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Our Cable Cutting Experience - 1 Year Later

Updated on January 12, 2017

My Cord Cutters Experience

I have been a cable cord cutter for a bit over a year. A combination of being dissatisfied with my cable provider and the rising cost of daycare motivated me to start researching how to avoid paying for cable. About two years ago, I started researching heavily about how to leave my television provider behind for good. At first, it seemed overwhelming: building and setting up a HTPC (Home Theatre PC), how to use Windows Media Player to create a custom DVR system, etc. It all seemed so overwhelming that I just gave up. This article is for people who are on similar journeys.

A few months after giving up my idea of leaving cable behind, my television provider pushed me past my point of tolerance with several months in a row of unreliable service. My services were bundled and the only thing that worked reliably was my local phone service...my internet was slow and patchy and the local channels were often out on television (they were unavailable due to contract negotiations...no warning or estimated date or return given to us customers). This renewed the fire in my belly and I immediately recommitted to finding a better solution. Read ahead to learn much of the information that I've picked up along the way.

Using HDHomeRun for Local Channels

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Before You Cut the Cable Bill

There are many reasons to cut the cable (or satellite):

  • No contracts.
  • No additional fees like equipment rentals or gray area "TV taxes".
  • Reduced monthly costs.
  • A la carte choices - only pay for what you use!

These are just a few of the best reasons that I experienced. However, before you cut the cord, there are several things that you should consider. For example, what are your needs? We were paying for hundreds of channels each month but when it came down to it, when only used about 20 of the channels on a regular basis. Are you a rabid TV watcher or do you only watch TV to unwind on the weekends? Do you only watch local channels, movie channels or a blend of both? Do you work weird hours and need a DVR to catch all of your favorite shows? Are you under contract with your provider? If so, what will the early termination fee look like?

Lastly, before you cut the cord there is one major question you should ask yourself: Is there a less drastic way to meet your needs that can be achieved without cutting your cable? For example, if you would like to trim $20 or $30 bucks off of your bill you could just call your TV provider next time you receive a competitor's ad. Ask your provider if they have any offers to match it and kindly insinuate that you will be trying out the competitor if they are not flexible enough to help you out. This worked for me 80% of the time...usually scoring me some type of three month to six month promotion. In addition to this method, we also flip-flopped back and forth between providers every year or two. This is because new customers usually received a year or two or reduced monthly fees. However, these were never permanent fixes in the long run and they were often a hassle to do.

While I strongly recommend cutting the cable cord, I realize that it is not the right solution for every family. Services available to you vary based on your location and there is a start up cost for equipment once you leave your cable provider behind. Carefully consider these points before cutting the cord!

Get Rid of Cable and Cut the Cord!

As I mentioned earlier, you should consider your individual needs before plotting your cable cutting course. In my specific case, we were with DirecTV and were paying a bit over $140/month for our television service. We had already whittled down our subscription package, but unfortunately our favorite channels were spread across different packages so we ending up having to get a bigger package to include everyone's favorite channels. This resulted in a high-cost package where only 10-20% of the channels were actually used. When I began the process of cutting the cord, I wrote down every channel & show we watched with any type of frequency and realized that most of the shows came on local channels. This was probably 70% of the channels we watched. In addition to local channels, ESPN, SEC Network, Nickelodeon, Nick Jr., Cartoon Network and HGTV were channels used by various family members. I knew that I needed to find a way for us to keep these channels and to have a DVR option for our favorite shows. I figured that whatever option we chose should save us at least $100/month to make it worth it for us.

Before we could do anything, we had to get out of our contract with our provider. For us, we only had 2-3 months left. I believe that is was something like $50 per month for early termination. For us it worked out to the same amount next month's payment would have been so it was no big deal. We canceled and off we went into the cable cutter's wilderness!

A Great Paper-Thin Antenna

Mohu Leaf 50 TV Antenna Amplified 50 Mile Range MH-110584
Mohu Leaf 50 TV Antenna Amplified 50 Mile Range MH-110584

The Mohu Leaf 50 is the amplified antenna that we used. It is a bit overkill for us since the furthest broadcast tower is only 18 miles away from our location. This will pick up stations nearly 3 times that distance. It is super thin and can be wall-mounted with simple tape or a tack. One side is white and the other is black so that it can easily blend in depending on decor and placement, which is a nice touch. I highly recommend it!

 

Cord Cutting Options - Antennas & DVR?

For us, the bulk of our favorites shows came on local channels like Fox, CBS or NBC. We were paying well over $100 bucks to get channels that are free! Only thing we needed was an antenna to capture the local services. These local channels are even available in HD with an OTA (Over the Air) TV antenna!

To check and see what channels we were capable of receiving we used the FCC's free online tool, "DTV Reception Maps" (visit the FCC's tool by clicking here). We entered our address into the tool and it accurately predicted which channels would come in clear and with a strong signal and which channels would be weak or non-existent. All of our favorite channels were being broadcast from well under 20 miles from our house, so all of them had very strong signals. Your signal strength may vary if you are in a mountainous area or if you are in a very remote location. You can buy antennas with a preamplifier/booster to catch more remote broadcasts. Some antennas claim that they can pick up signals that are 60+ miles away.

Since I stay at home with the kids and go to work at night, I knew that I would need a DVR function or I would always miss my favorite primetime shows. At this point, I researched creating my own HTPC and using Windows Media Player (Windows 7) to record my favorite shows and to give me a TV guide (show what time and day shows were coming on). However, this seemed like it would be complicated, more expensive and more daily/weekly maintenance than I wanted. There were other options like using a HDHomeRun device, but once again, it seemed like more work than I wanted. At this point, I realized that I wanted something that was plug-and-play and discovered the world of OTA DVR systems.

Before cutting the cord, I didn't realize that there was a way to DVR your favorite shows from an antenna. However, there are many ways: Channel Master DVR+, Tivo's Roamio OTA, MediaSonic's HomeWorx, SiliconDust's HDHomeRun, Hauppages' HD PVR and Tablo's OTA DVR. At the end of the day, we went with the 4-Tuner Tablo. The Tablo connects directly to your antenna and your home's wifi system (can be connected via wifi or connected directly to your modem/router via an ethernet cable). From there you use an app to set it up and control it. You can use the guide to set recurring timers for your favorite shows, protect recordings you don't want accidentally deleted, delete recordings you've watch and more. You can watch live local channels through the Tablo app or watch your recorded shows.

Your whole household can share just one Tablo. By using Tablo, we did not have to put a huge whole-house antenna on our roof or in the attic. Instead, we chose to attach a Moho Leaf antenna to the Tablo box and now any of our network-connected smart TVs, phones or tablets can access it. Using the Tablo app, we can watch local channels from any room in our home (even if an antenna is not installed on that particular TV). With Tablo, you have a whole home DVR system with access to local channels using just one antenna, the Tablo device, a single portable hard drive (to store your recorded shows on) and your home's wifi. You can even access your recordings remotely if you choose to enable that option. This definitely makes lunch breaks a lot less boring at work! There were other options that we strongly considered (like the Channel Master DVR and the Tivo Roamio), but we settled on the Tablo because it seemed more flexible and had a cheaper startup cost.

Tablo TV

What Other Hardware Did We Need?

In addition to the antenna and Tablo box, we also had to make our televisions "smart". While you can buy smart TV's, we chose not too. First, we didn't want the additional cost since all of our TVs are relatively young and still in great condition. Secondly, I figured that smart TVs are somewhat handicapped because you cannot update the hardware when better technology comes out.

Because of this we chose to go with Amazon Fire TV sticks and Roku devices. With the Amazon Fire Stick and the Roku stick, all you have to do it plug the stick into an available HDMI port/USB port on your TV. From there you will power on your TV, turn to the correct input channel and follow the onscreen instructions. Your Amazon stick or Roku stick acts as a streaming device and you can now consider your TV "smart". This stick will connect to your home's wifi network and allow you to "stream" (view) your favorite shows and channels using certain apps. You will be able to use apps like YouTube, Hulu, Netflix, Amazon Video, CNN, Sling, PlayStation Vue, HBO, Starz, Tablo and hundreds of others directly from your TV (most of the better apps require a subscription). This makes it quite easy to build a large library of channels and shows that you can watch after you have cut the cord.

What About the Premium Channels like ESPN, Fox Sports One and HBO?

Once we had the local channels and the DVR decision wrapped up, I had to figure out how I would make sure that my husband still had ESPN and the like. I also had a few channels that I wanted to keep access to, along with the kids. We were looking to keep ESPN, Fox Sports One, Nickelodeon/Nick Jr., SEC Network, Cartoon Network, Food Network, HGTV, OWN and MTV in addition to the local channels. I didn't know if I would be able to keep access to all of them, but ESPN and Nick Jr. were my biggest concerns. Luckily, T-Mobile had rolled out it's "Uncarrier" campaign and had made streaming media pretty much free for its' customers. One of the approved streaming media providers was the relatively new Sling service. T-Mobile customers received the service at a discount, so I enrolled. We were able to get ESPN and about 20 other channels, many of which were on our dream list. With the purchase of additional $5/mo add-ons we were able to get more of the channels we wanted. At the end of the day, we had cut the cord, had around 95% of the channels we wanted and were saving over $115/mo.

Unfortunately, our premium channel plan has been ever-changing over the last year. Shortly after Sling launched, Playstation started pushing their Vue service. Sling's app was a bit buggy, slow and sometimes unreliable, so I tried Vue with a free trial and really like it. I canceled Sling and switched to Vue. I was receiving around 50 channels with Vue, including that illusive 5% of channels that we had been missing with Sling. Vue was about $5 more per month, but the additional channels made it worth it. I was perfect!

Sadly, shortly after we started with Vue they added the NBA Network, but lost all Viacom channels. For those that don't know, Viacom is behind channels like MTV and Nickelodeon. This was a major drawback for us, so we switched back to Sling. By this time, Sling had added channels (some at the additional $5/mo cost, including MTV and the Nickelodeon channels) and new packages. They now had a new package, "Orange and Blue", that included twice as many channels as before.

There have also been times when we subscribed to Sling's "Blue" package and Vue's bottom level package at the same time to receive all the channels we wanted for around $60/month. After a while, this became a hassle because we found ourselves saying, "Is Fox Sports on Sling or Vue?". We had all the channels but going back and forth between the two apps were a bit of a hassle. Recently, Vue started a promotion where users could have their biggest package, which includes HBO and Showtime for $60/mo. We decided to nix the two app setup and lose a few channels while gaining the premium movie channels. This is the setup we are currently with. While I miss the History Channel, MTV and other Viacom channels on Vue, I do have other avenues to watch the shows that come on those channels.

Our Current PlayStation Vue Package - On Sale for $54.99/mo.

Channels Included with PlayStation Vue's UltraSlim Package - $54.99/mo (normally priced at $64.99). 90 channels including local on demand channels,HBO, Showtime and DVR options.
Channels Included with PlayStation Vue's UltraSlim Package - $54.99/mo (normally priced at $64.99). 90 channels including local on demand channels,HBO, Showtime and DVR options. | Source

Supplemental Services and Cable Cutting Options

While the vast majority of our TV desires are met with Tablo and Playstation Vue, there are a few shows and channels that we are missing. For example, I watch Teen Wolf on MTV, my kids watch several shows on Nickelodeon/Nick Jr., I watch Vikings on History Channel (and many other shows) and my husband watches several shows on A&E and History Channel.

In order to get the shows, we have used services like Netflix or Hulu. This changes from time to time...sometimes we are subscribed in both services and sometimes we are active on only one. This depends on if a show is in the middle of a new season or in reruns or if one service drops/picks up our favorites shows. These two services are around $8/mo each, so they are very affordable and can be used using any smart TV, smart phone or tablet. Since I buy a lot from Amazon, we have had Amazon Prime for a while. In addition to free 2-day shipping, Amazon Prime provides tons of TV shows and movies. With Prime, my kids are able to watch many of their favorite Nickelodeon shows like "Team UmiZoomi", "Blue's Clues" and "Bubble Guppies" at no additional cost. Newer shows like "Blaze and the Monster Machines" are available, but they are an additional cost for each episode/season that you wish to view.

Shows are also available from the Google Play store, but they cost money. Current seasons of my favorite shows ("Vikings" and "Teen Wolf") are available on both the Google Play Store and on Amazon Prime Videos, but so far it seems at least 40% cheaper to get them from Amazon at the time of this writing. With Amazon Prime, you will save by buying a season pass vs paying per episode. Since these shows of mine are nearing their end, I do not mind paying for this season. If I foresaw years of this or even additional seasons, I would figure out a more cost effective option.

Most of these options (Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime Video) have a large library of movies and TV shows that are supplemented with original content. Amazon Prime has children's shows that we love, like "Stinky and Dirty" (based off popular children's books that feature a garbage truck and a digger) and many dramas, comedies and action shows for us big people. Netflix has great original content like "Stranger Things" and Marvel-based shows like "Luke Cage" or "Jessica Jones".

While we have went back and forth between services because of growing pains, buggy apps, changing libraries, changing subscription packages, etc, it has never been a big deal. Since there is no contracts with any of these services, we are free to cancel, pause or start services as we see fit. This makes a really customizable package for us, as we only pay for what we watch and can quit whenever any show's season has come to an end. For example, while my husband loves the SEC Network, we cancel it as soon as Alabama's season is over. In the fall we start it up again, but in-between seasons that money is saved. We love the freedom of that!

What's Our Cost Look Like Today?

Today, I bit over a year later, we have tried many different services. Since nothing we subscribe to requires a contract, we often make changes. This is because we are always trying to pay only for what we use. We really like the freedom of it and our cord cutting package fits our exact needs. Since my son has started attending school, we no longer have his high daycare cost, so we have splurged a bit on our current setup. Here is our current monthly cost for TV (not including internet service cost since we had the exact same service before we cut cable and there was no additional dollars or changes needed):

  • Local channels/DVR - $4.99/mo. We paid for the Tablo & equipment with income tax so it didn't come out of our monthly budget or have credit card interest. We pay $4.99 for a more advanced TV guide for our Tablo.
  • Amazon Prime - Roughly $9/mo.
  • Netflix - $7.99/mo (1 Screen - Standard Definition).
  • PlayStation Vue - $54.99/mo (this is a current promo price for the premium package that is normally $64.99).

This is a grand total of $76.97/mo compared to around $148/mo when we had cable. Even when we splurge is still a savings of over 50%. And what do we love even more....we are only paying for what we actually watch!

For the most part of the last year, we were actually on a cheaper setup. Here is another option that we have used:

  • Local channels/DVR - $4.99/mo. We paid for the Tablo & equipment with income tax so it didn't come out of our monthly budget or have credit card interest. We pay $4.99 for a more advanced TV guide for our Tablo.
  • Amazon Prime - Roughly $9/mo
  • Netflix - $7.99/mo (1 Screen - Standard Definition)
  • PlayStation Vue - $29.99 (we also used the Sling option instead of Vue at times for around the same price)

This package was $51.97. You can bump it up by $8 for the few months that we had both Hulu and Netflix. $50-$55 was our average spend for the last year for a month of television. During these months, we saved nearly $100 on our television costs! We have definitely enjoyed being cord cutters and we would recommend it to anyone that feels it would fit their lifestyle.


© 2017 philli

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