Are You Ready to Give Up Cable TV for Internet Video?

7/25/08Follow @wroush

That’s the question I’ve been asking myself lately. Partly, it’s because my 12-month introductory rate from Comcast just expired, putting my yearly cable bill into the $1,000 range. That’s a lot to stomach, especially considering that about a third of the content coming down the co-ax is commercials.

A friend says that I just need to call the “retention specialists” at Comcast and talk the price back down, but I’m terrible at haggling. And it’s not just about the cost. The truth is that I just don’t watch much traditional TV anymore.

I stopped watching TV news long ago; I get my daily dose of current events from NPR and the Web. There are no good TV comedies these days, unless you count The Daily Show. I can’t stand reality shows. I get all my feature-length movies from Netflix. And out of the current crop of dramatic series, there are only about eight that interest me. (If you want to know, they’re The Closer, Saving Grace, Heroes, Grey’s Anatomy, Friday Night Lights, Pushing Daisies, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, and Battlestar Galactica.) And half of the year or more, most of those shows aren’t even on.

But my affection for those eight shows—and the convenience of having new episodes show up on my DVR automatically, when they do come out—is the one thin thread keeping me tethered to Comcast.

And now even that thread is unraveling. Much to the cable companies’ dismay, I imagine, the broadcast and cable TV networks—along with video sites such as Hulu, Veoh, and the Apple iTunes Store—are now putting full episodes of all of the shows I watch online.

Because the Internet video scene is evolving fast, you can never be sure which shows are available where. But I took a few minutes to track down my favorite shows, and discovered that they’re all available from at least two different sources (and remarkably, six of them are available at Hulu alone):

ABC.com NBC.com Fox.com TNT.tv SciFi.com iTunes Store Hulu.com Veoh.com
Battlestar Galactica X X
The Closer X X X
Friday Night Lights X X
Grey’s Anatomy X X X X
Heroes X X
Pushing Daisies X X X
Saving Grace X X
Sarah Connor Chronicles X X X

And of course, beyond these studio-produced series, there’s terabytes of other programming available from free video and movie aggregators like Joost, Miro, and Lycos Cinema. There are also several good video search engines out there now, including Blinkx, AOL’s Truveo, Google Video, and Veveo’s Vtap (for mobile devices). The point is that content deprivation is no longer a reason to fear cutting your umbilical cord to the cable companies.

But what if you, like me, are the proud owner of a new(ish) high-definition LCD or plasma HDTV? Doesn’t your beautiful screen deserve to be nourished with high-definition cable? That’s the last question I’m struggling with. If I said goodbye to Comcast, there are a couple of high-definition features I would definitely miss, including GalleryPlayer—an on-demand slide show service that I wrote about here back in April—and occasional Discovery Channel HD Theater specials such as When We Left Earth.

But here, too, there’s a growing list of ways to circumvent the cable companies. A basic one is to invest in a cable to connect your home computer to your HDTV, which instantly turns your TV into a big external monitor. (Just be sure to change the video settings in your computer’s control panel so that you’re getting full 1080×720 or 1920×1080 resolution on the HDTV.) Once you’ve done that, you can download the PC-based version of GalleryPlayer, which actually offers a much greater selection of images than Comcast’s on-demand channel does (though at a nominal price). And anything that you can watch on your computer, you can now watch on the big screen as well.

If you’re not feeling up to the process of connecting your PC to your TV—which can still be a bit dicey for non-geeks—there are several convenient gadgets designed specifically to grab video content from your computer or straight from the Web and show it on your TV, including Apple TV, ZeeVee’s ZvBox, and Roku’s Netflix Player. Or you can dispense with the big display altogether and just watch your shows on a wearable device like the MyVu Crystal, though these devices don’t yet feature high-definition resolution.

So, as you can probably tell, I’ve nearly talked myself into unbundling the phone, Internet, and cable TV service I get from Comcast and dropping the cable part. At this point, the company would have to offer a pretty steep discount to keep me on. (You’ve got my number, Comcast.) But I’m still eager to hear readers’ opinions on the subject. Are you ready to cut the cord? Or have you gone cable-free already—and if so, what’s it like? Please vote in the poll below—and leave your detailed thoughts in our comment section.

For a full list of my columns, check out the World Wide Wade Archive. You can also subscribe to the column via RSS or e-mail.

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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  • http://ampersanddot.com/blog Zach

    I’m right there with you, Wade. Been using Hulu since its early beta days and can no longer imagine life without it… but very much can imagine life without cable. Interesting.

    Just a few weeks ago my growing love of online video content inspired a weekend project of turning an old clunker desktop into a Media Center PC – iTunes shows, Hulu, etc. stream flawlessly – the lack of HD is a little frustrating, but well worth the $100/month+ difference. Plus, HD is on its way, so I can easily see myself dropping cable in the near future.

    Lastly, I’ve had several friends recently drop cable all together for a iTunes/Hulu/Netflix combo – probably spending around $30 a month of shows and movies- not bad at all!

    So long, cable – we won’t really miss you…

  • http://www.commonangels.com James Geshwiler

    Actually, I gave up my TV three years ago when we moved and went wholly internet. It really changes your paradigm. You stop thinking about “Television” but content in many forms.

  • http://videojots.blogspot.com Carolyn

    I completely agree with you Wade, but I have to say being a major TV junkie I can’t seem to quit my habit. I think I keep coming back to cable for these two reasons: First, I like TV to be “on in the background” and second, I like my couch too much. Sitting hunched over a computer or splayed out with a hot laptop on my lap for hours on end does not provide me with the same enjoyment as veg-ing on a Saturday morning watching a VH1 or The Food Network. Glamorous? no. Enjoyable, yes. I know I’ll get there, but for now, my down time in front of a TV on my couch is preferred.

  • jim

    The only thing that keeps me tethered to comcast right now is sports and other live broadcast things. There isn’t a good way to get soccer especially EPL in the states without cable. Although, after talking to the comcast guy last night on the phone HD chanels are now available if you have their basic cable equivalent. But you have to have the box.

  • http://ampersanddot.com/blog Zach

    @jim
    You are absolutely right re: EPL. I have yet to find a legal way to watch the EPL online.

    Fortunately I’ve found a few good pubs around Boston that routinely show games (or will as long as there isn’t a Sox game on at the time), which filled my soccer void for the last few years. But yes, I really wish these were available online easier.

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  • http://danweinreb.org/blog Daniel Weinreb

    I had given up on TV until I got my Tivo. That changes everything! I also use my TV set to watch movies; only NetFlix’s physical DVDs have what I want.

    Good shows: Try “Mad Men”, the second season of which premieres tonight. The first season was marvelous, and is now available on DVD.

    Last year, “Damages” was great; it’s coming back too, but it’s hard to see how they can keep it up. PBS still runs some worthwhile stuff, including some of the Frontlines and Novae. Tivo lets you download some freebies including technology news.

    I get phone, TV, and Internet from Verizon FiOS and so far we’re quite pleased with the service.

  • Steven Wardell

    My wife and I used to have our favorite shows each night. With the birth of our son 18 months ago, we converted the TV room in to the nursery and gave up TV / Cable / Tivo entirely.

    After 2 weeks of missing it, we don’t miss it anymore and have much more time on our hands. Gradually, we’ve figured out how to get certain video content from YouTube and from the websites of the networks but it has not replaced the old amount.

    Being computer-based now, we do a lot more than video, including blogs, Twitter, etc.

  • http://replacetelevision.wordpress.com/about/ Neurotic Nomad

    On July 1, I “cut the cable” and switched to The Internet for my “TV programming” with zero research ahead of time.

    I’m stumbling through (and blogging about it), and Hulu has been a big one for me. Ditto Fancast, Surfthe Channel, and tvRSS,

    tvRSS made Miro worth a darn!

    I’m not an expert on NetTV yet, but by the time the fall season starts, I hope to be!

    http://replacetelevision.wordpress.com/about/

  • richcasto

    From their website: ” GalleryPlayer® has ceased operations as of July 30, 2008.”

  • http://www.aredant.blogspot.com aredant

    last year I ditched Comcast because of poor Tech and Cust service. I kept Comcast my broadband – no option there. I sswitched to Dish Network and was pleases with their service and interface. Then I got a DVR and found that I eventually only watched from the DVR. Lately, the material I have recorded seems lackluster as well. Movies really such nowadays – they are remaking everything and don’t ever show the originals. What I want to see is more likely somewhere on the internet or from video sources. TCM was the last decent thing that I used my DVR for, but lately we can’t get through most of the “B” movies they seem to be presenting. It’s really gotten bad. I have asked Disk what it costs to cancel.

  • Stephen

    Yep been there done that earlier this year dropped dish took an old desktop put a video card in with HD output hooked it up to the big screen wireless keyboard and mouse on the coffee table and whala watch HULU every night. love the limited commercials. Even bought a HD Homerun receiver to pick up the local HD over the air channels and now can watch and record all the local channels from any computer in the house and love it….cable as we know it is dead..

  • http://www.squidoo.com/bestcomcastcabledeals Comcast Dude

    I think the prices for cable TV are very high. But so is everything today. Do you think that Dish Network is a better value?

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  • Jenell

    I am on the edge of canceling the cable and the phone service through Mediacom. I am going to probably find the best option for high speed internet, get an VoIP (voice over ip) phone – vonage probably. And purchase a media server like WD TV Live or Xstreamer both are optionally wireless and will hook to my 65 inch HDTV and interface all my stored content and also access the internet content like Hulu. Cutting the bill for the bundled stuff from $165.00 down to $75.00 per month. I see cable and dish as going by the way of the rotary phone – its going to be obsolete.

  • Eric

    I’d love to get around the live sports issue. I want my Ice hockey (NESN in the New England area) to catch the occasional Sox game and the Bruins. So far, that’s the only reason to think about keeping cable. Other than that, I see the Internet as the only way to do it. I just found this article, written 2 years ago and I’m hoping that there might be a better way around this? Cheers!