Cord-Cutting Update: It’s Official!

As of January 6th, our cord is officially cut. I have a few DirecTV boxes that I’ll be sending back to the company and frankly, it feels good. The truth is, we cut the cord ourselves shortly after the Dec. 11th post. We thought it would be wise to test the water while our DirecTV account was technically still active. Unfortunately, every show we watch went on a holiday break and it wasn’t until this week that we were able to really test out the system. I added some gear too so I thought it would be nice to do a quick progress update. But let me catch you up on a few technical details first.

TV Antenna Install

tv-antennaAs I mentioned previously, we live in an area where the reception is fantastic. Even a small indoor antenna allows us to get most of the network channels we want. A medium-sized passive antenna on the roof gets us every network channel we want, as well as all of the religious and Spanish channels we don’t. But it’s nice to see just how much television is available to folks who don’t care to pay for cable or satellite! The reception is crisp, clear, and pretty much flawless.

The install was incredibly easy as I just repurposed the DirecTV setup, including the mount and cable. Everywhere in the house where we previously had DirecTV via coaxial cable, we now had a clean antenna signal. So any TV in any room can at least get basic programming with nothing more than a cable plugged into the back of the TV.

Tivo to the Rescue

tivocentral3With Tivo boxes in the mix, our new setup is more the same than it is different when compared to our previous setup. Network shows, football, and kids programming are all there waiting for us. But this is where our situation is probably fairly unique. We just happen to have two Tivo Premiers sitting here unused from our cable card days. These are Tivo Premieres each with a lifetime contract. As early adopters, we were able to have our contracts grandfathered in to these new Premiere units, though I’m sure that won’t happen again. Anyone coming into the world of Tivo today will not only pay for the device, but they’ll have to pay an additional $14.99/month for the service or $499 for a lifetime subscription. If the overall goal here is to save money, an additional $14.99/month is a tough pill to swallow. But when compared to a $129/month DirecTV bill, there’s plenty of headroom if one finds the DVR experience to be a must-have. For some, it could make the difference between success and failure in your cord-cutting adventure, especially if you have a spouse who isn’t 100% onboard.

I should mention that the Tivo also allows you to download specific web shows such as content from Revision 3, TWiT, and even The Wood Whisperer. Tivo also have apps for Netflix, Amazon Streaming (not Prime), and Hulu Plus, but the performance is sluggish and clunky. In fact, because we have those same apps on AppleTV and Roku, I never bother with the apps on Tivo.

Redundancy Galore

stream-boxesBecause we have over-the-air content, Tivo, Roku, AppleTV, Chromecast, and a PS4, we have an insane amount of redundancy built-in to the system. Not only do we have similar apps on nearly every device, we have various sources for acquiring the content we can’t get for free. For instance, we wanted to catch the latest episode of American Horror Story last night. We could buy the episode for $1.99 in SD or $2.99 in HD on both AppleTV and Amazon Prime on the Roku. I happened to be in a Roku menu at the time so I made the purchase on Amazon Prime. The episode streamed perfectly. I’m sure at some point, we’ll confront a show that makes it difficult for us to watch in a timely fashion, but those shows will be few and far between. And as time goes on, life for cord-cutters will hopefully become easier rather than harder as more and more people take the plunge.

A Remote to Rule Them All?

harmony-touchOne thing that makes this whole system work is the universal remote. With so many devices and set top boxes connected to one TV, it can be incredibly daunting for folks who aren’t used to switching inputs and using multiple remotes. If you have an audio receiver in the mix, the problem is worse yet. So a decent universal remote is absolutely essential for a setup such as mine. While there are numerous brands to choose from, you’ll find that most people recommend a Logitech Harmony. The remote can be programmed to control just about any device and works in a way that most people can understand, using specific “Activities” such as Watch TV, Watch Movie, etc… The remote then turns on every applicable device and makes sure everything is on the correct input. While setup can be a bit tricky for those not technically-inclined, I’m guessing that if you’ve made it this far into the blog post, that won’t be a problem for you.

What’s Improved/Worse?

Many folks approach cord-cutting as a compromising endeavor. Obviously, to save that much money you MUST have to give something up, right? Well not necessarily. We are already seeing some benefits. Here’s the score card.

Picture Quality – HD broadcasts, in many cases, look better than the HD obtained through DirecTV and cable. Of course, I’m talking about a fairly small difference that the picky eye notices but normal people like my wife and parents would never see. But any improvement at all is a bonus in my book.

While there are gains in quality for network TV, there are potentially some losses to consider as well. Anything that gets streamed from a service like Netflix, Amazon, or Hulu typically experiences more compression and an expected loss in picture quality when compared to cable or satellite. But the quality gap is rapidly shrinking and in many cases, I really can’t tell the difference. A good internet connection really stacks the cards in your favor and having your devices connected via ethernet instead of WiFi can make a big difference.

Commercials – When it comes to network TV shows, it’s a wash. Tivo gives us the same DVR experience we’ve always had. Hulu Plus, while a decent service overall, has the most repetitive and annoying commercials on the planet. And because they are in full control of your experience, you can’t fast-forward through them. So if you happen to miss a recording of a network TV show, you’ll actually be forced to endure more commercials than you would from a DVR experience. Looking at the big picture, that’s a small price to pay for the ability to catch up on a show like Almost Human, which I’m a little late to.

Of course, premium shows like American Horror Story, Breaking Bad, etc… are purchased outright with no commercial content at all, which is nice.

Web Content – With all of these connected devices, it’s also pretty easy to catch your favorite web shows and podcasts, though it typically takes a little more effort and knowhow than your typical shows. One thing I love about Tivo is that quite a bit of web content is available in their catalog, including shows from Revision3, TWiT, and even The Wood Whisperer. These shows download and show up in-line with the rest of your recorded content. Best of all, you don’t have to actively seek out the content once subscribed. It simply downloads automatically much the same way it would in iTunes.

PBS Content – There are a few shows that I enjoy on PBS, including a few cooking and woodworking shows. For some reason, our PBS channel via DirecTV never ran the shows I like, including Primal Grill, Barbeque University, and several woodworking shows. But as it turns out, our local PBS station DOES actually run these shows and now I finally have access to them. So oddly enough, I now have several shows made accessible by cutting the cord.

Finding New Shows – Nicole has always been the “show-finder” in the house and that hasn’t changed. She subscribes to Entertainment Weekly and generally uses that as a primary resource for finding out about new shows we might want to watch. I would also recommend you check out TV Guide’s app. You can set up alerts and reminders for your favorite shows across numerous platforms. This is something I’ve only scratched the surface of and I know there are other apps out there that do something similar. But it shouldn’t be too difficult to keep up with your favorite shows or find new ones if you know where to look.

I guess I can sum up at this point by saying so far, so good! I truly believe that the DVR/over-the-air combo is the key to this system feeling familiar and comfortable. The shift from passively DVR’ing content to actively seeking and subscribing on streaming devices can be too much of a jolt for some people. So if you’re still on the fence, you might find the DVR/over-the-air combo to be the real difference-maker.

29 thoughts on “Cord-Cutting Update: It’s Official!

  1. Actually TiVo still *does* offer lifetime subscription service. Never quit offering it as far as I’m aware (been using TiVo since 2005 and have had about 6 different boxes of theirs over time). Love TiVo.

  2. Thanks for the update!

    I’d cord cut in a minute. Despite living in a rural area, I work at a place with some of the best bandwidth in the country.

    Unfortunately, out where we actually live, our ISP set a 250gig cap on our upload/download last August. I think any chance of cord cutting is gone, until they change their policy, or until I switch to a DSL line, which would be slower.

  3. Just a note: Tivo does in fact still offer product lifetime subscriptions, but the price has gone up from ~$250 to $500 per box. However, you can often get deals by trading in an old Tivo for a new one with a product lifetime subscription. Your mileage may vary, since you have to actually talk to someone at Tivo to get any kind of a deal.

  4. Also, I have to say that your DirectTV bill was quite high. $130 for TV only is pretty… ridiculous.

    Did you have a lot of premium channels? They commonly offer new subscribers $30-$40 a month plans, and you can basically get the new subscriber offer forever by calling them and requesting it once the initial 6 months or a year are up.

    • Maybe high, but probably typical. We basically had HBO and maybe one other premium channel. HD package, two DVR’s plus one of those remote DVR’s. Nothing really crazy. We had DirecTV for over 10 years so the whole “call and threaten to leave” thing gets a little old.

  5. I too was going to chime in that TiVo brought back the lifetime subs, but clearly the others beat me to it. I’ve been a long time TiVo fan, having had one since the early days before anybody had heard of DVRs (back when lifetime service was only $199), and when you tried to explain it to people, they couldn’t grasp the benefit of TiVo over a VCR.

    Note that in addition to The Wood Whisperer, you can also get Matt’s Basement Workshop via TiVo. But I haven’t seen The Renaissance Woodworker there yet.

    I also have a media center PC in the family room, and although TiVo is much more refined than WMC will ever be, I’ve learned to use both. What I like about the PC is that in addition to using WMC, I can also do regular surfing activities right from the couch, seeing everything on the big screen. It’s great when we see something on a show we want to go find out more information about.

    And, of course, I also have a Logitech Harmony remote that controls everything. All other remotes are in a box. All we need is one. Perhaps the best investment of the whole setup.

    • Did they stop offering Lifetime for a while? I have that locked in my brain for some reason and I had no idea that they still offered that as an option. You said “brought back” so I’m assuming you’re remembering it like I am.

      • Yea, they stopped offering it for a while, but user feedback pushed them to bring it back. However, it was brought back at a much higher price point, currently at $499 ($399 for existing subscribers). At that price point, it takes nearly three years for the lifetime service to pay for itself compared to just signing up for monthly service.

        For a brief time they did offer a number of deals to transfer lifetime service off old series 1 / series 2 TiVos to the newer HD models, but I haven’t seen one of those sorts of deals in a while.

  6. Marc,

    You should look into XBMC. http://www.xbmc.org We cut the cord years ago and got rid of all of our DVDs in the process. XBMC provides our access to Hulu, Netflix, YouTube (where I watch all your videos :) ), 1Channel (now primewire.ag), plus tons of other free content through various plugins. When we want to watch something on Amazon Prime, we can back out of the XBMC interface to a full desktop for any other online content. A Windows Media Center remote provides most of the control, but for anything advanced we use a small wireless keyboard with a trackpad built-in.

    At the same time I set that up, we got rid of all of our DVDs (more correctly, they are in storage in Sterilite tubs) by ripping them all with MakeMKV, transcoding them with Handbrake and putting them on network storage. Now we can watch any of our movies from any TV in the house without having to go track down the DVD case, etc.

    It all installs on desktop hardware. You can get as fancy with it as you want. I just used some surplus desktops from my IT business, but it is a great way to reuse hardware.

    • I considered XBMC in the past but it’s not quite as plug and play as our system needs to be. I have a bit of a higher tolerance for things that need a little more patience and love than Nicole does and not to mention, we have a little one now who loves to press buttons, lol. So set-top boxes are a little more appropriate for our situation since they are harder to screw up. We also use a very similar system to what you described for archiving all of our bluray and dvd content though we use AppleTV and iTunes to distribute it on the network. I LOVE being able to access any movie at any time with just a few clicks!

      • It has become more plug and play with the latest releases. In the past, my wife hated the interface and usability. Now she actually prefers it. We cut the cord a few years ago and now she is so used to it that she gets annoyed watching live TV anywhere else.

        Another benefit is that if you know how to set the Hulu app on XBMC, you can bypass all of the annoying and repetitive commercials. 😉

  7. I’ve been hearing more and more about this and would like to cut the cord. My big question is how do you get your internet connection after you get rid of cable?

    • Most people still keep cable for Internet and stop subscribing to TV cable. The term “cord cutting” is not meant to be literal as you need some sort of cable to feed you the Internet.

  8. What kind of antenna did you buy? I have an indoor that I just got and it sucks. Taking it back, but want to get an outdoor one. Do you have a good recommendation? Thanks.

  9. I’m glad it’s working so well. I’m completely PC based. Use Windows Media Center as my DVR for over the air, Hull Plus for all the commercials I can watch, Netflix and Amazon Prime. Really love having a really big computer monitor, too.

  10. I would loke to drop my directv which is at over 120.00 for us now but we live in southern oklahoma. And have now idea how to go about doing this without loosing all channels we watch.

  11. Welcome to the club :-)
    My wife and I cut the cord almost a year ago when we noticed our DVR was about 96% full with shows we would NEVER ever watch. We haven’t missed it one bit. Actually, thats not completely true. I have been craving some shows from the DIY Network (Yard, Bath and House Crashers) lately, but that’s what I have YouTube for!

  12. Welcome to the lifestyle. Neither me nor my wife had cable/dish growing up. Just last week we added 6 over-the-air channels via a big-box store boosted indoor antenna (I live in Upper Michigan – 6 channels is pretty good). Previous to that it was iTunes, hulu, Netflix (sometimes), a few YouTube channels with an iMac connected via HDMI to our TV. I forgot how much I missed the local TV news in the morning, and of coarse: PBS!

    Our decision also partially hinged on recurring monthly expenses and we narrowed it down to either getting iPhones or cable.

    Been debating getting an Apple TV but I’m not sure if I would gain much more enjoyment from it since my Mac is plugged directly in to the TV. Being in the Apple ecosystem I’ll have to take a second look and see if Airplay is all it’s advertised to be.

  13. Marc –
    I have been going through a form of what you are discussing for the last year … but I am still not there. We are in a more fringe area but when I go to the FCC web site and stick-in my zip, it looks like we might be able to get quite a bit. We are not allowed to put full antennas on top of our condo roof so, we would have to mount in the attic area of our garage or in one of our east facing front windows.

    We are also wanting to connect directly to our lower level projector to put all content “on the big wall.” We have been playing dvd’s and all roku content through the projector for a while now and have had a lot of quality time with that. But actual TV content still alludes us. I even hired a Geek-squad guy from Best Buy to advise on this and he was not able to positively guarantee that his proposed system would give actual TV content through the projector. I have been patient with this situation because we still have a surround-sound setup at the other end of the room with an actual TV … but … our goal is to get rid of that and have all content come on the “big wall.”

    We want to cut the wires, not only from the cable company, but also from component to component inside the house. We have the projector just sitting on a table now but want to get it suspended from the ceiling with all wiring out of the way. Getting the wires to that ceiling location will most likely involve a rather messy routing of an HDMI wire through multiple joists (under a drywalled ceiling).

    Hoping to find a reliable wireless HDMI solution for that before making such a mess of the ceiling. But … again … everything is changing so fast. I think that we will have access to totally streaming realtime TV in the next couple of years.

    What do you think?

    Chester

  14. Roku has a FOX channel where you can watch Almost Human. The newest release has the commercial breaks but they are removed on the older episodes.

  15. Marc,

    I went down a similar path about 2 years ago. Also went TiVo, but with a couple local antennas. For remote, I went with an app for iPhone/iPad, that way I have as many extra remotes as I have devices. It’s here if you want to compare: http://lashomb.tumblr.com/post/57527629745/cutting-the-cord

    BTW, I’ve used almost every variant of XBMC, give Plex a try. The Roku channel makes things very easy.

    Brian

  16. I did a test run of “cutting the cord” with my Dish Network subscription for a month. I don’t watch that much TV, maybe 1/2 hour a day, so it seemed like an extravagant expense. I had a computer connected to my TV, so I could get anything available online that was available. I also have an outdoor antenna for broadcast material.

    The result? I begrudgingly kept Dish Network, for several reasons. Online video quality even with high speed cable internet stunk. What’s the use of having an nice HD TV when it looks like SD? I could no longer flip on a news channel, and get up to date in a few minutes, while folding laundry. You actually had to participate, and surf the net. Over the air DVRs are crude compared to my Dish DVR, and unreliable. Finally, the commercials absolutely drove me nuts. I am so spoiled with my DVR now, I could never go back to the onslaught of ad after ad after ad. They seemed like more of waste of a life, than the money I spent on paid TV. I don’t think I could keep my sanity either.

    So I just got a price hike from Dish this month, and while I dream of cutting the cord, I’ll stick with Dish for now.

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