There used to be time when all of America connected a pair of rabbit ears to their television sets and blissfully watched. Three to thirteen channels was all anyone needed. Then cable and satellite television came along. With the new options came more channels, all of them crystal clear. Today my brother gets his television over a high speed fiber optic cable from Verizon – a phone company. The problem I have with these three new options is that they cost money, each and every month. Many have forgotten what it’s like to not have to pay for television. Sadly, I’m one of them.
Confession time: I’m addicted to television. On an average night, I’d say that I watch it for 4-5 hours. Often times, it’s just background noise, but there are some core shows that I catch week in and week out. Surely, I’ll be writing that check to the cable company for life, right? Maybe not.
I was at a friend’s home a couple of weeks ago. He had just gotten a new LCD flat panel HDTV. It wasn’t just 1024 x 768 resolution HDTV, but the full 1080p (1920 x 1080) resolution. We started to talk how HDTV wasn’t broadcast in 1080p – his television couldn’t take advantage of it. As the conversation when on, he noted that his antenna actually gets a better picture than his cable television. It turns out that cable HDTV is far more compressed than over the air. Instantly a light bulb went off in my head. If I could reduce my television watching to channels available over the air, I could finally cut the cable. Looking over my television habits, it wouldn’t be that hard. I’d say that 95% of what I watch is on NBC, CBS, ABC, Fox, or CW. So it’s time to call up the cable company right? Not quite yet, it’s a little more complicated.
I said before that I’m addicted to television. To fill that addiction I have a dual tuner digital video recorder (DVR) from Comcast. After all, I have to be able to watch 24 and Heroes and not just in standard definition, but in high definition. Solution: Build my own. That sounds difficult, but there are examples here, here, and here. I have to do a little investigation to see if they support the dual-tuner HDTV, but I know I can at least get HDTV or dual-tuner standard definition.
There’s one stumbling block that most cable subscribers just can’t get past. It seems there’s always one channel that stops them. Perhaps it’s The Discovery Channel or ESPN. I happen to like FX quite a bit. Could I give up those shows cold turkey, or is there a free, legal solution for watching these shows as they are being broadcast? There is a solution, but I have to stretch the rules a bit. Buy a Slingbox and set it up at a friend’s house. You’ll be able to watch his cable over the Internet. Your friend may ask for a little money each month, because you’ll be tapping into his/her bandwidth, but at least you are splitting the cost. You’ll also be using your bandwidth, so you can’t cut the Internet connection. I would never have thought of this solution if I didn’t use it myself to watch my beloved Red Sox and Patriots games. As a bonus, you’ll be able to watch your television from Windows Mobile 5.0, Symbian, and Palm OS (in beta testing now) cell phones as well as Windows and Macintosh computers.
Am I going to try to cut the cable? This solution requires 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. Perhap 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.
[Photo Credit: George V. Reilly]