3 iPad Apps to Help Cut the Cable

| Free on iTunes

Jason, a friend of mine, recently declared that he, “…cut the Cable,” meaning that he has actually done what so many of us want to do; stop paying the ever increasing monthly fees to cable and satellite TV companies for channels we seldom watch.

Jason is a brave soul. How can he live without TV? What fills his family’s empty hours between dinner and bedtime?

Well, it turns out that my friend has not gone Bohemian and started learning to play the lute while noshing organically grown peppered soybeans (which actually aren’t bad, BTW). Instead he’s simply replaced his cable connection with several less expensive options. For local TV he has an amplified antenna which captures a surprising number of freely available broadcast TV. He gets Fox, CBS, NBC and CBS, as well as a few local independent stations and our local Public Broadcasting station. He also owns a Blu-Ray player that has a WiFi connection which lets him get NetFlix, Pandora, and a few other Internet oriented entertainment services.

But the gadget that makes him the happiest is his new PC that lets him fully connect to all Internet content. He gets Hulu and Netflix on his PC, which means he can watch many of the shows found on cable. He also has access to all of the Internet sites for all the TV companies, most which lets you watch recent episodes of popular shows.

Jason is doing what I want to do, what I would do if only Apple would stop farting around with Apple TV and give it app-using abilities.

If I did make the jump to a non-cable existence the shows I’d miss the most are the information, science, and technology shows usually found on The Smithsonian, and Discovery channels.

While mulling over a life without The History Channel it occurred to me that, while I may not be able to watch all those fine shows on all those fine channels, there is a time-tested alternative available, for free; Public Broadcasting Service (PBS).

One of the PBS shows I remember most was Cosmos. Carl Sagan must have said, “bill-yuns, upon bill-yuns,” a billion times, and he fueled my belief that one day Man would travel among the stars.

We haven’t yet, but I got maybe a good 30 or more years left in me. As long as the Zombie Apocalypse doesn’t happen during the next few decades then I think we have a real shot. (If it does happen remember Rule #2: Double Tap).

Anyway, while the thought of public stations may give you cause to yawn you should remember that there is all sorts of good stuff happening on public TV. Here’s a couple great examples: NOVA-The long running science show that has thus far managed to stay relevant even after being on the air for almost 30 years(!!!!), Nature - Another show that’s been around for almost three decades that explores the world we live in, Sesame Street - Come on, your parents grew up watching Sesame Street.

None of those shows were boring. They keep bringing us a balanced and considered view of our world, places, people and creatures we might never know exist otherwise (what, exactly, is The Grouch?). They extend our culture to places where little or no culture is found, and they bring the cultures and knowledge of people for all over our planet into our living rooms.

There are other shows on PBS - Need to Know, POV, Frontline, Wired Science - and all of them are free. You don’t need cable, just a good antenna and the willingness to severe that commercial laden umbilical to your cable provider.

A few weeks back I told you about a free National Public Radio (NPR) app that I believe every iPad should have. Now there’s a companion app from PBS, and it’s free as well.

The PBS For iPad app is cool on so many levels that it’s hard to know where to start.

PBS for iPad

First off, many of the PBS shows you enjoy are available for viewing, from Curious George to Masterpiece. Like other stations that offer shows online, PBS for iPad lets you watch the last 5 episodes for free. Sadly not all shows are available, but previews are offered. You do, however, get a daily listing of show times of PBS stations in your area, so you’ll know when your favorite episodes are aired.

The user interface is simple and effective. There are sponsor ads, but they only appear occasionally and can be easily bypassed.

PBS for iPad

If you haven’t watched PBS lately then grab the PBS for iPad app and see what you’ve been missing.

One of the shows my wife will miss once we’re with cable is House Hunters, a House and Garden TV (HGTV) show that you won’t find anywhere on broadcast TV. It is a fun show that offers tips on decorating and home maintenance while giving you an idea of what your home might be worth in certain markets.

As it turns out, HGTV now has a free iPad app, and it rocks.


HGTVtoGo for iPad is very much like the ABC Player iPad app in that it offers a short list of shows that you can watch full episodes of. The difference is that the HGTV episodes are broken up into distinct segments that you watch individually instead of the single, commercial laced shows offered by ABC. And I’m a fan. The segments are 4 to 7 minutes long, which fits well into wait times at doctor’s offices or while getting your car repaired.

Like other channel centric app, HGTVtoGo offers showtime listing for your area. There’s also a section that shows themed slide shows, which are actually pretty cool.


Not all HGTV shows are available, but what is available looks good on your iPad. Add HGTVtoGo for iPad to your iPad, and go.

Finally, there is one app that is bound to help you understand what’s available to you should you decide to cut the cable as well.


TV Guide for iPad is a great freebie that you should have whether you are ditching cable or not. It offers a comprehensive listing of available in your area depending on how you are watching. DirecTV, TimeWarner, AT&T, and others all have their own listing that you select from. There’s even a broadcast listing, ideal for figuring out what you should be able to see before to get happy with the cable cutters.


You can select a show and get a synopsis, check entertainment news, and get other TV-centric info, like previews, and photos from new shows.

If you watch TV, regardless of how, you’ll find that the TV Guide for iPad app is a handy app to have around.

That’s a wrap. More free stuff below with direct links.

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And if you subscribe to NetFlix ($9/month) you can stream Cosmos bill-yuns and bill-yuns of times…

Ross Edwards

“Double tap.”  Nicely done, sir.

We’re so close to the one-box-that-covers-it but not quite there yet.  If the new Mac Mini had a blu-ray player and a much, much larger hard drive, both of which are probably hackable but ought to be available off the shelf, I think we’d have a winner.  As it is, I’m still jury-rigging things with an Xbox 360 with netflix and an external HDD and a blu-ray player.

And I definitely agree: Good ol’ antenna TV covers a lot more than most of us realize, especially once you get old enough to realize that channels like MTV are garbage.

Vern Seward

@CJPITT: Yep! Got Netflix and love the all-you-can-eat streaming for ten bucks. Make AppleTV almost worth it.

@Ross: We are close, but I’m not so sure I want one box to rule them all. I like the idea of AppleTV, and Roku, but not GoogleTV. Luke warm on the notion of a PC as my entertainment center because I don’t want to have to think about it. I want to sit, select, watch, with as few menus as possible from beginning to the end of that process. A PC, even a Mac mini, inserts too much. But that’s just me.

I would, however, get a Mac mini to use in that capacity only if I were alone in using it.



As my mother says: “TV is opium for the people”. From my own experience from year to year this opium becomes more accessible and cheaper and this article confirms my hypothesis.

Television penetrates in all aspects of life and transform people into zombies. More powerful drugs that I have ever seen are only on-line games, especially MMORPG. When I look on people who plays in such games as Lineage II and WoW or watch almost free of charge TV programs, I feel very sad.

So, people, think before starting to use freestuff television, games and so on. It can be more dangerous than you can imagine.

Vern Seward

@Mackeeper: while I agree that TV CAN be an opiate, I don’t agree that people, in general, should avoid it.

My grandmother had a saying, ” Nothing in excess is best.” I believe this, not because my dearly departed Grammy said, but because it’s true. Moderation has always been the key to dealing with many of life’s little issues.

The key is finding out how much it too much. Most folks never bother, and that’s why sugar, white bread, and TV affects people negatively. So what do people do instead moderating? They use sugar substitutes, wheat bread, and the Internet as replacements, and wonder why there is no difference in their lives.

Another point is this: TV has always been free. Everyone in the US and in most countries can get access to TV by putting an antenna on their set instead of plugging a cable into it.

So… I don’t know what to tell except moderate for free.




Very nice picks this week, Vern.

I am not much of a TV watcher. I watch BBC or CNN (depending on where on the planet I am) during my early morning workouts, and then typically treat myself to an episode of Star Trek (DVD of any version) in the evening - at most. I may/may not (usually not these days) watch a movie once a week. Not trying to be an ascetic, just too little time for the tele.

One thing alone has kept me plugged into the tube, namely the need for live news. I realise that I consume most of my news on the internet these days, but not while working out. I would have yanked the cable by now, except that my wife still likes her Friday night/Sunday morning talking heads. You’ve just pointed out that these are mainly available for free.

I may, just may, be able to yank that cord; and save myself a tidy little sum - maybe purchase some more Apple shares.

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