Online video can help save on cable bills

By Candice Choi
Associated Press / March 6, 2011

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NEW YORK — Forget the giant flat-screen TV. It could be time to downsize to a laptop.

Amazon’s launch of its free on-demand video service last week adds yet another option to the growing market of online programming.

Access to the retailer’s free video library is only available to select customers and still fairly limited. But the new service underscores the movement away from the living room TV set to computer screens and even mobile devices.

For some households, online programming could be a way to cut down on expensive cable packages that can easily top $150 a month. The features and prices you’ll find online vary greatly, however, so you’ll want to go over them carefully.

The same programming often available from multiple sources. But here’s a look at what you get with two well-known providers:

Amazon: The new online video service for Amazon’s Prime customers isn’t exactly free. The price of admission is $79 a year for free two-day shipping and low-cost next-day shipping on all orders.

It should be noted that customers only have access to a limited set of free titles; about 4,000 TV episodes and 1,600 movies. Some newer titles are included, but most of the material is at least a few years old.

Besides, the site has a vast online library of 90,000 titles that anyone can access without committing to a subscription. Customers can rent or buy movies and TV episodes a la carte.

Prices vary depending on the title and whether you rent or buy. For example, “The Social Network’’ costs $3.99 to rent and $14.99 to buy.

Hulu: This is a popular site that gathers a broad range of current hit shows from networks. The TV shows, including “Glee,’’ “Jersey Shore,’’ and “The Office,’’ are usually posted the morning after they air but only stay up for a couple weeks. Entire seasons of older series are also available.

There are a few downsides. To start, the shows have commercials during the same intervals as you’d get on live TV and there’s no way to fast forward through them. The selection of movies is also much more limited.

Visitors may have recently noticed logos for Hulu Plus. For $7.99 a month, this new service gives customers the option of watching shows on their iPhones and iPads as well. Customers also get access to entire seasons of 45 current shows and 90 past shows.