I have seen the future, and cable companies aren’t going to like it. Led by my kids, I have plunged head-first into a world of streaming video, on-demand entertainment, and options anywhere on any device.
For the first time in more than 40 years I am living without cable TV. Getting there hasn’t been easy, or cheap. But having invested the time to research and put the pieces together, I’ve got to say I am excited by the possibilities, and the savings.
Why would a middle-age guy (ok, a bit beyond true-middle age guy) plunge himself into this? Well let’s go through some background. For the last 10 years I have ping-ponged between Comcast, AT&T and DirecTV.
Of course the cable companies were all too happy to facilitate this with better and better intro packages. My most recent deal was AT&T’s U-verse cable and Internet. For which I was paying $136 a month. But that would eventually go up to $170ish after the deal ran out. Do some quick math, and I was paying $1600 now and that was going to jump to $2000 this October.
For that I was getting a crap-load of channels and allegedly an 18mb Internet connection. In truth I was watching fewer than a dozen of the channels, and the throughput on my Internet connection seldom fared better than 12mb.
But my move to cut the cord wasn’t just a protest of AT&T’s terrible service. As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, the aha moment came when I watched what my kids were doing. They were deep into their shows, but neither were watching broadcast TV. One lives on Netflix and the other finds hours upon hours of entertainment on YouTube.
And in truth, I watched very little live TV, aside from the morning and even news. But if I was going to do this, I didn’t want to live like some entertainment pauper. I wanted access to everything I want to watch, I wanted it on whatever device I wanted to watch on—tablet, TV or computer, at home or from the road.
And so my journey began. (If you just want to get to the numbers and equipment, click here to jump down.)
First thing was to get a better Internet connection. Theoretically I could use anything over 12mb, but if all three of us were using the connection at the same time I wanted to maintain high speed. So I opted for Comcast’s 50mb package. Ironically they wouldn’t sell it to me without bundling in a basic cable receiver. An HD receiver and DVR, of course, cost extra. Total monthly tab, $56 for the first year, $77 after that.
Finding the alternative sources for programming was easy. If you’re not sure where to find your favorite shows check Can I Stream It. Netflix and Hulu have massive libraries of shows. And many of the cable networks post their programming a day or two after it airs, like Comedy Central for The Daily Show and The Colbert Report. Both services cost less than $10 a month.
Other shows, like those on Amazon, required a season pass for the current season. So if I wanted to keep up with season 2 Orphan Black from BBC America, that was $25.99. I later discovered a world of free streaming access to most shows and movies, via Popcorn Time (complete with privacy protection) and amateur sites like Watch Series (be warned most streams come with a flood of pop-up ads). For a great resource check out StreamMyTV.com.
The major networks and local stations should have been an easy solve. Living within 10 miles of the broadcast towers I should have been able to get these over the air (OTA) signals easily using a small in-home antenna like this. But I live in a valley surrounded by trees and homes. So I had to install an antenna like this on my roof. (It felt very 60s to install an antenna.) With this installed I had my choice of more than three dozen stations.
I opted to splurge a bit by installing a Tablo TV receiver. This little box takes all the feeds from my antenna and streams them out to all the devices in my home, providing an on-screen guide and DVR function. I even can access it from the road. There were other options, like Simple.TV, but Tablo offered features the others did not.
Getting the signal from the Internet to my TV was easier than expected. Roku rules the roost here, allowing me to plug in dozens of channels like HBOGo and WatchESPN, which I could access by relying on friends and family to sign me in to their cable accounts. But I also installed a Chromecast unit on one TV. That relies on you having the site or app on you computer or tablet and then clicking an icon to “cast” the feed to your TV. It’s rather awkward at first, but I like using it in my office since I can take any video on my computer and throw it to the TV.
All-in-all, it took me a week of experimentation to put the pieces together.
So what’s the result? As promised, we now can watch just about anything from anywhere. It takes a bit of retraining to align channels with apps. But then again, how many times did I have to learn a new channel line up, and remote, when I changed cable companies.
I can’t help but think this is only going to get easier as my kid’s generation comes into the marketplace and companies like Comcast & AT&T scramble to meet their expectations. It’s either that, or become a relic of a bygone era.
The Hard Costs
|Before (monthly)||After (monthly)|
|CableTV & Internet||$136 - $170||$0|
|Internet||$0||$56 - $74|
|Amazon show subscriptions|
(4 per year)
|Annual Cost||$1,740-$2,148||$984 - $1,200|