Categories
Go Edward Scissorhands on That Sh*t

How to Cut The Cord on Cable TV and Get More Content for Less

Yes, it really is time to finally cut that sh*t.  Go Edward Scissorhands on it. There’s never been a better time to be cable free than right now, and it just keeps getting better every day that goes by.

Here’s what you need to do.

First, get ready for a fight, not a break up with your cable company if they also provide your Internet. Yes, you’ve been in bed together for a long time, but like any relationship, over time the benefits start to go away.  That’s what’s happening right now, and you need to stop paying so much for those benefits that you aren’t getting anymore.

Not only do you need to ditch the cable package, while you’re at it, you’re going to need to INCREASE your Internet.  Shouldn’t cost much, maybe another $10-$15 a month, but it’s worth wrangling with them a big to get a level or two up from their basic speeds because you are a about to become a mad dog streamer and you need that bandwidth.

Depending on how crazy you were in your previous life, you may have cut your monthly nut down from $250 to $75.  Good job.  But now you don’t have anything to watch so let’s fix that.

You might already have a couple of these things on hand, so look around.  Do you have:

A Smart TV

A Roku or Amazon Fire Stick

A Playstation or Xbox

A mobile device of any sorts that has a HDMI plug or HDMI connector; even an old Tablet laying around can work.

Assemble one of any of the above to each of your TVs, or a projector if you’re a fancy pants.

Next step: Sign up for some streaming services or log in with the ones you already have.

Do you already have any of the following:

Netflix

Hulu/Disney+/ESPN+/Nat Geo

Amazon Prime

HBO Now/Go

Sling TV

If you don’t have any of those already, I would love to know what you do with your free time.

No really, you need to sign up or contact your friends and family and hit them up for a log in.  How many of those services you need are really up to you but figure each one is around $10/month which isn’t bad considering your last cable bill was $250 and you watched 0.458% of the 4000 channels offered.

Also, while you’re at it, download the YouTube app to your device or TV.  When all fails, just open this and see what the top or recommended video are for you. 

Now, you’re looking pretty good.  If you’re a sports fan, you got some good content via ESPN+. If you’re into movies, you don’t know what to do with yourself.  If you have kids, they will be forever entertained with Disney+.  If you already had Amazon Prime and weren’t using the video part of it, you were doing that cable thing again, paying for shi*t you don’t use.  Stop it.

Speaking of Amazon Prime, you can also get great streaming music services for free and free Kindle books each month.  And still get your two day delivery, all for the same price you are paying now. But be ready because you know it goes up every year.

Ok, what’s next? How about a dirty little secret.  Yes, we all like those. 

You know why you don’t need no stinkin cable?  Because it’s already in your house, beaming around your walls like a ghost you can’t see.  You just haven’t taken the initiative to catch it, and unmask that ghost.

What is this ghost we speak of?  It’s the HD cable broadcast signals that are in the air and free to grab.  Depending on where you live, some people will be better off than others, but give this a look.  You can get an HD antenna for next to nothing, and the ones nowadays can suck in signals from a long way away. There are even 4K antennas for a great price.

One thing that sucks about HD antennas though is that sometimes they can be affected by weather.  So if that’s a problem, or your signal is weak anyway, don’t fret.

Check out a service called Locast.org. Available in quite a few markets around the country, you can stream your local HD programming via the Locast app on our Smart TV or connected device.  And it works like a charm.  It’s totally free but has some silly interruptions to force you to donate $5 a month.  It’s worth it.

While you’re downloading apps, look for apps from many of the major TV networks as sometimes the content is easily accessible and free there too.  If you have a “friends and family” log in to a cable provider, try their apps too.  They’re trying to cut down on sharing, but it’s worth a shot.

Next, consider getting a networked attached hard drive.  This is a big storage drive that connects to your router.  If you or friends have a bunch of content, save the files to the hard drive and access via your streaming device on your TV. 

Prices are really good on these lately.  Backing up all your media is a good idea anyway.  Get it off your phone before you lose the phone or transfer to a new device and it takes 12 hours to move a decade’s worth of photos and videos over.

Next tip. Upgrade your wireless router and modem, especially if you can’t remember the last time you did. 

Technology is on fire right now and getting better, faster and cheaper than ever before.  You’re streaming shi*t now.  You need to move those 1s and 0s.  If you have an old device it’s likely it can’t even process modern day Internet speeds.  And again, you’re paying for more stuff you don’t use.

Cable was fatally wounded years ago but was able to somehow cling to life because some people like you just couldn’t let go.  But times have changed.  And now it’s dead all the way, and pretty much in the grave.

Who’s talking about cable programming, or waiting to watch something at 9pm on a Wed?  People are talking about what’s streaming because that’s what’s cool and what the whole world is watching.  And now you’re ready, Scissorhands, to go and join the party.

Categories
Use Your Own Cable Box

How To Use Your Own Cable Box and Router To Save Money With Comcast

[This is a guest post from a friend.  He’s one of those smart guys, you know the ones who build all the cool sh*t and then you’re standing around wondering how he did it?  He also was tired of Comcast’s outrageous bills for leasing equipment to him and then charging for service.  So he wanted to find a way around it.]

I’ve chosen to maintain cable service largely due to the speed of the Internet. Internet, in my case, is a necessity because that is how I connect with work, handle my holiday shopping, search for jobs and connect with my social network…..Facebook is a necessity, right?

Satellite doesn’t have an option for internet service and the land line phone networks are nearly obsolete (in my opinion because I use VoIP and my cell phone).  Fiber is coming soon….

Since I am “committed” to Comcast, I decided I would do everything possible to limit the amount of money I was paying to them. 

I decided to challenge the status quo and re-think what I was using cable for. We all know that the cable TV business is extremely flawed. I prefer to pay for things that I actually consume.

How on earth can we consume 900 channels of content that are forced upon us? We can’t. What about the time that I’m away from the house? I’m not getting any benefit of the cable when I am away.

I personally want my cable programming to be based off my consumption, just like all the other bills that come to my house. I don’t pay for my water or electricity on a subscription basis. I pay for what I use.

There are a growing number of people who would be perfectly happy paying for entertainment options à la carte because we are becoming used to doing just that. On-demand programming gives us that flexibility. Why can’t I order a single live football game the way that I order the last Star Wars movie?

As consumers demand this type of programming, you should know that the large cable companies spend an obscene amount of money from a corporate perspective lobbying to keep the cable model exactly as it is today.

Of course when the lobbyist gets a hold of an already corrupt politician, they force in laws that make it difficult to get à la carte programming that we want to see. There are plenty of arguments to be had for NOT introducing à la carte programming but I’m not here to debate those. And the tid appears to be shifting.

That being said, I’m using cable…….for cable, and that is it. Comcast is a service provider. They are not a hardware provider (though they love to be due to the crazy amount of money they make off of it). And this was key for the first part of the equation.

Buy your own hardware (cable box) – You mean I can buy my own cable box? You’re damn right you can. Let me be clear, it isn’t an easy process and might be an extreme option, but if you are like me and just want to stick it to Comcast however you can, this is a good option.

They don’t make it easy though and from what I found, cable boxes aren’t really sold in a “retail” capacity. Cable boxes are intended for mass distribution THROUGH the cable providers so you can’t just go and pick one up at your local Best Buy.

Here’s how I did it.

I found a website through a few articles I read on the subject. The website is down now and looked super sketchy anyway when I ordered from them.  This is a bit of a moving target, so give it a fresh search or comb though Reddit.

I was on a mission though and regardless of the fact that it wasn’t a polished website, I picked an HD box and decided to put a possible stolen identification on the line. At any rate, I was pleased to see that my order was received and I got notification that my item had shipped.

I chose the Motorola DCX3200 High Definition Box and I bought 2 of them ($160 each plus $35 shipping on the whole order – total was $355).

Keep in mind that all of the cable boxes that this company sells are refurbished. You can expect some minor scratches but everything they ship is thoroughly tested before it leaves their facility.

What comes in the box? The cable box, power supply and remote control. (note this model doesn’t have any buttons on the front of it so I’m pretty sure I’m screwed if I lose the remote). This may not be the best option but it is working great for me for now.

What you should know:

You must have legit cable service. Don’t try this if you are stealing cable.

The cable boxes will not work right out of the box. I was hoping they would but go ahead and prepare yourself for the setup.

Expect 2-3 hours of dedicated time to setup the boxes. This was over 3 or 4 phone calls but each time, the Technical Support person at HD DVRs and I agreed on a time. This was largely due to Comcast screwing the pooch on adding cable cards to my account properly.

You will have to go to your local Comcast service center to pick up these things….the cable card. Cable cards are issued for free by law but the cable company can charge a “nominal fee” per month.

In the state of Georgia, that fee is $1.50 per card. Better than the $9.95 Comcast charges to lease their HD cable boxes. To make it easy on yourself, just tell them that you are there to get Cable Cards for your TiVo. Don’t give more information than is necessary.

You will need phone support from HD DVRs technical support team. Good news is they are AWESOME!! They walked me through all troubleshooting and when we had to get Comcast on the phone, they handled the whole call with me only having to provide serial numbers and my account information.

You won’t be able to use Comcast features like on-demand. You get the channels live. If you buy a DVR from HD DVRs, you can record as you would on any other DVR. For my bedroom, I actually like not having a DVR. That means my wife isn’t streaming “Real Housewives of wherever” while I am trying to sleep.

In the end, after I got the cable boxes in the mail, got the working cable cards from my Comcast service center and spent some time with HD DVRs technical support team, it WORKED, it actually worked!

Every channel I am subscribed to comes through perfectly. The HD channels are full HD and all the other digital channels are just as you would expect…..and I’m not paying Comcast for anything more than beaming the signal through the wire…..and that is sweet relief.

Buy your own hardware (modem) – it is insane to pay $10 a month to lease a crappy modem from Comcast. As an IT professional myself, I’m actually embarrassed that it took me this long to buy my own modem. Shame on me.

Here’s how I did it.

I always recommend looking on-line first to find the best deal. You MUST get a modem that is DOCSIS 3.0 compatible for it to work with your Comcast service.

Open it up and plug it in. In my case, Comcast automatically detected it to “activate”. If it doesn’t auto-detect, you just have to go here and follow the on-screen prompts. Worst case, you’ll have to call Comcast support but I was lucky and the modem was fully functional within minutes.

Comcast Bill Before / After purchasing and activating my own hardware

 Cost per month BEFORECost per month AFTERSavings per month
HD Cable Box (DVR)Free (with promo contract)Free (with promo contract)$0.00
HD Cable Box$9.95 (leased cable box)$1.50 (nominal cable card fee)**$8.45
HD Cable Box$9.95 (leased cable box)$1.50 (nominal cable card fee)**$8.45
Digital converter cable box$2.99$2.99$0.00
Cable Modem$10.00 (leased cable modem with telephony)$0.00$10.00
  TOTAL$26.90

**rates / fees may be different in your area

Given that my total investment in my own hardware was about $450, my return on investment will be about 17 months. For me that is worth it. Just remember, the more TVs you try to add to your service, Comcast will hit you with an additional $9.95 per month.

Before you know it, you might be over $200 per month or higher on your bill. That was unacceptable to me which is the reason that I went through this process. Now I can add more TVs if I want without pushing up my recurring bill.

Read next: Go Edward Scissorhands on That Sh*t

Categories
Make an Outdoor Theater

How To Set Up An Easy Outdoor Theater For Streaming Movies

Watching a movie outside on a nice summer night is an amazing experience whether you’re a ten year old kid, or a 50-year old adult.

I’ve seen a lot of different set ups over the years.  Just last week I visited a friend’s house who had a fifty foot HDMI cable running across the floor in his basement to an outdoor projector.

Granted, the picture quality was good, and he had a lot of options for programming, but he was likely paying up the nose for the service, which we’ve already established is ridiculous nowadays.

Creating am outdoor streaming set up is not hard, and not super expensive either.  Here’s how I did it:

The Screen

This is the one place I’m going to recommend not spending a lot of money.

I went to Home Depot and bought a large plain white Martha Stewart curtain for $12. Take your pick on Amazon too where’s there’s a zillion for less than $20. I put two nails in the bottom level of our deck and hung the curtain between them.

Done, and it looks and works great. If you want to darken the screen even more, buy two curtains and hang one in front of the other.

You can buy a fancy screen if you want, but it’s really not needed. You can even beam the picture onto a part of your house or garage if you have a nice clean light colored surface.

Final thoughts on the screen: I’d start inexpensive and go up from there until you find something you really like.

The Projector

I’ve used older projectors in the past (the ones that weigh ten pounds, cover an enormous footprint, and have connections for a bunch of cables no one’s used since the early 2000s).

With young kids, they were still fascinated by the whole idea of watching something outside, but I needed more.

Thankfully, the new projectors are brighter, clearer and easier to see on a wider variety of backdrops.

I hunted and hunted on Amazon, reading almost every review for the all the mini portable projectors that are popping up.  I saw one demonstrated at the Salt Lake City airport at a Sharper Image store, and right away knew I was on to something.

There are a ton to choose from and the price keeps going lower.  You can now score a decent one for under $100 that will do the trick.

These are magical little devices, and not without a few issues (cheap remotes and mediocre audio), but overall, it’s a purchase I don’t think many people would regret, especially if you’re making an outdoor theater.

Audio

Everyone has a Bluetooth speaker nowadays.  This part couldn’t be easier.

Some of the projectors have a built in speaker but they won’t work for crap, so take the time to connect a Bluetooth one. I know one more thing to connect, and charge, but it’s worth it.

Another tip, is to have a 3.5mm headphone cable handy.  I recommend using a Bluetooth speaker, and not connecting it via Bluetooth.  Rather, use the headphone jack, hardwired. 

I say this because I’ve experienced audio lag via Bluetooth especially when streaming a show from Netflix or my media server.  And a cord is less than $5.

Programming

I’ve covered this quite extensively on this site, but in terms of what to watch….as long as you have a device capable of reaching your wi-fi connection, the possibilities are endless.

We use Amazon Prime, Netflix, Disney+ and Hulu quite a bit.  Any apps will work if you have an iPad, tablet or phone as your media source. YouTube is always a free winner.

If you have any files downloaded you can watch via your networked hard drive and a media server or directly from a device if you have them saved there.

The Bottom Line

Let’s add this up. The curtain (your screen) costs around $12. A portable projector is $100 and a Bluetooth speaker is $50, if you need an audio cable it costs $5.

That’s less than $175 for some great equipment, that will provide a fun outdoor movie streaming experience that will make you the envy of your neighbors and their kids.  It’s a win-win.