Cord Cutting 14 Months Later

Fourteen months ago we cancelled AT&T U-Verse.  We kept AT&T for internet access only.  We now use Vonage for our land line.  Yes, I know we could have dumped the landline too, but what can I say, we’re old and set in our ways.  We just can’t quite give up the landline yet.

We were originally paying $60 a month for SlingTV but since the Olympics ended, we dropped the Sports Extra package and we’re back to paying $50 a month.  Since we have an antenna in the attic, SlingTV works fine for us.  We get nearly all the channels we used to watch on cable.  SlingTV recently added some of the Discovery networks so now I get to see Deadliest Catch and Gold Rush.  Those were the main two series that I had to originally give up to cut the cord, now I have them back.  Yea!!

We started out using a Tablo 4-Tuner for our local TV.  The only channel that gave us trouble at first was KOTV.  It would sometimes drop out and become difficult to watch.  I’m convinced that it has to do with a combination of the frequency they transmit on and the fact that we are in a river valley and there are hills and trees between us and the tower.  About 10 months after cutting the cord KJRH started giving us problems.  It was not all the time, but seemed to happen mostly during primetime.  Since it came in clear for 10 months, I really think that someone near us is creating some RF interference with the frequency that KJRH transmits.  That made two of our most watch networks nearly unviewable, NBC and CBS.

I had to find a solution.  We tried a free trial of PSVue since they carry local channels and it worked fairly well, but to get some our favorite shows would require subscribing at a level that would cost a fair amount more that what we pay for SlingTV.  Other live TV streamers had similar problems for us.  We needed a solution for the antenna.

I had a spare PC that I had built a couple of years ago to use as a media center PC.  When Microsoft dropped support for Windows Media Center that was the end of that experiment.  Now that PC was going to get a new purpose.  I had heard about Plex so I downloaded the Plex Media Server and installed in on the PC.  I bought a Plex Pass so I could experiment with Live TV and DVR.  I then purchased a Haupauge WinTV HD Dual USB tuner to use with Plex.  Once the channel scan was finished, I tried to tune into KJRH.  Wow, it worked with a nice picture and no sign of interference.  Then I checked KOTV, again a picture that was watchable.  We are down to two tuners, but if it becomes a problem, I can drop in another WinTV USB tuner and we will be back to 4 tuners.

Now we can watch OTA TV via Plex on our Roku boxes.  Occasionally we get some pixelated bands across the screen when the signal gets bad, but most of the time it comes through just fine.  I am disappointed that we don’t use the Tablo anymore.  I really like their user interface.  But Plex works well and we are getting used to the interface.  Using Plex for live TV is easier now since the latest preview version has a traditional grid guide.

We have yet to come close to using up our 1 terabyte per month limit with our streaming.  We have two TV’s that we stream, although we mainly use just one.  We might get closer to the limit if we were not using our antenna as much as we do.  If we did get too close, I guess we could switch from AT&T to Toast for our internet access, they have the same speeds as AT&T for a bit less money and they have no limits.

Bottom line is we are still saving nearly $100 a month vs cable and can watch virtually everything we used to watch when we had cable.  If we ever give up the land line we will be saving $120 a month.  That may be an option to consider.  At this point, I’d never go back to cable.  We are not in any long term contracts.  We can change anything with our TV packages whenever we want, no contracts at all, just month to month.

Cord Cutting Update #4

Well we did it.  I contacted AT&T and we cancelled U-verse TV.  The only thing left with them is our internet.  When I called they of course tried to come up with various packages to try and keep me with them.  All of them would cost more than just cutting the cord and going with what we have set up for streaming.  In the process they did bump our internet access from 18mb to 24mb for the same cost we are paying now.

We were thinking of moving to Toast.net for internet service, but now I need to do some evaluation to be sure.  The upside of Toast.net is that there is no data cap.  AT&T has a 1000gb cap.  From studying our usage so far it looks like we would able to fairly easily stay under the cap.  They both charge $60 for 24mb download speed.  But I think we might be able to use 18mb download without any buffering issues.  During our testing period we did not notice any buffering.  If we do decide that 18mb will work, Toast.net offers 18mb for $50 a month with no cap.  We will have to think about that some more.  It might be worth going to Toast.net just to avoid the data cap.

So how much do we think we will actually be able to save by cord cutting?  Here is the breakdown we are looking at:

Here is how our AT&T bill breaks down: Continue reading “Cord Cutting Update #4”

Cutting the Cord Update

Well I am continuing to build and test what I need to cut the cord with cable.  Last time I talked about Plex and how I was using it to test my antenna and store all our DVD’s and Blu-Ray’s.  Now I’ve picked up the Tablo 4-tuner OTA DVR.  I decided on the 4-tuner rather than the 2-tuner since there are times that what we would be watching on our two TV’s and also might be recording so that the 2-tuner version might cause conflicts for us.  The Tablo DVR’s do not include their own hard drive to store your recordings, so you have to buy one separately and connect it to the Tablo’s USB port.  I picked up a Seagate Expansion 3TB external drive.  This will give me a ton of space to store any recordings without having to worry about losing shows we haven’t watched yet.

The Tablo is a whole home DVR.  It connects to your antenna to get the TV signals and then can either record the show to the hard drive or stream the show to a smart TV or streaming device that has the Tablo app.  Set up was pretty straight forward.  I did have to reboot the device after initial set up to get it to use the hard drive for recordings, but after that everything has been smooth.  It has a traditional grid view for selecting shows to watch or record and it also allows for viewing the guide on a show by show basis.  Both our smart TV’s have the Tablo app so I was able to test it with our TV’s without having to get a streaming box.  It has been working well.

We will still need to get a Roku streaming device since neither smart TV has apps for the popular streaming services like Sling TV, DirecTV Now, or Playstation Vue. (Actually that is not quite true anymore, our Samsung TV in the bedroom just added the Sling TV app.  But our Vizio in the living room still does not have it.)

I’ve also decided to switch to Vonage for our landline service.  I can get very comparable service to what we have now and save about $10 a month.  That more than pays for one Roku box.

Things are still looking good for cutting the cord soon.  I’ll get the next few pieces soon and see how they work.

Getting Ready to Cut the Cord

Some time ago I wrote a post about an HTPC (home theater PC) that I was building.  The intent was to use it as a DVR on our cable system via a Ceton TV card.  After quite a bit of trouble I finally had it ready to go using Microsoft Media Center to control the DVR and playback.  Well, about the time I got it ready to go, Cox Communications decided to implement switching to their cable system.  This required that I get a switching box to use my Ceton TV card.  After trying three different switching boxes I could not get the box to work with my Ceton TV card.  So the HTPC basically became just a PC attached to our TV.

Since that time Cox has raised their rates to the point I had to switch providers.  We now have AT&T U-verse which uses a streaming technology for cable TV delivery rather than the traditional cable.  So I still can’t use the Ceton TV card on the PC.  Our two year discount with AT&T has run out and their charges for cable TV are just as much if not more that Cox was.

Paying nearly $170 a month just for cable TV is stupid.  So I have decided that it is time to cut the cord and go with streaming TV.  I have been investigating this now for about the last 6 months trying to determine all the pieces that we need to get the TV service we really want.  As part of this investigation, I discovered some software called PLEX.  PLEX at its most basic is a personal media streaming server.  The cost for PLEX is free.  There are a few more advanced features that require a $5.00 a month PLEX Pass subscription.  Not a bad investment for what you get.

I used the Media Center PC that I mentioned above to install PLEX.  I did upgrade from an AMD A4 processor to an A8 processor and added an additional 8 Gb of memory.  I also replaced the DVD drive with a Blu-ray drive.  I have ripped most of our DVD and Blu-ray collection and put it on the PLEX server.  It puts a very nice front end on the media and automatically downloads some additional meta-data about any media you put in the PLEX file system.  You can access the media via the web or apps that are available on Windows, smart TVs, streaming boxes, X-box, and smart phones.  All my testing so far has gone well. Continue reading “Getting Ready to Cut the Cord”