But I still wanna watch Girls...
December 14, 2012 10:04 AM   Subscribe

I'm disconnecting my cable. What are my alternatives?

I'm ending my service with Time Warner Cable because I can't stomach forking over $140 a month any longer. I'm in the southeast U.S.

I still want to watch TV. Is Netflix the only alternative? Bonus points for a way to access HBO programming.
posted by thank you silence to Technology (30 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
HBO is a no go. Amazon has quite a library available. Hulu has some good TV.
posted by Blake at 10:05 AM on December 14, 2012 [2 favorites]

Amazon Instant has a lot of overlap with Netflix. Hulu Plus is great for stuff that's currently running and also has a pretty good library. Unfortunately, as far as (legal) access to HBO is concerned, the machinations of the cable television industry means you're SOL if you're trying to get it without going through your cable company. The least-dubious method I can think of is borrowing a friend's HBO GO access.
posted by griphus at 10:08 AM on December 14, 2012

Also, what are you planning to use to watch whatever services you plan to subscribe to?
posted by griphus at 10:11 AM on December 14, 2012

Response by poster: My TV can connect directly to the internet, so I was thinking Netflix or something streaming. I've also heard about Roku boxes but I'm not really sure what they are.
posted by thank you silence at 10:12 AM on December 14, 2012

You can buy HBO shows on itunes, but the release date seems to be tied to the dvd/blu-ray releases.
posted by kpmcguire at 10:13 AM on December 14, 2012

I have a roku box, through which I can watch Netflix, Hulu Plus, and movies/TV shows I buy through Amazon (which I believe has HBO shows a loooong time after they air). HBO Go has a roku channel but it's not available through my ISP. There are other channels, but those are the ones I've found to be the best.

If you have a late-model Mac or iPad, you might want to consider Apple TV instead, which allows you to stream content from your device. There's also a roku channel that allows you to do this, but I haven't tried it yet.

My brother has a computer with Windows Media on it that he uses instead of a cable box, attached to his tv. It's more expensive upfront than a roku/Apple TV. but you can use it as a DVR (if you have decent TV reception, of course) and you don't have to pay extra for Hulu Plus (which is $8month).

And of course the basic version is just buying an HDMI cord and hooking your computer right up to your TV.
posted by lunasol at 10:13 AM on December 14, 2012

I use a combination of Netflix, Hulu Plus, and iTunes subscriptions (for current cable or shows like Mad Men, Walking Dead, etc.) I pay $16 a month for subscriptions to stream on my teevee through my XBOX and then buy the iTunes series I want in standard definition and watch 'em on my laptop ($20 or so per series - Girls S1 is on iTunes, btw). I'm pretty happy with the balance and the financial outlay.
posted by mochapickle at 10:14 AM on December 14, 2012

Unless you like to watch shows on your computer or portable device, I strongly recommend a Roku box. It connects to your TV and makes it easy to watch free and paid content from most of the major (and many minor) streaming services. Amazon has a lot of content, including some for "free" if you're a Prime member (only $79/year). Netflix is quite good for older content (meaning "not this season") and a little bit of exclusive original programming. There's always Hulu Plus, but YMMV depending on your interest in current network TV shows and your patience for unskippable ads. Then, of course, there are various video podcasts and web-based series, from the TWiT network to Web Therapy.

If you have a PC that you don't mind keeping turned on while watching through the Roku box, Plex Media Server will also make it easier to watch YouTube videos and other web content on your TV.
posted by maxim0512 at 10:16 AM on December 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

I've also heard about Roku boxes but I'm not really sure what they are.

I love mine. It's basically a tiny little box that you hook up to your TV. It has "channels" (apps, basically) for streaming content providers. It comes with a remote control and the interface is pretty nice.

If you can get netflix/hulu/etc through your TV, then try that first and see how you like it. I personally like having Amazon, too, because I can rent movies through it, though I've only done that a few times. However, Netflix's streaming movie options get worse and worse, so it's something to think about.
posted by lunasol at 10:17 AM on December 14, 2012 [3 favorites]

If you're into anime, there's also Crunchyroll.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 10:19 AM on December 14, 2012 [2 favorites]

It sounds like you want something hassle-free, so, yeah, you probably want to go with a Roku. It works exactly like a cable box would (except you plug in your own subscriptions) and requires less technical inclination than most of the other options.
posted by griphus at 10:20 AM on December 14, 2012

Get an OTA digital antenna and you can watch broadcast TV for free.

Also, couldn't you just downgrade to a lower plan? The cheapest TV packages in my area are around $30-40/month and you still get plenty of channels- or $10 for basic cable.
posted by wongcorgi at 10:20 AM on December 14, 2012

Or just switch providers. Both DISH and DirecTV will give you probably just about everything you were getting from TW for $50-$70 bucks a month on the promo price. After your contract expires quit and repeat.
posted by COD at 10:27 AM on December 14, 2012 [2 favorites]

We have Netflix and Hulu Plus, which combination is way cheaper than cable for us, but then we aren't super picky or avid TV watchers anyway.
posted by celtalitha at 10:39 AM on December 14, 2012

You can also access Netflix, Amazon Instant, etc through a Playstation 3.
posted by leopard at 10:59 AM on December 14, 2012

Your local library also might have a good library. I've checked out a lot of movies from the library that I probably would have ignored otherwise. I mean, they're free. Pretty hard to beat free.
posted by Longtime Listener at 11:14 AM on December 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

We use a roku, mostly using the Hulu, Netflix and Amazon instant channels. If somethings on Hulu I watch it there, otherwise many shows can be purchased for $2 -$3 through Amazon instant.

I like having the roku because it keeps the computer free to do other things, plus it doesn't seem to get as sluggish as video on the computer can get.
posted by drezdn at 11:29 AM on December 14, 2012

We disconnected our cable/satelite a year and a half ago and we were all "Oh noes, what are we going to do for our tv shows?" but what ended up happening is that we basically stopped caring about our TV shows. We actually found it liberating to not have to schedule our life around Glee and Big Bang Theory and whatnot. That may happen to you to.

That said, we use our playstation to use Netflix and to watch any dvd/blu-ray shows that we want. Works great.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 11:29 AM on December 14, 2012

Seconding the recommendation for an HDTV OTA antenna. I bought this one, the Leaf from the folks at Mohu and it works like a CHARM.
I bought the extended cable, put it up in a window near my TV and hey presto - HD quality TV.
The only possible issue is that when it's raining or storming outside, you might get fuzzy or intermittent service, like you would with old school 'rabbit ears'.
posted by THAT William Mize at 11:40 AM on December 14, 2012

I've had the Roku and the Apple TV. The Apple TV is far more elegant, but the Roku gets the job done. We use the Roku to access Netflix and we also use Plex to stream ripped shows and movies from my Macbook Pro in another part of the house. We tried Hulu Plus on the Roku, and while it offered quite a bit of programming the concept of paying for a service that still forced us to watch commercials was absurd.

If I had it to do all over again, I'd jailbreak two of the newest Apple TV's to use Plex for my movies and episodic TV shows and use Netflix for everything else.

And for what it's worth, due to some combination of these services and devices (yes, even a first gen Apple TV), I haven't had broadcast cable in about 4 years and it really hasn't bothered me at all. I never had much luck with HD OTA antennas, but when I could get reception the picture was unbelievable. Might be worth a try if you have line of sight.
posted by littlerobothead at 11:41 AM on December 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm 90% Netflix/Hulu, 8% OTA broadcast (pretty much football and Jeopardy/Wheel) and 2% other stuff I can get through my Roku. Really the box is amazing. The only problem I've had with it was that my first one, after something like 4-6 months, stopped updating and would go through that cycle every day. Roku replaced it for free, including the shipping. All it took was a call and a few cycles through some lower level tech people.

If you have a Wii or PS3 (maybe xBox, but I'm not sure) then you might not even need anything else. Netflix and Hulu can go straight from those.

Or if you want to go all out, there's always Boxee. Pretty much a media center PC but it's already made for you. Since it's essentially a computer you can add games and I'd assume get around the Hulu computer only licensing.
posted by theichibun at 11:48 AM on December 14, 2012

We have a Roku (for Netflix streaming and Amazon Instant) and occasionally we use an older laptop connected to the TV and a wireless keyboard for other stuff on the internet (Youtube*, regular Hulu**). If we want to watch more current movies or TV, we rent or buy them via Amazon Instant. There is, as far as I know, no way to legally get HBO shows when they air without cable.

We've been doing this for about four years and we're happy with this setup. I think we've largely been trained out of caring about current content. We have one current TV subscription via Amazon, and we buy and watch certain shows (Homeland, Game of Thrones) when they are finally available via Amazon Instant, and in a vague way, we wish we had them earlier, but the longing is nowhere near powerful enough to make us go back to spending real money on cable.

The downside of the Roku is that it's not as flexible as some of your other options (Apple TV, Boxee). The upside is that it's really cheap and really easy to set up.

*Our Roku actually has a Youtube app, but I think it's grandfathered, and the newer boxes don't have it.
**There's a Hulu Plus app for the Roku, but we don't subscribe. I have no interest in paying for a service that still forces me to watch commercials.
posted by thehmsbeagle at 11:58 AM on December 14, 2012

It depends on the capabilities of your TV, but I've been really happy with our cable-free TV watching. We've got a set up of:
  • Playstation 3, which has installed on it:
    • Media server software
    • Netflix
    • Hulu+
    • Amazon on demand
  • laptops with HDMI converter cables
  • desktops running:
    • media server software
    • torrents (for varying values of legal)
    • handbrake
  • OTA antenna (AlJazera has been a great cable news replacement #DC)
  • iTunes subscriptions to particular shows (which are put on laptops)
  • Justin.tv for sports (also variously legal)
HBO is a tricky one to replace legally. Maybe they'll get on the streaming bandwagon one day.

BTW, you're not totally free of telecom company BS, as you're still dependent on internet in one format or another. I'm getting ready to go to battle with Comcast over my arbitrary yearly 20% rate hike on cable internet.
posted by fontophilic at 12:15 PM on December 14, 2012

Roku is good but also look into your Bluray player if you have one. Many (most? all?) of the new ones connect to the Internet and can get Netflix and Amazon Instant. I have both a Roku and a Bluray and now use the Bluray for Netflix because the wireless on the Roku doesn't work. If I were buying something now I would just skip the Roku. A Bluray costs about the same and it plays discs too. Also, many newer TVs can connect to the Internet and folks don't even know it.

For HBO, I bought the last season of Big Love on the Amazon Instant. I got older seasons on the Netflix discs, when I still had those. For the best selection just get the Netflix discs if you're willing to wait a few days for a disc.

Netflix streaming's TV selection is just OK. It seems to me to be limited to network TV. My guess is that cable networks realize they would be shooting themselves in the foot by putting stuff on Netflix, as few cable shows are on there.
posted by massysett at 12:27 PM on December 14, 2012

Having a Roku is best if you also run Plex on a computer in your house to also stream your own movies, pictures, and music, plus any of the zillion free Plex channels. w00t!

posted by wenestvedt at 12:28 PM on December 14, 2012

It's actually trivial to get HBO content legally; it just means getting it 8 months after it airs originally. You generally get season 1 of a series around a month before season 2 premieres, and season 2 a month before season 3 premieres. And so on.

So the question isn't "can I get things like HBO legally" (you can), it's can I get things like HBO legally around the original air dates (you can't).
posted by Justinian at 12:29 PM on December 14, 2012

Note that there is no difference between an HDTV antenna and a regular TV antenna. The ol' rabbit ears work just fine for HDTV.
posted by benbenson at 5:07 PM on December 14, 2012

Are you still getting cable internet?

You should try plugging your TV directly into the wall and letting it run through its auto-tuning cycle. You might be surprised at the amount of analog and unencrypted digital programming that comes down the wire, even without a converter box on the receiving end.

YMMV will depend based on how your cable company operates, but you might be surprised. I pulled the plug on cable TV a few months ago and was all set to move to Netflix + Hulu + Amazon VOD, but after everything it turns out we still get 90% of the TV channels we cared about. (HBO and other premium channels however, not included.)

It turns out it's a pretty nice disincentive towards switching to FiOS, where the "internet only" plan really is internet-only. Not sure if that's the intended effect or not, but it's a nice bonus.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:00 PM on December 14, 2012

We still have high speed internet. We have a PS3/old laptop connected to our TV. Through this set up, we can access HuLu, NetFlix and Amazon Instant. We also use the website projectfree.tv to get HBO/Showtime/cable shows (for free). We also have an antenna for network programming. We got rid of cable over a year ago and have never once missed it.
posted by corn_bread at 9:18 AM on December 15, 2012

I cancelled cable 2 years ago after having cable for the first 32 years of my life. I survived! I honestly thought I wouldn't be able to deal but it really wasn't anything worth worrying about.

The solution: Roku! It's easy. Apps/channels I use are Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon, Plex (for those mp4 files of current shows that magically end up on my computer) and my roommate works for someone who has authorized an HBO password for her, so we have the HBO channel. Truth be told, I barely even look at the HBO channel though.

+1 to plug your tv directly into the wall. I'm in NYC, use Time Warner, and I get CBS, NBC, ABC, FOX, TBS, NY1, and some other random channels, all HD.
posted by AlisonM at 4:43 PM on December 15, 2012

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