How to find, download and watch TV and movies for free

In the process of getting and using my Creative Zen (see my post on my Creative Zen), I found that you can view online or download movies, TV shows, videos and more to your PC, as well as downloading to your Zen (portable audio/video device).

Online: The network websites are slowly starting to stream their popular TV shows. It was a godsend for my sister when she was working as a traveling surgical tech because she could watch some of her favorite shows and soap operas without needed a TV or cable.  And that was before the digital conversion which makes it more difficult to just hook up a TV and watch network TV. And of course, she could watch at her convenience. A couple of shows that she watched online were Lost and 24ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox all have full episodes of some of their shows online. Even shows on cable stations like HGTV and MTV (which also has many music videos).

There are also websites that gather different TV shows and movies together in one place, making it easier to access them. If you are a Comcast customer with high-speed internet and Digital video with On Demand, you can go to a site called Fancast that, with a little setup, lets you view a huge amount of TV shows and movies from your cable selections.  We have HBO and I can watch movies from HBO as well. Without Comcast, you can still use Fancast, it is just more limited as to what you can access. It does still have quite a few movies and TV shows.

Hulu is probably the most well-known website for video content. It has a large amount of content to choose from. Hulu also has a desktop version that I originally thought would let you download and view later without the internet but after trying it and looking at it closer, it “Hulu Desktop runs directly on your computer and does not require a web browser. It provides an alternate way to browse and view content from the Hulu Library”. In other words, you don’t need your brower like firefox or IE open, but you do still need to be connected to the internet.

For more recent movies, Amazon Video on Demand lets you rent movies for about $2.00 to $4.00 each and watch them on your PC.

But all these sites require that you are online to view their content.  So what if you want to download movies to a device like a netbook or portable video device and watch them like you would a DVD?

Download: I actually have a hard time finding easy and safe legitimate copies of movies, whether free or purchased.  Many people recommend iTunes (according to their website, most are around $10). However, even if you buy a legit copy, in order to download it to your Zen (or any non-apple device) you have to convert it which breaks the iTunes copy protected format, which is illegal. I can say though, for informational purposes only, that if you are still interested in this, go over to epiZENter and check their forums and they can help you with the software you would need.

Another inexpensive, legit option may be Starz Play (formerly Vongo), especially (and actually, maybe only) if you are a Verizon user. From the Verizon website it says: Get unlimited movies and videos for just $5.99 per month. ($9.99 per month for customers who are not subscribers to verizon FiOS or Verizon High Speed Internet). This is the FAQ for Starz Play from the Verizon website. Once you have finished downloading a Starz Play movie, you do not need to be online to watch it. Which means that you might also be able to download it to a portable device, although it says Some titles are in the service for many months, and others last a few weeks or days. Once a title expires from the service it will automatically delete from your hard drive. So I am guessing you have to use their media player and that they use some sort of encryption.  They didn’t seem to have a huge collection of recent movies.

And I’ve just heard about Roxio CinemaNow.  They were offering a free download of Terminator: Salvation a few days ago and I followed the link but it was no longer valid (for the free download). But it appears that you can rent movies from like other places, but also you can buy movies and download them, even to portable devices.  The movies look like they cost approx. $15-$20 to buy and about $4 to rent.

bitTorrents: But really, I have not found a good, free/cheap, legitimate site to download movies or TV shows to my PC or Creative Zen.  I have, however, found some good, free sites from which you can download movies or TV shows.  These sites are search engines for searching BitTorrent files. The best-known of these sites are Pirate Bay and isoHunt. BTJunkie is also supposed to be good. Unfortunately, a lot of the bitTorrents they find are not legitimate so I cannot recommend them and I am providing this for informational purposes only.

These sites work by using bitTorrent protocol (peer to peer). Here are the wikipedia entries for BitTorrent Trackers and BitTorrent protocol. It is pretty interesting reading. I am going to give you the basic instructions for this. There are many different ways and software but this is easy and works.

How to Download bitTorrent files: Go to Isohunt to find the movies you want to watch (and get the isohunt toolbar if you want, to make it easier to find) Note: torrents from axxo and fxg are particularly well done.  If  you scroll down the home page, there is a list of top searches on the right side and you can see that axxo and fxg are top searches. When you find something you want to get (like if you do a  search for a title), you will get a list.  To the right of each one is a number and a star and another number.  The first number says how it was rated (can also have negative numbers for especially poor ones). The second number is the number of comments for that copy. When you find one that has a positive rating, click on it and read the comments to make sure it is a good (and real) copy. The “kingben” and “axxo” ones (if real, check comments) are usually good.  You should also check what files they download to make sure it is an .avi file.  some of them are zipped using .rar and you have to go find the software to unrar them.

If you want a rar, go to WinRar and you can download a trial copy to unrar it.

Then click on Download .Torrent and then Open. When the uTorrent popup pops up, just click OK and utorrent will start downloading it.  It will take a while to get it downloaded. It’s probably a good idea to start some uTorrent downloads before you go to bed.

How to Play on PC/netbook: Download the VLC media player to play the videos The VLC media player has the best ability to play a wide variety of video formats and that is why I recommend VLC media player. Many times the downloads cannot be viewed correctly in the Windows media software and this is much easier. Then you can open the VLC media player, pick media/open file and open your movie and watch it. It has a fullscreen mode too.

The downloaded files can be transferred to a netbook along with the VLC media player and then played at your convenience, without needing internet access. The downloaded files can also be transferred to a portable media device, like my Creative Zen. But before they can be loaded to the Zen, they have to be run through video conversion to put them into a format that the Zen can read.

Convert file to Zen readable format: The easiest way to convert the files is by using the Badak file conversion program.  Badak is a simple video transcoder. It is free and although it is not the prettiest looking software, it really is the easiest and best that I have found so far to convert videos to a format a Zen can play. Just click on the “Open Preset” button at the bottom left of the window (next to the “Settings” button). Then click on the Creative Zen in the list of settings and it will be set for the proper settings for the Zen.

To convert a file, either click the “Add File” button at the top and add the file, or drag the file to the top and drop it in the window. You can change the Setting Destination to another folder if you want.  And unless you change it (in File Name Header), all files will start with [Z].

Now just click start and it will convert the file to Zen compatible format and put it in the setting destination. It takes a little less than an hour to convert a regular 2+ hour movie and about 15 minutes for an hour (42 min) TV show. It also cuts the size of the (typically .avi) file in half.

Then you can attach the Zen to the USB port, open it to show files and folders (or go to the drive it creates) and load the video to My Videos.

That is all you have to do! Now you can watch your movies or TV shows on your netbook or Zen or other portable media player.

~Susan Mellott

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