Monday, July 25, 2011

Kill the Cable Bill

If there's one thing I hate, it's paying for cable. Is $95 a month worth it to see a show live or flip through 100's of channels I never watch? I found this great site to help me through the process, and I pass the love on to you.

Cable's Evil Cons
  • Expensive:  $95 a month? Ouch. Oh yes, you can go to your local cable company and get a 6 month deal for $30. Seriously, only 6 months?! Then after the 6 months the bill skyrockets to $95 anyway, and you're getting less service than you had before.
  • Bad Weather:  Having Dish Network satellite service, service is disrupted when it rains or a tiny cloud fills the sky. That's when I need TV the most! What's the weather? Ok, I'll break out the laptop or smart phone instead. When weather is crummy, it's great to curl up on the couch and watch ye olde telly. Satellite wants those wishes to be gone with a cloud.

Cable Alternatives
In my research, the following services connect a 1-2-3 punch in eliminating cable forever:
  • Netflix:  With thousands of commercial-free movies and TV shows available to stream over your high-speed internet for $7.99/month, a great interface, and tons of Netflix-capable devices, Netflix rocks.
  • Hulu-Plus:  Another stream-over-high-speed internet service, Hulu-Plus takes care of newer TV shows that Netflix doesn't offer (often next day after original air) for $7.99/month.
  • Over-the-air broadcast:  Get a decent antenna and mash it into the RF port on your TV for your local channels. This depends on how close you are to local stations' antennae. Unfortunately, I would need a large directional rooftop antenna with pre-amp to get local channels. However, it seems many have found luck with the $44 Leaf Indoor Antenna, so I may try that.   UPDATE 9/12/11: Living 30mi from local stations, the 36" long RCA ANT751 ( for $44 shipped) picks up 19 digital channels. List of what I get: PBS, CBS, ABC, FOX, NBC, MNT (29.1), IND (45.1), and a few local weather, music, and movie channels. Big advantages of an outdoor antenna: A) Uses your existing cable line in the house, B) Only need 1 antenna for all TVs in the house (just connect TV to wall coax jack).
RCA ANT751 Digital TV Antenna

The Streamers
These internet-streaming devices will deliver Netflix and Hulu-Plus to your TV, and then some:

  • Roku 2:  Just released, this impressive ($59, $79 or $99) tiny box (3"x3") has many apps to cover all your movie/TV show/music/news/weather needs. Has a large array of support for 100's of apps including: Netflix, Hulu-Plus, Amazon Instant Video, CNET, Pandora, MLB.TV, Crackle, and Also has the unique ability to play simple games like Angry Birds.
  • Apple TV:  Rent movies and TV shows through iTunes and Netflix. A killer feature of the $98 shipped Apple TV is using AirPlay to stream photos/video/music from your iPod Touch, iPhone, or iPad to your HDTV. It also sports the ability to use your iOS device (iPhone, iPod Touch, or iPad) as a remote for your iTunes videos/music/photos on your PC. You can Jailbreak the Apple TV to allow playback of non-supported audio/video formats and install XBMC. XBMC supports more internet radio channels, Hulu-Plus, and other apps in a nice interface.
  • Google TVThe $199 (UPDATE: now $99Logitech Revue is among the geekier boxes. It's loftier goal is to integrate the web with cable. With Dish Network, you can search shows and web content alike, including YouTube videos and searching Not sure this is exactly our best alternative. I like the integration, but the goal is to have no cable! The Revue has apps like the above boxes, but it has been described as much more complicated to use. We want our brains off when using TV.
  • Boxee Box:  Purchase a Boxee Box for $199 or install the app on your Home Theater PC (HTPC). Boxee has a great remote smart phone app. I may try to install Boxee on my laptop just to try it as an alternative. Not sure I want to spend $199 for a new box, especially when I have 2-3 TVs in the home to consider.
  • PlayStation 3:   Besides being an excellent HD video game system and the best Blu-Ray/DVD player, the PS3 offers Hulu-Plus, MLB.TV, and Netflix support. You can also stream most formats of video from your PC's local library. PlayTV is available to turn your PS3 into an over-the-air DVR (limited to the size of the hard drive in your PS3). Not sure on the price of this, but seems useful. PS3 has many bundles available at $299. 
  • XBOX 360:  Another great HD video game system with good stream-from-your-PC abilities for around $199. XBOX also offers Netflix and Hulu-Plus support, although not as polished as the PS3 versions. Also, you must be an XBOX Live Gold member for $60/year to use them. This usually isn't an issue, as most XBOX360 owners are XBOX Live members already.

Why keep cable?
  • The hassle:  You don't want to deal with buying a separate little box for every room and set each one up. However, I can guarantee after setting one up, the others will be much simpler and quicker to setup.
  • You are comfortable:  Paying for cable each month is easier than setting up all those silly boxes and antenna(s).
  • DVR:  It is so convenient to have a DVR organize all of your recorded shows and keep/delete them as desired. However, at my home this is limited to only two TVs (only one of which is HD). Really, who actually re-watches their shows? Similar to purchasing a DVD/Blu-Ray disc, how many times do you re-watch a movie?
  • Flipping channels:  If you love to surf channels to find something live that piques your interest, you may want to keep the cable. Internet streaming is much more of a "let's search for a show and start playing it now" service. On the other hand, instead of channel flipping, maybe this will simply force you to find something else to do.
  • I need to see it now!:  If you simply can't wait to see your show and need to see it the second it airs, then internet streaming TV is not for you.
  • Could get expensive:  Depending on the amount of channels you watch, all those sports, movie, and TV show packages could end up costing more than your current bill. Also, depending on how many rooms have a TV, you need to get a box and antenna for each one. However, getting the boxes is only a one-time purchase.

My Take
Since I have iPhones already in the household, the $98 shipped Apple TV seems like a no-brainer. Sharing music, photos, and videos via Air Play is such a great feature. Along with using the iPhone as a remote for music and video playing on the home's main stereo makes it hard to pass up. Jailbreaking the Apple TV to get XBMC is the icing on the cake. iTunes also offers many show rentals.

If you don't have iOS devices, I think the clear winner of the above is the Roku 2 XS. At $99, it has the best interface and most diversity in apps.

What's Next?
Of the above, I currently own a PS3. Netflix is running flawlessly on it. I may attempt a 1-week Hulu-Plus trial on it and install Boxee on my laptop to attempt the down-with-cable way of life. Seeing how that goes, I may purchase an Apple TV and/or Roku 2 XS to complement each other and kill the cable bill forever.

UPDATE:  Use your student .edu email address and get a 1-month trial of Hulu-Plus free!

What are your "kill the cable bill" secrets?

Link to Kill Cable Part 2: Adventures in TV Antennas 


  1. I was so happy to cut cable from my life a few mths ago. I used to pay as much as $110/mth for Cable and ended up watching a tiny fraction of the crazy 1000+ channels on there. My kill the cable bill secrets were quite simple:
    (1) I came to the realization that life without cable is not the end of the world. In fact, it is much better. I am more productive and get other things done since I don't kill my time with TV. Also, I use the money I used to pay cable for something else.
    (2) I realized as for the shows I really want to watch like CSI NY/Miami can watch them for FREE online on the network sites themselves FULL HD. Sure, the networks put it up a day after, but who cares...if I had cable, I used to DVR it anyway and watch it a day after. So I watch them FREE and legally.
    (3) I don't care for sports and if I really want to get my sports fix, I can go to a bar.
    (4) The ONLY thing I really miss is HBO. Once I have a way around this, I will be good. HBO GO is nice, but requires cable subscription. For now, I fill the void of HBO with other things in life.

    Once people realize not to be slaves to cable, the cable companies will wake up.

  2. Well said JR, thanks for your comment!

    It is people like you and me that cancel cable (voting with our wallets) that will change the cable industry. The more people that cancel, the more pressure gets put on cable companies to reduce rates or increase choice. I think most of us "cable cancellers" are waiting for cheap a-la-carte programming, where consumers choose the few channels they want for a low price.

  3. Exactly, once they come to their senses with a-la-carte programming, then I will consider going back. For now, I'm happy without it. Hopefully maybe Roku can come to an agreement with HBO to offer it without a subscription sometime in the future compared to their recent announcement. Once can only hope.

    The other option I was thinking about is how easy/difficult the process was to setup HBO GO on Roku. If it was very straight forward, perhaps I could pick up a box now and ask any friend who will be nice enough to let me use their HBO GO account if they have no need for it since they have a subscription. Would be nice to know how the process works exactly.