Working toward a cable free future

By , February 6, 2012 1:25 pm

Pulling the plug on cable

Dear Comcast and Verizon,

If you happen to stumble upon this post, let me tell you what I’m doing to put an end to the monthly cash grab you guys have been pulling on me for years. Here is a post that explains my pain. Basically – you are charging me WAY TOO MUCH for cable. I would like to purchase only the channels I want – or better yet only the shows I want. I think $20 per month is plenty. I am currently paying close to $90 for basic service that includes 1 DVR, no Hi Def, and no premium channels.

My solution to replace cable is shaping up to be a combination of a set top box, broadcast HD and content that can be accessed from a computer/tablet. I created a shared Google doc and have asked everyone in the house to list the shows they watch, and see if they are available on Hulu Plus, NetFlix, Amazon Prime, or online. There is very little that we can’t get from another source.

Set top box
I recently bought a Roku box – a set-top box gives you a convenient way to stream content over the Internet. There are numerous devices that can do this to one level or another. To fully check the Roku’s offerings, I signed up for Hulu Plus. We already had streaming NetFlix, and Amazon Prime. Costs are:

Service Cost/month Comment

Amazon Prime $6.58 Tons of free streaming movies and many TV shows for $1.99 per episode. This price includes free 2-day shipping for Amazon purchases. The 2-day shipping is nice to have but this service is really worth it when you add in the free video content.

NetFlix $7.99 Not as much online as DVD – but still plenty of content – both TV and movies

Hulu Plus $7.99 Has the vast majority of TV shows

TOTAL $22.56 I checked my calculator and am pretty sure that $22.56 is less than $90.

Broadcast HD
Most of us haven’t used broadcast TV in years – choosing instead to go with cable TV from Comcast or Verizon. Several years ago, traditional analog broadcast TV was replaced by broadcast Digital TV. This is mostly Hi-Def broadcast TV. I recently bought this antenna to check out reception in this area. You can reception in your area but in practice I’m getting these channels with an indoor antenna. I’m sure I’d get dramatically better results with an exterior rooftop unit:

  • 2-1 – WGBH-HD
  • 2-2 – WGBH-SD(standard def)
  • 4-1 – WBZ-TV – HD local CBS affiliate
  • 5-1 – WCVB-TV – HD local ABC affiliate
  • 7-1 – WHDH-HD – local NBC affiliate – reception is a little dicey but watchable
  • 7-2 – This TV – Don’t know what this is – reception is a bit spotty
  • 10-1 – WJAR HB – NBC affiliate from Providence
  • 10-2 – MeTV – Boston. Plays classic old shows
  • 25-1 – WFXT Fox
  • 28-1 – WLWC-HD
  • 28-2 – WLWC-SD – Spanish channel
  • 38-1 – WSBk-TV Ch.38 – doesn’t come in well
  • 44-2 – WGBH World – PBS

  • 44-3 – WGBh Create – PBS
  • 44-4 – WGBH Kids – PBS
  • 56-1 – WLVI-DT
  • 56-2 – TCN

I’m currently looking for a DVR that can record from broadcast HD (ATSC). It is true that almost everything I watch is available via the set top box, or on line – meaning I can watch it whenever I want, but the DVR would let me record things from local broadcast TV that is not readily available online such as Chronicle.

Computer content
Any computer device(laptop, desktop, tablet, chromebook) can be plugged directly into a modern TV so that you can watch anything you can access with these devices. The best of all worlds is to connect via HDMI which gives you HiDef video and audio. This isn’t quite as convenient as a set-top box: You have to navigate to the show, plug into the TV, start the recording. This could be made more convenient with a wireless keyboard and mouse but will never be as easy is sitting your ass down, grabbing the remote, and commence drooling.

Downsides
So far, the biggest downside is the lack of an on-screen Show/Channel listing. Broadcast HD has no channel guide. I would have to look on the computer for TV guide or something. This makes shows sort of invisible. If there is a new episode of “The Walking Dead”, I have to make some effort to find it and watch it. This would be come less painful if I find a DVR that can record broadcast HD: Once I get it programmed the contents of the DVR become something like a listing of shows.

The other big downside is a lack of convenience. Since shows are coming from different sources, watching them is a bit more effort – particularly if the source is online. Even for the stuff that is on Hulu Plus via the set top box, I have to:

  1. Select the proper TV input source for the Roku
  2. Select the Hulu Plus channel
  3. Find the show I want
  4. Find the episode I want

A bit more inconvenient yes. The big upside is that I don’t have a cable company arbitrarily changing my rates, adding mystery fees, changing channel lineups and charging me three times what their service is worth – currently over $1000 per year.

Those of you who are near my age – think back to TV when you were young. We had channels 2, 4, 5, 7, 12, 25, 38, 44, 56. The TV was black and white and you needed to *gasp* stand up and walk to the TV to change channels. You couldn’t record shows or watch anything that wasn’t broadcast over the air. The “inconvenience” I am talking about is nothing. I will still have more content than I could ever possibly watch. The only time I’ll ever have to get off my lazy ass is when I want to connect the laptop to watch online content.

If I had my way, I would cut off cable service today – but I want my family to buy into this plan – to buy into the idea that our family is better of with a $360 yearly TV bill instead of the current $1020. That’s a difference of $660 per year today – a difference that will get bigger and bigger year after year.

2 Responses to “Working toward a cable free future”

  1. Spiney says:

    If you’re willing to add another monthly subscription then a TiVo HD or TiVo Premier (http://www.tivo.com/products/tivo-premiere/index.html) would do what you want to do. It would also solve your TV guide issues. The latest boxes can also do Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon etc. Would help with your user interface issues too, as you could do it all from the single TiVo interface. You could probably Ebay one for less than $100.

  2. Eric S says:

    I have a DB-4 antenna outside mounted, about 25 feet in height, ($100 and 2 hours time invested) pointed almost due north. I receive all the channels you mentioned, plus all the Rhode Island stations, as well as two spanish channels, RTV, similar to MeTv, Ion, Qubo, etc. I have Sony wireless media box, and Netflix streaming, and I have not paid a cable bill in about 25 years.

    If you are not afraid of heights, and have a suitable spot for an antenna mount, go to
    Antennaweb.org, very good info there.

    You can also purchase an HD-OTA DVR, I think Tivo makes one, and channel master, not cheap, but a one time purchase.

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