Monday, November 12, 2012

Cutting Cable without getting Sliced

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.

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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!