Cutting Cable without getting Sliced

Albany Patch blogger Robert Marshall shares about his recent exploration into television programming without a cable TV package.

Recently I had an opportunity to see what it's like not to have cable television in the house. Just the thought sent shivers down my spine. I admit it. I am a television junkie.

It was through that recent trial separation that I thought about it. How many of those zillions of channels did I really watch on a regular basis, and how many were things I could watch elsewhere, or watch alternatives to?

Last Friday I jumped in Cold Turkey, and am going through a bit of an adjustment period.

* * *

As my street is graced with overhead power lines, I've never been able to successfully use a rooftop antenna. In fact, I found that the higher my antenna, the worse the reception was. I actually got better reception with the antenna sitting six feet off my back deck. Not an optimal installation as I also nearly blinded myself by walking into one of the elements while letting the dog out after dark!

It had been a stop gap measure so I could watch the San Jose Sharks' magical 1994 playoff run; back when the team actually broadcast over the air on KICU-TV (Ch. 36). Ironically, I ended up calling Century Cable just in time to catch the Sharks' final playoff appearance that year.

That started 15 years of relationship with cable television, interrupted by a three year affair with DirecTV; blindly shelling out money to watch a fraction of what was actually available.

* * *

If you're a person who can live with simple over the air broadcast signals, that's awesome. All you may need are a set of cheap rabbit ears and perhaps a digital-to-analog converter box if you're still using an older television set.

We're blessed because most places in the westernmost East Bay have Line of Sight coverage from Sutro Tower - that 1000' tall erector set high atop San Francisco's Clarendon Heights.

In my circumstance the only programming I regularly watch over the air is The Amazing Race and Survivor. Both on the local CBS affiliate, KPIX-TV (Ch. 5).

Most of the time my cable box lived on Syfy, BBC-America, CNN and the Encore movie channels, with HBO and Starz joining the cast after being enticed with a special deal which recently expired and became not so financially special in the blink of an eye.

All is not lost. In our current Internet age a lot of what you might watch on cable is available online. (CBS now has full episodes of the above mentioned TAR and Survivor streaming immediately after they've aired in the Pacific Time Zone.)

If you're one of those people that prefers episodic television, Hulu is a fantastic option, with many of its programs available for FREE! $7.99 per month gets you lots more content, including many shows from the current broadcast season. Granted you have to live with commercials. But, that's not any different than live TV.

They also offer the chance to relive shows which just didn't cut it for whatever reason. But, were entertaining none-the-less.

While Hulu does offer movies, Netflix made its claim to fame there. Their streaming option is also $7.99/month. Unfortunately, you will have to rely on their DVD option for most newly released titles, which is an additional charge.

For the occasional new title, there's always your local RedBox kiosk.

While live sports programming used to never be available without a cable or satellite provider, that's not the case anymore. The NHL, NBA, MLS and MLB all offer live content by subscription in some form through the use of either a computer, Internet-ready TV and/or streaming device. While the NFL doesn't offer live content they do offer a package of games available once they've completed.

* * *

While the late Sen. Ted Stephens (R-AK) was generally off base with much of his Series of Tubes tirade, you can think of your personal Internet connection that way.

The more things you are doing at one time, the bigger that tube needs to be. Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, Pandora, World of Warcraft, etc. all suck up bandwidth, and if you're watching a movie while your kids are in their bedroom streaming music or playing some MMORPG, you're all fighting to pull your content through that same tube.

Even something as simple as accessing your email uses bandwidth, albeit one small chunk at a time.

Notice that "AT ONE TIME" part mentioned. If you're in a one-person household, a basic connection is probably good enough for you. For the rest of us, we're going to need a bigger tube.

It was a no brainer I'd have to come up with some type of internet connection, not just for the additional streaming load, but for everything else web-related, as my email address is more useful than my home phone!

Not widely known is that Comcast will sell you an Internet only subscription. In my experience I'm getting insane speeds on Comcast compared to other providers. As long as they don't go back to enforcing their data cap, I'll be happy. Otherwise it'll be time to go shopping for a new service provider.

* * *

Is this plan perfect? Certainly not. There are some things to consider.

Most of your viewing pleasure is at the mercy of your Internet connection.

CNN has decided to marry themselves to cable and satellite providers so you can't watch CNN, nor its sister network HLN, live unless you're a subscriber.

Lastly, and perhaps a deal breaker for some, there's no option but to go without premium channels, such as HBO and Showtime, as they currently don't offer a la carte subscriptions. (April 2013 is going to be rough in my household when Season Three of Game of Thrones premieres!),

Good luck to anyone that takes up this venture. Your pocket book may just thank you!

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Robert Marshall November 14, 2012 at 04:59 PM
Best option? Not necessarily, but I guess I'm lucky on the rabbit ears I've got. I threw them on my HDTV and am getting a fair amount of stations, including many UHF band ones. Strangely enough, I'm not getting KQED-9, which broadcasts from Sutro Tower, nor am I getting NBC-11. But, the latter doesn't surprise me as their transmitter is on Mt. San Bruno, not Sutro. I'll probably move on to a Leaf, or something else like that, if I feel the need. Just remember, that even though you may buy a Roku box, you will still need to pay the monthly subscription costs for whichever service you decide to follow. Fortunately, they usually include a trial period these days to get your feet wet. BTW: The purple Roku is now down to $50, and don't be surprised if there are even better prices the closer we get to Black Friday,
Ari Soglin November 15, 2012 at 03:56 AM
Robert, just curious, what speed did you go with for your internet service and do you find it satisfactory for video streaming? Comcast's web site doesn't make it easy to understand the different levels, but I believe they are (from slowest to fastest): Performance, Blast, Extreme 50 and Extreme 105. Ross, the library DVD tip is a good one. Libraries now offer e-book downloads to Kindles and other devices, and I wonder if they'll ever be able to do the same with movies.
Senior A. Titude November 15, 2012 at 06:19 AM
I bought one of these antennas and use it with my 27" iMac (and Eye tv). Reception is fantastic, nearly 60 channels, including channel 11. So good that I bought one for my son to use in Berkeley with his flat screen tv. It's uhf/vhf which is why it gets 11. I recommend it over the Leaf. That, coupled with the access to shows on hulu free, eztv, and netflix streaming, work great for me. This is the antenna: Winegard Company FL-5000 FlatWave HDTV Indoor Digital Flat Antenna - Made in USA. Amazon carries it.
Robert Marshall November 15, 2012 at 06:43 AM
I'm using the Blast service. It's giving me 30Mps Down w/6Mps Up. The latter isn't necessarily important for consuming content. However, I post content for my church so being able to upload fast really a blessing. I wouldn't go with anything less than 20Mps Down if you're consuming streaming content, especially if you've got kids in the household. It adds up quickly, and if you want to stream HD content, you need that fatter pipe as well.
Alan Eckert November 15, 2012 at 07:39 PM
We frequently connect our laptop to the TV. It's not always perfect, but it's easier to watch. We also have Apple TV (like Roku, a 1-time charge) with Hulu and Netflix connections. We got rid of Cable a long time ago, and we almost didn't get an antenna, but we REALLY wanted to watch the Giants play in the World Series in 2010 instead of listening on the radio while monitoring the MLB play-by-play web site. This is more than sufficient for our needs and is considerably less than cable. I do wish I could get KALB on the antenna though.


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