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Locast gives you no frills Broadcast TV at no cost

Once upon a time, television signals were flowing magically through the air, landing on a laptop-sized cathode ray tube around which a whole family could gather. Provided you were not in the UK (and thus subject to a BBC license requirement), the performances were completely free – except for the child's work that was forced to adjust the antenna for 30 minutes to get a decent signal.

Then came cable TV together and almost everyone stopped going to the free buffet. Today, around 120 million US households have televisions, and nearly 100 million of them pay for cable TV – or maybe I should say "paid" for cable TV because this estimate is a few years, and the figure is falling. The Fed up with high bills for hundreds of channels they don't watch, many switch to cheaper a la carte services like Netflix and rediscover the enjoyment of broadcast TV.

But why can't you get broadcast channels over a service like Netflix? Broadcast is mostly the world of hardware boxes connected to physical televisions and not the "buy once, play on any device" model we are used to. A company called Aereo tried to insert TV into our units in 201

2, but was sued out of the existence of broadcasters after a few years (see "Supreme Court rules against Aereo," June 25, 2014).

Now, an organization called Locast is offering a similar service, thanks to a legal loophole: Aereo lost its lawsuit because it forwarded broadcast transmissions. Locast gives them away for free. So far, broadcasters have not shown interest in closing Locast down.

In short, Locast provides live TV broadcasts that you can watch in a web browser or on an app for iOS or Android. It is a nonprofit organization and there is no charge to sign up for an account or use the service. Instead, you can make a voluntary donation to support it – your organization's web form standard to suggest $ 5 per month, but there's no obligation to pay anything. This separation of revenue from services is the secret sauce that protects Locast from lawyers.

When you sign up for an account, you are asked which city you live in. Locast operates in only nine cities right now: Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Houston, New York, Philadelphia and Washington, DC. When using the service, you must physically be in the broadcast area, or the service will not work, again due to the legal niche that Locast must observe. Your location appears to be double-crossed with cookies that store past locations. I have fallen into creating multiple accounts and using my VPN service to forge the location of New York, but I have failed to make it work. (Not what I need – I'm in Philadelphia, supported.)

On Mac I haven't been able to get the service to work with Safari (in MacOS 10.13 High Sierra), but it works well in Chrome. Choose your city again and you're directed to a TV guide showing you what's going on. Here in Philadelphia I have 15 stations to choose from: the four major networks, several local independent, and a few more in Spanish. You can click on shows in the future and past to see the capsule descriptions, but there is no DVR or on-demand options playback button showing live TV and that's it. It's understandable if Locast is forbidden to set up recordings to watch later – or if it just can't afford the station space for now – but with a week of television listed, I expect to have some way to bookmark and create a watch schedule . It can at least be a function for sending email reminders.

 Find in Google Chrome on macOS

The browser is what you can call spartan because I think that was how YouTube was for ancient Greeks. There are two controls: a volume controller and a full-screen switch. There is no pause, no rewind, no fast forward (excuse me, I guess, for live TV), no closed text and no opportunity to change broadcast quality. Broadcasts are 16: 9 and appear to be at 720p in full screen on my 13-inch MacBook, fast-moving objects show a little pixelization. When you start playing or switching channels, you see a 15-second pre-roll ad for Locast donations – which will not shift to more annoying commercial advertising, because then Locast would link revenue to a broadcast stream and would

The Locast experience is almost identical on mobile devices. There are both iOS and Android apps, except that there are no controls. As I wrote this story, I instinctively dropped the headphone button to stop playback – nothing happened. If you want to keep a show from distracting you for a few minutes, close the app, return to the application pane or use the physical volume buttons to mute the show while the video continues. (This made me check to see if the spacebar did something in a browser. No, it rolls the website into the program guide.) I expect these limitations will be a common annoyance, as I wrote, "there is no break button" literally spoken a few minutes ago and knew it wouldn't work, but the habit of trying to stop the video is completely involved, well, all other apps and websites.

There's not much more to say – the Locast service does what it promises, the broadcasts were sharp and reliable in my test, and I'm sure sports and local news avicionados will jump for joy. Certainly you can't beat the price of "whatever you want." Now, if you want to excuse me, but an episode of execrable but very nostalgic is Buck Rogers in the 25th century at. I hope it is from the one good season.

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