Cutting The Cord in Montclair, NJ

I have been at this for years.  This year I decided to really push myself to find alternatives.  This was even fine with my wife who was so sick of regular TV and how it was affecting our kids, she was more than happy to hand me the wire cutters.  

We had FIOS, which in Montclair, NJ isn’t the best.  My biggest problems with FIOS is the cost of my cable bill and the antiquated/crappy boxes they supply.  I went through more than 6 boxes and I found them all under-powered, buggy consistently crashing daily, slow and unresponsive, etc…  I tried really hard to get the new hardware that FIOS advertises but was unable to acquire it and was stuck with the older boxes.  On top of that, even with double, or triple play my bill was averaging near $200 every month.

So after I decided to cut it off, here is how I get my media now.

1.  I put an HD antenna on my roof (what a sight…not the antenna, me on my roof).  I run the signal through the main cable, so every room can get the Over The Air signal through the COAX.  This is by far the cheapest solution for HD content.  I get about 50 channels, however only 15 are in English.  BUT I get all the major networks in crystal clear 1080P HD.  Every TV (with a tuner, most modern TVs) in the house can see this content without any box involved.  It’s a wonderful thing.

From Antennas Direct – http://www.antennasdirect.com/store/C4-Clearstream-DTV-antenna.html

2.  XBox – In my living room.  I use my XBox 95% for media, not games.  By far the best user experience and overall the highest video quality.  We mostly use Netflix and Amazon (with Prime of course, gets you a lot of free shows/movies).  As a FIOS subscriber (for internet), we also get the FIOS app which provides a number (about 20) of cable channels such as HDTV, Food Channel, and some pay channels as well.  All these channels are streamed through the XBox app.  The quality could definitely improve, but its very watchable.  Keep in mind this is live TV, so you get the commercials,etc…and there is no way to record.
 
[UPDATE – 1/3/13] Verizon has updated and streamlined their app.  They have added a bunch of new channels AND either they have changed their rules or fixed a bug from the previous version.  I am no longer able to watch these channels without subscribing to Verizon’s TV service.  Most likely a bug since I also was receiving HBO and definitely wasn’t paying for that.  I still dont believe that the app is good enough to replace the set-top’s EPG so I am not sure if XBox would be my primary means to watch cable TV.  If they improved the UI to have a more traditional EPG grid and added a DVR, now that is something I would pay for.
 
There is a subscription for $60 per year for XBox that we pay, and you also get all the Pay Per View movies as well.  Movies are available at very similar times as all the other services – believe me I have compared.  AND you can still play games if you like.  Also, Bing is integrated allowing you to search for a program and then get options on what service to watch it on.  Similar to Google TV or tv.clicker.com.
 
XBox Live Gold Subscription – http://www.xbox.com/en-US/live/join/gold
 
3. Mac Mini – also in my living room.  I can watch all web based video through the Mac including Netflix, HBO Go (if I subscribed), Amazon, etc…All of these options offer full screen viewing and with digital out from the Mac, this is pretty easy.  My Mac doesn’t have HDMI out, so I have to go from DVI to HDMI for video and do Optical out for audio.
Along with my Mac I purchased Elgato’s EyeTV.  This software/hardware combination along with my OTA antenna signal, provides me a great way to replace my outdated Tivo.  I can record live TV, pause, schedule, etc…  Through TV Guide I get the entire EPG (guide) at my fingertips.  The little Mac Remote works with the Mac Mini to control the software.  I would prefer a better remote, but this one works fine for now.  This has been great with the new fall season.  Maybe next year I will buy an additional EyeTV so that I can record two things at a time.
 
Elgato EyeTV – The one I purchased is http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B001QCYHXM/ref=oh_details_o00_s00_i00, the newer versions can be found at http://www.elgato.com
 
4. Logitech Revue Google TV – have this in the bedroom.  I love the idea of this box, but by far my least favorite.  I get Netflix, Amazon and Google services for finding shows.  Also get a browser.  Overall, the experience is clunky, the box crashes a lot, the video quality is fair, etc…  It is OK in the bedroom since we usually watch TV in the bedroom when we are going to bed.  I can speak at length on why this SHOULD be the best solution, but will save for another post.  There is no additional cost after you purchase this box for the content with the exception of media you purchase.  One thing to note about the Revue, and probably need to keep in mind with all third party boxes, is that if you are running directly to a TV you will probably be fine, but if you are going through a AVR you may (I did) run into HDCP issues.  Again for another post.
 
 
5. Blue-ray player – also in the living room.  For those times, when the kids are away, and I want a wonderful digital media experience – I rent the Blueray.  By far the best sounding, highest video quality when watching media.  My Blueray player has the other services, but I would never use them.  Besides for having these other devices, the Blueray apps are very slow and clunky.  This varies from manufacturers, but most that I have seen are like this.
 
LG BD550 – nothing special, but this is the one I got. http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0036WT1WC/ref=oh_details_o00_s01_i00
 
6. [NEW-1/3/13] Roku – as predicted I did purchase a Roku for the bedroom to replace the Google TV (garbaged).  I have to say, I am very impressed with this little box.  The first thing I noticed and was shocked by, is that there is no Ethernet!  How will I stream video without Ethernet?  I have pretty decent Wifi, but Roku also brags about their video quality.  Guess what?  Video quality is great and it is FAST.  Very little hesitation to load a show/movie and start playing.  In fact the other night, I was unable to get West Wing from Amazon to load on my XBox.  I figured it was either my network or Amazons network.  I tried for 30 minutes, but it just wouldn’t play.  I tried it on the Roku, and it played flawlessly.  I am very impressed and would highly recommend.  One more little surprise, I was also able to use their app ecosystem and install the Nowhere DVR app which allows me to stream shows from my Mac Mini which were recorded with my EyeTV!  Nice.  It doesn’t work great, a bit slow, but after you get it going, it works. 
 
What’s next?
  • I am desperately looking for the HBO/Showtime solution.  I am feeling compelled to torrent, but have held back so far.
  • Really need a new universal remote;  gone through 2 Harmony 890’s
 
For more info on setting up your own DVR check out my friends at TWiT http://twit.tv/show/know-how/
For more info on setting up a media PC/server check out more from my friends at TWiT http://twit.tv/show/know-how/4
For a fantastic matrix of all the steaming boxes out there as well as a whole lot of info – http://blog.streamingmedia.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/2012-Device-Chart-Grid-090424.pdf
Here is one more from @veronica and the community – http://bit.ly/settop