Cable-less Life: The Story So Far

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

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.

The Good

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.

The Bad

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.

The Ugly

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.

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7 Responses to Cable-less Life: The Story So Far

  1. Brian says:

    Thank you for this excellent summary of your experience to date. I have been hot-and-cold about the idea of cutting the cable for a couple of years, and the fact that I read as many bad stories as good ones hasn’t helped me move in one direction or the other. I have several other people to share this with, too, so don’t be surprised when this post gets linked you-know-where.

  2. Solonor says:

    One thing that still amazes me is the quality. No, we don’t necessarily get HD everything (but a lot more than I thought we would). However, it wasn’t that long ago that watching any internet video involved a tiny box in the corner of the screen on your PC with frequent buffering. The past two mornings I have watched the Daily Show on my flat panel PC monitor full screen in HD through Hulu’s desktop app, and it was flawless.

    I don’t think it will be long before someone figures out the magic all-in-one box. Apple is close, if they’d just get over themselves and allow streaming from internet sites and add Hulu Plus. Even Microsoft might figure it out, if they could partner with Amazon or get Zune going and supply the same number of titles as iTunes. They could easily market the Xbox less as a game console and more as a full-blown media center.

  3. Solonor says:

    OH! I forgot to mention live sports. Since the only sport I care about is baseball, I’m not concerned at the lack of live sports. I could pay for MLB, but it’s just too expensive in my opinion. If you can’t be without your NBA or NFL games, you’ll have to pay extra for those, too.

  4. Chari says:

    We’ve been using TiVo. We have two Premiere XLs and can access Hulu Plus, YouTube, Netflix and movies from there. Not to mention Blockbuster. Love it.

    I can select movies on from my work computer, rent them and tell it to download it to one of my TiVos. By the time I get home, it’s ready to watch!

    We just have way-basic cable (which TiVo needs) and we get that through our homeowners association anyway.

  5. Ric the Schmuck says:

    The Roku box is simple and easy to use, and for Netflix that’s cool. (Everyone in the household “gets” it.)

    Xbox 360, Playstation 3 and Wii all access Netflix as well.

    New Blueray players with WiFi are under $200 now, though I haven’t looked at all the various pro’s and con’s of different models. I just know that we’ve got one for $160 with the WiFi (and Netflix access) built in.

    There’s no way we could cut the cord here. Much as I’d like to. Sports for me and my youngest, Primetime TV for the Missus… It will be fun to see how this all develops though.

  6. Ric the Schmuck says:

    One of my kids just put me onto…. a decent amount of free content. Justin.TV is one I’ve heard about, but haven’t spent much time with.

  7. Susan says:

    OMG….I use an “old fashion” antenna….everything is free and I get 48 channels…. You are working WAY TOO HARD. What I love is the fact that several major stations are running old tv movies and shows…. I really haven’t seen much of recent years that I want to watch.

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