Take It From Me Cut the Chord

24 Aug in cable, Computers, Technology, TV

The New York Times has a piece talking about the surprising number of people who stick with high priced cable despite the internet as a viable option. What is surprising to me is how much people pay for their cable. Since I graduateInternet yet to do anything more than basic cable ($10) and for most of that time it has been free lumped with my internet connection. Even now I get a $10 discount on my Internet connection if I have basic. So while the bill is same I do get some live TV from time time. So for less than $25 a month and the price of an Internet connection I get all of my entertainment needs met. So how do I do it?

First is with Hulu (cost: $0). So how does it work? Well for Hulu you can create a free account. From there you subscribe to the TV shows you like. When a new episode airs it will be queued. The catch is that the shows eventually expire. So you have to watch them within the allotted time. You can count on 2 weeks, but some shows expire faster than others. Just keep a watch on it. You can access just about any show that aired on NBC, Fox, ABC as well as various other shows that are either Internet only, Hulu only or from a random allotment of other content owners (It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia for instance). This is my main source of current run shows. I used to use a DVR to record my shows so I could watch later, now I just use Hulu. No scheduling, and no worrying about missing my favorite show. In fact, our lives don't revolve around TV entertainment at all. We are liberated from any schedule and all of this is free. You can stream Hulu content to any sized screen provided that the content is streaming through your browser. I'll explain how this works down a ways.

Next I use Netflix (cost: <$15). This is a great resource that just got a lot better. Netflix can always send you DVDs of movies you want see, currently in my queue Alice in Wonderland. But their streaming has really started to blossom in this year. Now just about any TV show you can imagine from just about any content creator streams through their service. Dexter? no problem, IT Crowd? you got it. The Office? yes. The catch is that you have to wait till it comes to DVD, and some content creators are a bit finicky about streaming (though you can always just send out for the DVDs in that case). Still there is plenty to watch. I'm currently going through the entire backlog of Futurama. If you must watch the seasons as they happen this might not be fore you, but by saving a significant chunk of cash each month all you have to do is wait a few months after the season closes. Believe me that Hulu can afford you enough entertainment to get you by while the season of Dexter comes to a close. Netflix recently extended the streaming to various boxes you might already have in the house. Several DVRs currently do this. A few TVs come with the feature, and if you own a Wii or other video consoles chances are you can stream directly to your large TV. We use our Wii and the setup is perfect.

Side note: Hulu, and Netfilx will likely meet most of your needs, but CBS, Discover, MTV.com, Comedy Central all offer their own streaming. It isn't as convenient, but that can fill in the gap. I like to watch the Daily Show but I can't stream it through Hulu. This is simple enough you just go to the Daily Show's website and stream it all there.

Finally I use basic cable (cost: $10ish). Typically you can get basic for free as a bundle. If you are signing up for a new subscription just inquire. If you already have cable call and threaten to cancel. Honestly you don't really need it, and they usually cave. I use this for my morning routine. I flip on the morning news in between the shower and during breakfast. I also revert to this for sporting events that I am interested in.

Two catches. First is staying up-to-date. If you are the type of person that must watch Mad Men exactly when it airs then this isn't the setup for you. You can stay up-to-date on most shows, but there are some major exceptions that might drive you batty. Secondly live sports. Of course with basic cable some of the bigger sporting events are still covered, but if you require access to every last bowling match you might not like this option either. But there are options for sports. Comcast has a deal with ESPN. I was able to stream every last World Cup game through ESPN 360 even though I don't actually have access to ESPN through my subscription. Also there are options for specific sports, such as MLB's online offering for a nominal fee. I like sports and I make do, but I know many others who couldn't.

So now lets talk about the setup. I have a large screen TV and I want to watch all of my shows on the screen with my wife. How do you do this? Well most TVs sold in the last 2-3 years have various inputs including Composite, HDMI, and VGA. All laptops have VGA capabilities, so this is your simplest setup. You simply need a chord to connect the two and off you go to the races. Open a browser switch that window to the TV screen and make it full size. This is what I do, it is simple and easy to do. Some newer laptops may have HDMI, this makes things even easier, and if your laptop has DVI you can convert DVI to HDMI, the catch is that no audio would transfer. Now with VGA or DVI this would mean that your audio is coming from the laptop speakers. I fixed this by moving my computer speakers to the TV and plug in the speakers when I want to watch content. PC speakers aren't that much and some can produce amazing sound. You can obviously get way more complex, but this works for us. The cost is minimal, the setup is easy, and the quality is very good.

Of course you can always setup your own machine. If you have a computer with an HDMI output and a web browser you are pretty good to go. Mac or PC it doesn't matter for most content. Just make sure that your box has an HDMI output and the rest is golden, you'll probably want a wireless keyboard and mouse, and there are some easy remote options that you can setup. One very exciting thing about to happen is the advent of set-top boxes for streaming content. To be sure it is in it infancy and there aren't many actual products to market yet, but the future is hopeful and I'd keep your eye on it if you are thinking about making the break.

I'd say for the price it is hard to beat my setup. Minus the Internet connection I pay less than $25 a month for all of my entertainment needs to be met. As long as you can live without a few things, or wait for a few things you can save *hundreds* of dollars a year by making the cut, or scaling back. You may not see Dexter during the season, but you will eventually see it. If you are looking for a way to save money this could be the way. Take it from me, Cut the chord.

Update: Two things. First one more catch to cutting the chord is quality. While you may have a computer setup with HDMI most streams are not offered in HD at this time. Netflix offers some, but typically your connection won't allow it. Hulu is no where near 1080p and Youtube only offers a few videos in true HD quality. That isn't to say that streaming is horrible quality, but cable may be worth the premium for true HD quality. That said I imagine that this is quickly changing. Streaming has come so far so fast I can't imagine it will lag so far behind for long.

The other thing is an update. Ars is reporting that cable subscriptions are actually going down, contrary to what the original NYT article was stating. So NYT may actually be wrong when they say that cable TV "beat the internet." Of course not all of those people have gone for streaming, but cable may want to watch out. There are a lot of us who get by just fine without cable. Here is a quick blurb from the Ars article along the same lines:

As someone who canceled cable four years ago, I can attest that even when you spend money on whole seasons of your favorite shows from iTunes and pay for a Netflix subscription, you can still save money. Although most of the country still watches traditional TV, it's even money that the drop in cable TV subscribers is the beginning of a trend.