Entertainment is more than just a simple distraction:
It helps us get through the stress and drudgery of day-to-day life. Many of us are willing to spend money on copious amounts of music, exorbitant cable packages and increasingly expensive movie tickets. Most of us want to be able to access the entertainment we want affordably without having to resort to piracy.
Unfortunately, as the prices for cable subscriptions and other entertainment options we love continue to rise, it becomes harder and harder to justify spending money on them. There is hope, though, in a number of online services that have developed over the last few years to cater to people unable or unwilling to pay high prices for their entertainment.
The following services offer a lot in return for a small price and are worth the minor investment for maximum enjoyment.
While many television networks stream episodes of their hit television shows on their own websites, Hulu offers users access to multiple network’s programs in one central location. Hulu often posts programs as quickly as the morning after they air. Many of the programs on Hulu, including whole series runs, are free to browse and view, while numerous other programs are viewable through Hulu Plus. For a $7.99 per month fee, Hulu Plus allows users to access a vast library of programs, many of which are available only on Hulu, for unlimited streaming. Hulu Plus also gives you unlimited access to all past episodes of programs currently airing on multiple networks. In addition to television, Hulu also streams films, including those belonging to the prestigious Criterion Collection.
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Pandora and Spotify
The days of Napster are long gone. More than a decade later, in an age of sharing ushered in by Facebook, music is traded across the Internet at a greater pace than it is obtained illegally. This is largely due to the advent of Internet radio and music sharing, because of sites like Pandora and services like Spotify.
Both do things a little differently. Pandora is an Internet radio site that streams music according to stations designed by its users. There’s not much control in terms of selecting individual songs to play, but the algorithms Pandora uses to generate stations based on its users’ preferences is so sophisticated, you’ll likely discover new artists to add to your music queue.
Spotify, by contrast, is a relatively new service that apes some of what Napster did back in the ‘90s, except instead of downloading tracks from other users, you can stream them. Spotify, like Pandora, can be streamed on multiple devices and interfaces.
As an alternative to spending money purchasing individual albums and tracks, both Pandora and Spotify (which are free with ads) put nearly all of recorded music at your fingertips for nothing.
Rather than spending money on DVDs (or even movie tickets), Netflix users prefer streaming their films and television shows from a vast library of entertainment, all broken down helpfully by genre and personalized to their viewing preferences. Netflix streams everything from documentaries to children’s shows, from full runs of supernatural television series to BBC comedies, campy B-movies and independent fare. At around $8 a month, the value of a Netflix membership is quite high since the streaming is unlimited and the site is updated regularly with new releases. Those films not available for immediate streaming can be rented as DVDs with additional membership fees.
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(and other similar set-top boxes)
Have you ever wished you could just by the shows that you actually watch and nothing else? New set-top boxes like Apple TV and Roku allow you to purchase shows a-la-carte rather than paying for a cable subscription. Many shows are sold as a season pass, so you can watch them as soon as they air on TV. They even give you access to free content from the internet like YouTube or Podcasts on your television. You can also stream content you’ve already purchased on iTunes (for Apple TV) or Amazon (for Roku). While not cheaper than some of the other monthly streaming subscription options (Apple TV retails for $99, and season passes start at $10), set-top boxes can really help fill the content gap and provide you with all you can watch each month for less than a cable subscription.
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Logan Harper is the community manager for the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Government’s online Masters in Public Administration program. He also loves television, travel and technology. Follow him on Twitter @harperlogan.