USB Internet TV and Radio: Does it Work?

Have you ever wished that you could receive all of your favorite TV channels for free? I know that I would love to find a way to do so. So, when I saw an advertisement promising such an opportunity, I couldn’t resist the urge to investigate further.

With this in mind, I then contacted my son-in-law who is knowledgeable about available electronics. He told me that, when he came to meet us this past weekend, he would bring a gadget he had bought. The gadget he had was not the one in the advertisement, but appeared to offer the same free access to TV shows. This particular gadget works via a USB Internet connection. The fact is that I had personally never known such a device existed until my son-in-law showed me what he had bought. The device on a USB stick, sold for $6.90, was purchased from what I can best describe as one of those free throwaway ads that we constantly receive courtesy of the USPS. What the advertisement claimed was that by inserting this USB stick into any computer, one would be able to access over 5,000 television stations and over 2,000 radio stations from around the world.

My son-in-law further explained that the device he was showing me claimed that there was no need to install any software onto your system because this amazing device apparently contained everything that one would need to access this incredible amount of entertainment. The only requirement it did have was that one needed a high speed Internet connection to locate and access all of the TV and radio stations that the ad claimed were available for free on the Internet. What gave me pause, however, was that this particular device had no brand name printed on it, making me question who was marketing it. The only sticker that was affixed to the device claimed that the USB stick was manufactured in China.

Wow! What a deal! But does it work?

Since everything, it seems, is now manufactured in China, I wasn’t too surprised by this, so I decided to see how it worked. Once the USB dongle was plugged into the PC, the preinstalled software asked us to select from one of a dozen different languages before we could continue. We selected English and the device started to load. In general, I felt like the software appeared to be something from the era of Windows 98. The video quality of the TV stations that we found were in standard definition and, for the most part, were fuzzy, blurry, or faded in and out. We had similarly poor quality results when we attempted to access one of the promised radio stations. In other words, if you expect to get network TV stations or local radio stations using this particular USB device, you will be disappointed.

I took a look on the Amazon website and found a similar USB stick selling for $16.73. However, like with the device we tested, most reviewers claimed that the device performed poorly and offered poor channel selection. Among the complaints:

  • Doesn’t work.
  • This is a piece of junk.
  • Waste of money.
  • Not what you want.

Over all, the reviewers were extremely negative, however, I took one piece of advice and performed a Google search for free software. I found one piece of software, over at CNET, that looked promising. This software is called Readon Free TV and Radio Player, and was rated a four out of a possible total of five by 10 reviewers. I downloaded the software and took it for a spin.

The software installation was clean and without issues. However, like many websites, the software is ad-supported and takes up a portion of the screen with commercial banners. Since I know that this is just a part of using any free software, this is not an inconvenience for me. Another factor, if you are into design, is that you may find that the GUI is not very attractive. However, since the price is right and since one should be concentrating on functionality rather than display design, it should be easy enough to overlook this small defect.

Upon firing up, the GUI will start in TV mode but can easily be changed over to radio or sports mode. Whichever of these you choose can then be searched to find your favorite programming choice. One issue I did find disturbing, though, and one you should be aware of before trying the Readon Free TV and Radio Player, was that some stations may request that you install a download or plugin to access the desired program. If you choose to do so, the software program will install the download or program automatically but may require you to then restart the program.

Once installed, this particular software will also allow you to configure the program, from a list of presets, to fit your lifestyle and listening pleasure. The presets include specific categories that include Country, TV/Radio settings, Movies on Demand, Live Sports, and several other features.

My experience with this software was positive in comparison to the software I had tried on the USB stick. The variety of channels was actually impressive and, over all, the Readon Free TV and Radio Player worked fairly well. I also found the software easy to use and the video quality was actually quite good. Some of the links don’t work, but the program includes a dead link reporting system.

In my opinion, I would not recommend the current USB sticks. If anyone has a different opinion or recommendation for a USB stick that works, please feel free to leave a comment.

Comments welcome.

CC licensed Flickr photo above shared by Maayan Alexander

Article Written by

I have been writing for LockerGnome since relocating to Missouri seven years ago, where I continue to be a technology enthusiast who enjoys playing with the newest and latest gadgets.

  • Fred

    What about copyright infringement? Is this legal?

  • zitiboat

    I tried the same software about 4 years ago and found the same results IF and I mean IF you mostly want to watch Public Broadcast channels. PBS is there as well as many different countries versions of Public Access Broadcasting from well put together documentary shows to garage compilations like in “Wayne’s World, Wayne’s World”.
    There are also some British specialty channels for sports and movies but do not expect to see the regularly scheduled “NCIS” or “CSI” on NBC from the USA.
    Sure its legal. You can listen in on police and firetruck radio signals with a base station scanner too. Just do not be mobile or break any laws with what you have received.

  • D Lowrey

    Anyone spends any type of money for a device or even software…I believe it was P.T. Barnum which said a fool and his money are soon parted. I have XBMC (free software for Windows/Linux/Mac OS) and tons of plugins. I actually use the XBMC media center more than I use my DirecTV.

    For instance…you want online radio…XBMC has the Shoutcast plugin…along with ListenLiveEU plugin for any radio station you might want. For network TV…I have a plugin called Free Cable. It connects up with network websites inside XBMC and allows me to watch their programming. Even have Hulu…You Tube and Crackle available. For about $15-20 US…I ordered an RC6 Media Center remote so it’s all usable from my bed or chair.

  • http://www.facebook.com/timothy.lee.794 Timothy Lee

    I have successfully purchased and use USB Internet radio (radio-only) sticks from Aluratek. The $6.90 price of the one that you purchased seems much too low to be of adequate quality. I’ve checked Internet TV sticks, and they don’t seem to get good reviews. I am interested in these because I study foreign languages, and can always use more exposure to foreign language broadcasts, whether radio or TV, in addition to the variety of jazz and classical on Internet radio sticks.

  • Jeff Holland

    Thanks for the info Ron. I am sure you saved me some money and the frustration of buying something that doesnt work as advertised.

  • John Manning

    I got a 4 dollar stick, didn’t expect much, but it finally started x-play and listed a bunch of foreign tv stations, but the network was down, so it wasn’t showing…the radio didn’t work or the games. don’t waist your money…there is streaming tv, radio, programs that are good to watch streaming sears of your fav tv shows, but they cost more then 4 dollars. ?Stream Direct TV 2011?