Rich Warren | As reviewers and entertainment options multiply, costs increase

Rich Warren | As reviewers and entertainment options multiply, costs increase

Readers frequently ask for reviews of various products ranging from TV sets to smartphones. In the pre-internet days, a reviewer for a major newspaper could request evaluation samples. I was on a first-name basis with the UPS driver with boxes coming and going daily.

In this era, requests for samples overwhelm manufacturers, with every person setting him- or herself up as a critic/reviewer online. Major websites such as PC Magazine and CNET, and large national newspapers such as The New York Times and Washington Post may still receive samples, but most other papers and writers no longer can dash off an email requesting to review a product.

Thus, with a limited income to purchase the latest electronics, it becomes difficult to review specific products.

Smartphones prove the most difficult because they require activation from a carrier. So even if Samsung miraculously sent its latest phone, one would still have to beg AT&T or Verizon for service to fully evaluate it.

Comcast might loan me its latest and greatest Xfinity box for a week, except I don't live in a Comcast service area.

Speaking of Comcast and its cable brethren, when cable was king of TV, if you wanted more than broadcast channels, you took the packages offered by the cable company. It usually offered three or four tiers of service from about $30 to $100 a month. Inevitably, to view the channels you desired, you had to accept a dozen channels of no interest. Yet, you paid for those channels as part of your package.

Now entertainment flows to you via the internet. Supposedly, you should be able to pick and choose the programming you wish to view.

Think again. Because internet programming comes a la carte, the cost of assembling all your favorite channels may soar higher than the one-time cable package.

For example, CBS All Access costs $6 a month, or $10 if you want most of the commercials removed. But that doesn't include NBC, ABC or Fox. NBC and ABC offer much of their content on Hulu, which also streams original programming. A Hulu subscription ranges from $8 to $40 per month depending on how much content you want to watch. If you want to eliminate most commercials, it costs an additional $4. If you want PBS Passport, you must be a donor to a PBS local station, such as WILL. Generally a minimum donation is $10, but stations suggest giving $40 to $60.

Netflix offers the hottest programming online. Besides its movie library, it produces extremely popular original series. Netflix charges from $8 to $14 monthly, depending on whether you want standard resolution, HD or ultra-HD (4K) and how many screens on which you want to view it.

Initially, Amazon Prime simply gave you two-day shipping. Now, for $120 a year, you also receive original series along with music and audio programming, as well as second-day delivery.

Then there are the original premium subscription video services, HBO and Showtime. If you pay for them as ad-ons to your cable package, you can stream them for free.

If you want HBO Now without a cable package, it's $15 a month. Showtime, without cable, costs about $11 per month. However, if you add it to your Amazon Prime membership, it's only $9 a month.

If this doesn't confuse you, there also are various services such as Sling TV and PlayStation Vue where you can mix and match these and other content providers, sort of internet cable packages. This barely covers all the sources and permutations of TV programming, since there are a score more premium channels once bundled with cable.

Nearly every one of these sources offers some free teaser programming, whether individual shows or one week or one month free trials. If you play your cards right, you could probably view premium programming online for a year by starting and then canceling free trials.

Rich Warren, who lives in the Champaign area, is a longtime reviewer of consumer electronics. Email him at