Cutting the Cord on Cable

Image c/o CNET.com
Image c/o CNET.com

Hypothetically speaking, let’s say that you’ve been paying roughly a car payment every month to a giant monopoly for most of your adult life to get internet, cable and phone service. It’s not implausible, right? Many of us have done it.

Comcast, for example, currently has 21.7 million video subscribers but that number will rise to 30 million once the Comcast/Time Warner merger is complete. The company says it currently makes $137 a month from “customer relationships.” A little bit of quick and dirty math shows that Comcast will be raking in at least $4.11 billion per month.

Per. Month. “Many” seems like a bit of an understatement, really.

So, how do you feed the TV monkey without forking over heaps of cash every month? Here’s a rudimentary rundown.

1. Get a reliable internet connection

You do need to fork over some money every month to a company like Comcast or some other ISP, unfortunately. A package with download speeds of 105Mbps or so will run you roughly $70 per month (if you are a new customer and/or shop around enough). If you’re lucky enough to live somewhere with Google Fiber, don’t rub it in, jerk.

2. Purchase your own modem

Don’t pay extra for modem rental fees every month. There’s no reason to throw $10 out the window. Owning your modem will pay for itself in no time at all. Lifehacker has a good post on this.

3. Pick up an amplified HDTV antenna and digital TV converter box

An amplified HDTV antenna will pickup the basic networks for you like, ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox. If you’re lucky, you’ll get a lot more than that.  With our antenna, we have over 60 channels.

I recommend the Mohu Leaf and Mediasonic HW-150PVR. Before making a purchase, though, check this FCC page to see what channels are available in your neighborhood.

The HW-150PVR works not unlike your old cable box but is just not as refined. It has an on-screen guide to show you what is on TV but the display is messy. It gives you the functionality of recording shows but you cannot record one show and watch another. You also have to plug in an external hard drive via the USB port that is awkwardly placed in the front of the box. It has one distinct advantage, though, that we will discuss in the next point.

4. Buy an Xbox One

It seems strange to talk about an expensive purchase in an article about saving money but the One is easily among the top products that Microsoft has ever developed and it seamlessly integrates all corners of your digital life from gaming to TV to streaming services to the web. In my personal opinion, this is the prototype for what the future of home entertainment centers will look like.

The One has a TV app and the HW-150PVR works with it as well as with OneGuide, which gives you a beautiful interface for channel surfing. The console does a good job with voice commands and there is a reasonably priced, compact Microsoft remote that gets the job done.

The Xbox One also has a Plex media client, which allows you to stream media from one device to the next (bye bye, expensive Apple TV).

5. Stream away

There are a ton of streaming services out there, from Netflix to Hulu Plus to Amazon Prime and so on. Dish Network also just released Sling TV, a service that attempts to do to cable TV what Pandora did for music and Netflix did for movies. For $20 a month, users get over a dozen channels, including ESPN, AMC, Disney, Food Network and more. Sling also offers supplemental packages for an additional $5 tailored to your tastes.

Oh, and all of these apps are available on Xbox One. OK, Sling isn’t available on the One yet but it’s coming very soon.

So, how much does it actually save?

Our last bill with Comcast was about $256. Without cable, we are down to $85 but have added on Hulu ($7.99 ) and Sling ($20) to our monthly expenses. We already had Netflix ($8.99) and kept it. So, prior to cutting the cord, we were paying about $265 per month with Netflix. After the fact, we are down to $121.98, for a monthly savings of $143.02 and an annual savings of $1716.24.

Check out Slate’s calculator to see how just how much you can save by getting rid of cable and opting for streaming services instead.

What if this isn’t enough for me?

If you need premium channels, some of them will be offered as standalone options soon enough. If you are talking about the grey areas like sites where you can stream all types of content, we can’t help you there but you’re smart. You know how to use Google.

Give me some nerdier options!

OK, if you want nerdier options, consider getting a gigabit network switch to run ethernet cables to all of your devices that connect to the internet. This will cut out the reduced speeds and unreliability of using Wi-Fi. You can also get a Drobo to use as a storage array for all of your media to use with Plex or iTunes. If you really want to jump in head first, pick up a Raspberry Pi and install Kodi.

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