- The Washington Times - Monday, February 9, 2009

The House of Representatives last week passed a bill extending the deadline for TV stations to switch broadcasts to all-digital service.

Instead of Feb. 17, the transition is now scheduled for June 12. Media reports indicate President Obama will sign the measure, which earlier had passed in the U.S. Senate.

But whatever happens to your local stations, there’s plenty of television - analog and digital - available without using rabbit ears, or cable or satellite services. Indeed, there’s a bit of a revolution going on in the TV world: More and more people are “watching” television untethered from any traditional link.

Optimal viewing requires a broadband, or high-speed, Internet connection of some stripe, whether it’s wireless or wired. Such connections are growing in availability, even free in many locations, such as restaurants, cafes and hotels, so finding one shouldn’t be a problem. And, the vast majority of today’s notebook computers are equipped with both Ethernet ports for a wired link and 802.11-based Wi-Fi radios for the wireless service.

Youtube.com, of course, started it all: you can watch short video clips, or some programs chopped into 10-minute segments, to your heart’s content. The stuff is so available that you can watch it on an iPhone on demand, among other places. It’s not the way I’d want to watch an episode of “Kojak,” but in a pinch, it’ll do. And for shorter clips, such as singer Paul Potts’ amazing performance of “Nessun Dorma” on a British TV talent show, it’s a great resource.

But there’s far more than YouTube. Jump over to www.hulu.com to watch recent episodes of NBC shows (and others), with limited commercials and picture quality to rival cable. Here, I can catch up on “30 Rock” anytime, as opposed to making it “appointment TV” on Thursday nights.

A plus with hulu.com, and YouTube, among others, is the ability to enlarge the picture to full-screen mode, which enlarges the image to your full screen. More often than not, that’s a good thing - the programs I’ve viewed have come across with little in the way of pixellation, or the blurry dots that arise when a picture is pushed to too large a size. It happens occasionally, but not often; YouTube, for example, offers a high-resolution mode for many videos to fight that.

And if a video stream is pixellated, you can usually drop the image down to a size that’s still large enough to view but small enough to enjoy comfortably.

Along with Hulu, Joost offers other TV shows, and ABC will offer replays (commercials included at no extra charge) on its www.abc.com Web site. Assuming your office computer’s firewall cooperates, lunchtime in a cubicle can be a lot more entertaining, although headsets are recommended.

While some of this might give the TV ratings people fits - you can measure online viewing, but how to sync that up with a given broadcast? - it’s giving end-users a highly viable option on how they want to view TV. In my opinion, this is the key feature.

Many other cable networks offer some or all of their programming online. Religious stations and networks seem to lead the way here, although the World Wide Internet Television Web site, wwitv.com, which I discovered when U.S. Airways Flight 1549 landed safely in New York´s Hudson River, lists hundreds of local stations and global networks offering streaming video as well.

Yet another means of television delivery is buying episodes of current shows from Apple Inc.’s iTunes service, available on both Windows and Macintosh platforms. Shows up to HD quality are offered, and prices are generally reasonable. And, users of cell phones from AT&T, Verizon Wireless and Sprint can obtain streaming live video as well.

The bottom line: That brave new world of digital TV is already crowded with options never thought of, many of which are linked to your computer.