A black family watching television
A black family watching television. (Photo: © spotmatikphoto - Fotolia.com)

Lets face it. We all hate paying upwards of $100 dollars per month or more on a cable bill. Plus, the current economic climate has been hard on a lot of American families. For these reasons and more, consumers are looking for a way to realistically maximize their dollar-to-TV programming consumption ratio, hating to spend hard-earned cash on a large cable bill for one or two must-watch shows.

Wouldn’t it be easier on your wallet to wait until the end of the season and watch a beloved series in its entirety? Plus, can you really afford to spend extra money on TV stations you aren’t watching?

The good news is that Internet-driven media centers are leveling the programming field by allowing people to choose specifically what content they want to watch — and when — while paying reasonable rates for that content.

Aside from the economic benefits, choosing a networked media center over your traditional cable box can positively alter your relationship to media. Consider how our daily lives are filled with content overload, especially from the TV world. Recently theGrio posted an article citing the dangers of background TV noise to early childhood development. Choosing an Internet-driven media center may be an indirect way of forcing you and your family to curb its normal viewing habits.

What are the typical requirements needed to set up this type of home media center? If you have a wireless network at home you already have one third of the equation in place. Once you add the equipment and connect it to your TV via an HDMI cable, you’re ready to enjoy the benefits of streaming content directly onto your HDTV. However, there are so many options and questions revolving around these do-it-all media centers that most people feel intimidated and then cling to the shackles of their cable bill.

If you’re eager enough to free yourself from that monthly dead weight — that brings you tons of programming you don’t even consume — check out the three media centers below, which can potentially replace your set top cable box.

Apple TV: The champion of its weight class

Weighing in at 0.6 lbs and only 4 inches is Apple TV. This media center packs a powerful punch in such a small package. Once you connect this humble device up to your HDTV, your home network and your digital media life will finally play nice with your TV world. How so you ask?

Many have heavily invested in Apple’s iTunes ecosystem. Apple knows this, so has created Apple TV as an extension of their digital offerings, made for your living room. Apple TV allows you to buy and rent HD Movies from iTunes in 1080p quality, which is perfect for those spontaneous movies nights. You can also purchase and catch up on your latest, favorite TV shows — commercial-free and in HD.

If you’re tired of watching Netflix on your tiny laptop screen, you can link your current subscription with Apple TV, which puts the entire Netflix catalog at your disposal. The same goes for all of you diehard sports fans. Link your current subscription on NBA.com , NHL Game Center or MLB.tv to your Apple TV and you’ll feel like you are right in the game.

If you are not quite sold on Apple TV yet, consider that it is no one trick pony. Apple TV does more than just stream TV content. It brings your entire digital lifestyle into your living room. Apple’s Airplay allows you to display pictures, videos and music from your iPhone or iPad right on your TV screen. To top it off, the brushed aluminum remote pairs well with the beautiful design and intuitive user interface making you feel more like your watching a TV than using a media center.

Apple TV features:

  • Plays Netflix, HD movies and TV shows from iTunes, YouTube and Vimeo, plus live baseball, basketball, and hockey games.
  • Includes Airplay, for wirelessly streaming content from your iOS device to your HDTV, or to mirror the screen of your device on your TV.
  • Downloadable remote app from the iTunes store for controlling your Apple TV with your iPhone or iPad.
  • A brushed aluminum remote.
  • Connects to your TV via HDMI cable.
  • Connects to your home network via wi-fi or Ethernet network cable.
  • Optical digital audio cable is optional.
  • Cost: $99.00