To date, we have:
- Replaced cable landline phone service with a refurbished Ooma (cost is now only $4/mo in taxes), then bought a $15 used modem to save a rental charge of $7/mo added by the cable company because of the switch.
- Taken internet service down to “Essential” level (saving $15/mo) without impairing our streaming Netflix.
- Removed 2 out of 3 cable boxes (saving $17/mo), replacing one with only an indoor antenna, the other with a $35 digital converter box and antenna, and,
- Hooked up cable directly to the 2 sets to get analog cable channels (a minimum of “Essential” level TV service is required).
- Eliminated three tiers of TV service over a 2 year period (saving $30/month), bringing us down to Essential level, similar to the old basic and extended cable. We still have “Advanced TV” for about $3/mo extra, required for DVR service (at an additional $12/mo). The only channels gained from adding Advanced on top of Essential are music channels. You also do not get HD without Advanced TV. Tricky price and service structuring.
- Added another Roku box (in the bedroom) to stream Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, free Crackle, and our own media on Plex. Tried Hulu Plus, but it wasn’t worth it for us.
- Added a number of Android remote control apps to my wifi-only smartphone.
- (Tech talk alert!) Added a used bottom-of-the-line Windows 7 computer (thanks, Mom) with included Windows Media Center (WMC) software. With USB TV tuner plus antenna, acts as a DVR for broadcast TV and uses free ServerWMC software to stream to a $35 Raspberry Pi computer connected to the large TV in the theater room. Win 7 also runs Plex Media Server software to stream our local TV/movie content (mostly ripped from DVDs) to the Pi (running PleXBMC beta software over Raspbmc), and all Roku boxes (via the Plex Channel).
- Added inexpensive enclosures to 2 unused hard drives to let them serve as external storage for digital content.
- Previously negotiated a $50/month cable bill reduction for a year, followed by another $10/month reduction after all the above steps were done. You can bargain more effectively if you show the customer service rep that you have done your homework and are ready to act.
The bill is down from $215/month in April (TV/phone/internet) to $133/month (TV/internet) currently. That’s an $82/month, almost $1000 savings over the next year. The low-hanging fruit has been picked.
All these actions were expensive only in the time and effort it took to figure them out and make them happen, not in $$. I learned a lot, too, which was very satisfying.
(If my seeming obsession with $$ has suggested that we are in straitened circumstances, such is not the case. I get a kick out of seeing how much I can do with “found” and inexpensive resources, and cutting costs with minimal or no pain.)
Internet is a must-have. But we could save another $1000+/year by cutting the TV cable entirely.
To do so, a minimum WAF (wife acceptance factor) requirement would be reliable, user-friendly broadcast TV DVR in the den (my wife’s “office”).
Here are some improvements, combinations of which could make that possible. Each one could entail significant expenditure and/or handyman skills and tools:
- Wire the house for Ethernet.
- Put up an external antenna.
- Add an HDHomeRun networked digital TV tuner.
- Add Tivo-type product as broadcast TV tuner/DVR.
- Add a Simple.TV box
- Add a computer with HDMI output.
One of the simplest ways to go is with an indoor antenna (we might need an external in the den; our reception isn’t perfect there), and a Tivo Roamio for live broadcast TV/DVR. However, there is a Tivo fee of $15/month.
We do have two other rooms where an indoor amplified antenna suffices. An HDHomeRun tuner could be placed in one of those rooms. Then Ethernet wiring could deliver the broadcast signal and DVR recordings to a computer ($35 Raspberry Pi or Windows 7/8 PC, or somewhere in-between) attached to a den TV via HDMI. That is one way for us to avoid both an external antenna and monthly fee.
Simple.TV combines some of the virtues of each setup. You attach an antenna and an external hard drive for DVR recording. It connects to your network via Ethernet. View over the Simple.TV Roku channel. Monthly fee is $5/month. Here is a 9/22/2014 Wired update on Simple.TV in comparison to Tablo DVR and Channel Master DVR+.
(I have considered replacing the TV in our den, a 2002 vintage 36″ flat tube HDTV without digital tuner, since it can only handle component, S-video and composite video inputs, not HDMI. To get around this, I have tried two different HDMI-to-component video converters without success. An HDFury Gamer 2 Component likely would work, but at a cost of $160, I may hold off until I reach a decision. Simple.TV would not require a converter.)
The cord-cutting crux of the matter remains: can we (especially my wife) do without the Essential (aka basic and extended) cable stations. If we can’t, then none of the above would enable us to cut the TV cable.
The most we could cut would be “Advanced” DVR/HD service, keeping only analog, saving about $15. And analog is an unadvertised feature that could go away at any time as the cable service evolves. Not a huge reward vs. the cost of bringing broadcast TV DVR to the den.
Of course, there is the “TV gypsy” path, moving from cable to dish and back every year or so to get special new customer deals. But by going away for at least 30 days, you become eligible for the deals. You could use Roku and broadcast TV to “survive” the 30 days. Maybe you could survive a lot longer.