One of a TV bill’s more obnoxious components doesn’t cover any channels or provide any entertainment whatsoever, unless “fussing with the remote” counts as fun: the fees you pay to rent a box to receive those channels.
These fees – often $10 and up per TV – persist despite the poor quality of many of their interfaces and the flight of cord-cutters to streaming services.
They’ve also triumphed over the Federal Communications Commission’s 2016 attempt to open the market for pay-TV gear – a move that led TV providers to pledge they would let other firms ship viewing apps for their systems. Under President Trump, the FCC scrapped that initiative, after which Big Cable quietly abandoned that vow.
Now that the FCC has effectively surrendered TV-box regulation – as announced in a Sept. 4 filing flagged the next day by tech blogger Dave Zatz – TV subscribers can only rely on the goodwill of TV providers.
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Fortunately, some of them have improved earlier apps that stream their channels over a broadband connection by enabling them to put your TV on a TV, not just a phone or tablet’s screen. Here are your app options among pay-TV firms with a million-plus subscribers, as ranked by Leichtman Research Group:
♦ Comcast: The largest TV provider in the U.S. offers apps for Roku media players as well as many Samsung and LG connected TVs. Its Xfinity Stream Android and iOS apps now also support wireless Chromecast output to a suitably equipped TV. And Comcast no longer requires you to get at least one box.
♦ AT&T: Your options here vary among this telecom giant’s video services. Its DirecTV satellite service’s streaming apps support neither Chromecast nor Apple’s AirPlay, which streams video to an Apple TV or a connected TV with Apple’s software. AT&T’s U-verse wired service offers an Amazon Fire TV app while keeping the same limits on its Android and iOS apps. But the Android and iOS apps of its new AT&T TV service – not to be confused with its streaming, no-box-needed AT&T TV Now – support Google and Apple’s share-to-TV features.
♦ Spectrum: The second-biggest cable firm offers TV apps for not just Android and iOS (with Chromecast and AirPlay support) and some Amazon Kindle Fire tablets but also Apple TV, Roku players and TVs, and most newer Samsung connected TVs.
♦ Dish Network: The other satellite-TV service offers a Dish Anywhere app for iOS, Android, and – the important part – Amazon Kindle Fire tablets and TV players.
♦ Verizon: Its Fios TV app for Android and iOS supports both Chromecast and AirPlay, although spokesman Andrew Kameka warned that some channels might not be available in that software.
♦ Cox: This cable provider does not support Chromecast or AirPlay in its Android and iOS apps, although spokesman Todd Smith said in an email that “it’s on our product roadmap.” You can, however, watch TV in a browser and, if that browser is Chrome, cast that to a Chromecast-equipped TV.
♦ Altice: Subscribers to its Optimum and Suddenlink cable-TV services can use its Altice One app for Apple TV – or use its iOS app’s AirPlay output to stream to a connected TV with Apple’s software. Its Android app, however, does not support Chromecast.
The biggest obstacle to using all these apps, however, remains their obscurity. You can’t count on a TV provider’s site to tell you about them when you order service, much less document their output features. As John Bergmayer, legal director at the Washington tech-policy non-profit Public Knowledge, griped over email: “There are always so many little details and gotchas that are hard to know about until you try to use their apps.”
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