In an attempt to save money towards buying our own house in a few years, my wife and I just moved to a cheaper rental. I took the opportunity to re-evaluate my cable TV situation and decided to bite the bullet and get rid of cable altogether by looking at other options instead of cable.
I decided to start a search for the best alternative to cable tv. In our old house we were paying $158 per month for Verizon Fios double play with 75mpbs internet connection and a mid level tv package. We had 1 DVR connected to a TV in our bedroom and a CableCard which was being used in a Silicon Dust HD Homerun Tuner connected to my HTPC in the living room. There was no connectivity between these 2 TV’s. What was recorded on 1 TV was only accessible on that TV. Verizon charges a flat fee for adding multi-room DVR capability as well as a charge per TV. With these features added the enticing package deal pricing start to climb very quickly.
Our new setup has a total of 3 TV’s. The HTPC is in the downstairs living area/man cave. And I now have 2 Roku 3’s connected to tv’s in the upstairs living room and bedroom. Verizon is out and I am now signed up for Optimum Online Ultra 50, which costs $50 per month. The supplied wireless router has been excellent and speed tests have met or exceeded the advertised rates every time I tested. Click here for the result from my phone on Wi-Fi.
To make up for the lack of live TV, I signup up for Netflix ($9/mo.) and Sling TV ($20/mo.), bringing my total monthly cost up to $79. This equates to a savings of over $900 per year compared to what I was paying for Fios. I am also subscribed to Amazon Prime, but I am not counting that as an additional cost because I have had a Prime account for years and use it mostly for the shipping benefits.
The content available on Netflix and Amazon alone would be enough to keep many people happy, but there are some pretty big limitations. If you watch a lot of network television and want to watch shows shortly after they air, you might want to consider shelling out another $8/mo. for Hulu Plus. Lifehacker has a great article comparing these services: TV Streaming Head-to-Head: Netflix vs Hulu vs Amazon Prime
Even with subscriptions to Netflix, Hulu and Amazon you still miss out on live tv. Having to browse through libraries of tv and movies is very different than just choosing a channel and letting it play in the background. Being able to flip to a 24 hour news network just to catch up is more difficult after cutting the cord. Luckily there are a few options. I chose to subscribe to Sling Television. For $20 per month, you get access to just over 20 cable TV stations streaming live, including ESPN, CNN, TBS, History, TNT, Adult Swim and Cartoon Network. They offer various add on packages for an additional $5 each and recently added HBO and HBO on demand for an extra $15. So far Sling has worked beautifully for us, but may not work for everyone. Some channels include on demand content and others only allow you to stream live and are limited to one device at a time.
An cable television alternative that offers a few more channels including the basic broadcast stations is USTVnow. They offer a free version for just the basics and paid plans start at $29 per month, but offer a slightly better channel selection when compared to Sling. In addition to basic broadcast, you gain Comedy Central, FX, Discovery Channel, Bravo and a few others. For $39 you even get DVR features making this a very interesting alternative to cable for those who are willing to spend a little more money.
My fear with both of these services is the ability to cope with spikes in volume during major events, but I haven’t experienced any issues yet. Football is the only sport that my wife and I watch, so we will see what happens in September when the season starts again.
For anyone who has their own collection of movies and TV, I have saved the best for last. I now have Plex Media Server running on my HTPC. This allows me to access my entire media collection from literally anywhere. They have an app for just about every platform you can name. Smart TV’s, Roku, Android, iOS, Windows, Amazon Fire TV, Xbox, Playstation, etc…
My experience with Plex so far has been great. I can start watching something in one room, pause it and pick up right where I left off on any other device. Streaming to my phone has worked nearly flawlessly, even on the cellular network. The Roku channel was recently revamped and the interface is very clean and easy to navigate. In my opinion, the weakest part of the plex experience is the standalone Plex Home Theater for Windows. I plan on writing a dedicated post about Plex at some point, so I won’t go into any more detail here.
One last thing I need to bring up before I conclude is Smart TV’s. I thought I would save a few bucks by picking up a smart TV instead of a 2nd Roku. I found a nice Samsung that included all of the features I needed. After 2 days I placed an order for another Roku 3. The smart TV was extremely slow, taking 3-4 minutes each time you turned it on to connect to the wireless network, lacked support for Sling, and buffered far more frequently than the Roku.
As for deciding between the Roku 3 and the Roku streaming stick, I decided that the extra speed offered by the full box was worth the extra cost. The other feature I love is the ability to plug headphones into the remote. Now my wife can witch TV while I’m sleeping without the sound bothering me. I love the Roku interface so much that I am actually considering buying a 3rd Roku, tucking my HTPC away in a closet and only using it for downloading, storing and serving my media collection.
I have wanted to cut the cord for a while now, but the lack of live TV was the number one thing making me think twice. My wife and I both like flipping on CNN either in the morning or after work to see what’s going on in the world and Sling has allowed us to do that without the need for cable. Both of us have been extremely happy with the switch. We are still discovering new content which seems to be endless. Stay tuned for more about my cable cord cutting experience.