How to Get TV on Your Cell Phone

by John Papiewski

The high-definition screens found on modern smartphones, combined with high-speed Internet access, allow them to display a wide variety of video media, including TV shows. Most cable TV and satellite providers now have free apps to complement their regular television service; in addition, other content providers have extensive offerings for catching up on your favorite shows on your phone, delivered by streaming or download. Keep in mind that virtually all media providers “lock” the shows with software that prevents copying.

Cable and Satellite Providers

Most cable and satellite television companies offer digital media for smartphones in addition to traditional television service that works with a TV and set-top box. Each company has an app that runs on the smartphone, connects to its Internet service, and plays many of the same shows that you watch on a television. The apps are required to view shows on your smartphone.

Internet Media Services

Apple’s iTunes service offers TV shows you can watch on your computer or sync to your Apple smartphone. You pay only for those shows you want, either by the episode or for a season. Other services such as Hulu Plus and Netflix have a subscription model that lets you watch as much as you want for a flat monthly fee. Google Play and Amazon offer both subscription and per-show access.

Web Sites

Many cable channels and media production companies offer clips and full episodes of popular TV shows on their Web sites. Channels include Comedy Central, A&E and History. The content is delivered using Web technologies such as Adobe’s *Flash player* or *HTML5*; compatibility with this software depends on your smartphone and its browser. Sites such as YouTube and Internet Archive have many classic TV shows to watch via streaming and download. In addition to Web-based content, some of these channels also have custom apps for watching shows.

Streaming and Downloads

Media companies deliver TV shows to your smartphone as either streaming data or a download. With streaming data, your phone receives the show as small “chunks” of information; the app stitches the chunks together into a seamless, continuous video. When the show is over, its data vanishes. Because streaming video doesn’t accumulate on your phone, it doesn’t tie up the phone’s storage space. A download, by contrast, is stored on your phone. If you watch it more than once, you don’t need to download it each time.

Digital Rights Management

To protect TV shows from illegal copying, media service companies package the shows with computer software called *Digital Rights Management*. Media companies use DRM to retain control of the show. You can, for example, view the show only if you log into the app using your paid account, and only with the company’s own app. When you cancel your account, any shows you download may vanish, even if you paid to own them, depending on the company’s terms of service.

Wi-Fi and 3G/4G

To watch TV shows on your smartphone, you need a high-speed Internet connection. Either a Wi-Fi or 3G/4G wireless service will work, although each has advantages and disadvantages. A 3G/4G service has wide coverage but uses up your wireless carrier’s monthly data allotment; going over the limit can incur hefty fees on top of your normal service bill. Wi-Fi in many cases is free and does not run up your wireless bill; its range, however, is limited to the building in which it operates.

About the Author

Chicago native J.T. Barett has a Bachelor of Science in physics from Northeastern Illinois University and has been writing since 1991. He has contributed to "Foresight Update," a nanotechnology newsletter from the Foresight Institute. He also contributed to the book, "Nanotechnology: Molecular Speculations on Global Abundance."

Photo Credits

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