It’s been less than a month since we unplugged the cable TV and started feeding straight off the internet fire hose. So far, the experiment has been a success, but it hasn’t been without its bumps and bruises (assuming you can call such a “first world” problem of how to watch primadonna women plan their weddings in the bitchiest fashion possible a “bruise”).
First, we switched from Bright House’s preferred internet service, Road Runner, to Earthlink on the strength of reviews about Earthlink’s superior support and the fact that the sales guy didn’t try to bullshit me into paying more for a “turbo” service that isn’t any faster than regular cable. And, miraculously, despite both services coming from the same provider and through the same equipment, we’ve seen the frequent drops of service we were having under RR disappear (except for the mix-up in canceling the TV service when they cut off the internet too). If there is a speed difference between RR Turbo and plain old Earthlink, we haven’t noticed it, and it’s not like we’re light users…with a TV that is totally internet driven and up to four PC’s and a couple of smart phones and guest laptops using the ‘net at once.
For hardware, we’re using the Xbox 360 that we’ve had for games since 2006 or something. We had already been using it for Netflix viewing over the past couple of years, so it was all set up. But, after surveying the content landscape, there was a severe gap that needed filling, and when Apple dropped the price of its Apple TV to $99, we got one.
For content, we have Netflix for the movies and seasons of shows on DVD and Hulu for current TV shows. (Hulu Plus is required for running it through the Xbox, but you also need a way to see the stuff they mark as “web only”…that’s where PlayOn comes in.)
PlayOn is for anything on the web that has a video feed but that’s not on Hulu Plus or Netflix, including Hulu, CBS, and a bunch of other sites. There are plugins for lots of extra sources at playonplugins.com
We bought the Apple TV for anything we absolutely can’t live without or wait until it gets on DVD (like Doctor Who). As a side benefit, it also has Netflix, and the YouTube channel has gotten a lot of use.
We are watching less “crap” TV just because it’s in front of us, and we’re not using it for background noise, just having it on for the sake of it. That actually took some getting used to, as I’ve been in a house with a TV that’s almost always on since 1962. We are also watching shows we might not have noticed, like the British show Misfits (which we love), and catching up on series that we somehow missed, like 30 Rock (which I can’t believe I never watched before). We’re not missing our regular morning dose of the Daily Show, lacking in new things to watch (like Wilfred) or feeling left out.
We are now really dependent on the internet connection being up and good. We haven’t had a lot of the drops that we used to, but there was the incident where Bright House shut off the internet by mistake (just in time to miss the first episode of Torchwood). And currently we are sitting Xbox-less thanks to our Live account being hacked. Finally, we don’t usually care if a show is in HD, but video quality (with some exception) is not going to satisfy pickier people.
I’m a geek, so having a bunch of different devices to entertain me is not a problem. However, I want to make the experience as easy as possible for the rest of the family. Yes, we’re saving money, but it shouldn’t have to be a chore to figure out which device and service to use for the particular show you want to watch.
Unfortunately, I haven’t found a good all-in-one alternative, yet. As mentioned before, we need Apple TV to be able to rent things that aren’t available for free elsewhere, but Hulu doesn’t play on Apple. Meanwhile, the Xbox has all the other services, but they are on separate menus that aren’t all uniform or easy to follow (not to mention the $50 annual fee for Live and the threat of getting hacked). I tried using Windows Media Center to at least get everything onto one menu, but PlayOn doesn’t want to work through it for some reason.
I looked at Roku to be an alternative to the Xbox, but for some reason they are in a feud with PlayOn. PlayOn says they have a user-created channel that works, but any mention of PlayOn in the Roku forums is immediately stifled. Without PlayOn, you have Hulu Plus but none of the “web only” shows. Boxee has the opposite problem. It will play web-only Hulu, but it doesn’t support Hulu Plus.
I also looked at the Sony Internet TV Blue-ray disc player with Google TV. While we could use a blue ray player, the reviews aren’t glowing and the price tag of $300 kinda eats up the savings we’re wanting to see from ditching cable.
So, on balance, everything is good. Still looking for that magic cable/DVR replacement that plays all available content and is cheap.