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Cutting the Cable TV (Part 2)

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Over three years ago, I posed the question of whether I could cut cable TV from my life. It's odd to look back on the online media landscape over that time. YouTube was less than two years old. Hulu wasn't announced yet. Finding a Redbox or DVDPlay in your town was a rare joy. Streaming video was so new to Netflix that they didn't have a Instant Queue until a little more than two years ago.

At that time I tried to cut cable television, I'd need three things:

  • Polished DVRs with no subscriptions. I can't have the OS crashing on me. I need an interface that everyone can use. Perhaps this is not a problem. I'll need to research this. There is likely going to be a one time cost. Perhaps I can get something pre-built on Ebay.
  • Slingbox and good bandwidth. The original Slingbox's picture is okay for most television viewing, but it's tough on sports with small details such as a baseball or football.
  • I need to get one of those HDTV antennas. They are cheap and easy to get on the Internet. I'll probably pick one up this weekend.

Looking back at that a few things jump out at me...

  1. The idea of putting a Slingbox at a friend's house and sharing a cable connection was a total cop-out. I think it was a great idea at the time considering the lack of alternatives, but a lot more can be done today. Some people mentioned it was even against Slingbox's terms of service. To those people, I'd just say that I believe a company has to offer a service to offer a terms of service. If you buy a product that requires no service, you are free to use it as you see fit (as long as it is within the laws of the US).
  2. The HDTV antenna that I tried was horrible. I think I simply went too cheap on that.
  3. I was a horrible writer who relied on lists too much... even for short items that don't require lists like this one.
Cutting the Cable TV

Cutting the Cable TV


My idea of cutting the cable had been dormant after my failed attempt three years. Recently four factors have resurrected the idea. We had an accidental deletion of an episode of Glee (yes guilty as charged) and I had to resort to Hulu to catch up. I had a conversation with some friends who I haven't seen in some time and they mentioned dropping their cable. They are exclusively using a combination of Netflix, Hulu, and MLB TV - a subscription service streaming live Major League Baseball games over the Internet. CNN Money says that 1 in 8 people will drop cable and satellite in 2010, which led to Lifehacker asking what would you need to ditch cable television? Finally, I learned that a new co-worker is quite adept at building polished media boxes from open source software (with no ongoing subscriptions) and he's willing to help set me up with the software if I buy the hardware. This interface would give us easier access to Hulu and Netflix.

The mitigating factor is not that I won't have enough to watch if I cut the cable. It's not even the quality of what's available online. The combination of Netflix and Hulu would give me more TV than I should be watching anyway. The problem is with live television - particularly sports. Like my friends, baseball wouldn't be much of an issue because of MLB TV. That would cost us $110 a year. However that represents a savings from what we pay our cable company for MLB Extra Innings for out-of-town coverage of our beloved Red Sox. The next problem is getting NFL games. There is no NFL equivalent MLB TV available in the United States. It's not because the NFL can't do it, but it's because DirecTV has paid the NFL handsomely so that they can have much of the exclusive rights to out-of-town football games. Since I don't have DirecTV anyway, I'm still stuck going to the sports bar to bar to watch the Patriots. The only loss here is the ESPN coverage of Monday night games (2 Patriots games this year).

Have you cut cable television? If so, do you have any tricks or secrets that I missed?

Posted on May 17, 2010.

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30 Responses to “Cutting the Cable TV (Part 2)”

  1. jim says:

    Sports are the key thing keeping me from cutting cable.

  2. Evan says:

    LazyMan,

    I am not exactly sure what you mean by media box, or how much the hardware to build one is, but I know my PS3 can stream hulu and netflix.

    Also, if want to contact me directly I can let you know where to pick up NFL games (HUGE FALCONS FAN HERE FROM NY HERE!)

  3. Zyzzyx says:

    The question I ponder when folks talk of cutting Cable is… how do they get their internet connection? Yes, there’s alternatives to cable for internet, but sometimes cable internet is the best option. It is for where I’m at.

    A couple years ago we ‘cut the cable’ on DirecTV. Family had been with DTV since the beginning (what, almost 20 years? 15 at least?) I’m paying the cable company for ‘cable internet’, but get the basic cable channels along with it. Which works out just fine for me. The only channel I still sometimes miss from DTV is BBCAmerica.

    Otherwise it works fine with basic cable and a Mythbuntu system (Linux-based DVR).

  4. Lazy Man says:

    Our Wii does Netflix as well. It doesn’t do Hulu that I know of (except maybe though PlayON TV – at least according to a quick Google search.

    The media box would be particularly helpful as storage for our DVD movies (there may be some legalities for ripping them for backup purposes, I’d have to look into that) as well as our music (both already purchased and streaming).

  5. Stephan says:

    i spent a lot of money on my LCD tv, have tried hulu, netflicks, and such, and i just cant get the same quality that i can get with an HD cable box. besides that, i dont want to sit in front of my pc to watch tv, its just not how i want to relax at the end of the day.

    The biggest reason i dont cut it htough is because of sports, nba,nfl, sportscenter, etc. i dont want to go to teh bar for every game (that would probably be between 3 and 5 times a week depending on the time of year), and i defintiely dont want to stream a live game offline at a horrible picture qulaity. i guess ive decided that cable is too important, and i have saved in other areas to make up for it (only going out to lunch once a week compares to multiples times a week in the past) I save easily as much as my cable bill is each month. (10$ per day, times 3 days a week, times 4 weeks a month =120$. 30$ more than my cable bill.

  6. Lazy Man says:

    Zyzzyx,

    I think the underlying assumption is that people will have Internet through some means… which will likely be cable. That cuts the bill in half in most cases.

    An alternative may me Sprint’s upcoming 4G network available in some cities, but I don’t know if that will be a cost savings. It could be a big savings if you can use your regular cell phone plan as a home Internet service (and stream tons of data over it). I’m not holding my breath for that one.

  7. Lazy Man says:

    Stephan,

    The idea of the media box is to not sit in front of a computer to watch TV. There are remote controls and good interfaces now (or so I’m told). The quality of Glee that I watched Hulu via the PC was incredible. I think it almost looked better than our HD cable box on our HDTV (1080i) – and had fewer commercials.

    The NBA games can be streamed for around the same price as the MLB ones… not that bad a deal if you are already paying them for out-of-market games anyway.

  8. Stephan says:

    any idea how much a media box costs?

  9. Noah says:

    Hey Stephen,

    Give boxee a try, it’s free and it aggregates all the main tv streaming sites into a nice interface you can use with a remote. In many ways it’s better than cable, so long as you have a decent internet connection.

    It’s windows/Mac/linux/open source, so you can use it with a stable OS you like.

    http://www.boxee.tv

  10. Lazy Man says:

    The computer that I’m looking at is this one available at Fry’s: http://www.frys.com/product/6135309. I tried Boxee, but I’m willing to go with my co-worker’s suggestion of using MediaPortal.

  11. dlm says:

    Read a book.
    redbox/netflix
    free DVDs from library.

    • Lazy Man says:

      dlm,

      Those are all good and I like to do them all (except for the free DVDs from the library – redbox and netflix fulfill that nicely), but it doesn’t solve the problem of watching live sports. The goal of saving a little bit of money shouldn’t be giving up the things you love.

  12. Cathie says:

    Well, I think the obvious question is Why would you want to watch the Patriots? I kid, I kid.

  13. Debbie says:

    I have an HDMI port on my laptop, so I just directly connect my laptop to my tv with HDMI cord. My mother, whose laptop does not have an HDMI port, uses VGA, so the quality isn’t quite as good, but still looks great. (make sure to buy cords cheap off monoprice, and not those ridiculously priced monster cables from best buy and the like).

    It probably helps that I’ve never had cable tv in my life, so I don’t really feel like I’ve lost anything not having cable tv.

  14. cubiclegeoff says:

    We use PlayOn through our Wii for Hulu (they also have a MLB.tv plug-in and netflix, although we do netflix through our Blu-Ray player). We have a DSL line (3 mpbs) and it works fine. The only problem is that Wii doesn’t have the resolution of a PS3, XBox, or other system, so the picture isn’t great, although it works fine for us. We also have a fairly new Samsung LED that we can buy/rent movies through Amazon VOD right to the screen, and it sometimes works with PlayOn giving us a great picture.

    As you said, the problem is sports. Luckily I live in MA, so the Patriots are on normal tv. I would assume that occasionally, some games would be on tv no matter what (given the fan base). I’ve boycotted the Red Sox since I think it’s ludicrous that you need to have cable tv just to watch a baseball game, and if you want to go to a game you almost always have to go through a scalper and pay a ridiculous price. They don’t deserve my time and money no matter how much I may enjoy baseball.

  15. Big - D says:

    I have an xbox – and a windows 7 PC. I am able to record live TV and watch it on the xbox via the home network. It took a ATSC tuner card I got for 30 dollars and the software came with windows 7 and the xbox. A second tuner gets me two shows. I torrent others that are on cable I want (mythbusters, etc.). Done.

  16. jim says:

    I don’t think its the Wii that is to blame for low resolution on Playon. We watch Netflix via Wii using hte Netflix disc and that looks great. I tried Playon on the same Wii to watch Hulu but the quality was poor by comparison.

    I have a PC hooked straight to the big screen via DVI-to-HDMI cable. Works great for anything on the internet. But the Wii is quite a bit quicker to boot.

  17. Camille says:

    I watch all my TV on DVD or Hulu now. (Well, not just Hulu – on network sites too.)

    Frankly I waste a lot less time, get a lot more work done, and I enjoy TV more. (I just wish the Food Channel would make whole episodes of Alton Brown available….)

  18. The hardest part of addiction is succumbing to it in the first place. Which like anything else makes it exceedingly difficult to break. Television is definitely not an exception.

    Fortunately, I’ve never really found myself addicted to television, generally speaking. I definitely couldn’t make any suggestions for breaking the addiction beyond generic recommendations. But I think having a reason that compels you into something else assuages the need for it.

    I don’t watch television at all these days. I’m completely without the need to have a monthly service. :P

  19. Howie says:

    There are some ways to scratch your sports itch without cable TV:

    AT&T and ESPN have a partnership that allows all UVerse internet subscribers to get FREE ESPN streamed over the internet. That’s every freaking live sporting event on ESPN! It’s awesome. They even allow you to rewind and pause. Other internet providers do not have this luxury.

    Depending on the location of your residence, a good HDTV antenna does provide clear pictures over the air. Highly recommend trying out the more expensive ones there. This will allow you to get the local NFL games on Sunday.

    TNT sometimes broadcasts big NBA games over their internet site. The All Star Game was available online.

    Ilemi.com is an offshore live streaming station that broadcasts sporting events. The quality and the availability of the stations are widely inconsistent and the legalities of it is questionable, but you can use this if you must see a game.

    If you still can’t get the game, you’re screwed. Just go to a bar or show up at your buddy’s house with a 12 pack. Cheap beer, of course. We should be saving! :)

  20. lux lea says:

    I dumped cable in December. I mainly stream Netflix and Amazon on Demand. I will have to check PlayOn to stream Hulu.

    For those on a budget, the free DVDs at the library are a great bet, even if Lazy Man prefers to pay RedBox and has the money to do it. I use the library to catch up on tv series and when I want to try something different.

    I haven’t missed cable for a moment, I have too much to watch.

  21. ian says:

    We cut our cable internet about a year ago (kept cable internet connection). We returned our DVRs and loved paying $60 less each month. But, for the first 9 months, they never cut the TV signal. Since that signal did drop eventually, we live on a combination of over-air HDTV and a Media PC. The media PC is just an old laptop that i was no longer using hooked up using VGA cable and line-out sound cable.

    We love it! Boxee (mentioned earlier) is an option but we have found HULU and Window’s Media Center to be great options. Another plus, Picasa to manage our pictures on that PC allows us to easily share our pictures. Easily mark and email them as they come up.

    The key extra component i would recommend is a good keyboard/mouse solution. I tried out multiple PC remotes but since these do not have QWERTY keyboards, the internet is a pain using them. I ended up with this IOGear keyboard with trackball built-in >> http://www.amazon.com/Multimedia-Keyboard-Trackball-Wireless-GKM561R/dp/B002H0BOBA

  22. RD says:

    My problem with a TV addiction, is I have worked in television for the past 30+ years. I especially like to be sure I can watch my Dallas Stars. What are folks doing about internet connections? What works well for streaming TV shows through Hulu or Netflix etc…? I am quality minded and can get good results using an antenna, but some of the cable only network shows could be problematic.

    Just curious.

    Thanks

    RD

  23. Steve Racicot says:

    What is the best TV to get the OTA HD Channels, including connecting stuff like boxee or Roku and Amozon on Demand, Itunes, etc.???

  24. Patrick says:

    I’m confused. First you say that the slingbox idea at a buddy’s house is a cop-out. And then you essentially throw your hands up in the air because there is no good solution for getting access to the NFL. But isn’t the slingbox idea a perfect solution to that problem?

    I recently cut cable. The internet problem was easy as I live in a townhouse and so I just approached my neighbor and asked if she wanted to make her cable bill cheaper by giving me her wife password. Done. Now college football starts in like 8 days, and that is the one thing I cannot live without. I have to have my college football. I can get most of the SEC games through ESPN3 on my computer, but the quality is suspect.

    So I’m still wrestling as to how this problem will be best solved. Is the slingbox option at a buddy’s house not the best option here?

    • Lazy Man says:

      I found that the Slingbox didn’t give good resolution for football watching. For example, it was tough seeing where the ball was. It could have been factor of my internet connection or the fact that I had the original Slingbox. Also it depends on knowing someone else with a cable subscription who is willing to use their up-bandwidth for you.

      I don’t follow college football (to me it isn’t football until you get to the NFL), so I don’t know about how that works. The NFL has Sunday Ticket available through the computer now from DirecTV it is just expensive. NFL Sunday Ticket for $350 a Season? Really?!?!

  25. Patrick says:

    Thanks for the response.

    I keep up with the NFL a little bit, but to me it isn’t football unless 100K+ people are there watching it live.

    To each their own ;)

  26. Jay Askren says:

    Until recently, we just relied on free QAM channels broadcast by Comcast. Newer TV’s all have QAM tuner’s, and many cable providers offer them for free. We have been relying on that and Netflix until Just the other day, the comcast guy offered us a year of basic cable and internet for cheaper than we were paying for just internet.

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