How we use our cord-cutting savings.
I could make this the briefest post ever if I just said “TiVo”.
It was certainly the key cord-cutting move for us. (See previous posts Cord-cutting status report #1 and Cutting the TV cable with TiVo Roamio OTA.)
The TiVo Roamio, aside from being an extremely user-friendly DVR and TV tuner, has built-in access to video providers YouTube, Netflix, Amazon Instant Video (including Prime), Hulu Plus, MLB.TV, and VUDU (video on demand service).
Your favorite shows and series from all these can be easily integrated into the “My Shows” list of recordings. (See Streaming video as cable substitute.)
For example, my wife likes to watch the cable show “Hoarders” in the den (her HQ) on Saturday, so we added it to “My Shows”. It appears as any other recorded show, but when you click, all episodes from all seasons are listed. Some episodes are currently available on Netflix and newer ones are available on VUDU. So you pick one, select a provider, and watch. (See TiVo’s new OnePass feature: boon to cord-cutters.)
Of course, the Netflix or other options work only if you have a subscription, the VUDU option only if you have set up an account with them. (Episodes are $1.99-2.99/episode on VUDU, depending on whether you want SD or HD).
These “cloud” shows take up no space on your TiVo’s hard drive.
If you are saving as much as we are, you feel freer to pay for programming you really want. We recently bought the first season of “Better Call Saul” on Amazon Instant Video (it is not available on Amazon Prime currently).
Recently added apps include Plex, iHeart Radio, Pandora, and Spotify (subscription only). These are not integrated in the same way as the video providers, but it is great to have them (especially Plex!)
All these TiVo features combined render other devices such as Roku, Chromecast, Apple TV, or “smart TV” optional for many people.
TiVo’s program guide and interface are superior to the cable box/DVR we had. More recent iterations such as the Hopper by DISH, Genie by DirecTV, and Contour by Cox created competitive pressure that resulted in the much-improved Roamio series.
Our kitchen TiVo Mini
The TiVo service costs $15/month, but a great way to get more for your money is to add a TiVo Mini (no extra charge beyond the cost of the device).
This is a little box that attaches to the mothership by Ethernet cable (or MoCA, Multimedia over Coax). We added two Minis, one for the kitchen, one for the theater room. (See The fruits of cord-cutting: new TVs, TiVo Mini.)
Our TiVo Roamio OTA has 4 tuners, and dynamically allocates them to each Mini as needed. If too many tuners are in use by viewers when a recording starts, viewers will be asked to click Select if they want to continue watching. If not, or if there is no response, the Roamio will take back the tuner and reassign it.
Other models have 6 tuners if 4 is not enough.
Having one recording repository serve every TiVo box makes it convenient to switch rooms in mid-program.
With a TiVo and a good antenna, you might well be able to cut the cable cord while keeping things as simple as they can be! (See previous posts Placing an indoor TV antenna, High winds can affect TV reception and Mohu Sky 60 antenna review.)
One minor complication you might enjoy is a Roku.
Like the TiVo Roamio, it has YouTube, Netflix, Amazon, Hulu Plus, MLB.TV, VUDU, Plex, Pandora, Spotify and iHeart Radio.
But in addition, it has a multitude of other free channels, some of the best of which are: Crackle, Comedy Central, Sky News International (HD), Shout Factory, Nowhere TV, and Tunein with thousands of free radio stations. (See Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee on Crackle.)
Other subscription channels include Sling TV, HBO GO, ESPN, and Showtime. (See Cord-cutters’ supplement? Introducing Sling TV.)
The remote is simple to operate.
If any of the additional channels grab you, a Roku is a good one-time investment to expand your choices.
Google’s Chromecast device is an alternative to Roku, but smartphone-centric; you “cast” apps up to the big screen.
Castable apps include most of the usual suspects mentioned above (Netflix, Crackle, Plex, Pandora, etc.), with the notable exception of Google competitor, Amazon.
YouTube is an especially natural fit to this mode of viewing.
I previously described my devious method of using a Chrome browser tab and Chromecast to get 24/7 web versions of CNN, msnbc, and CNBC up onto the big screen. (See Use Chromecast to watch online cable news.)
If you are one of those guys who insists on entertaining with his smartphone, Chromecast will give you a much bigger stage to work your magic.
Our Ooma on the right
An Ooma Telo VoIP (voice over internet) device replaced our landline phone service.
My wife does all her business calling and texting on her iPhone.
But I still like having cordless phones around the house, even though I text with Google Voice on my wifi-only smartphone. I was able to keep our old phone number with a one-time $40 charge.
The voice quality is very good. The only downside I’ve found is a slight delay, similar to cell phones I’ve talked on.
At a monthly cost of less than $4 in taxes, it’s a small indulgence. (See Cord-cutting: Hold the phone!)
Ooma was the first cord-cutting move documented in this blog.
There is more to learn and remember as you expand.
There are optional but more complicated things you can do.
Run free Plex or Emby software on your PCs, and serve video and music to your laptops, phones, and tablets, and to your TVs via Roku or Chromecast. (See 007 24/7 on Plex Media Server, Poolside fun with Plex remote access, and Media Browser: an alternative to Plex.)
Replace TiVo at a lower or no monthly fee with Tablo DVR or Channel Master DVR+, or Windows Media Center, or freeware like NextPVR. Warning: they all could work for you, depending on your needs, but none are as user-friendly as TiVo. (See RIP Windows Media Center (in 5-8 yrs).)
Save a TiVo-recorded show as an .mpg file, maybe later convert it to .mp4 for Plex use. Thanks to reader JJ’s comment on the previous post, I learned how to do it. I just followed all the steps at the Windows Install link on this page: pyTivo (free server software).
Run free media center software such as OSMC (formerly XBMC) on a Linux-based machine such as the Raspberry Pi. I use my Pi as a front-end presentation for Windows Media Center DVR software running on a network-attached Windows 7 PC. With the free PleXBMC add-on, the Pi also front-ends Plex servers running on other household PCs. In addition, it offers unique free content, such as ESPN3 in HD. The interface is slick and stylish, with many free skins available to radically change the look.
The Pi is flexible and fun, but setting-rich and sometimes frustrating; recommended more for the tinkerer than the casual user. (See previous posts Raspberry Pi computer leads to Atari on Wii, “Let’s kill Uncle first!”, Windows Media Center & Raspberry Pi, and The missing context button.)
Logitech Harmony 890
Here are a couple of ways I tamed some of the complexity created by adding new boxes and new modes of delivering media to our theater room:
A Logitech Harmony remote eliminated a bucketful of remotes for the all the above devices, plus Blu-ray, receiver, HD radio, VCR, etc. The Harmony online database knows about all your devices by model number, and gives you workable default button settings for all your activities. You can customize to a high degree, and I’ve had a lot of obsessive fun getting it just right for me.
Ultimately, the Harmony unifies and simplifies your TV experience. Best money I ever spent. (See 2014: A Cord-Cutting Odyssey, Logitech Harmony 650, Cloning the TiVo “Peanut” remote.)
When I can’t remember off-hand which show is where, I look at Our post-cord-cutting TV menu on my smartphone.
The most important lesson I have learned:
Keep the basic TV/DVR system user-friendly and reliable. This maximizes the wife acceptance factor needed to successfully cut the cord.
I enjoy dealing with the complexity entailed by extra functionality, but my wife and many other sane and smart people do not. You can have simple, or complex, or both co-existing as we now do.
As The Keeper of Talos iV (above) thought, “May you find your way as pleasant.”