Cutting the Cord and Dropping the Dish

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!



4 Comments so far. Leave a comment below.
  1. You should really check out MythTV The plugins available for this open-source system are absolutely awesome – including the MythFlix one for netflix.

    It makes recording Live TV a breeze – even OTA

  2. For a DVR, try MythTV. It’s geeky, but also a great way to put an old (or a new, cheap) desktop PC to use.

    • I ordered a bare bones home theater PC that I intend to put LinuxMCE on and install in my new garage/mancave/multimedia zone remodel. We also added a tuner to an older Windows Media Center PC in my living room and have managed to get the DVR functionality working on it along with Netflix and Hulu. It is okay, but not the greatest as the Windows MCE interface is pretty kludgy. With the Apple TV and Google TV products down under $100 now, there are certainly quite a few interesting options!

  3. Amy,

    That story was sure inspiring! We are getting ready to move back to my extremely rural property (NEARLY ALL Amish neighbors), where Boost mobile, FREE GOVT. phone (Assurance Wireless), Verizon or Virg. Mobile hardly even works, 3G probably is STILL unheard of, my I-phone 3GS could need an indoor antenna, cable TV is still not available, etc.

    I noticed that my (house top) TALL TV ANTENNA, does not work. My Craig brand HD? Converter box stopped working, within two years of purchase! The CO. “Craig” only has an email address and after two emails for “customer service”, i guess they are not going to respond. Maybe i need to place a complaint on ANY SOCIAL SITE, where I can find Craig electronics? Even w/ the GOVT. issued $40 credit, that piece of crap cost me $60 (or so)! •• THE ONE TIME $40- GOVT. COUPONS WERE TO EXPIRE, THAT WAS THE ONLY CONVERTER BOX TO BE FOUND IN A RITE-AID DRUG STORE, OUT OF 4 OTHER STORES (including WalMart & RadioShack) •• After looking HI AND LOW for a new converter box (cheaper than a TV)! Along w/ smart-ass comments of (“who still has dinosaur TV’s” & “I don’t think we (BestBuy) need to even carry these”), that the ONLY ONES OUT THERE, are $65-$80. Maybe i should SCOUR Goodwill & Craigslist to stock up? Because, I seriously have very little EXTRA $$$$ and not buying a new TV anytime soon!

    I NEED to get TV @ my way too rural place, Internet (preferably w/o a land line), although isn’t the CO. Vonage cheap?

    I have the AT&T I-phone (wifi free), but NOT IN CONTRACT, so I could switch carriers? Such as possibly T-Mobile’s SPECIAL 8/2011, where they have unlimited Internet-minutes? And, last year, upon checking thoroughly, two paid TETHERING WEBSITES, (w/ 30 day guarantee), claimed TETHERING FROM A T-MOBILE PLAN, WAS NOT A BREACH OF CONTRACT. But, this was Summer 2010 AND T-mobile did not offer tethering. So, these two off site-websites, were your gateway to tethering! Any info when this tethering comes into play? AT&T does have good phone reception outside my property and in majority of house. For data, I pay $25 to $30- month (I missed out on unlimited data for $30)! Even last year, AT&T charged data time for tethering.

    With your message, I am trying to put together all of these “new to me” abbreviations, slang words & short-cuts. At the end, you did specify one abbreviation for “OT_: Over The ?”, although that is all I saw. I’m wondering if you could specify the other abbreviations? See, my LT brain is living in the electronics stone-age and the RT brain ADHD (even at 40 yrs) has a hard time focusing if the word doesn’t appear easy or sink in easily to me.

    I just need to figure out the BEST WAY to have Internet, cell phone (I do not use I-phone apps either), and TV. We don’t watch sports, the old Craigs converter box did get ABC & FOX, plus 3 other channels. Do y’all know anything about APPLE TV? Or, HDMI & buying a HDMI BOX or HDMI apparatus @ BestBuy for $40-, plus converter (mini to standard) for another $40-$50? How about the satellite boxes that ARE A ONE TIME FEE, no monthly fee? And, you get tons of channels, but need to re-set the box, every so often (via a code off of Internet site)? My mechanic had it, said TV should be free? And, your show may get interrupted, but to reprogram w/ a new code is fast. He has that, with dish too,

    Thanks so much for advice!
    Signed: Amys Frustration!

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