Saturday, March 17, 2018

Cutting The Cord (Part 2) - Simply Complicated!

Here is Part 2 of our adventures as we Cut The Cord!

We are of the belief that present costs of TV programming cannot be maintained into retirement.  Almost $125 each month is way too much to pay if we intend to do other things besides watching television in our old age!  It is time for a change ... how close to FREE can we get?

Our Watching Habits Changed Over Time

Both my satellite provider and the cable company have been bombarding us with junk mail recently, offering Internet-based streaming services with no contracts and prices as low as $21.95 a month for a limited channel offering of live programming from all the major networks and several popular cable channels.  Could a streaming service, coupled with a "Smart" TV or other device, be the answer?

Checking into it a little further, I found a major drawback to these offerings:  no DVR service is presently available with these packages, and DVR is a must-have for our television lifestyle!  (I have learned that my satellite provider has a DVR in beta testing, but I don't know when or if it will be available and how much of an extra premium it will be.)

Lack of DVR ability made me stop and realize how much our television watching habits have changed over the years.  Mindy's job at the hospital requires her to work various shifts and schedules; my self-employment and music gigs can also compound our "together time" in front of the "boob tube."  We never watch live TV anymore ... everything is "taped" using the DVR function of the cable or satellite box!  ("Taped" - isn't it funny how outdated legacy words continue to be used in language!)  Depending on our schedules, we may spend around two and a half hours each day watching television programming, all of it pre-recorded.  We could watch as many as five shows in one evening.  And lets not forget our regular favorite, General Hospital!

Each hour of modern television contains about 15 minutes of advertising content.  By fast-forwarding through the commercials we are able to watch a one-hour show in 45 minutes, or a half-hour show in about 22 minutes.  Mindy hates commercials (I sometimes watch them when I am watching TV by myself) and prefers not to watch live TV because of them.  Therefore, all we tend to watch is recorded content, except in the case of a sporting event or breaking news.  We usually don't watch today's shows until at least tomorrow or the next day, and always have something of interest recorded so we never experience "there's nothing on right now" syndrome.

Occasionally, though, we do want to watch today's episode of certain shows.  When we do, we just delay watching it for at least 10 minutes for a half-hour show or 15 minutes for an hour-long program.  We then start watching the recording and are still able to zip through the commercials!  We even have a term for that ability ... we call it "gas!"  Sometimes, if we start watching too soon we will catch up with the live feed and "damn it, we're out of gas" is the usual expression!  We then pause the program, take a bathroom break, grab a piece of fruit or other snack, and return to the show with enough "gas" to get us through the commercial stop set, and hopefully the next one as well!

We schedule our recordings so that favorite series record automatically.  When we see an ad for a special show or event, we manually set that to record and never have to worry about missing a show we want to watch.

Analyze Your Watching Habits To Identify Your Needs

Since we watch almost every program as a digital recording, live TV is not at the top of our requirements list.  Live shows need to be watched on the network's schedule, not your own.  Get scheduled to work on Thursday evening and you're going to miss Grey's Anatomy.  And what about when two different shows air at the same time?  We need to be able to record shows for playback later.  The only time we actually watch live TV is during a major news event, and of course during baseball season when the Red Sox game, if not watched live, is checked every half hour or so for the score!

Most of our regularly-watched shows are on a small handful of networks.  We record shows from CBS, ABC, FOX, HGTV, History, CMT, and Discovery.  Mindy likes horror movies from SyFy and "chick flicks" from Lifetime.  I also like programming from DIY but have never had it available on our cable or satellite packages except for "free preview" promotions.

With the exception of my beloved Red Sox, I watch very little in the way of sports programming.

We started our process by making a list of every show that we regularly record, and the network or cable channel that it airs on.  This list proved to be very useful in selecting which streaming services we needed.

If you are one that can't live without sports programming, streaming packages that include national and/or regional sports networks will be required, and will add to the monthly cost of programming.

Take A Test Drive Before You Cut

Before cutting the cord, you should familiarize yourself with the streaming process and how it changes your personal interface with the television set.  In my case, my 18-month-old Visio TV has built-in WiFi, and came with some streaming service apps installed.  Since Hulu was a service I was familiar with (I had a free account years ago) I gave that a try.  I logged in using my old account credentials, and was surprised that they still worked!  I was given the opportunity to start a free 30-day trial, with the ability to cancel service anytime before the month was up.  So it began!

I was immediately impressed with how easy it was to navigate the Hulu app.  Not as easy as turning a rotary dial on a 1965 set, nor as easy as selecting the guide button on the satellite remote and choosing a program, but fairly easy none the less.  If you are accustomed to the look and feel of smartphone or tablet apps you will feel right at home.
My biggest amazement (after the overall program selection) was the quality of the picture and sound.  It was every bit as good as any digital HD obtained from either my former cable or present satellite provider!

One key to high-quality streaming is your Internet connection.  HD video requires at minimum a 3Mbps download stream, which some older phone company DSL lines cannot provide.  My cable-based Internet service, at 20Mbps, proved to be more than adequate for this task!

Invest In A Streaming Device

Although my TV has built-in Internet capability and apps, they are limited and are not easily added to or upgraded.  Streaming devices, on the other hand, provide the interface between the Internet and the TV, and are regularly updated by the device manufacturer.  New apps are easily added from within the device's built-in interface.

Streaming devices are available from Roku, Apple TV, Chromecast, Amazon Fire Stick, and others.  I chose Roku, which is available (March 2018) from WalMart starting at $29.00 and is a strong basic device.  Apple TV, at $149, also comes with the inherent connectivity to all Apple i-devices.

All streaming devices use HDMI (High Definition Multimedia Interface) connections to your HD television set.  If you have an older set that does not support HDMI, the Roku Express+ supports composite video, but none of them support direct "antenna" connections.  If your TV is that old, you should consider upgrading before cutting the cord!

I chose a Roku Express, the lowest-price option, available at Wal-Mart, for $29.  I am favorably impressed! 

Stay tuned for the next installment, as we actually cut the cord and have a really bad Customer Service experience!

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