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
As 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
With 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.
Because 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?
One 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.
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.