Apple might be quietly preparing an assault on the cable box via its Apple TV

On the surface, Apple TV seems increasingly focused on cable subscribers instead of cord cutters.

Since its launch last fall, the fourth-generation Apple TV has added several features that provide more convenient access to “TV Everywhere” apps (such as WatchESPN, FX Now, and HBO Go) that require a cable or satellite login to access. Siri is becoming more effective at finding what you want from these channels; the download process is becoming more streamlined; and with the next version of Apple’s tvOS software, logging into these apps will become much less of a hassle.

While these are useful improvements, it’s hard to believe cable subservience is Apple’s true goal. For a device that’s supposedly the “future of television,” its best features are becoming awfully dependent on a cable subscription, which in turn requires a cable box. Can Apple really reinvent TV when its hardware is relegated to a secondary input or a spare television?

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Without Xbox, will broadcast DVR ever get its mainstream moment?

Microsoft handed some bad news to cord cutters last week when it announced that it was stopping work on over-the-air DVR features for the Xbox One.

Originally announced last year, Microsoft planned to support free recording of broadcast channels (CBS, NBC, Fox, and so on) using the Xbox One TV tuner and an over-the-air antenna. Beyond just playback on the Xbox itself, users would be able to stream recordings to the Xbox app on Windows, iOS, and Android, with support for offline playback on Windows. Microsoft now says it’s indefinitely putting those plans “on hold” while it focuses on gaming features.

The DVR features were a big deal because they promised to give cord cutters one box that did it all, from live TV to DVR to streaming. While other options exist today for over-the-air DVR, none are as seamless as what Microsoft promised, and nothing similar appears to be on the horizon.

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5 free streaming-TV apps (and why you’re probably not using them)

If you were to call up your local cable TV provider and ask for free channels, chances are you’d get laughed at.

But with online video, free streaming services are everywhere. All you need is a web browser or streaming-video device--Roku, Chromecast, or Amazon Fire TV--and you can take your pick of legal apps that offer plenty of ad-supported movies and TV shows.

There is, however, a problem: Most people don’t know these free apps exist, and this whole category of apps has a high junk-to-gem ratio. That means even the enlightened few might waste a lot of time sifting through chaff to find movies and shows worth watching. It’s a symptom of a larger issue, which is that streaming-video devices still aren’t great at searching across lots of different apps and services.

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5 reasons to cut the cord that aren’t about saving money

When I cut the cable-TV cord in 2008, the decision came from necessity. My freelance writing career was just starting, and I couldn’t scrape together enough work to justify an extra $50 per month for TV service.

Eight years later, I’m gainfully employed but still have no desire to become a cable subscriber. While Time Warner Cable has tried plenty of times to change my mind with cheap promo deals—some of which are awfully close to what I pay for streaming-video services—my reasons for being a cord cutter aren’t just about money anymore.

Here are five reasons that I’m happier without traditional TV service, monthly savings aside:

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How a Hulu skinny bundle could succeed (and where it could falter)

Next year, Hulu will join the likes of Sling TV and PlayStation Vue with a streaming bundle of live TV channels.

While Hulu hasn’t said much about how the service will work, the price is rumored to be around $40 per month. Many channels will likely come from Hulu’s corporate backers, including Disney, Fox, and NBCUniversal.

What we’ve heard so far doesn’t sound much different from the “skinny bundles” that exist already. Still, Hulu’s existing service—and its ties to big TV networks—put the company in a unique position to replace the cable bundle. Here’s where a Hulu TV bundle could go right—and where it might go sideways.

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Netflix and 4K HDR: Proof that data caps will stifle video innovation

Last week, Comcast users around the country breathed a sigh of relief when the cable giant relaxed its data-cap plans.

Instead of the 300GB limit that Comcast currently imposes in some trial markets, Comcast will allow 1.0TB of usage before charging overage fees. The company points out that less than one percent of its customer base uses more than 1.0TB today, implying that even people who stream lots of online video shouldn’t have to worry about caps.

But this relief is just temporary. With 4K resolution and HDR video, streaming services such as Netflix are poised to consume much more data as they provide vastly better picture quality to consumers. The traditional TV industry, meanwhile, is dragging its heels to provide those same video features to cable and satellite subscribers.

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TV networks’ response to unlocking the cable box highlights everything that's wrong about cable TV

Here’s something you might not know about cable TV boxes: They’re designed to be not too helpful.

The cable box's raison d'etre is to produce revenue for the cable or satellite TV company that owns it. These companies make money by charging perpetual hardware rental fees, of course, but the software also plays a role, because the TV networks negotiate preferred placement for their channels. A higher spot in the channel guide means more viewers, which means more advertising revenue, which is why there’s not always much logic to the order of channels in the program guide.

So it’s no surprise that the TV industry—including operators like Comcast and media companies like Viacom—aren’t happy with a Federal Communications Commission proposal to open the cable-box market and upend the way channel guides work. In comments to the FCC, the industry has basically admitted that its revenue depends on the status quo, even if it harms the user experience. This is precisely the sort of near-sightedness that is causing the TV industry so much pain in the first place.

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