Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Cutting the cord

Lots of people are getting fed up with their ever increasing monthly cable or satellite bills and starting to Cut the cord. You can easily save $100 or more a month on all of the combined services that you don't really need.

That is $1,200 per year... every year... If you are starting to feel the pain, you are not alone:
Months ago I got fed up with my triple-play cable bill and Cut the cord.  Yes, I still have internet access, but I have reduced my bill from $165 to $42 per month (internet) + Netflix..

What have I had to give up you ask?  Nothing that I don't miss and I have way more cool features than I had before.  As far as TV, I have high quality TV and no shortage of interesting and educational things to watch.

Still not sure it can be done?  Follow my step-by-step Cut the Cord Survivor Guide.

You'll also find lots of posts on cutting the cord topics from setting up your own antenna to checking out Apple TV.  Feel free to browse around, share what you find, and let me know what you think!

Here is how I cut the cord and you can too:
Enjoy those monthly savings!


  1. George,

    I have been researching for months on a good all-in-one way to cut the cable. Your solution looks great and I have a few questions for you.

    1) Is it much of a hassle switching back and forth from different players and outlets for watching media. For example (Hulu, Netflix, BluRay, Amazon VOD). I am a channel surfer and I know that has to go away with a setup like this.

    2) I also have children who love their cartoons. How have you been able to supplement your childrens's tv shows.

    3) I have cable set up in my children's rooms. What is involved with using Orb and how hard would it be for my children to navigate by themselves?

    4) Can you post some pics of the screens on your tv. I have a 73" and do not know what he quality would be like on it.


  2. Hi Gleam,

    I know how you feel; tons of options out there but well worth taking the plunge.

    1) Check out today's post on "taming your remote", I've set up buttons for precisely this purpose. I can switch between Media Center, Hulu Desktop, Boxee and with ease (I haven't played with Amazon VOD yet). Netflix is already playable from withing Media Center so that is easy. Blurays are playable in Media Center if you use the 3rd party plugin that I recommend. You can also play Blurays with newer (pay) versions of PowerDVD, etc. (However, the bundled version I got with my drive works for me).

    2) Absolutely. This is where Netflix streaming really shines. Keep in mind that the transition may involve watching different cartoons, but there is plenty on that is of interest to my kids. Also, you can try using,, etc. to get other shows direct. However, once you stray away from Netflix/Media Center/Boxee/Hulu/Zinc the interface to find the content does usually involve opening up a browser of some kind.

    Again, Netflix will keep them occupied for quite a while so I wouldn't worry.

    3) Unfortunately, anything you switch to will be more complicated than a simple cable set top box and TV. That is the bad news.

    I'm also assuming that you have (or are willing to put) computers in their rooms.

    However, kids are smart and adapt quickly. You don't have to show them everything they can do with it at once. I'd start them off with Netflix in a browser (nice and simple UI) and introduce Orb and other features as you go.

    If you happen to have newer computers (or are willing to updated the OS), you can use windows 7's ability to act as a Media Extender. This takes the place of Orb's capabilities and I'm sure has a much nicer UI.

    However, Orb is quite usable and requires no client-side setup (nice). It would be just another interface and kids learn pretty quick.

    Since Orb is free and you can try it out to see if you like it.

    This is a great topic, and I'll definitely blog about putting together multi-room Media (video) solutions in the future.

    BTW: next week I'll post my multi-room Media (audio-only) solution based on Logitech's squeezeboxes.

    4) Sure. I will say that when I'm watching HD the quality is amazing and should look stunning with a 73" HD set. Standard definition content looks good too (DVDs look great, just a little softer). Quality only gets really bad when you start dropping down to youtube stuff (yuck).

    There are so many different sources of content once you cut the cord it is really hard to generalize. No complaints from me so far and I'm far pickier than most people I know.



  3. I cut the cable years ago after non stop rate increases while receiving poorer and poorer service. I woke up and realized I was paying a fortune to watch the same reruns I got tired of watching years ago.

    I went to OTA HD, Netflix, internet and a hobby called free to air satellite. Totally legal, no monthly subscription and hundreds of channels to watch direct off the birds.

  4. @Anonymous: I hadn't heard of free to air satellite. This sounds interesting, do you have any favorite links & info about it?


  5. George,
    I was amazed to see your blog. Before I knew about your blog, I had recently purchased an Ooma, tried to minimize my auto insurance costs, and built a HTPC running Windows Media Center (and Hulu Desktop, Zinc, MacroTube, and Kylo, etc.) I also installed an OTA antenna for someone else for ATSC broadcast DTV.

    My question for you is on cutting the cable TV cord. in my area, Comcast charges about $64 for high speed internet bundled with local broadcast TV. If I get high speed internet by itself, I lose a bundle discount and it costs about $58, a savings of only $6/month. Do you have Comcast (you mentioned a reference to your old triple-play service)? If so, which high speed internet-only service plan are you using that costs $42 per month?

    Thanks! And well done.

  6. @Anonymous: Thanks, and congratulations on your cutting the bills too! I have Comcast Internet and it's still $42 per month (thankfully!)

  7. Forgot to add, I have what is called "Performance" Internet Service (15Mbit down, 3Mbit up). They advertise it at $45 per month in my area (after a 6 month teaser rate of $20 per month). Don't forget to negotiate, and bargain hard - they will budge if there is competition.

  8. George,
    Thanks for the replies and helpful advice. In my city in MA, Comcast is charging:
    $65.17 for local broadcast TV channels + Internet
    $60.53 for Internet only
    Internet is the "Preferred" package with up to 15 Mbps down and 3 Mbps up.

    What Comcast does is remove the bundled service discount so that the price of Internet only service is much higher when cable TV is removed from the account. Comcast claims that they cannot reduce the price further because they do not have a price matching policy. Lots of negotiation yielded no results. Comcast does have an "Economy" service with 1.5 Mbps down and 386 Kbps up, but that is substantially slower.

    Incidentally, Comcast local broadcast TV service in my area does mot even offer all of the DTV subchannels available over the air.

    Verizon has FIOS Internet at $54.99 per month but it is not yet available in my neighborhood.

  9. Anonymous,

    Comcast internet and broadcast cable are transmitted over the same lines. If you switch to Comcast cable internet ONLY, and have a splicer that splits the cable line(as you would do if you had both internet and cable) in two - one line going to your modem and one line going to your TV, you'll pick up the local broadcast channels just fine (NBC, FOX, CBS, ABC, RetroTV, PBS, etc but no NESN). There's no need to pay the extra $4.50 a month plus taxes and cable box rental.

  10. George,

    I am excitedly thinking of building an HTPC. I cut the cord recently and have been streaming Netflix and Hulu Plus through a ROKU 2. I miss the ability to pause, rewind and record. Especially on live sports. I had a couple of questions that I was hoping you could help with.

    1. Comcast of course charged me more for going sans cable TV, so I downgraded to 6Mbps for $50. Do you have a recommendation on speed for streaming video. I didn't know if upping the speed would help as I notice poor quality and pausing when trying to watch ESPN3 through the web and connedcted to HDTV via HDMI. ATT offers 12Mbps for $48 and 18Mpbs for $53, but is DSL.

    2. The motherboard you recommend no longer is available. Do you have another recommendation? I assume anything with an AM3 socket? Is the Radeon HD 4250 on board graphics better than Intel HD Graphics? I assume that is why I see most people choosing AMD over Intel?

    3. Do recommend a particular file format for ripping DVDs that I purchased, particularly my son's children movies. I would like to be able to store then on the hard drive and pull them up quickly as opposed to pulling discs out. Does WMC play MKV files?

  11. Dear Anonymous,

    Glad you are enjoying the cutting the cord experience.

    Q1: 6Mbps should be good enough for HD video from many content providers. For example, Netflix HD (720p) tops out at 4.8Mbps per their blog. However, many factors might conspire to lower your real throughput. Your ISP may not actually be able to reliably deliver your rates regardless of what they claim or charge you. I'd try a number of different streaming services before assuming you need to switch / upgrade your ISP service (and check Also, with content providers that use adaptive streaming, your video quality should degrade somewhat gracefully when your bandwidth is lower.

    Q2: Sorry, no. It has been two years since I built my HTPC and it is still running great. At the time, systems with embedded graphics were barely capable of HD decoding. I'm sure that isn't the case anymore. So you can probably select any reasonably powered/priced motherboard (w/ or w/o embedded graphics) and you should be fine. Go with a name brand, relatively new, and with good reviews.

    Q3: The format your videos should be in depends upon what software you want to use. If you rip DVDs, you might want to use the (unconverted) files/folder format so that you can access any menus (and can preserve the most quality)... if you care about such things. VLC (and others) support this, but WMC most likely doesn't. Of course, I'm referring to ripping DVD's that you have authored yourself.


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