You want to watch television, but you don't want to actually watch the television. That is, you want to catch a few good shows when you have time, and you want to know what you should be checking out without having to do a lot of research. You want a kind of Netflix for modern TV--decent recommendations and a queue you can watch whenever you'd like.
Make sure you catch the good, spoiler-prone stuff when it airs
There are certain shows (like The Walking Dead) that aren't available for (legal) streaming on the web after each episode's air date. And there are shows (like The Walking Dead) that you really don't want to have spoiled by Twitter, Facebook, or David in Business Development. Make sure you catch the shows you really want to watch live with a one-two combo. Sign up for TVRage.com to create a feed for your calendar app that keeps up on when new episodes of any show you like are available. Then set up Remember to Watch to send you a text an hour or two before your must-see-on-actual-TV shows air.
Find shows that are good, but don't require a passionate time sink
Once you've picked out a few shows you don't want to get ruined, concentrate on reducing your must-watch shows to a handful of good series that respect your time. Shows you can watch, enjoy, and get back to when you'd like, rather than tune in each week to find an hour's worth of boring exposition. Use these guidelines to let the right show into your schedule:
- Shows that have already run their course: Everybody's a critic, but sometimes that's helpful. When your friends come to a consensus on the less-than-awesome seasons of good-but-finished shows like Battlestar Galactica, Lost, or The Shield, use that to your advantage by watching the good stretches in chunks, and leaving the less-awesome stuff for watching while doing something else.
- Shows you can work out with: If you've got control of the TV or tablet during your treadmill or elliptical session, pick out TV shows that can be watched without having to sit completely still, but also inspire you to keep moving. The Denver Examiner has three pretty smart categories of "Escape" (24), "Sweat Inducer" (The Ultimate Fighter or Man vs. Wild), and "Ultimate" (elements of both, like The Amazing Race).
- Shows you already know as companions: It might seem obvious to people who are pros at watching TV while they work, but if you're looking for something to watch while doing grunt work, stick to things you know so well, you could basically recite them line by line. That's different for each person, but the key here is, don't try to fit shows that make you wonder about what happens next into the space where you just want a show to keep you company.
Choose the right web-to-TV box for you
It's nice to stream Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon Video-on-Demand, and other services through your laptop, iPad, or smartphone, but, c'mon--those HD streaming videos are meant for your TV. There are quite a few ways to easily watch the shows you didn't watch live on your television. Here's how to determine which one fits your style.
- Roku: Grab the XD or XS models, and you've got Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon, and other services ready to roll on your television for less than $100. If you're the type who can find the videos you want when they, you know, fall off the back of a truck, try the Roksbox app, which does a much better job of playing video files than the Roku itself.
- Apple TV: If you own a MacBook, iPad, and/or iPhone, this can be a really convenient (and fairly cheap, at $99) way of watching Netflix, Major League Baseball, and most anything you can get working in iTunes. Check out Lifehacker's guide to making all your video AirPlay compatible to get far more content on that little box than Apple originally intended.
- Boxee Box: Definitely the most versatile of the set-top options, at least when it comes to options outside the standard Netflix/Hulu duo. The Boxee Box has an app for just about every cool streaming video site on the web, and can play just about any video file you can find, no matter where you found it. Netflix comes built in, and Hulu Plus support has been "coming soon" (though for a while now).
- Your Xbox 360 or PS3: In case you never really played with your newer Xbox or PlayStation beyond, you know, playing games with it, you might be surprised to learn that both game consoles are pretty handy when it comes to streaming Netflix, Hulu, ESPN, and even, in the case of the Xbox 360, HBO's mobile service, HBO Go, along with a host of other entertainment apps coming soon. So you might not need much more than your existing game system--and you might not need much more of an excuse to finally splurge on one.
[Image by yanivba]