscription, you can watch ad-free shows through your computer, TV, gaming consoles or phone. A quick download of the free iPad app will add your tablet to the list.

While the list of available movies and television shows in the instant streaming library isn’t as deep as the DVD selection, it’s growing, says PCMag.

  • Drawback: Netflix does not carry episode-by-episode releases of television shows. It typically releases an entire season of something at once, often following the competition.

Amazon Prime ($79 per year)

This gives you access to Amazon’s full catalog for viewing on tablets and via gaming consoles, among other options. Programs include “Downton Abbey” and “SpongeBob SquarePants.”

After subscribing, you also get free shipping from Amazon.

  • Drawback: While the episodes are ever expanding, the offerings have been called limited.

Aereo ($8 a month)

Live television via an antenna that can fit on the tip of your finger — that’s the promise of this new technology. The live and recorded shows are then ready for viewing on any compatible TV, computer or mobile device. Currently only available in New York and Boston, this option is set to expand in the East and South.

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