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

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): iTunes Store
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.

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

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