No More Cable TV: Our Internet TV Setup
Less than six months ago, my husband and I found ourselves in an all too common scenario. We signed up for DirectTV at a great promotional price, knowing that it would the costs would double the next year. We moved in January and decided that we were tired of paying $80+ a month for cable. (We had done only basic cable in the past, but the price for basic cable has also steadily been on the rise as well).
I was tired of paying for channels that I never watched and paying extra for a DVR cable box that I could watch my favorite shows (which were all major broadcast networks). This is an update to my post, Cutting The Cord and Leave Cable Behind for Good in which I laid out my plans to break away from watching cable TV. It has been one of the best choices for our family, and we don't miss cable at all!
This is how did it:
Because we live in a town home with three curious little people, we knew we would need to explore creative alternatives for our entertainment center. We came up with this from the Besta Shelving system at Ikea. They have a great planner to help you figure out what combination will suite your needs best.
We needed our electronic components out of reach, so we have our amplifier, cable modem, Roku box, wireless router, and DVD player in the cabinets above the TV with the cords running down. It is amazing! The only thing that we were unable to keep out of reach was the sub woofer which needs to be on the floor. I am sure our neighbors love it when we accidentally thump the Sesame Street theme song at 7:00am because one of the kids was playing with the volume dial when we weren't looking! The bottom cabinets are for toy storage only. It is awesome!!!
We use a digital indoor antenna to access our local channels. I purchased the RCA antenna for $16 at Target and it has worked fairly well. When we first set it up, we got over 15 channels. Lately we have been having trouble getting some channels, I think there may be a short in the wire or it could be messed up from being man handled by our three toddlers. The antenna connects to our HDTV via coaxial cable, no digital converter box needed. You don't need to spend a lot of money on an antenna unless you live in a remote area. Antennaweb.org is a great resource which will allow you to find out what broadcasts you should be able to receive at your address.
Cost for local channels via antenna - $16.00 (one time purchase)
We have a Roku box with channels (internet ready applications) like Hulu+, Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, Angry Birds, and more... (click here for additional channel listings). New channels are being added frequently. Our favorites are amazon instant video, Hulu+, facebook, and Angry birds regularly. Other alternatives to Roku are Google TV, Apple TV, and several others. You could also use an gaming device with internet applications, blu ray player, or a HDTV that has built in applications. What I enjoy about Roku is the ease of use, the compact and sleek design, and the controller also works like a wii controller (great for games). Roku also has a great feature that will create a slideshow screensaver from my facebook pictures. My son Will really enjoys seeing pictures of us on the big TV! I also like that Roku has a lower price point than it's alternatives.
Cost for Roku - $49-119 depending on the resolution and feature that you want.
We also connect our laptop with a VGA cable and use our TV like a projector. That allows us to access anything that is available online that is more difficult to access with the Roku. I got hooked on Downton Abbey and watched the entire first season free on Amazon Instant Video. Instead of paying to watch the second season of Downton, I was able to watch it free streaming from the PBS website to my tv with our laptop. This is also the way I connect if I want to watch Youtube on the tv. You will also need a male to male stereo cable to connect the sound from the headphone jack of the laptop to the line in jack on your amplifier.
Cost for a VGA cable id="mce_marker"0, stereo cable $2
We decided to use Amazon Instant Video, this basically gives us access to what we would be buying from pay-per-view or renting from Redbox or Netflix. With an Amazon Prime membership ($80) you get access to hundreds of Prime Instant Videos that stream for free. These include several different Nickelodeon shows, PBS, TLC, Discovery Channel, and more. Right now we have been watching Sesame Street, Wonder Pets, Yo Gabba Gabba and Oswald for free whenever we want. I also love AMC's Madmen, which I am able to purchase to watch the day after it airs in HD or SD. There are several current cable shows that you can pay to view per episode or season pass, similar to itunes. The other bonus with using Amazon is that if you get a prime membership, you can also enjoy the perks of free 2-day shipping. We buy a lot of stuff online, so it really saves us time and money.
Cost of amazon prime membership $80 annually
We also use Hulu+ which allows us to watch most of our favorite ABC/NBC/FOX shows whenever we want, the are available the day after they air. There are also a lot of other shows on there, some throw backs, cancelled shows, and pilots. One of the perks is that we've been able to start watching some pilot shows before they have aired on TV. I also like that Hulu will allow you to suspend your account for a set amount of time. So if you go away for a week or two and wont be watching, you don't have to pay for that time and it will pause your billing. Some shows haven't quite gotten on the Hulu+ wagon yet, but are usually available for a limited time on Hulu.com. (30 Rock, for example) In that case, we just connect the laptop via VGA and watch the show on Hulu.com.
Cost of Hulu+ subscription $7.99 monthly
The downside of this setup is that currently there is not an affordable alternative to ESPN and sports channels. Roku has some subscription channels available (MLB, NBA, and NHL) but they are pretty expensive. If you are okay with only watching live sports broadcasts from your local networks, and catching tickers and other updates/clips online you wouldn't really miss it. But if someone in your home likes to watch ESPN 24/7, you may have a hard time prying the cable remote from their fingers. If you have any suggestions on how to work around this dilemma, please share in the comments below.
Also, if your kids love Disney shows you will probably have to be a little more creative as well. Disney has a channel on the Roku, but it is mostly commercials and trailers for upcoming movies. We have gotten around this by purchasing DVDs of our favorite Disney Jr. shows or purchasing them from Amazon Instant Video. The Disney website has a few full episodes available that you can watch streaming from the site. We have started watching Octonauts on YouTube, and if/when a dvd or digital copy on Amazon comes out I plan on purchasing it.
You don't need to have the fastest Internet speed available, but you will need something faster than dial up or lower level DSL. We have the cheapest speed package available from our local cable provider, and it works great!
There are many different ways that you can set up an Internet TV system so you can begin watching TV online, this is just my personal set up. If you want a good place to start, I would encourage you to check out the Roku boxes because they are so user friendly. At $49 its a small, safe investment that will allow you to try out other alternatives.
Eventually, we are planning to purchase a small PC like this Acer so that we don't have to move the laptop back and forth. Maybe next Christmas! :) I hope this has been helpful to you if you are feeling burdened by the skyrocketing costs of cable.
The internet is changing the way that we live our lives and its influence on the way we watch television has been long overdue.