Sunday, July 27, 2014

Streaming TV: Moving Beyond Cable

 Frustrated that our cable bill is going up yet again by a considerable amount, doubly frustrated that the cable company obfuscates my choices on their website, and and triple frustrated they make me talk to multiple representatives - being placed in a wait queue each time - to review my bill and purchase options, I decided it is time to cut the cord.  After much research, I've found a viable option for getting rid of cable.

We purchased a Roku 3 box this weekend.  It can receive a wireless internet signal and gives instant access to the three major streaming TV/Movie suppliers (among many many others) for television viewing:  Netflix, Amazon TV, and HuluPlus.  I updated our home architecture as shown in the above diagram to incorporate Roku.  It took 5 minutes to install.  Pretty simple!

 This is the default Roku home screen.  With one click we can browse the choices on Netflix, Amazon TV, HuluPlus, Vudu, and a wide variety of other product suppliers.   Note users still need to purchase access to some of them.  HuluPlus is about $8 per month, as is Netflix.   Many others provide free access and a boatload of free content.  Some provide free access, some free content, and some content that must be purchased.  In the channel store, there are hundreds of other free and paid channels that can be added to the "My Channels" list.   Amazon TV provides free access, has some content that must be purchased individually,  and has some content that is free to Amazon Prime customers (we already are - it costs $99/year to be a member of Amazon Prime I believe).

 To see whether we would save money by replacing cable with Roku et al,  I made a table of our must-have shows.  This table changes regularly of course, but as of today this is what we felt the minimum set of shows would be.  In red, I've charted the best course through our options.  The table shows that by getting Amazon TV, HuluPlus, and Roku we can replace everything we felt we had to have out of the cable company.  Note that the "Roku" column is my short-hand method of saying that content is available through free channels on Roku.  For example, there is an A&E channel and a History channel on Roku that are free with some free content.  Our cable TV bill had risen to about $135/mo,  but a bare minimum cable path (to get our must-have shows) would cost us $95/mo in my estimate.  This table shows that Amazon/HuluPlus/Roku will be about $38.  Note that "D:8 E:5" means there is an eight day delay from when a new show is released until it appears on HuluPlus,  and there are 5 episodes that are viewable (it shows the latest 5 episodes).
Even if we buy a few extra shows each month, we can still keep our cable TV costs at about $50, saving ourselves a whopping $85/mo over our current cable bill, and about $50 over a minimal cable path.  This last table shows what we sometimes watch but don't feel necessary.  As you can see, they are still available with Amazon/HuluPlus/Roku but most of the shows on this list will cost some $$.  We will probably just watch the Real Housewives show since we incur no extra monthly expense from those.

I've talked to several people about going this route, and some have heard that local TV news is not available going this route.  That is somewhat, but not entirely, true.  One of the default channels on Roku is LiveStream which provides free streams to about 100 TV news stations around the United States.   In my area (San Diego), it currently offers Fox 5.  This list is constantly expanding and I would not be surprised to see multiple stations from San Diego covered within a year or two.   To me, this is not a big issue anyway because I don't watch nightly news on local stations, and during emergencies I can catch their video streams via my computer on their websites.  That's what I did during the May 2014 San Diego fires when I still had cable!

Also,  Roku offers the ability to connect to private channels and some of these also offer access to local news.  When managing your Roku account on the Roku website, there is a place to enter the access code for any private channel you want to access and it gets loaded into your channel choices.  I found a private channel that offered more San Diego local channel choices.  If you search for "Roku private channels" on the internet, you'll see many lists of private channels that can be added to your list of channels.

And in reality, Roku offers what cable companies don't in terms of local news:  access to live local news broadcasts from around the country.  As far as I know, most cable companies only offer local news channels that are local to the cable subscriber.

Another thing we love about Roku:  it is very clear what shows/movies are free and what will cost us money.  It is clearly stated with each show.  Also, in order to purchase a show, we must enter a PIN before our account gets charged.  There are many levels of safety built into the system...very nice!

We're pretty excited about canceling cable and going this new direction.  We've been playing with Roku all weekend and love being able to watch what we want, when we want.  Cable dictates when a show is available for viewing.  True you have a little flexibility with a DVR,  but Amazon/Hulu/Roku seems to give us even more freedom.

We think the tide is turning and it will just be a few years before there are more folks streaming TV than there are getting it over cable.   We hope this blog entry helps you understand better one path for doing just that.  If you have any questions leave us a comment and we'll try and answer if we can.

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