I finally did it! I cut the cord on cable today (2/7/15).
I have been considering cutting the cord for about a year or so now, but never was really motivated to cut it. My cable bill was high (over $200/mo), but I was in a bundled package with my cable, internet, and phone – so the amount of work to get out of that just seemed to much. That was until I received my January 2015 cable bill – that bill was almost $300/mo! Not sure what happened, but from what I can understand all the cable companies (not just mine) prices jumped in January 2015. Finally the pain of paying that bill every month was too great for me to bear anymore and I started the work for cutting the cord.
The first thing I actually did was start to look at ordering TV from a satellite provider as that rate would be less than I was paying now. I was so close to ordering oh so many times, eventually realized that I would be getting myself back into a long-term contract again. I said to myself and my wife that it was time to just bite the bullet and figure this out.
My first foray into cutting the cord was ordering a Winegard Flatwave FL-5000 HDTV indoor antennae. I figured getting a rather inexpensive indoor antennae would be a good way to look into what OTA local programming is available in my area. With this antennae I was able to pick up half-a-dozen or so local stations (my goal) and see the quality. The quality actually surprised me – it was BETTER than the HDTV quality I was getting via my cable provider. Turns out, and I did kinda know this, that cable providers compress the digital signal so they can pack in more channels (Cable’s crunched signals irritate HD die-hard) and that in turn hurts the quality of the video. When you get TV via OTA, there is no compression and thus better quality pictures. Just seeing the difference drove me to figure out how to make this work.
Since the indoor antenna was only able to get a few channels, I did some research and checked out my address on TV Fool. TV Fool has a tool that will use your address and help you determine what OTA signals you should be able to receive and with what type of antenna. When I ran mine I was able to see that I should get about two dozen or so channels at my house and I would need either an attic mount or outdoor antennae. Channels in Green are ones that should be fine with an indoor antennae and ones in yellow and pink and the ones that need either an attic or outdoor antennae. The channels that are in gray are ones that you should not hold out hope for. My results did not surprise me as I live in what is called The Lehigh Valley, a valley between “mountains” (large hills compared to out west). What was nice is that all the primary channels that I wanted – ABC, NBC, CBS, FOX, PBS – should be good with a bigger and better antenna.
So with this new information I set out ordering a bigger and badder antenna – the Winegard HD8800 and also a Winegard J-Pipe for mounting. This antennae is big easy to put together as well as very light in weight. I actually wanted to see how this antennae would work before deciding where to install it – either the attic or on the outside of the house (not what I wanted). So I set the antenna up in the bedroom near our TV and did a quick channel scan. To my surprise I did pick up a few more channels – but not the ones I really wanted. So I decided to put it up in the attic and see what happens then. What happened was just what I had hope, I did a new channel scan on the TV and picked up a total of 51 stations – about 30+ more than I had with the indoor antennae. No booster, just the antenna mounted off a rafter in the attic. Boom, I was in business!
Now that I had my OTA weapons I needed to figure out how to get the signals to the TVs around the house, as well as be able to satisfy the wife and kids who needed more TV viewing options. We have been a TiVo family since 2003 (by looking at my TiVo account), so my family is very familiar with the TiVo menu and interface. I then looked at the TiVo site and saw that they had a TiVo that supported OTA HDTV, cable card, and streaming options. The TiVo that I chose was the TiVo Roamio and also TiVo Mini. The TiVo Roamio is capable of supporting the HDTV OTA signals and also Hulu Plus, Netflix, Amazon Prime, YouTube, Vudu, and a few others. This meant that one box could handle about 80% of our streaming needs. Yes, there is a monthly fee that goes with the TiVo but since I already had them that was not a concern for me – plus I usually buy the lifetime service when I get one.
Now that I have a main DVR/TiVo box that is receiving the OTA signal, how do I get this signal to the other TV in the house? For this TiVo has a TiVo Mini device that is perfect. The TiVo Mini is able to pull the OTA TV program from the Roamio and play in on the TV that is connected to the Mini. This is perfect for me as I only need to worry about getting a coax cable to the Roamio. If I had to feed multiple OTA receivers via a single antennae, a booster may be needed as you pushing the OTA signal to over lengths greater than 75′. Using a single TiVo Roamio and being able to serve TiVo Minis OTA and recorded shows was just perfect.
There is one more TiVo device that we use (I have had this for a few years now) and that is the TiVo stream. The TiVo Stream allows me to stream TiVo content (live TV and recorded programming) to my iPhone and iPad anywhere that I am. I can be at home and stream to my iPad or I can be in a hotel far away and watch my home TV and programs. It also allows me to copy recorded programs to my iOS devices for off-line viewing. I tend to use this feature quite a bit when traveling and like how it completes the “one user interface” type approach to TV watching.
Just a quick note here about TiVo. I am in no means promoting TiVo as the only solution, just the one we chose to go with. This decision was based on my history as a TiVo user, the family’s familiarity with how TiVo works, and the fact that I trust their product. There are other HTPC OTA DVR options (c|net article) out there , it was TiVo that made sense for me and my family.
We also have an AppleTV and a Roku 3 in hooked up to our TV to support some additional streaming options. The AppleTV is our main options for purchased movie and TV shows. I have started to look at using the AppleTV a bit more to keep up to date with shows that are not available via Hulu or OTA – mainly shows that are on BBC America (Top Gear, Doctor Who, Orphan Black, etc). These two devices work out to be the other 20% of the TV viewing options not available on the TiVo for us. The Roku may become more important with the recent addition of SlingTV from DISH networks.
SlingTV was recently annoucned at CES 2015 (engadget Best of CES) and, as of this writing, is only available via invitation. What SlingTV gives you is the ability to stream channels such as ESPN, ESPN2, TNT, TBS, FoodTV, HGTV, Travel Channel, Disney Channel, Disney XD, Cartoon Network, Boomerang, Adult Swim, CNN, HLN and mnay others to a compatible device. THe kids love to watch Teen Titans Go and Ninjago on Cartoon Network as well as some of the classic cartoons on Boomerang. With the addition of SlingTV the ability to cut the cable is just that much easier. There is an iOS app for the SlingTV but nothing for the AppleTV as of yet – I hope they can get one out there as I would love to drop down to two devices – TiVo and AppleTV. The one negative thing about SlingTV is that you can only have a single stream – so only one device can be watching SlingTV at at time. I am still on the fence about SlingTV for the long term – since it is new and still in beta, I am not 100% sold on it. Regardless, it is a nice option for those that want ESPN for sports, CNN/HLN for News, and Cartoon Network for the kids.
Quick update on sling (2/9/2015). They have just announced (TheVerge) a deal with AMC Networks that will add AMC, BBC America (Doctor Who!), BBC World News, IFC, and a few other channels to their lineup. This is huge to those of us who are Doctor Who, Top Gear, and Orphan Black fans (to name a few)!
As I mentioned before, the TiVo supports Netflix streaming services. This gives us the ability to watch movies, TV shows, and just about everything else that is out there. We look at Netflix as our replacement for HBO, Showtime, Cinemax, etc. My oldest son is loving Netflix right now as he is starting to watch some of the Japanese Anime TV shows that are not available via any other means, well except for maybe YouTube. A nice thing with Netflix is that you can have more than one active stream at a time and it creates a profile for each user, so each person who uses Netflix has their own profile with their own shows in it. Oh, Netflix does have some of its own shows as well – the most popular being House of Cards. I have yet to watch that series, but I can assure you we will be checking it out soon.
Hulu Plus is pretty close to live TV as many of the shows on there are current run TV shows. You may be a day or two behind, but how often do we really watch live TV anymore? Most of us just record a show and then watch it when we have time, think of Hulu as your cloud DVR where you can watch your favorite shows.
Amazon Prime is a huge source of entertainment for us. I have been an Amazon Prime member for many years just for the shipping savings (?), when Amazon started to stream Prime Video it was just a perfect fit. I look at this more as added value to the membership than anything. We have binge watched Doctor Who on Amazon a few times, now my wife is watching some weird alien TV series on it – no clue what it is, but she is happy.
HBO Chairman announced that HBO GO will become a stand-alone streaming offering sometime in 2015. This will allow fans of the show Game of Thrones to be able to get their fix, legally. The price has not been announced for this service yet, but I am sure that many will be jumping on this bandwagon. I may be one of them as we love GoT!
Up until now I have covered all the Video options for cutting the cable. The last one that I had to figure out was our home phone. Granted that most people call us on our cell phones today, there are some people who still choose to call us on our home phone number. It is not just that though, many of our accounts (doctors, dentist, banks, credit cards, etc) have our home phone number listed and I would prefer to keep it that way. There are many home VoIP providers out there, and after asking around Ooma is the one that came recommended by a few people on Twitter.
What caught my attention about Ooma, besides hearing others talk about it, was the features it offered. You can choose the “free” service where you only have to pay the taxes and fees (for me that is $4/mo), or you can sign up for some more premium services. The premium services offered by Ooma caught my attention. The features that I like are:
- 911 Alerts – SMS notification if 911 is ever dialed from the house
- Blacklists – You can opt-in to a community black list service and numbers to be blocked
- Personal Blacklist – You can set up a personal blacklist
- Cordless phones – Ooma has their own cordless phones with color displays and handset-to-handset calling
- Contact list – you can set up central contact list with names and pictures
- Google Voice – you can integrate Google Voice
- iOS app – iOS app for answering your home number on your cell
- Number Porting – you can port your home number to Ooma.
So what does this all break down to? Here is the list:
Original cable bill:
- $300 – Included 25 meg Internet, Cable, and Phone services.
- 50 Meg Internet – $50
- TiVo – $12/mo
- Ooma – $4/mo (taxes)
- Netflix – $12/mo
- Hulu Plus – $8/mo
- Sling TV – $30/mo
New payment – $116/mo for everything, that is a savings of $171/month and I have doubled my internet speeds! If I drop the SlingTV service, I would be at $89/mo and saving over $200/mo off my old cable bill.
Is it worth it, yes. It has been a few days already and we have not missed cable, it is a bit tough breaking the channel-surfing habit, but it is amazing how quick we find ourselves not having the TV on as background noise anymore. We watch what we want to watch as well as better quality programming. I have always wanted to get caught up on watching Cosmos with the family, now we find ourselves being able to do that.
Finally, check out Ethan Banks as he wrote great article a few months after he cut the cord. Be sure to check it out at his blog – 3 Months With Little Streaming Boxes.
Don’t be afraid to cut the cord, it is possible and easier than you think.