A couple of months ago, we decided to drop our satellite TV feed from Dish Networks. Up until last January, we were running both Dish and DirecTV due to the major league baseball package only being available on DirecTV and the rest of the shows we wanted to watch were all on Dish. With MLB.TV getting much better over the winter and now delivering HD baseball games to computers, phones and ipads – there was no need for DirecTV so it was cancelled in January, dropping about $45/month from our monthly expenses. After tax season, we spent a long time looking at our home budget and the $100+ that we were spending on Dish started to look like something we could do without. Our Dish contract was up in June, so we had the opportunity to escape from that obligation with no penalties. Although our seven year old was a little bit concerned about missing out on some of the cartoons that he had grown to love and my wife was worried about missing out on some of her cooking shows and BBC America, we decided to drop it and see how it worked out.
After a couple of months, I think we can safely say that it is working out very well. While we do miss a few things, there are several factors that have made it pretty easy to exist without cable/satellite TV.
1) iPad – My wife has an iPad and it has been surprisingly useful as a TV replacement. That is not something I would have thought at first, but my son will take it and watch cartoons on Netflix, Monique will watch Masterpiece Theater and I have even taken it outside to watch baseball games on MLB.TV while doing yard work. The picture is small, but it is portable and works pretty well with Netflix, Hulu and MLB.TV and does all of the other cool things that iPads do. The iPad has essentially eliminated the need for a TV anywhere in the house other than the living room.
2) Over The Air antenna – While we were on Dish, we basically abandoned watching the local broadcast channels. I did rig up an old indoor set of antennas for some of the Nebraska football games because the local ABC HDTV feed looked a lot better than the crappy SD that was on Dish. When we decided to cancel satellite, I picked up a Terk amplified OTA antenna to see if that would improve our picture quality. All I can say is – WOW! The OTA HDTV signal is worlds better than the supercompressed signal from the satellite! Best of all, we now had three beautiful HD feeds of Nebraska PBS – the channel that we spend most of our time watching! We also get great quality HD feeds of the CBS and ABC affiliates along with a couple of channels of old movies and old TV series. Diego even got a kick out of watching some old Starsky and Hutch on the RetroTV channel! It would be great if we could figure out a way to get NBC and FOX and a way to DVR the OTA shows, but for the middle of nowhere, our OTA is surprisingly good.
3) Netflix/Hulu – Netflix and Hulu have changed the way we watch TV in a very positive way. Instead of being limited to whatever comes across the satellite or what we is scheduled to be recorded on the DVR, we can watch whatever we want to watch, whenever we want to watch it. Want to watch an old episode of Saturday Night Live from 1978 – no problem! Netflix and Hulu also do a good job of recommending other things that you might find interesting based on what you have been watching. And it all has DVR-style conveniences like being able to pause, rewind, fast forward or resume watching later. The commercials in Hulu are a little bit of a pain, but it is worth it. For $20/month, they are easily worth the money.
4) Roku2 – I have been investigating several media center platforms for possible implementation by my broadband company. During my investigation I came across the Roku2. The Roku is a tiny box that plugs into your Internet connection (wired or wirelessly) and your television to deliver streaming content. I picked up the Roku2-XS, which also has Angry Birds on it and a wii-style gyro remote, for a whopping $99. It took about 15 minutes to set the box up – most of which was spent waiting for the firmware to update. The user-interface is very simple and easy to use. The Netflix, Hulu and MLB.TV channels are great, and it sure was nice to watch baseball games in HD on a 47″ display instead of in a window on my computer. I was surprised by the other content that was also available on the Roku. Their Newscaster channel is a gem, and even includes a live Al Jazeera feed in English, which is one of the very best news channels available. Also – Angry Birds! (my son wanted me to throw that last one in)
5) Fixed wireless broadband can deliver – The AirMax system that we have recently deployed to some of our service areas has been outstanding. Testing has always gone well and the one at our house has been very fast and reliable. But how would it react with a bunch of video streams on it? While doing some work and watching baseball on Saturday, I got up from my baseball game feed to walk around the house and saw my wife watching a movie in the living room on Netflix and my son watching cartoons on the iPad. I made a couple of VOIP calls just to see how they were sounding in the midst of all of this streaming activity (two HD streams and an SD stream on the iPad) and they sounded just fine. Traditionally, WISPs have been scared off by streaming, but with platforms like the AirMax system, it looks like we will be able to deliver the goods to the people who want to use OTT (Over The Top) video.
There are a few bugs to work out in our system. I’d still like to figure out a good way to handle DVR functionality on the OTA signals. It would also be nice if there was a way to download movies in off-peak times and at higher quality settings instead of waiting for streams to buffer up. At some point, I might also add one of the FTA (Free To Air) satellite receivers that carry hundreds of specialty channels and see how it works with what we are doing.
In conclusion, my family has been able to go “off-the-grid” with regard to traditional telephone/cable/satellite services and go all-IP for our entertainment and telecommunication needs. In doing so, we have knocked about $200/month ($50 to DirecTV, $110 to Dish and $40 for landline telephone) off our monthly expenses and replaced it with $20/month to Netflix/Hulu. If I didn’t own the ISP, I probably would have upgraded to a faster Internet plan for another $20/month. All told, a regular customer would save about $160/month compared to what we were paying before. The savings would probably be even more than that, as our Dish/DirecTV plans did not include any movie channels. In return we have better content at our fingertips, a higher quality picture on the channels that we watch the most and a lot more enlightened approach to watching television.
That’s what I call progress!