Pulling the plug on cable
June 27, 2012 7:30 AM   Subscribe

I want to get rid of cable, but don't want to lose the content my wife and I like. There are too many options, so I need help piecing together the right setup.

Our content needs aren't that big, and we really don't watch much TV. In addition to movies and shows available from Netflix or Hulu, I'm wondering how we'd continue to get the following...
• Local baseball that's blacked out by MLB.tv (which I have a subscription to)
• College and pro football
• Random shows from Cooking Channel, HGTV, etc.
• Comedy Central (specifically, Daily Show, Colbert Report, Tosh.0 and others)

We have a good broadband connection (12mb, but could up it to 18 or 24), strong wireless network (dual-band 802.11n), a smattering of Apple computers and devices (Mac Book Pros, iPads, iPhones), plus a few set-top devices (AppleTV, PS3, Wii). We have hardly any DVD or BlueRay discs, nor do we store much video content digitally. My wife and I have a decent size music library, maybe 100GB between us. I have no interest in BitTorrent or other questionable ways of acquiring content.

I'm also considering adding a home server to the mix, which I would use as a media server, but also for file sharing, backups, and software and OS updates, but maybe web and mail server.

So, what are my options for satisfying our minimal (but seeming cable-only) content needs?

(I've seen a few other questions similar to mine, like this one, but it's a few years out of date, so I'm asking again but still open to the older recommendations if they're still relevant.)
posted by slogger to Computers & Internet (20 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
You can get rid of cable if you can get the content you want from other sources.

With High Def TV, you can put an antenna on the roof and get a regular broadcast signal that way. The quality is supposed to be amazing.

Then you just need to download the rest of your shows. We run Internet through our Wii, with meh results.

Here's a list of shows you can download straight from HGTV.

MLB can be streamed from your computer as well.

Ditto Comedy Central.

A bit of googling will yeild some good stuff.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:40 AM on June 27, 2012

The Boxee Box is not perfect, but it may be your best solution. I've had one since they first came out in December 2010 and with every update it gets better. As far your content:
- If you have an HDTV, you can use an HD antenna ($10 at Radio Shack) to continue to get all of your local channels. It's HD quality and you don't have to pay anything for it.
- Sports are tough because the leagues have crazy strict rules about their content, as I'm sure you know from MLB.tv. If the teams you follow on your local channels, you're good with the antenna. If not, you'll have more trouble. I follow an out-of-town team and they air maybe three or four of their games a year here. The rest I usually manage to find on some seedy website that's playing a feed from the local broadcast.
- A lot of cable channels have content available on their website, which you can access via the Boxee.
- Comedy Central has just about everything they do on their website. Colbert and Daily Show go up the morning after they air. You can stream these through the Boxee.

You can also stream Netflix and MLB.tv through the Boxee.

I also have a friend who has a Mac Mini that he uses to run Boxee's software, though they recently killed the software to focus on the Box.
posted by anotheraccount at 7:48 AM on June 27, 2012

My cable-free setup uses a BoxeeBox, a NAS for storing downloaded content (served up by the BoxeeBox), the BoxeeBox antenna for local HD stations (which includes some of the hockey games), Netflix (US even though I'm in Canada) and Airplay to the BoxeeBox with an iOS app for the rest of the hockey games. I'm probably lucky in that there is an iOS app from our local sports media conglomerate that provides the games though, otherwise I'd spend more time at the bar for the games. The BoxeeBox will serve up to you quite nicely all those shows that are available on the web, so Comedy Central, HGTV, etc should be covered by that. Like mentioned upthread, the live sports programming is going to be your biggest hurdle and the reason it took me as long as it did to finally cut the cable cord.
posted by cgg at 7:59 AM on June 27, 2012

We are about to make the switch this weekend.

We're probably going to shell out cash for NBA streaming Access this fall.

We're not really tied down to any newer television shows - but I can understand how shitty it is having to wait to see new episodes. Some of the networks will offer episodes within 24 hours of airing.

As of now, we've been using Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime Instant through our PS3 using basic Comcast cable interent connection.
posted by KogeLiz at 8:07 AM on June 27, 2012

Assuming your location is correct and local sports are on local network channels, you should have no problem getting HD TV of sports over the air with even a simple, indoor antenna. Also, depending on your internet provider, you may have access to ESPN3 (which is blacked out for local sports, but still).

Also, if this is primarily a financial decision, you should look into the super-basic cable. This is cable that costs you ~$10/month and has ONLY the local network channels (and is usually not advertised at all by the cable companies). You can get the channels in HD, so if you don't want to go out and buy an antenna, that's another option for local sports.
posted by Betelgeuse at 8:15 AM on June 27, 2012

We cut the cord three years ago and watch what we want through a combination of 1) Over the Air HDTV: in Chicago, we get 30 or so channels at pretty high quality 2) Netflix 3) Amazon Video on Demand and 4) My mother's HBO Go account. We run 2-4 through an Xbox 360 or a PS3 depending on which controller is charged.

We don't watch sports though, and I think you'll have a big gap between what's broadcast over the air and what you'd get on ESPN. I'm not sure what you can get through MLB.tv, but I know ESPN does broadcast a lot of college football games through their Xbox Live app.
posted by Oktober at 8:22 AM on June 27, 2012

My wife and I get along just fine using:

PS3 to stream video to the tv.
• Has native netflix app.
• PlayOn runs on my PC and streams hulu and other network content to the PS3.
• Other shows I cannot get via the above are downloaded and hosted on the same PC and streamed with ps3 media server

The reason we went with this setup is that I already had the PS3. I don' t think it's the best solution, and definitely not the cheapest, but it works quite well for us.
posted by Quack at 8:27 AM on June 27, 2012

We did this a few years ago, and haven't missed anything. We tried most of those options, and the surprising break-out solution, in terms of cost and ease of use has been a Roku box. It's cheap, you plug it in, it will play your Netflix and Amazon and Hulu videos without any extra costs or hassle. The latest versions will also play most audio and video file types straight off of a USB drive as well. Everyone I've heard of buying a Roku box feels the same way. It just works. We have been happy with the cheapest box, and although there are many for pay "premium" channels on Roku, we don't subscribe. Like I wrote above, all the video streaming services (Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, Pandora, etc) are available at no extra charge (obviously, you have to have a Netflix account to be able to watch Netflix, but I mean that Roku doesn't charge you extra for it, unlike Microsoft XBox which I've heard requires some sort of subscription). Also there are a lot of other interesting free channels on Roku like TED talks, scores of cooking and computer shows-- I finally learned how to make Mango Lassi at home-- religious, language and ethnic channels for most groups. It's a lot of content, easy to access for a one-time price.

I don't follow my local sports teams, but I'm pretty sure the HD antenna will be your solution. They are about $80 most places, and there may still be some government coupons for free units floating around.
posted by seasparrow at 8:28 AM on June 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks for all the responses thus far.

For sports, the Cleveland Indians' weeknight games are all broadcast on STO, which is cable only. So that's a dead-end, but weekend games are OTA. Browns games might be a little easier, except for any Thursday night games. Big 10 football looks to be a dead-end too, unless I can use a relative's Time Warner MyServices account to access their online streaming (same with ESPN).

But it looks like everything other than sports should be pretty easy to fill.
posted by slogger at 8:30 AM on June 27, 2012

We've been holding on to cable exactly for the baseball issue. Frustrating that when we lived out of market we could ditch cable and see what we wanted, but now that we live in the city where our beloved team plays, we can't. So annoying. We've considered just doing the radio thing, but we love the TV announcers. So......I got nothing for you on that.
posted by dpx.mfx at 8:33 AM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

My husband and I got rid of cable about 3 years ago and we don't miss it at all. We survive quite nicely with two HD antennas (excellent quality and some really cool "in between" channels, too!), Netflix, Apple TV, Amazon On Demand and whatever we can find on the internet. We don't have any interest in sports, so the lack of sports channels was never a problem. You could also hit a local sports bar for the games you really want to watch!
posted by Nutritionista at 8:37 AM on June 27, 2012

Response by poster: Yeah, with a 4 year old at home, and another on the way (next week!) slipping out to the bar up the street for a game is no longer an option.
posted by slogger at 8:46 AM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

The Xbox 360 is a few bucks more than a Roku, but you do get the ESPN app, which is great for watching college football, I watched Michigan beat VT at the Sugar Bowl through it.
posted by Oktober at 8:52 AM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Sports are the dead end here. There's no legal way to get in-network games that aren't broadcast OTA. I just live with only watching weekend games, but that might not satisfy you.

We have a TiVo that we have hooked up to our antenna, so we get all our OTA shows there, and then use Apple TV for non-HBO/Showtime cable shows, and for the rest we wait for the DVDs from Netflix. Newer TiVo boxes have been dropping antenna support, though, so look into that.
posted by davextreme at 9:14 AM on June 27, 2012

If you've got a PS3, you've already got all you need to stream Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon on-demand.

It's also not a bad idea to buy a DisplayPort->HDMI cable to connect your laptop to your TV, for those few programs that aren't available any other way.

Piecing together a TV-centric solution is nice, but ultimately inflexible. It's become almost stupidly easy to just grab a laptop, queue up a show, and plug it into the TV.
posted by schmod at 10:33 AM on June 27, 2012

You're right -- sports really are the problem here. I dealt with the same issues when I switched over from a big (and expensive) cable package to the one I have now. I'm in Chicago and wanted to watch soccer, baseball, and football. OTA covers football, but not much else. So I talked Comcast down to a basic cable + internet package that was only $40/month. This worked for me because Cubs games are on WGN, I can watch football on the regular channels, and for soccer I use...not so legal sites. But it all works out.

And for others looking at this thread and to be fully clear: unless you are way outside your market for your MLB team, your team's games will be blacked out on mlb tv. This is a long-standing issue that MLB acknowledges but refuses to resolve. They have even been called out on it by national sports media. Absolutely ridiculous.
posted by RabbleRabble at 11:21 AM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

My family recently did the same thing (coincidentally, we also have a three-year-old at home and already owned iPhones, Macbooks, iPads, an Apple TV and an Xbox 360). We also watch very similar things to you. Here's what I can tell you:
  • HD OTA via a very cheap antenna is pretty great. The picture and sound is actually substantially better than what we were getting from our cable provider (AT&T U-Verse).
  • You might find that some of the cooking/home shows on PBS over-the-air are actually better than the shows you were watching on Food TV/HGTV. Here in Indianapolis, we get the Create Network which is one of the PBS channels.
  • The ESPN app on the xbox 360 is pretty cool and shows a handful of bigtime sports. This isn't a substitute for "real ESPN" though, as most things are blacked out. Also, oddly, the Watch ESPN app for iOS doesn't work with U-Verse subscriptions, but the xbox ESPN app does... shows you how messed up this whole "TV-over-the-internet" thing is.
  • While I don't own one, the Boxee box, as others have mentioned does a pretty good job of finding shows that are strewn across the internet and giving you a good interface to watch them. For example, HGTV has a small collection of shows on their website you can watch. This is great if you're watching on a computer, but kind of a pain if you want a slick GUI to watch them on your TV in your living room. Boxee does a great job of doing this for you.
  • Personally, our household is full of college basketball junkies (Go Butler Bulldogs!), so our plan is to try and take some of the money we saved by ditching cable to attend more home games.
The biggest bummer for us was not having a DVR anymore. We buy a lot of our shows and movies over netflix or iTunes, but those times when we do watch live TV OTA, we're always kinda caught off-guard by the commercials. It also seems like a total hassle to be at a certain place at a certain time to watch a show. I can't believe people did that for years! We can watch Parks and Recreation OTA for free, but we still pony up the $2 or whatever to watch it via iTunes the next day because we can't be bothered enough to PLAN to be in the living room ready to watch promptly at 9:00 every Thursday.

Good luck.
posted by teriyaki_tornado at 11:37 AM on June 27, 2012

Sports are slowly getting there...but emphasis is on "slowly." They have been struggling for years on how to provide their content over the internet. For example, since pro football is pretty exclusive to DirecTV, the NFL ticket has been elusive for non DTV customers until more recently. Now you can buy the package and stream on your computer, mobile device, or ps3 (but not many other devices *yet* like the Boxee or Roku as far as I know, it's hopefully planned to be). NHL is in slightly better shape with most games available (save blackouts). Much cheaper however.

It's my hope that more and more people cut the cord...enough to kick into gear those who oversee sports media to pay closer attention to consumer needs in the growing streaming market. For everything else though, I think you'll be fine with a Roku, PS3, or Boxxee (or combination of a PS3 and either other device).
posted by samsara at 11:43 AM on June 27, 2012

Roku is the way to go if you have to add anything. For any of your own media, setting up one of your Macs as a Plex server seems like an easy thing to do (my cousin has been doing this for some time and it looks slick). Roku has a Plex channel than makes it easy to stream your content from Plex.

Plus the Roku is tiny, and could easily be moved from TV to TV if you have several and don't want to buy multiple playback boxes. I considered an Apple TV but the Roku beat it out on so many levels... that, combined with the Netflix available through our TV, our Wii, our TiVo, our iOS devices or our Blu-Ray player covers a lot of ground for us. The only substantial thing the Roku added was Amazon Prime streaming, and solved our issue that we didn't have any way to play back video in our bedroom. The Roku was the cheapest way for us to get Netflix streaming in there.

Still annoyed that our TiVo can stream Amazon videos but Amazon won't allow us to use Prime on it. Stoopid.
posted by caution live frogs at 2:51 PM on June 27, 2012

My partner and I ditched the satelite last summer and it has been wonderful. When we decided to get rid of it we both were all "We still need to be able to watch Supernatural/Fringe/Survivor/etc" and we lined up different ways to be able to get those things we wanted (mostly by downloading them and streaming them to the PS3 using the mediaserver). For things that we wanted to watch as they aired (Daytona 500, World Series, etc) we have found that a lot of those things can be purchased as a live stream on the internet, which we can watch on the tv using the PS3 or through our Wii. We also have a Netflix subscription, though that is mostly used by our 5 year old when he wants to watch cartoons saturday morning. Even paying for those things from time to time ends up costing infinitely less than our satelite ever did.

I will add, as a quick aside, that even though we were really concerned over being able to keep up with our shows and having all those ways researched to be able to keep watching them, what ended up happening is that we stopped caring about the shows. Because we could watch those shows whenever it was convenient for us (instead of when they were broadcast) we ended up untethering ourselves from them. Within a month we basically lost track of all the shows and we haven't seen any since. We're both actually really thankful for it. It is also great because our 5 year old isn't growing up in front of the tv, he is playing and doing things and we're playing and doing things with it.

We'll never go back to cable.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 4:25 AM on June 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

« Older Good design goes to heaven   |   How do I pick a website host? What questions... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.