• Tag Archives TV
  • Cutting the Cord – First Impressions of streaming TV

    It has been about a month since we first “cut the cord” and converted to an all-streaming and over the air television home. We have certainly experienced some highs and lows during these first few weeks, and we are learning a lot about what works for us.

    Overall, I have been happy with the experience thus far. However, of the members of my household, I consume the least TV. My girlfriend consumes the most, as she is currently at home with our daughter. This first month has barely lightened her skepticism. I think she is comfortable with what is available to watch via streaming TV and has an easy enough time finding content she likes; her issue is relying on our Internet connection.

    Mediacom’s cable Internet is not known around here for reliability. I had it in my previous home for many years and frequently fought with my connection, finding it down with no reported outages, or randomly dropping at the worst of times. I have still had that, to some degree. Thankfully, all of the instances, other than a 5-10 minute outage, were fixed with a modem and router reset. It is still a headache I would like to avoid, but not the end of the world. I did find that one reason for this issue may have been my router’s IP lease settings. It was set to one day, and since setting this to the max, I have not had to do daily resets of the Roku to reset the connection.

    One of my biggest concerns when considering cutting the cord was how to watch Game of Thrones when HBO Go required a cable subscription. So, I was quite excited when I learned that HBO Now would be available to iPhone owners and provide access to a web player, which could be streamed via Chromecast. I promptly signed up through my old iPhone 4 after charging it and updating to the latest and greatest iOS to be able to run the HBO Now app (sidenote: I never realized how small the iPhone 4 was until having my Galaxy S5 for awhile). I am thankful the first month has been free because their web player has been horribly broken for me (I’m not the only one). This has been disappointing, because I have yet to watch the first episode as episode three approaches. Thankfully, I learned after subscribing through the Apple app that streaming HBO is also available through Sling TV with on-demand access. I will be setting up that subscription soon.

    To get access to local channels, I purchased a digital antenna called the Muhu Leaf Metro (not an affiliate link because my state sucks). It took a bit of work to get it positioned properly. If I positioned it too close to the TV, only three channels from a distant town came in. If I moved it a little further away, I received another 3-5 channels, including one of the two local stations I was looking for. If I moved it further South into a window, I picked up another 3 channels from a town 20 miles South. However, in all these positions, I was unable to pick up a set of channels broadcast from the station nearest to me. If I move the antenna to the North end of the wall, I was finally able to pick up the channels I was looking for, but lost those from the South. I am fine with that, but it looks terrible having the antenna and cable stretched across my wall. I guess the antenna needed a better line of site for the particular station we were after. We also learned that the wireless signal from the Chromecast scrambles the antenna’s signal, so we cannot use the antenna if the Chromecast is plugged in. Thankfully, HBO Now was the only use we had for the Chromecast so far, and that failed miserably. We’ll just save the Chromecast to use on another TV, if we ever have another one.

    The greatest concern I have encountered to-date has been our Mediacom data cap. I have a 50Mbps down, 5 Mbps up connection, which affords me 350GB of data. I failed to look into how much data the HD settings consume and set my Roku to 1080p from the start. Well, according to Netflix, their high setting (1080HD) uses approximately 3 GB an hour, whereas medium (usually 720) uses 0.7 GB and low uses 0.3 GB. I got an online notice from Mediacom 4 days before the end of my billing cycle that I had used 80% of my allowance. I ended the cycle having used 96.4%, and I may have prevented the overage by switching Netflix to medium setting and the Roku’s overall settings to 720. However, I am not certain how directly the Roku setting impacts the stream from other channels, as channels like Hulu do not have a place to change the stream quality, so I am left to assume they use the settings quality from the Roku. For that matter, Netflix does not have a place to change the quality either; it has to be done by logging in through a browser and changing the playback settings for each profile. I also turned off the ‘automatically play next episode’ function in our Netflix profiles to avoid using tons of data if it did not get turned off at night.

    This means that you must have a significant data allowance to be able to stream everything in the highest quality available to you. How your Internet provider handles your overage will differ by provider and by area. Supposedly, Mediacom will just charge an extra $10 for each new 50GB (ie: 51GB would cost $20) with no disruption of service. I read on /r/cordcutters that some providers just send warning emails and never do anything about it, while others are known to actually throttle service (though some have supposedly gotten in trouble for this) when you go over. I could upgrade to a faster plan with a larger cap, but what I have now is a luxury item in my budget as it is. We will see how the next few months go once I start playing games again. It might be a necessity, as I will use 20% of my allowance when I download GTA V!

    One month in, and the cord is still cut. I am pretty happy with the streaming experience, but I am sure there is much more to learn and see, so there could always be other unseen headaches. I’ll be sure to update as I learn new things. Feel free to ask questions if you have them.

     


    Live TV. $20 a month. No Cable Company. Sling TV.


  • Attempting to cut the cord – cost and evaluation

    I have for a very long time wanted to “cut the cord” and drop cable/satellite television. I know I am probably a little late to the party, but it has taken quite some time to convince my significant other it would be worth it. She is rather accustomed to the convenience of DVR and the all-in-one programming guide of today’s digital TV systems.

    My reason for wanting to go streaming-only has been largely a matter of principle. I do not like the way TV service providers “reward” loyalty with increased prices. I also figured we could save a few bucks, which is good because TV seems like a lot of money, considering how little I consume it. I figured it would be more of a long-term savings because of the way cable providers increase their price over time, but I found myself a bit surprised when I did my analysis.

    I started by calling my local providers. My primary choices were CenturyLink and Mediacom. CenturyLink severely limited Internet speeds if you use their Prism TV, and I don’t want to mess with a satellite, so they were quickly taken off the table. With Mediacom, I was offered a package that starts at $90 per month and includes 50Mbps Internet and more channels than I need, plus Starz and Encore. I was also informed that, because of the way their packaging works, it would cost more to go without Starz and Encore. This required a 2-year contract, under which the price would increase $10 in year two. Without a contract, the price would increase $20 per year for five years! I also learned that adding HBO would be $18.99 per month (but just for a couple of months for A Game of Thrones) and extra channels for my daughter would be an additional $5 per month ($7 monthly in year two). So, we are looking at $95 per month for year one and $107 for year two ($124 and $137 for GOT months). After year two, I assume I fight for a new two-year contract special price so it doesn’t start going up $20.

    Next, I researched my streaming options. That started by also asking Mediacom (who currently offers the best Internet speed in my area) what it would be to get only Internet. With a two-year contract, it starts at $45/month for 50Mbps (so streams shouldn’t affect my gaming), which goes up to $55/month in year two and caps out at $60 without a contract. I learned that Sling TV was just launched in February and offers channels like AMC that had caused us hesitation. Through that service, one can get ESPN, HGTV, Adult Swim, Disney, and many more high-profile channels for $20/month. The downside is that many of them are livestream-only, so there is still no (easy legal) way to record or watch things like The Walking Dead on-demand without additional cost or waiting for it to come to Netflix in the Fall. For an extra $5 (just like with Mediacom, except it isn’t under contract to go up next year), I could get some extra kid’s channels through Sling. I also planned to get a subscription to Hulu Plus for $8 a month and already had a subscription to Netflix for $9 a month, though that doesn’t really count because I likely would have kept that subscription if I have cable, so it would be a cost either way. I decided we could hold off on Amazon Prime (yeah, I am one of those few people that don’t already have it for the shipping), but that would be another $8 a month, approximately. So, with the services we are using, year one is $45 for internet, $25 for Sling, and $8 for Hulu, or $78 per month. That’s $17 a month less! I was excited to realize we would save money from day 1. Of course, I couldn’t do that without access to decent bandwidth, and I still have a Mediacom bill, but it could be worse. Also, I know from past experience that the addition of Starz and Encore does not really add much value to having cable.

    It still took a bit of convincing because not everything is on-demand, but saving money was good ammo. The biggest issue we had was that with a Roku, we would not have access to HBO Now until July at the earliest. However, I just learned that I should have access to it through the old iPhone I use as an iPod, so there may be hope yet that we can watch GOT as it airs, rather than three months later. Plus, an HBO Now subscription is $14.99 a month, rather than the $18.99 subscription through Mediacom, so there’s more savings.

    Cost-wise, cutting the cord certainly seems to be worth it. We have been so busy lately that we have barely had time to try it out, so I’ll bring you more on our experience as time goes on. However, so far experiences have been positive, and we’ll see where it goes as we get more time with it. Feel free to ask questions or share your experiences below.