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Cutting the Cord: How to Ditch Cable

Note: I’ve written an updated version of this article, “Ditching Cable.”

Over the last year, I’ve seen my cable bill steadily increase (it was almost $200 last month), while the services I receive remain the same. And while we do watching a fair bit of TV, we’re paying for so many channels and programs that we just don’t watch.

We decided to cut the cord and ditch cable. This is how we did it.

The Setup #

Cutting the cord, ironically, actually requires a bit more equipment than sticking with cable. Part of what you pay for with cable is the convenience of a single box that controls everything. Here’s my setup.

Services #

My cable programming has been replaced by content from the internet.

  • Hulu Plus. This provides access to most of the TV shows I watch. Many are available next day, though some take a week from original air date.
  • Amazon Instant Video. One perk of Amazon Prime is free access to a bunch of streaming video content. We also rent movies and buy full seasons of shows that aren’t available elsewhere through Amazon Instant Video.
  • YouTube. You can find an insane amount of great content on YouTube.
  • HBOGo. This comes with my internet plan (more on that below). Awesome original programming.

A lot of folks also have Netflix. Every time I check it out, I come away feeling like they don’t have any of the shows or movies I would actually want to watch available for streaming. I hear if you like older shows and documentaries, it’s a great service.

Update: A lot of people really love Netflix’s original programming, too. I haven’t ever seen it, so I can’t comment.

Internet #

There are two things you can only get with a TV subscription: HBO and ESPN. Fortunately, I’m not into sports, but I do love HBO. Comcast, Time Warner, and FiOS all offer internet packages that also include local stations and HBO Go.

Unfortunately, Comcast hasn’t signed the required partnerships that would allow you to access HBO Go on devices like Roku and Apple TV, nor with Hulu to get earlier access to shows for channels you pay for as part of your cable subscription.

I went with FiOS because it was cheaper, faster, and let me watch HBO Go on all of my devices.

(Look for their internet + local channels package, but tell them you don’t need the digital box.)

Update: You can now get HBO independent of cable with HBO Now.

Roku #

Roku is a tiny little box that let’s you access internet content on your TV.

Almost all of my computer devices are made by Apple, but I chose the Roku over the Apple TV. The primary reason: I buy most of my content from Amazon, which isn’t avaiable on the Apple TV (technically it is, but it requires you to airplay from another device).

If you get most of your content from iTunes, or if you’re really into sports, Apple TV may be a better choice for you.

A digital antenna #

Unfortunately, CBS shows like Big Bang Theory are only available on broadcast television. Luckily, local network television stations still broadcast television over-the-air.

I purchased a Mohu Leaf 50. I live in the suburbs, so I needed something with good range and a signal amplifier. I mounted it in my attic, and pick up about 40-something stations.

Getting your antenna as high and close to an outside wall as possible is key. My antenna doubled the number of channels it got when I moved it three feet over.

Tablo #

Tablo is a whole-house DVR for my digital antenna. It adds a TV guide layer to live television, and also allows you set recordings based on individual shows or entire series.

Instead of connecting to your TV with an HDMI cable, it streams content over your home wifi network to any connected device. This is awesome because it lets you put the Tablo where you get the best antenna reception instead of near where the TV is.

It also means I can access my DVR content from any web-enabled device in the house on up to six devices at once. You can even configure it to let you access content from the road. Watching live TV and DVR recordings on your iPhone is awesome!

Tablo does require a subscription, but they offer a lifetime option for just $150 that’s tied to your account instead of the device. That means that if you ever upgrade or replace your Tablo, the subscription is still good.

A new router #

I had been using the same router since college—one of those blue Linksys B/G routers. I picked up a new Netgear AC router. It rocks for two reasons.

  1. It broadcasts on multiple channels. Older routers used the 2.4ghz channel, which is also used by a lot of other devices (including baby monitors and microwaves), and therefore prone to interference. My new router also uses the 5ghz channel and provides a faster, better signal.
  2. Older routers broadcast their signal generally in all directions. While my new router also broadcasts a loose signal in all directions, once it connect to a device, it sends a stronger signal in its direction.

While most internet providers supply a two-in-one modem/router, the router usually isn’t that good. I followed these instructions to put my moden into bridge mode and use my Netgear instead.

Plex #

This will be very unneccessary for most people, but I setup a Plex media server on an old computer we don’t use much.

A few years ago, I digitized our old DVD collection. Plex lets me wirelessly access my movies—as well as my photos, music, and home videos—from any internet connected device in the house. Like the Tablo, you can restrict access to your local network, or configure it for access on-the-go.

The result #

My cable-free setup has an up-front cost of about $500 in new electronics. But over the course of the year, I’ll save $1,000 over what I was paying for cable. That leaves me with an extra $500 in my pocket the first year, and $1,000 a year each year after that.

My favorite part: I have access to all of my content on any web-enabled device I own.

Have any questions or comments about this post? Email me at chris@gomakethings.com or contact me on Twitter at @ChrisFerdinandi.

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