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Cord Cutting

A Simple Guide For How to Cut The Cord on Cable TV and Get More Content for Less

imgedward20scissorhands1This site is one page long, written by a former cable subscriber who has found new light without cable.  By the end of this article you will be able to get local HD TV programming for free, get more TV/movies than you can digest for $20/month or less, get free two-day shipping on everything you order from Amazon.com, and learn a bit about home media serving for when you’re really a cordless rockstar.

Time to Jump Ship
I had finally had enough. As they do every six months it seems, my cable provider (Comcast) raised my cable TV rates and added a $10 “technology fee” on top of what was already becoming an outrageous monthly expense. And I don’t watch enough TV to justify $120/month, which if invested at 7% over the next 15 years could likely be enough to send one of my kids to college.

So I called and cancelled. And much to my surprise, they didn’t fight it. There was no retention specialist or anyone pitching me a three month sweet deal (which I wouldn’t have taken anyway). They just let me go. And I was happy about it.

I had been planning how I would do this for some time, and I want to share my experience with you because the cable companies are ripping everyone off.  Unless you must watch every reality TV show on the day it airs (and this solution may still allow you to do that), or you consume a lot of live sports (you can do a lot of that too), or have to see the premium channel content (HBO, Showtime) on the season it airs (this is the only one that bothers me, but we’re very close to a resolution), this plan very well could work for you.  This is the future of TV and it is much less expensive and easier to implement than you might think. Are you ready?

Here’s the dirty little secret the cable companies don’t want you to know.  There are a ton of HD TV signals broadcast right now in your house.  You likely just don’t have a way to pick them up. Enter the HD antenna.  Once an expensive item to own can now be had for $30-$40 and they work really well; at least in my house near the Atlanta area.

Terk HDTVa Indoor Amplified High-Definition Antenna

I’ve highlighted two of them here.  I purchased the Terk antenna and my TV instantly found 51 channels, twenty of which are viewable and ten of which I will actually probably watch – those being the major network broadcasts and a few ancillary ones. But it’s plenty for me. I use the Leaf Paper Antenna in my basement and it works great too.  This is a laminated piece of paper that works as an HD Antenna.  It’s mind blowing how good it is.  Read the reviews on Amazon.

AmazonBasics Ultra-Thin Indoor HDTV Antenna


Also note, they came out with an amplified version.  I don’t have experience with it, but it’s worth a look. AmazonBasics just came out with this $20 paper thin HD antenna that looks like a copy cat of the Leaf at a fraction of the price. For $20 this is definitely worth a look, plus you can upgrade it to reach up to a 50 mile range.

You won’t know how good these will work until you try. Where you live is a huge factor but you can check www.antennaweb.org to find out how far you are from a broadcast tower and determine what direction to face your antenna.I was blown away.  You may be too.  The quality is fantastic, in some cases better than my clunky HD cable box, and it only goes out when the weather is bad.  That’s really the only downside.  Give it a try.

Once you have the HD antenna set up, you will need some on-demand content to supplement the live feeds.

hulu-plus-free-trial
Thanks to three key services right now – Netflix, Hulu Plus and Amazon Prime (this one gets you free 2-day shipping too, Music streaming and some Kindle books), you can get virtually all the TV shows and movies any normal personal could consume, and much more.

Each of these services cost about $7 a month for streaming content, so you can get all three for $21/month (1/5 of what I was paying for cable), which is what I did, and then see if you really are missing anything. (Get a free 30 day trial of Amazon Prime here)

Roku 3500R Streaming Stick


There are many options for streaming devices.  The Playstation 3/4 or Xbox are both amazing.  For $50 you can get a Roku, which is a super small but massively powerful device that can bring you all this content.  I have both of those and then added a WD TV Streaming device which adds DLNA server functionality (which I’ll get to later). The cost is minimal for what you get and it’s a one time investment.

ANOTHER TIP: if you have a smartphone or tablet, check for apps from many of the major TV networks.  Many of them have apps, and stream their content, and they do it for free.

simple HDMI connector can plug it right into your TV.  NOTE: I watched the Superbowl this way.  The app stream had a live Twitter feed on one side of the screen and a choice of multiple camera angles on the other.  Cable can’t touch this…(note on the HDMI connector listed above.  I know they are more expensive, but I highly recommend using Apple branded cables for the iPad.  They just work better and more consistently than the generics).

Get a networked attached hard drive.
Here’s a sleeper many people don’t know about.  Are you using a gigantic hard drive to store your content and back up your files?  Does it connect to your router?  If not, you’ll be jazzed as heck to learn that you can scoop up a new networked hard drive from sizes ranging from 1TB-3TB for under $100.

WD My Cloud 2TB Personal Cloud Storage


I didn’t even realize all the benefits when I bought one. But these new ones have personal “clouds” built in and will stream music, photos and videos right to your aforementioned streaming device.  Have family visiting? Bring up all your photos in a nice slideshow right on your big screen.  Having a party?  Stream all your music right through your TV.

On the go? Some network hard drives, such as those from Western Digital even include mobile apps that connect to your drive (and your cloud) and let you access files from anywhere.  It’s amazing technology.  Please look into it.  You won’t be disappointed.I keep everything on here now and serve up the files to every TV in the house along with app-connected devices.  My Western Digital streamer will even allow me to stop a movie in the basement and resume it in the bedroom.  This new “personal cloud” may be better than the corporate-run clouds everyone’s pitching nowadays.  (I do love Dropbox though).

The latest bad boy on the block: ASUS RT-AC87U Wireless-AC2400 Dual Band Gigabit Router

Upgrade your wireless router.

I upgraded my wireless router to the fastest one I could find.

Based on CNET tests and some research, I opted for this Linksys router.  It’s blazing fast, the wireless coverage is amazing, and it’s throughput is other worldly to support a bunch of streaming devices throughout the house.  It’s not a requirement for any of this, but it can help significantly.  Since I purchased this router technology has continued to evolve and there are even faster ones out now for the same price.  I also upgraded my modem recently and that made a world a difference in streaming to so many different devices around the house.

This is just a tip but make sure you get a receipt and hold on to it for the return of any of your cable boxes and remotes and such. Once you’re gone, you won’t want to deal with the cable companies ever again.

Now you’re ready.

Everything I’ve outlined here is 10X easier to do than you might think at first. It’s a gut wrenching plunge to disconnect a service that has been your best friend for so many years. But it’s time has come. It can’t keep up with technology. So why not put money in your pocket and get tons of the content you want the most. Go for it.

KEEP READING: “A Few Updates From My Original Post

Categories
Cord Cutting

A Few Updates From My Original Post

There’s been a lot of activity in the cable cutting, streaming space over the last 6 months since I began writing about the movement on this site.  It appears more and more people are jumping on the bandwagon and companies have realized this is far from a fad, but is now a real-life change in media consumption.

I’ll try to keep the updates rolling in, but I wanted to hit a few high level ones that have made an impact recently.

First up is an excellent offering from Amazon.com that took everything that was great about Roku and many of the other stand alone streaming boxes, and upped the game even further.  The Amazon Fire TV Stick is a new highly powerful $39 HD streaming stick that deserves proper exploration.  In addition to allowing you to access the major streaming services, including primeAmazon’s own excellent Prime service, this box allows for gaming, photos and music applications and also voice control, which is a first.

Next up is a service that has been in the news quite a bit recently, because it is the subject of much debate [UPDATE: Unfortunately Aereo lost its court fight; their future is yet to be determined at this point]. This usually means that they are doing something cool, and indeed they are.  The service I’m referring to is called Aereo and it allows you to watch high quality local programming through your streaming box.  It helps the issue of spotty signal reception you might be encountering through your HD antenna, by harnessing a powerful signal and beaming it down to your box.  aereoAs an added bonus it allows for DVR like recording capabilities so you can save your favorite shows and watch them at your convenience.  It’s not available everywhere yet, but at $8/month it’s a heck of a cool option. When paired with everything else I’ve listed on this site, you can replace cable TV almost in its entirety, and perhaps access even more content.

Please feel free to add comments on new services and technologies that you encounter.  Thanks for visiting the site.

Categories
Cord Cutting

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

[This is a guest post from a friend who shares a similar sentiment toward Comcast as I do.  He wanted to stick it to them by not paying a monthly fee to lease hardware from them.  These monthly lease fees are another huge revenue stream for Comcast that he wanted to put a stop to.  Here’s how to do it.]

the-cable-guy-tbiI’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).

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 Big Hero 6?

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. 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 http://www.hddvrtv.com and their name is just “HD DVRs”. Check out the site and let me know if it doesn’t look sketchy to you. I was on a mission though and regardless of the fact that it isn’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.

photo1I 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 (see below).
  • photo2You 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.

photo3I went and picked up a modem from Best Buy because I was anxious and wanted it as quickly as possible. 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. I picked this one, just a plain old modem, no WiFi, no telephone (for a phone), for plain old internet. Motorola SURFboard DOCSIS 3.0

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 to http://www.comcast.com/activate 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.

For WiFi capabilities, I had a wireless router at my house already that I had used previously. That is what I used to spread the joy to the rest of the house. By doing this, it allows you to upgrade your WiFi network as technology changes. The old wireless router that I plugged in only supports up to 50mbps download speeds. Now, I think some wireless technologies go up to 500 or 600mbps but keep in mind you are limited by what Comcast speeds you get through the wire are. In my case, our Comcast service supplies me with about 100mbps download speeds. Just keep that in mind when choosing your wireless router.

Comcast Bill Before / After purchasing and activating my own hardware

Cost per month BEFORE Cost per month AFTER Savings 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.

Categories
Cord Cutting

How To Set Up An Easy Outdoor Theater For Streaming Movies

This is a super fancy setup
This is a super fancy setup

Watching a movie outside on a nice summer night is an amazing experience whether you’re a ten year old kid, or a 40-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 is something streaming fanatics like me, refuse to do. Creating a 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. 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. I’ve used older projectors in the past (the ones that weigh ten pounds, cover an enormous foot print, and have connections for a bunch of cables no one’s used since the early 2000s). Thankfully those days are over. The new projectors are brighter, clearer and easier to see on a wider variety of backdrops.

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

The Projector

I started with one of the huge aforementioned projectors and it worked ok, but the color was inconsistent, and it wasn’t as clear or as bright as I hoped. With young kids, they were still fascinated by the whole idea of watching something outside, but I needed more.cube

I hunted and hunted on Amazon, reading almost every review for the new wave of 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.

My searches on Amazon led me to the RIF6 CUBE, which is the smallest projector I could find (it’s not much bigger than a GoPro camera). It seemed like it did everything, and did it well.  Hop on over and read them yourself. This is a magical little device. It’s not without a few issues (cheap remote 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.

The projectors I viewed at Sharper Image would work fine too, and they might have been a little less. The CUBE is on sale on Amazon for $249; Sharper Image has some starting around $100. Several of the other portable projectors are likely to be good picks too, and they are priced less than the CUBE. There’s just something about the CUBE that drew me in, and when I got it, I fell in love.

(FYI – I did not receive any of the products mentioned here for free. I purchased them all, and I am sharing what really worked for me.)

Audio

I chose the Yamaha NX-P100 Portable Bluetooth® Speaker for my audio

Good audio is key to the outdoor movie experience. The CUBE has a built in speaker that would be nice if you were around a conference room table in a quiet room with five people. But it can’t handle the sounds of a real movie outdoors.

I recommend using a Bluetooth speaker, and not connecting it via Bluetooth.  Rather, use the headphone jack.  I say this because I’ve experienced audio lag via Bluetooth especially when streaming a show from Netflix or my media server.  Hard wiring the audio from the headphone jack on the CUBE into the Bluetooth speaker via a little $5 cord like this, alleviated that lag.

For Bluetooth speakers, I have an original Jambox which doesn’t really have the juice to hang with a loud action movie. I also wanted one that could hold a charge for a long time, and I was more concerned over quality than having it be super small. I bought this Yamaha speaker, and it’s perfect: The Yamaha NX-P100 Portable Bluetooth Speaker. The sound quality is superb, the bass comes through, it brings the movie alive, and it only costs $120. We use this speaker constantly, for more than movies.

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 and Hulu quite a bit (just finished the Bloodline series on Netflix which was fantastic, and Goliath on Amazon).  You can now subscribe to HBO and watch all their other great original content.

Here’s a free trial of Amazon Prime, and a free trial of Hulu.

And I also use the Western Digital apps to connect to my cloud media server which opens up all the content that I’ve saved there in digital format. I stream all of this from an iPad.  You can even play apps on the big screen or anything else that’s on your iPad. This opens up YouTube which can be a lot of fun. The rest is up to you.

The Bottom Line

Let’s add this up. The curtain (your screen) costs around $12. The CUBE is $249 and the Yamaha speaker is $120, if you need an audio cable it costs $5. That’s around $400 for some great equipment, that will not only provide a fun outdoor movie streaming experience that will make you the envy of your neighbors and their kids, but you will definitely use the CUBE and the speaker for more throughout your daily life. It’s a win-win.

Enjoy, and please let me know if there are other tricks or cool equipment you’ve found for outdoor movies, particularly those of the streaming kind.