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Cord Cutting – TV Alternatives

If you’re like most people, you grumble each time your cable/satellite TV bill goes up.  And if you’re like me, you don’t have time to watch the channels you do have — even the few you might actually watch on a semi-regular basis.

After overhearing tales from a younger generation about ripping DVDs (converting from the physical media to a digital file copy) to a digital library for on-demand playback without having to dig through stacks of cases, I started looking into it.  I eventually settled on a setup that works wonderfully well, especially having a three-year-old who seems to have inherited her father’s affinity for watching favorites — over and over.

The point of this post isn’t necessarily the digital DVD library setup, though I might write up something about that later.  No, this post is about the quest for cord cutting that it sparked.  Cord cutting, for the uninitiated, is getting rid of traditional services, like phone and TV service, in favor of free or cheap equivalents available over the Internet.  This post focuses on our family’s departure from satellite TV today, thanks to another tidbit of information from that younger generation.

About a year ago, I started toying with the idea of subscribing to Hulu Plus, an online streaming service that serves up TV episodes from a huge number of popular shows — old and new — albeit the current episodes are only available on a delayed basis (when you typically watch “your shows” from your DVR anyway, that’s not such a big deal).  Since the stations and shows we typically watch are available on Hulu Plus, I subscribed a few months ago, and called our satellite provider to cancel; if we wanted to watch our local stations live, we had a digital antenna to get the Lexington stations over-the-air.

For those of you who haven’t recently called to cancel satellite service (probably the same with cable), nowadays you get routed to the “loyalty” or “retention” department.  The “loyalty” staff’s sole purpose is to keep you from cancelling, offering very attractive, sometime irresistible, incentives to stay with them. So when I called to cancel our service, I got offered a special deal to stay on — fewer channels, but pretty much all we’d need including locals.  That’s where we’ve been for the last few months…until today.

Today, that extra tidbit of information I mentioned got put to the test — and it passed.  Mind you, what I’m about to explain works over our cable Internet (not TV) connection.  YMMV (your mileage may vary) depending on your cable Internet provider. The tidbit of information was that, even on an Internet-only cable connection, our cable provider is broadcasting — unscrambled and essentially free — a fair number of desirable (and some “meh”) stations.  The list promised 60+ channels (some of these are repeats, with both SD and HD options), including:

Discovery Channel
TBS
Our local stations
SEC Network
ESPNU
SyFy
The Weather Channel
WGN Chicago
KET
CW
Lifetime
Ion
TVLand
TVG
Public Access and more

So, my mission today was to get this working.  First, I took a quick trip to a local superstore to get a coaxial cable splitter and a spare RG6 coaxial cable.  Back home to test, at the cable junction box on the outside of the house I cross-connected the incoming cable line with the line that was feeding my satellite receiver from the dish.  (NOTE: During this test, my satellite receiver and cable Internet were disconnected.) After having to dig around my TV’s menu to find and initiate the auto-tune function, and then waiting about five minutes or so for the scan to complete, voila’! I had those channels!  The ultimate test, though, was to have Internet and TV going simultaneously over the single cable connection.

Back to the junction box. Using the short coaxial cables that just had been serving my satellite receiver, I put the cable splitter in place between the incoming cable connection and the two jacks that needed that signal — the original jack upstairs for the Internet connection, and now the (formerly) satellite jack downstairs.  I stuffed the extra cabling into the junction box, and headed inside to see what I could see.

Internet? Check.  A speed test showed my typical download and upload speeds.  Great!  Then (drum roll, please)…

TV? Check. Yes, I had the 60+ channels from the list!  I flipped through every single one, just to remove any doubt.

My next action was to contact my satellite provider to cancel service (finally and definitely).  The loyalty department person dutifully threw every incentive at me that she could, telling me that it would be “sad” to lose me as one of their “VIP” clients, and even going so far as to feign being on the verge of tears.  With staunch resolve, I resisted the kitchen sink, and politely repeated, “No, thank you. Just cancel my account.”  Done.

We’ll keep Hulu Plus; it’s worth $8/mo.  We also have an Amazon Prime membership ($100/yr), which gets us not only free two-day shipping on merchandise in most cases, but also free, on-demand streaming of a wide variety of movies.  Add to that our on-demand digital video library, and I feel pretty good about cutting cords and monthly bills.

To be sure, there are other TV cord-cutting techniques, that range from commercially available streaming devices (a la Chromecast and FireTV Stick) and subscriptions (like NetFlix and SlingTV), to a hodgepodge of media center software, plugins and hacks that take a good bit of research and effort to perfect (if you’ve got the time and drive, have at it.  A good, general resource for cord-cutting topics is the LifeHacker web site; try this link for a list of cord-cutting articles:  http://lifehacker.com/search?q=cord+cutting

Enjoy!

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