I’ve been toying with the idea of cutting the cord for a couple of years now, but in the last week I finally pulled the trigger.
No more DirecTV.
No Cable Box.
No high-priced DVR.
Instead, I have cobbled together a solution that I think works extremely well for our family and it is costing us exactly $0 on an ongoing basis. To be fair, there is some up front cost to this setup, but in the grand scheme of things, it is very minimal. Here are the materials I already had at my disposal before I pulled the plug:
- Wii – We use this for streaming Netflix on our TV downstairs, mostly for watching while we are working out or for when the kids want to watch something while adults converse.
- LG Blu-ray player (Model LHB953) – We received this a couple of Christmases ago and we use it to stream netflix on our primary TV. It works extremely well, but requires a very good internet connection in order to stream in HD.
- Apple TV (the original) – Something I bought after hearing that you could hack it and put Boxee on it. Up until we cut the cable, I didn’t really see how cool this device can be.
Here are the things we purchased to fill out the rest of what we needed to be completely free of a monthly service fee for Television:
- HD Homerun Dual – This is the key piece of equipment in our setup. It takes two cable feeds (just the run of the mill, unscrambled cable that cable companies want us to forget about). It then pumps both signals to any computer on your network (wireless or wired). This means that any computer can receive the two Television signals and if it has tuning and recording software on it, it can become a DVR.
- EyeTV – I didn’t want to have to purchase DVR software to make my setup work, but the open source alternatives (MythTV) did not do everything I needed them to. This software lets me set up smart recording options tied to an electronic program guide on my computer (recording two programs at once if I want). It can also automatically sync these recordings with my AppleTV so that once each recording is done it is ready to watch on my TV rather than on my computer. Oh, and you can also stream to your iPhone or iPad if you so desire, so I can do the same things as a Slingbox from this single software program.
- A 2 TB hard drive – I realized pretty quick that with the power to download and save all of my favorite television programs I was going to need some more space to do so. I was able to find one pretty cheap, so now I don’t have to worry about clogging my computer with a bunch of Little Einsteins episodes.
Other things that didn’t cost money but took me a little while to figure out:
- etv-comskip – This is an open source project that is basically a plugin for EyeTV that edits out all commercials for recordings (or at least marks them for your review so that you can delete them with a single click). This is nothing short of awesome.
- There are more cable channels available for free than you think – We are able to receive channels like The Discovery Channel, Bravo, The Disney Channel, TBS, Hallmark, Speed, The Outdoor Channel, Altitude, WGN and about 60 others (some of which you definitely won’t want to watch). I tried to see how many channels I got with a digital antenna and it was closer to 30 and none of those “premium” channels are offered. I am not entirely sure why The Disney Channel is unencrypted (meaning you don’t need a cable box to receive it), but my children are thankful for that.
- You will want to have a way to watch live TV- Just because I have an awesome set up for recording TV and exporting it to the Apple TV, doesn’t mean we are going to want to wait for that process to complete to watch. Because Cable is infinitely splittable, I was able to split the cable coming from the wall into three (two for the HD Homerun and one for the TV).
- Get Hi-Speed Cable internet – We have had DSL for the last 6 years and the fastest we could get in our area was 1.5 MB/s. This seemed okay until I started working from home or until we wanted to start streaming lots of Netflix video. Once both of those things happened, the bandwidth just wasn’t enough. For roughly the same price (cheaper for the next 6 months), we are getting 12 MB/s which quite simply screams.
So, here is what media consumption in our house looks like now:
- If we want to watch a movie, we stream from Netflix, watch a DVD, or stream from Boxee on the Apple TV.
- If we want to watch live TV, we watch one of the 70 free channels we get through our unscrambled cable. Now, we can watch these on the TV, on any of our Computers, or on our iPhone or iPad.
- If we want to watch recorded TV, we open up the Apple TV and watch any one of the programs that have been recorded and synced over the last few weeks (withe 2 TB of storage, the limit for recording almost doesn’t exist). Even though the Apple TV only has 30 GB of internal storage, you can stream from my computer for any of the other video. Or, we open up our EyeTV apps on iPhone or iPad and watch any of the recordings as they stream to our fingers.
I think that the only thing we are really missing so far is HGTV and The Food Network. I have a feeling, though, that most of our favorite shows will be available on Netflix soon enough.
Here is a cost estimate for our solution:
- HD Homerun Dual – $150
- EyeTV – $80
- 2 TB Hard Drive – $99
- (Because we already had the Apple TV and the Blu Ray player, these were not a cost but they would cost another $250 if you didn’t have them and wanted them)
This means that for $329 we have a complete solution for cutting the cord that anyone in my family can use (from pretty much anywhere in the house). While this is a pretty hefty up front cost, we will be making this back in the first 6 months of this setup. While it took some technical knowhow and some time to play, this seems to work so well that I can’t imagine going back to paying “per TV” for the pleasure of having access to programming or a DVR.
I would love to hear from others who have cut the cord as well. This is going to be a big year for it and I think that a new community of interesting solutions is afoot.