Barbaric Yawping · Geekery

Down with Cable Companies!

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I remember when we got cable TV for the first time.  I was in middle school, and it seemed like MAGIC to me.  We lived out in the country, so lots of people had cable before we did, and I was really jealous of those kids at school who got to watch Double Dare and You Can’t Do That On Television! after school.  Suddenly, miraculously, cable came to our road.  And through a mistake they made that no one ever reported to them, the entire road got HBO without paying for it for YEARS.  I’m talking 10 years or more.  All of a sudden, there were more options than we’d ever dreamed of.  My dad was able to watch obscure drag racing and Formula 1 races that he loved.  My mom was addicted to Animal Planet.  My sister obssessed over the Weather Channel.  I got Nickelodeon.  We all enjoyed the variety of movies on our mistakenly free HBO.  We were forbidden from watching MTV, but we snuck and did it anyway – Daria and The Real World and actual music videos (yes, Virginia, MTV used to actually play music!).

Flash forward 20 years, and you’ll find me staring at the latest Comcast bill with steam pouring out of my ears.  I never hated a cable company until Comcast took over our service.  I lived through many service providers, and none of them were stellar, but none had the power to piss me off like Comcast.  They took away channels AND raised our bill?!  How did that work?  When we called to complain about our DVR screwing up for the umpteen millionth time, they had no solutions, no offer to replace it.  And so my blood pressure went up 50 points every time I paid the cable bill until David and I seriously started talking about cancelling cable.  How would that work?  What would we miss?  What were our options to keep up on the shows we loved?

We were already Netflix subscribers, and we’d bought a cable that connected my laptop to the television for viewing the Netflix Watch Instantly selections.  That wasn’t my favorite, though, because I’m a chronic multi-tasker, and I like to be on the computer while we’re watching TV, which I could not do with my laptop hooked up.  We’d also noticed that the streaming was a problem with our current internet provider and wireless connection, especially on a busy movie-watching night like Friday or Saturday.  So we decided then we’d probably have to move to a faster and more expensive internet provider, but what to do for the TV-watching engine, the computer itself?  We looked at the AppleTV and decided it was too limiting.  It doesn’t allow you access to any website; you can only access what’s in your iTunes and certain other applications integrated into the AppleTV.  Ditto Roku.  We thought about buying a new desktop computer, but decided to try and revamp David’s old desktop instead – we had just replaced the old one, and it was sitting around collecting dust.

So we went to Best Buy and bought an extra 1GB of RAM that fit his machine (about $100).  It was pretty easy to install.  We cleaned off his hard drive, getting rid of pretty much everything but the web browser and iTunes.  We upgraded to an internet service that was 5x faster for about $15 more per month.  We bought a digital antenna for getting local channels (mostly for sports, about $100).  And we kicked Comcast to the curb – saving about $120 per month.  So we paid for our expenditures with just the savings of our first two months without a cable bill.

It’s been 8 months now, and I think it was one of the smartest decisions we ever made.  We keep up with our favorite network shows over Hulu, and most cable networks host their own episodes (for example, I can go to TNT’s website to catch The Closer and Saving Grace, two of my favorites).  AMC seems to be the exception to this, unfortunately, so we have to wait for Mad Men to come out on DVD before we see it.  Sports that are only on ESPN may require a visit to a friend’s house or a sports bar.  And I can’t watch TLC and HGTV when I’m bored and channel surfing, but both channels have some version of their shows available online.  Some shows are available on the Netflix Watch Instantly, too, plus we’ve been working through our movie queues.  Basically, we have found NO shortage of things we want to watch.

The only thing we’ve really missed, though, is HBO.  We are HUGE fans of most HBO original series.  We missed the end of the last season of Curb Your Enthusiasm, which is killing my husband.  We missed Big Love.  We missed the premiere season of Treme, which we were really looking forward to.  We’re going to miss True Blood and Hung and Entourage, and whenever it finally comes out, we’ll miss the third season of In Treatment.  We love many of these shows.  We could buy them on iTunes, but they’re obscenely expensive, so we’re planning to just wait it out right now.  I wish HBO would just offer an online paid subscription through Hulu or something, but they don’t right now.  I did, just today, hear about a website called Picrap, which seems to somehow have last night’s True Blood premiere up and running, so we may have found our alternative for now.

We’ve also looked at Boxee, but that’s not what we’re looking for at the moment.  Anybody else have good TV-on-the-internet suggestions?  We’re always on the hunt for new ideas!

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4 thoughts on “Down with Cable Companies!

  1. Well, we did it. We ordered our computer to attach to the TV. We’ve jumped ship with you. My cable bill went up like $25 in a matter of months. Ugh!

  2. Can you tell me what kind of cable you bought to connect your computer to your TV? I have a Macbook Pro and would love to stream documentaries from Netflix to my big TV.

    1. Well, I think it would probably be different than what you need – we have a PC, not a Mac, and I believe the connectors are different. Ours is a standard VGA connection (like for connecting a PC desktop to a monitor or any PC to a LCD projector) and it also has a second connector that plugs into the computer’s headphone jack so that the sound transmits. If both your TV and Mac have an HDMI port, I think that should also work for both sound and picture, but the PC we have connected is so old that it had never heard of HDMI when it was made 🙂 It was something like this and we just got it at Radio Shack or Best Buy or something.

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