So in late February or early March (I don’t remember which) we got rid of cable TV completely. I wanted to share the services we use in lieu of cable TV, the quality of service, the technology behind what we replaced cable with and our experience with life after cable TV.
The Services Instead of Cable TV
Instead of cable we opted to go with a Roku XD|S. I liked the Roku because it offered Netflix, Amazon Instant Video (pay-per-view as well as purchase) and Hulu Plus, although we only recently subscribed to Hulu Plus. We also use Pandora, which is also included on the Roku. It does have a number of other services, too. Some of these other services are free, such as Crackle which shows movies (they’re uncut/unedited, but they do have commercials) and others require payment. The one thing they don’t have that I would LOVE to see is the ability to subscribe to ESPN’s GamePlan during college football season. Fortunately, since I still have Cox high speed internet I can access ESPN 360. So, as far as services offered with the Roku, we’re happy.
The Overall Experience
As far as the overall experience goes, it’s been pretty good. We’ve found that during peak hours, programs that are offered in HD will usually stream in HD, but not always. This is true whether it’s Netflix, Amazon Instant Video or Hulu Plus. Off hours it’s much more consistent. Occasionally we’ve had something stop in mid-program and re-buffer, and the quality that sometimes drops to standard definition. The picture is still watchable although occasionally it seems that things not in the focus of the camera appear slightly pixelated, but not bad enough to make us turn it off. It did start re-buffering once right in the middle of “Unstoppable” with Denzel Washington and it did take away from the momentum of the scene. I have to admit it was slightly annoying that it cut right in the middle of an action scene, but that is most definitely a first-world problem that I can let go of pretty easily – or at least should be able to.
There are a few negatives: the first is that not all the shows we like to watch are available online – specifically “Burn Notice” and “V”, although “V” was cancelled. Fortunately, earlier this year CBS started showing full episodes of “The Big Bang Theory” online so we can watch that. And, as I mentioned, there will be a lot less college football playing on TV this year. Maybe that’s a good thing – I’ll only watch the really important games since I’ll be relegated to using streaming from ESPN 360.
As far as technology goes, while we don’t have Cox cable TV, we still have Cox for our high speed internet access. We have the premier tier which is speeds of up to 27 Mbps. I surprisingly got a straight answer from a Cox rep (I would have expected a vague, nebulous answer) that we should consistently get as much bandwidth during peak hours as one tier lower than what we’ve subscribed to and closer to the 27 Mbps during non-peak hours. We had a bit of trouble at one point over a period of several weeks, but I called in to complain and they scheduled a tech to come out the next day. The next day I got a call from Cox and they’d miraculously found an issue in our neighborhood and they asked if I wanted to cancel the tech visit. I said yes, and things have done well since. My thinking is that they just opened the throttle a bit although maybe I’m just a little conspiracy theoryish on that. But as far as our ISP goes, things have been good.
We added one other piece of hardware in addition to the Roku: a new D-Link DIR 815 dual-band, wireless N router. The only thing connected to the 5GHz router is the Roku. All our other devices (two iPads, one iPod touch, two laptops, our home desktop and cell phones) use the 2.4GHz conection. I’ve also disabled the N on the 2.4GHz band, giving the 5GHz exclusive use of the N protocol. It’s served us pretty well – it’s required a few reboots but it’s pretty solid. My old router was the Linksys WRT54G which was rock solid for years except for the period of time where I had upgraded the firmware which was a complete disaster. This seems almost as solid, but we haven’t had it as long either.
Life Without Cable
So how is life without cable? I think it’s fantastic. Since we got rid of the cable, I’ve been working more on a side software development project (the game of Craps) that I’ve toyed around with for years. I’ve also been blogging more lately. I’ve been reading books more, too, although I’ve always read plenty. I know I definitely am watching less TV than I did before. I think my wife and step-daughter are watching less, too, but I am guessing they watch more than I do.
I think the best thing about it is the fact that we are more intentional about what we watch. It’s hard to sit down and get pulled into whatever marathon is on TNT, USA Network, etc. so you feel like you’re not just vegging and wasting your day in front of the TV, or if you are, it’s by choice. It really is insidious how they start the next episode with the credits still rolling from the previous episode; it pulls you in into another hour of just sitting there.
In short, if you’re thinking about ditching cable, I think it’s a great move. You need to consider what you watch and ask yourself “Can I find it in an alternative venue or can I live without seeing it?” It takes some being honest with yourself, but I bet you’d be surprised at how much of the TV you watch you can do just fine without. Who knows, you might rediscover your spouse, your children, a hobby (or a new one), and a whole new life outside of TV!