No More Cable ... TiVo? Roku? Boxee? AppleTV? Something Else?
May 13, 2013 5:35 PM   Subscribe

We're ditching our cable and researching alternatives. We have two HD TiVo Series 3 boxes that we're not using (because the cable cards provided by Comcast would not work). We're thinking of a set-up involving OTA television (we live in Atlanta, so reception should not be a problem) + something streaming, but we're not sure if we want to keep the TiVos or invest in something else -- Roku? Boxee? AppleTV? And here's one major issue for me -- live sports (mainly the NFL and college football)?
posted by tmharris65 to Technology (29 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
What is your goal? You don't want to pay for Comcast anymore, you don't like Comcast, you don't want to use TVs? I've had Comcast and hated it, but when I moved, RCN actually issues Tivos directly, which made having one super easy to set up and use. Tivo is the only DVR that lets you transfer recordings onto your computer directly, that I know of.

I have thought about setting up a Windows 7 home theater PC because then you can basically record TV for free in digital copies you can save on your computer. The only problem is, you probably need cable to do it. I came to AskMeFi for some help on pulling recordings off my DVR, but I went to AVS Forum for further help, which I recommend in your case. There are probably hobbyists who are experts at non-cable TV setups there.

For live sports, you can buy subscription services that allow you to watch sports live online, but you may need to do it by sport rather than just one blanket service. Like, I am pretty sure my co-worker bought a package from the NBA to watch basketball live at work on his iPad.
posted by AppleTurnover at 5:49 PM on May 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

I have been very pleased with my 1st gen Roku HD. It's going on three years old, and cost $75 when new. The new one plays games, and has a headphone jack right in the remote. My wife has Netflix, I have Amazon Prime, and we watch a ton of stuff. We also use Amazon to rent recent releases.

Live sports is tricky. Baseball is now available via MLB TV - unfortunately, it's $25/month(yikes!)

Football will be available via Aereo, which streams local HD broadvast channels to your Roku, but it hasn't rolled out to Atlanta yet... they promise it will be in your area by the end of 2013. (It's a neat tech that rents out a tiny little HDTV antenna with excellent reception to you, and streams the signal to your device, including a Roku, over the internet - the courts have ruled this is legal.)
posted by Slap*Happy at 5:57 PM on May 13, 2013

I have a Hulu and netflix subscription and watch TV on either my appletv or Xbox, depending on what's connected at the time. The appletv is the absolute best option if you have the ipad, because you can use it as a remote and stream any app from the iPad to the screen.
posted by empath at 5:58 PM on May 13, 2013

Also, Roku has Youtube, Hulu and Plex "channels" (like apps) - so you can watch Youtube videos, Hulu shows and movies, and stream ripped movies and TV shows from your Mac or PC using Plex.
posted by Slap*Happy at 6:00 PM on May 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you want to watch live sports, you basically have to get cable. No real two ways about it. The NFL shows older games on its website, but it only shows live games via broadcast. Turns out sports are actually the one of the single biggest drivers of consumer behavior when it comes to TV services, not only in the US, but especially around the world. A particular cable company scoring the rights to a particular football (i.e., soccer) tournament can make or break a quarterly statement.
posted by valkyryn at 6:11 PM on May 13, 2013 [3 favorites]

We have a 10 year old dell low-end business machine (read: low performing) stuck in a closet connected to our LAN with two hard drives attached for video files. Then, we attached a Roku 3 to the TV - between Netflix and Plex (media server which has a great interface for sharing your video files between roku/ipad/ipod/computer), we've got everything-but-sports taken care of.

Now for sports... you're kind of hosed.

When football season comes, we'll get a $30 antenna from but as far as live sports goes, valkyryn's got it: the cable providers have you by the short hairs. (There's a reason the various older networks have "The number one comedy on America's most watched channel!" ... if all your local football games are on the station, your aggregate ratings will be fine, even if you churn out crappy, derivative programming the rest of the time.)

... am I also irritated because, due to a cable squabble it'd be a pain to get our baseball/soccer/basketball channel here in town, even with cable? Maybe a little.
Then again, I'm a big proponent of "tell me how much money it would cost to pay for my (that is, individual me) percentage the advertising for football/baseball/soccer for the year, let me write a check on 1 JAN, and the rest of the year, show me nice beach scene or mountain vista in place of the jabbering jingling whitewashed sales crap." ::/soapbox::
posted by Seeba at 6:30 PM on May 13, 2013

I cut the cord from cable last year. I'm saving $90 a month. SWEET! But I had to give up Monday Night Football.

Sports is cable's lifeline.
posted by 2oh1 at 6:40 PM on May 13, 2013

We do OTA with a Tivo Premiere. We pay for Hulu Plus (for Colbert and Stewart) and Netflix, and use the TiVo as the interface. We also occasionally use Streambaby to get stuff that has been acquired from...elsewhere...onto the TiVo from a PC. Our TV demands aren't huge, and we don't do much on the sports front, but if it's available OTA, you're in good shape.
posted by jferg at 6:41 PM on May 13, 2013

Should have mentioned, I spent $60 for an antenna from Amazon (or somewhere) a couple years ago, put it in the attic, and it works great. May not be applicable if you live in an apartment. ;->
posted by jferg at 6:42 PM on May 13, 2013

For college football/WatchEspn, you may be able to get it through your internet provider. Another option is to ask a friend to create an extra account so you can authenticate like you're on their network.
posted by sandmanwv at 6:53 PM on May 13, 2013

I ditched cable before...then I went back...for football. Watching the NBA playoffs has been nice too.

There's really no way around it - you'll miss a lot of football without cable - all the Monday and Thursday games. The ability to DVR games and not be tied to the TV all day made it worth it, too. I can watch every snap of a recorded game in about an hour.
posted by gnutron at 6:58 PM on May 13, 2013

We got the most recent (and final) generation Boxee and we were so disappointed I can't even tell you. Buggy, laggy, apps that didn't work no matter how much tweaking. I don't know what you should get, but I can tell you what not to get -- don't get the Boxee.
posted by macadamiaranch at 6:59 PM on May 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

I haven't had cable for years. Sports options are getting better, (NBA League Pass is great for the most part) but you still need to do the illegal streaming thing most of the time. Which isn't really that bad, I can find every game I want to see, but the picture quality does suffer. is a good place to go for live sports, and I know there are several others.
posted by pickinganameismuchharderthanihadanticipated at 7:24 PM on May 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

RECEPTION: If you live in a newer building that has modern windows, there's a good chance your reception will be awful. My apartment building was built in 2002/2003. The windows have a very fine invisible coating that blocks UV rays. And that's great, except it blocks a lot of TV reception too. Make sure you actually GET decent reception before ditching cable.

APPLE TV: Man oh man do I love that little black box. I use it mostly for Netflix and streaming music from my iTunes on Mac, iPad, iPhone... it all "Just Works." Mine isn't the latest generation Apple TV, but it doesn't matter. The thing works like a champ. I've never experienced even a single problem since I bought it in 2010.

MUSIC ONLY STREAMING: The Apple TV box outputs to both HDMI and Optical at the same time. I found this very helpful. I have the HDMI connected to my TV, and the Optical connected to an aux input on my stereo using this converter box from monoprice. I love this because it means I can stream iTunes to the Apple TV box without needing to turn on my actual TV. It's really awesome. I use this ALL THE TIME.
posted by 2oh1 at 7:25 PM on May 13, 2013

bit torrent.

for live sports, just go to a bar. get a friend who also likes sports, chip in $10 to come over to his house to watch the game.
posted by cupcake1337 at 7:44 PM on May 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

We've never had cable. We have an antenna that picks up all kinds of weird stuff (we live in Chicago), Hulu Plus, and Netflix - we run those last two through our Xbox. We also have some NHL subscription thing that my fiance watches. Also I think we have Amazon Prime? But I've used it maybe once.

We love football but after investigating pay options for getting live games, we decided to just go to the bar to watch games that aren't on broadcast. We only follow a couple of teams, so at maybe 5-6 beers between the two of us, once or twice a month during football season, it's still way cheaper than cable.

also there are some ways you can watch live sports online anyway if you're willing to do that
posted by goodbyewaffles at 7:49 PM on May 13, 2013

I gave up on cable a couple years ago, and got a Boxee Box. At the time it was mostly awesome (not always), but they don't make them anymore and aren't updating them, so you don't want that. Not sure what the new Boxee is about, but it appears to only be a service in a few US markets.

Hence, since then, I know own two Apple TVs -one for each TV. I love them, except that they don't play my non-iTunes media. I still use the Boxee Box for that, but if i had to replace it I'd probably just get a Roku and use Plex.

Live sports is an issue. I only care about hockey though, and I can get the CBC over the air with an HD antenna. For the other games, non locked out seasons have had an app that provided most of the local games streamed to my device, and I used AirPlay to get it to the AppleTV. This year, I've been able to find the games streamed online for free from slightly less official sources, but it is available.
posted by cgg at 7:55 PM on May 13, 2013

OH and if you get rid of the Tivos and don't have/want an Xbox or Wii, my mom bought a Bluray/DVD player that also has Netflix and Hulu Plus available (and lots of other apps I'm sure - the remote even has a Netflix button!) It was a Samsung, and I don't think it was very expensive - maybe $85? - and then you've only got one electronic thing (assuming you'd have a DVD player anyway) instead of the extra Roku or whatever.
posted by goodbyewaffles at 7:57 PM on May 13, 2013

I've tried several different options the past few years, and finally settled on a Windows 7 home theatre PC. Not as cheap as a Roku or AppleTV, but having everything on one customizable box is nice. My original plan was to combine OTA broadcasting + streaming, but what 2oh1 said is spot-on: antenna reception can be surprisingly bad indoors, particularly if you're in a newer building. I don't have a good solution for watching sports, but I've been able to find everything else I want to watch on Hulu, Netflix, etc.

Previously, I tried placeshifting using a relative's spare cable box. I was traveling a lot for work, and being able to stream US TV over my laptop from anywhere in the world was a big draw. I was using a Vulkano Flow; Slingbox is another more popular option. Upside: got all cable channels (including sports) anywhere in the world, plus had DVR capability. Downsides: Latency made changing channels painful, Vulkano interface was buggy at times, kept having networking/firewall issues, video quality was so-so unless I had really good bandwidth on both ends. Not to mention that you need someone to host the device for you! Personally, I got sick of the technical issues and largely gave up on it. Being able to watch sports is nice, but otherwise can't say I'd recommend a placeshifter.

Also, not sure if it's available in the US, but one other option I know of for football is NFL Gamepass. Not cheap, but several friends of mine swear by it.
posted by photo guy at 8:23 PM on May 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

I stream Netflix, Hulu, and amazon over my TiVo. Works great, so no need to buy something new if you have those around. Sports, as noted, is rough.
posted by dpx.mfx at 8:33 PM on May 13, 2013

Apple TV here. Hooked up to Hulu, plus netflix, and of course we can rent movies through iTunes. The only sport I really have to watch is MLB, and I also subscribe to that through iTunes.

It's 125 I believe for the season, but that's an awesome deal IF you watch a lot of baseball, and I do.
posted by justgary at 8:45 PM on May 13, 2013

Can't weigh in on the sports but I'll put in my 2 cents on the Apple TV vs Roku. I have both, and with no cable, sattelite or antenna.

If I had to keep just one it would be the Apple TV hands down. While both do Netflix and Hulu, Roku does not have an elegant way to do YouTube (there is an app you can hide inside another app and-ugh) while the Apple does. I use WSJ Live for news, and can stream about anything from my iPhone and MacBook Pro (pretty permanently docked in my studio) to my TV and stereo. As far as non-iTunes files go, I always rip/save everything in an iTunes compatible format and drag it into my library where it then lives. My Roku is currently living in my home gym but I'm sure that soon there will be an Apple TV in its place.
posted by sourwookie at 8:54 PM on May 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

I have two EyeTV over-the-air tuners hooked up to my Mac Mini, and when I absolutely need to see a sporting event I can usually watch it at my health club, while exercising or just sitting around.
posted by Napoleonic Terrier at 9:46 PM on May 13, 2013

I have a Roku and a WD TV Live Plus. The Roku mostly gathers dust. The WD TV Live Plus has everything with the exception of HBO to Go. The small device will play ANYTHING from a USB drive or from a shared folder on your home network. You can read more about the device here. About every other month you can find them on sale at newegg for $69 (for non hub version).
posted by bleucube at 4:29 AM on May 14, 2013

If you have a PS3 and lie to Sony, you can get NFL Sunday Ticket as an app for the PS3. Football problem solved.
posted by kuanes at 5:09 AM on May 14, 2013

For most sports, you're hosed without cable. Pro/College football is probably the most accessible sport without cable, since it is still largely a broadcast network sport, which means you can use an antenna and pull-in whatever games ABC/NBC/CBS/FOX are carrying OTA. Golf, too. If you're into NASCAR, your local FOX affiliate has most of the season covered for you. NBC will carry some hockey OTA.

But, if baseball and basketball are your thing, you're SOL without cable.
posted by Thorzdad at 7:03 AM on May 14, 2013

The Wii U has a pretty cool (and free!) service called TVii. It's a horrible name, but it is very useful. You type in the name of a show or movie you want to watch on the touchpad, then the Wii U tells you if it is available on Netflix, Amazon VOD, or whatever television access you have (cable, satellite, or Over the Air).

So you could say you want to watch the movie "Thor" and it will say "Tap here to watch on Netflix" and "Thor airs on Thursday, May 16 at 7:00 on channel 262."
posted by tacodave at 3:46 PM on May 14, 2013

We've been happy with a combination of Netflix, Apple TV, and an MLB subscription. We had Hulu Plus for a while but let it go because we weren't using it. The only bummer is that HBO and Showtime shows take FOREVER to become available (yay, AMC, for being civilized).

Also, we can no longer even be in the same room as a commercial anymore.
posted by elizeh at 4:06 PM on May 14, 2013

For sports / locals, you might want to look at SimpleTV, which is a DVR that hooks up to an antenna and is built to serve content to media boxes. You pay $150 for the first year and then $60 / year after. It's like Aereo but you have the box in your house and connect your own hard drive.
posted by reddot at 11:02 AM on May 19, 2013

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