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How Can I Watch TV Programs on My PC?

by Geoff Talbot on April 2, 2012

watch tv programs on my pcIf you are a TV fan who’s use to watching your favorite TV program from your rocking chair be prepared, internet television is going to throw your world into a whole new spin.

Recently, the Major Television Networks have launched their video platforms out into cyberspace hoping to capture your attention via any computer screen or mobile device of your choosing.

So next time your delinquent babysitter forgets to DVR the latest episode of Desperate Housewives, don’t panic.  Just saunter over to the ABC website and catch up with what’s cooking on Wisteria Lane during your lunch break the following day. But will watching TV programs on your PC  give you good enough quality?

And therein lies the rub, watching your favorite show online could turn into an unpleasantly frustrating, pull out all your hair, worst 20 to 40 minutes of your life kind of experience.

There are number of factors that can influence if you will actually like watching tv on your PC, they include…

  • The time it takes for a show to load.
  • The resolution of the picture.
  • The sound quality.
  • Consistency of streaming quality.
  • The length and frequency of the commercials.

With that in mind I decided to sit down and do a little research and watch TV on my PC and rate the television watching experience on each of the major networks.

A General Complaint About Watching Network TV on Your PC Before We Start:

The annoying thing about each of the networks online video players is that you have an inability to fast forward, or rewind your way through the show like you can on your DVR.

You have to drag the mouse on the scroll bar, then it’s load and reload, totally hit or miss when it comes to replaying your favorite gag or TV moment.

It’s also impossible to speed through the commercials (sigh). Moving on… 

Where To Watch TV Shows Online

 Watching NBC Programs– 4/5 STARS

 The Emmy for pure image quality with minimal pixilation and movement blur on their full screen image goes to NBC. This is great news for fans of 30 Rock, The Office, and other NBC network shows.   NBC’s video player interface is also very simple and clean. It’s also the only network that offered me the flexibility to watch TV on my pc in three different screen sizes, normal, large and full screen.

Strangely though their online library was difficult to navigate to from their homepage and not super intuitive. But with only 30 seconds worth of ads on the front end and minimal loading time I was soon watching James Spader throw a party for Nellie on the latest episode of The Office.

Although it didn’t get close to the experience you can have sitting back in a recliner and watching a 42-inch plasma, apart from some minor streaming issues (the picture quality fluctuated a few times) it was well worth the watch and I was able to catch up on one of America’s favorite shows.

Good picture quality, minor commercial interference and a clean and flexible interface earned NBC top marks and 4/5 stars.

Watching ABC Programs– 3/5 STARS

Next, I wanted to check out the crazy crew on ABC’s Modern Family.  Their content was up-to-date with last week’s episode waiting and ready for my perusal.

There were more ads on ABC. Banner ads scattered around the video player and the commercials at the front end played for 60 seconds. Annoyingly every time I paused the player, a still frame from a commercial came up as a placeholder. I felt like I was constantly being sold something when really I just wanted to watch TV online.

 ABC’s Website is the simple to navigate and their TV shows are well presented and easy to find. The user interface is simple and attractive. The picture quality on full screen mode was good, but if you looked closely there was a grainy soft feel to all the footage.

The easy navigation, up to-date content and attractive interface earned ABC second place and a mind blowing 3/5 stars.

Anyway back to the annoying commercials and the worst culprit of all was…

Watching FOX Programs – 2/5 STARS

 I couldn’t get past the “two minute long commercial breaks” scattered through out each show.  Also, I desperately wanted to watch the latest episode of Touch but it is not available until 8 days after the show airs unless you log on to your satellite or cable account.

On the upside, their library of shows is super well-presented and easy to find. Although there is this sense that their marquee shows (American Idol, Glee, Bones) are being pushed right at you the moment you land on their homepage.

The quality of the video is inconsistent with flickering quality, suggesting streaming issues at different times of the day or when their webs traffic is high.

These serious streaming issues, the commercial overload, and the 8-day restriction on new content meant I could only find 2-stars in my heart for Fox Television.

Last but not the least we took a look at one of the niche players in the market

Watching The HISTORY Channel  – 2/5 STARS

Without the budget of the major players The History Channel actually does a pretty job at providing you with an enjoyable online TV watching experience. The great thing about The History Channel online is that the content is central to everything on their website.

The shows are super easy to find and they are presented in a really tidy, uncomplicated fashion. Best of all the commercials are minimal, with only a 20 second lead in and 15-second interval breaks.

Unfortunately I could only give them 2 Stars because the full screen image on their video plays was super soft and compressed, with the lowest quality of all the video players I reviewed.

On the bright side, there were no issues with streaming and the image quality remained consistent throughout.

The Future Of Online Television

After running a snap poll on my social network channels and I discovered that a staggering 64% of my friends are already watching TV on their PC. Clearly, the major networks are very aware of this rapidly growing trend and they are endeavoring to serve this new market niche.

The difficulty they have is in trying to replicate the high definition, high quality experience that the viewer is used to enjoying in their own living room.

At the moment all of the networks we reviewed lag behind the other online streaming giants such as Netflix and Hulu in the rush to replicate the high quality, high definition television experience on an online computer screen. But in the future  the networks will have a huge strategic advantage over these other online video platform providers.

Their advantage lies in the fact that they already create and own a large library of high quality video content. Without “great content” a video platform provider has nothing to play, they must purchase the content or create their own.

Expect the networks to rapidly improve their online video technology as they race to deliver your favorite TV show straight to your living room via your computer screen.

It’s lunchtime. What TV Show do you wish you could watch in high definition on your iPad or PC?

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Paula Kiger April 5, 2012 at 10:24 am

This was interesting! I don’t watch tv much on my computer, but my teenager does. It’s a helpful primer and educates me a bit about the process.

2 Trent April 5, 2012 at 2:48 pm

With my busy schedule its a treat now to be able to watch my handful of favorites online. I also love the option of my teenagers being more selective online rather than watching whatever happens to be on. Great article. Thanks.

3 John Paul Nettles April 5, 2012 at 2:49 pm

GREAT blog post, the first I’ve seen actually rating the stations like that, great idea. The networks may have some a ways to go, but with DVR services running 100+ per month, I think most of us are willing to make the sacrifice.

4 Geoff Talbot April 6, 2012 at 10:12 am

Thanks for all the comments so far. It seems as though “Flexibility” pays a big part in our choosing to watch TV on our PC’s. We can watch our favorite shows, anywhere and anytime.

5 Lisa PeCai (@Lisapecai) April 8, 2012 at 5:21 pm

and the screen size, and 52′ vs a pc..

6 Geoff Talbot April 10, 2012 at 11:21 am

Thanks Lisa. Definitely the big draw back is still screen size. Although I think people are getting more comfortable with watching high definition footage on a smaller screen, especially when we are commuting or are in a confined space like an aeroplane etc. Do you find small screen watching… less relaxing.

7 Jim H June 5, 2012 at 5:48 pm

I only watch TV on the Internet. I do not even own a TV anymore. You forgot to rate one of my favorite sources for TV shows… past or present… . I enjoy it very much.

8 Anna October 27, 2014 at 4:13 am

I watched The Presidents on my smartphone provided by Amazon, and I wondered how to connect my phone to my tv. I would like to learn to set up my own choices for my tv time. I think it is possible, and Netflix may be a way to do something like that.

9 Brinton Felixraja October 30, 2014 at 6:21 am

Currently, this feature is not available in RealPlayer Cloud.

If you have a Chromecast device, please visit this link:

Please let us know, if you have additional questions.

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