Okay, Is Now the Time to Dump Cable TV?

By  |  Wednesday, January 20, 2010 at 2:17 am

A year ago, I toyed with the idea of getting rid of cable and doing all my TV watching online. In the end, I kept Comcast–partially out of lethargy, but mostly because (A) cable is still a much better source of news-related programming than the Web, and (B) I’m very comfortable with my TiVo.

Reason (A) still strikes me as a significant argument in favor of keeping cable. With reason (B), however, I may be at a crossroads. My TiVo HD, which never worked very well, now isn’t working at all–it crashes every few minutes. I’m still trying to troubleshoot it, but I suspect that the drive is bad and will need to be replaced. That’ll require an investment of money and time, and while I may go through with it, I’m also flirting with the notion of retiring the TiVo and giving up cable.

News remains the biggest argument against doing so: I still like the idea of having CNN, CSPAN, Fox News, MSNBC, and other newsy outlets readily available. On the other hand, some of this stuff is available in podcast form–albeit after a delay–and it’s not like I’m glued to TV news every night. (I do, however, like to gorge on it when breaking events warrant, whether they involve election night or a celebrity death or the moving tale of a small boy swept away in his father’s experimental balloon.)

If I cut the cable and give up TiVo, what should I replace them with? I’m still not sure. I like Roku. I own an Apple TV that I don’t use much but would probably enjoy if I made an effort to rediscover it. The Boxee Box looks promising.

But the one box that offers access to the widest variety of stuff–including an endless supply of free material–is a PC. So I’m also toying with the notion of connecting a Windows box or Mac Mini to my Vizio and using it for Netflix, Boxee, YouTube, video podcasts, and a whole lot more. The major downside: Even a cheap PC costs a lot more than a Roku or a Boxee Box. But hey, if I’m no longer tithing to Comcast I’ll have some newfound cash to spend.

I don’t need to give up cable. I can afford it, and there are times that I’m very glad I have it. But more and more, I feel guilty about spending as much I do each month given how little of it I end up watching. It feels wasteful, like filling up your plate at an all-you-can-eat buffet when you know you’re only going to take a bite or two.

Here’s the part where I ask for your advice. What would you do? What are you doing?


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34 Comments For This Post

  1. Dave Says:

    One of the biggest problems with using a PC/Mac connected to a TV is the user interface of many streaming sites isn’t well designed for use at normal TV viewing distances (“the 10 foot interface”). You will also have to deal with a number of different methods that are used to stream the TV – I was just at the ABC network site and it wouldn’t support 64-bit Safari for streaming – so I switched to Firefox.
    The set-top boxes you mention (Roku, Boxee, etc) will solve this problem somewhat but be prepared to deal with extra work to the the stream running.
    The need for a Tivo/DVR is lessened somewhat because the “cloud” has the programs and plays them when requested.

  2. Glenn Says:

    I’m facing somewhat the same dilemma. I can expand my Windows Media Center system to add cablecard support, or I can drop the whole thing and use Boxee Boxes. I need to cover three TVs in the house, so it’s a hard choice. What if download caps get put in? What if Boxee gets blocked by Hulu again? What if CableCard doesn’t work reliably? Lots of questions, no easy answers.

  3. joecab Says:

    Keeping cable. Lazy.

    Also, you can replace that TiVo hard drive very easily. Go to weakknees.com. Even cheaper is to just buy a compatible hard drive since they mark theirs up a bit.

  4. TucsonTumbleweed Says:

    @Dave Roku is easy is set up and requires little to no work to keep “the stream running” in fact it’s interface removes the barriers inherent in navigating thru web material on the television. While I did ditch cable the Roku’s offerings while recently expanded, still do not offer enough variety for most people at this point.

  5. maxp Says:

    I’ve been absolutely dying to dump cable too. For me, its not news that keeps me with cable (though your point on that is valid) – it’s the three channels that I’m actually happy to pay for. All the research I’ve done tells me that I could replace all the shows I watch with online alternatives, barring the content on HBO, Sundance and IFC channels. Until they come through, cable is still attractive to me. And HBO will be the last one to fall, since it’s original content – and the best content out there.

    But Holy Hell I DO NOT WANT the other 300 channels of utter shite. Spare me your Liberty channels, your QVC, your Military channel, your Trinity Network. Not only do I not want to watch them, I don’t want to support them for one more second with my dollars. The sooner we have pay-for-what-you-want, the better.

  6. Matt Says:

    I want best of all worlds as well. The Boxee box is promising but will it let me out to the OS. I doubt it, so I’ll be limited to what Boxee provides. Granted the new Boxee does have a browser built in to Hulu and Amazon On Demand might be options there.

    I was looking at the Aspire Revo 1600 for use as a Boxee box. $200 with HDMI output but would need to add a remote and probably wireless. Plus it would have a hard drive to store some limited content.

  7. geo Says:


    Do a “get info” (cmd-i) on Safari to see the 32-bit checkbox (that is if you want to use Safari, not Firefox).

  8. scott herbert Says:

    Living in the UK to watch any Live TV I would have to pay app £9 per month, that was highly instrmental in my decision last year to stop watching TV (cable or over the air).

    I do miss the news, however the BBC’s web site and Twitter take their place (let’s face it the news changes so fast and is so schecky, at throses events Twitter is as useful as live TV)

  9. Wayne Bogan Says:

    I use a Samsung BluRay player that uses my wireless AP to connect to YouTube, NetFlix, BlockBuster (which I don’t use), and Pandora. The Netflix has worked quite well and the connection is an HDMI cable to my TV. I also use AppleTV for those quick purchases of HD movies that we want to watch.

  10. George Brickner Says:

    If you drop Comcast TV completely, does the price of their Internet service remain stable? or does it increase?
    It may pay to keep a minimal level of TV service.

    I recently bought a Roku HD and use it primarily for Netflix, Revision 3 shows and TWIT shows. I’d like to see more live streaming on the Roku.

  11. Kevin Says:

    I dumped cable last year and can’t be happier. Since I own an xbox360, I simply downloaded the playon server (one time $40 @ playon.tv) and use it to watch everything I used to watch before when I was paying roughly $1200 a year. There are three downsides, the first being news. There is a CNN plug in but that’s it, so news can be biased. The second is live sports, right now the only legal way to watch without cable is over the air broadcast. The third is subscription channels like HBO and SHO. I’ll just rent the DVDs of the shows when they’re out. These restrictions are worth the $1200 a year I’m saving. I’m toying with the idea of buying a cheap computer to run a web browser and just use my TV as a monitor, but for now, I’ll stick with playon. Besides, I need to watch less TV anyway.

  12. George Says:

    Microsoft has made a lot of improvements to Media Center with Windows 7 and it can integrate with quite a few of the streaming services. Check out this on10 article for some ideas: http://on10.net/blogs/sarahintampa/How-to-Watch-TV-and-Movies-in-Media-Center-without-a-TV-Tuner/ . If you have a good signal you can also pull in over the air signals and get superior network HD content. This also answers your first concern for news, etc and with a Silicon Dust HD Homerun you get even greater flexibility as it’s a network tuner not tied to any particular PC.

    There are a ton of great resources for help on forums like The Green Button http://thegreenbutton.com/ and HTBananas http://www.htbananas.com/

    I hope you make the jump.

  13. Rob Says:

    Have you checked to see what DTV is available OTA in your area? I get dozens of channels OTA, including many that I don’t get via my (very) basic cable, though the latter includes the History Channel which is occasionally interesting. I’ve been meaning to call to verify, but when I signed up, getting very basic cable with Internet access was cheaper than Internet access alone.

  14. Jake Says:

    I’m lazy, too–I don’t want to have to figure out where the shows I want are located and how to get them through each site’s interface. I haven’t been able to get Boxee to work reliably for me, so I’m leery of putting everything in the hands of new software or a new box. It sounds like it’d be a lot more work to try out a show I’m not already watching: now, if someone tells me about a show or if I see an ad for a one that looks interesting while I’m watching something else, I can just go set a timer right then. The show will be there when I’m in the mood with no further effort on my part.

    Plus, I like surfing. Give me “your Liberty channels, your QVC, your Military channel, your Trinity Network.” I watched about 10 minutes on the P-40 on the Military channel yesterday–it’s not like I chose to find a show on the P-40, it was just there when I surfed past. We watched someone explain the Flavor Wave oven to Mr. T the other day–very entertaining, but nothing I’d ever call up on purpose. Without surfing, I’d have never seen American Gladiators whack each other with giant Q-Tips, or the original Japanese Iron Chef when it was on a local foreign-language station.

    Nah, I’ll keep my cable (or, at the moment, satellite dish).

  15. Erik Says:

    We ditched our TV a couple of years ago and picked up a 24″ iMac. I know that big screens are de rigueur these days, but the iMac’s screen is more than big enough for comfortable viewing from the sofa 6 feet away.

    I came to the conclusion that TV news has become almost completely focused on timeliness and manufactured controversy, to the detriment of quality reporting and analysis. So I stopped getting news via TV, and subscribed to a small number of print and online magazines and newspapers. I get more in-depth news and I don’t have to put up with the annoyance of endless talking heads.

    As Kevin mentions, if you’re a live sports junkie, you can forget about forgoing the TV. I gave up on watching sports on TV a few years ago, and I haven’t killed myself in desperation at the loss.

    Also as Kevin points out, HBO, Showtime, et. al. aren’t available. However, it can be a lot of fun to rip through a season of an HBO show using Netflix or iTunes in a few nights. Occasionally I catch a Simpsons episode on Hulu, and there are enough other shows on Hulu to keep me entertained if I’m in a TV-watching mood.

    Comcast just hates that we won’t “upgrade” from a cable broadband plan to a triple play plan, but it works fine for our needs. And removing the TV really is liberating.

  16. Bruce Says:

    Going the HTPC route is what I’ve done and I highly recommend it. With all the ION powered nettops coming out now (the Zotac one looked pretty good at CES), you can make the move for pretty cheap.

    Second, I think all the worry about the “10 foot UI” is overstated. If your display is big enough, just the basic Windows 7 UI is actually pretty functional. I’ve got a Gyration Air remote thing that works well, and I almost never need a real keyboard. And if you really want a cool UI, then Boxee or XBMC is the way to go, imo.

    Of course, if you are willing to go the p2p route, content will never be an issue (there are even solutions for live sporting events out there).

  17. Mel Says:

    Dumped cable a couple years ago, since I was in a monopoly neighborhood, with a cable company that seriously overcharged and with service very meh.

    With the internet connection, set up mac mini in the living room, stream hulu and connect with Boxee, download anything else we want to watch. Also have a short antenna and HD box to watch local news and network shows.

    Don’t miss the cable one bit.

  18. Bill Snyder Says:

    I’m a Dish Network subscriber. My $80 a month includes rental of a perfectly good DVR. It did die once (the drive I think) and it was promptly replaced. Frankly, it’s so much easier to have cable or satellite stream down than to mess with a bunch of Web-based solutions, but maybe I’m just lazy when it comes to entertainment. And yes, having live news is pretty important to me, though watching cable news to excess is bad for one’s mental health.

  19. Millard Says:

    Until the hard drive ate it recently, we loved using Windows Media Center, even the old 2005 version. In addition to TiVo like functionality with capture card, you could use the internet to watch just about anything, surf to look up something on imdb, and we ripped all of our music library to it for easy access and put many of our pictures from vacations on it so we could start a slide show if we just wanted to reminisce. We’re back to cable, for now, until I can get it rebuilt/replaced — and we really miss the music and picture libraries.

  20. Anonymoose Says:

    Dumped cable. Been using a Mac Mini to power the living room tv; n-draft wifi bridge from the internet router, drobo for storage. Streaming boxee, using itunes for shows i want from hbo, showtime, etc. still a fraction of the cost of cable (was 120 per month), tv time is more focused, few commercials, picture quality works on a 65″ flatscreen.

  21. David Says:

    I listened to a podcast a few years ago by the HTGuys about setting up a Mac Mini as a video server. Sounded like a great idea! I got one, set it up, and I think I have watched a grand total of one (1) video on it! The Roku box, on the other hand, sees all sorts of use from all my family members.

    For a Soccer Dad, Coach, computer guy, etc, I just want the entertainment center to be easy. Right now satellite and Roku are the easiest options for me.

  22. Bob Forsberg Says:

    Cable is convenience, and anyone who uses cable knows we subsidize all the garbage channels very few people watch. Netflix streaming & DVDs, Hulu, Boxee add to the viewing experience but don’t replace it.

    When over the air selective show/season purchases become available cable might get some serious competition. But no substitute for hard wired cable is yet available for high speed internet and 1080 streaming. If content is the only factor and top video quality is a minor issue, everything you want is available without a TV cable subscription today. An internet only connection has everything you need.

  23. Gregg D. Says:

    We’re keeping cable, partly because my wife is a TV junkie, partly because of the channels or programs that are not available through other means (such as GMA Philippines), and partly because I’m just not as big of an A/V nerd as most of the guys on here.

    The Time Warner monopoly here in Los Angeles is especially grating. There is no U-verse or FIOS service in my neighborhood, and I can’t get a dish mounted on the building because I’m a renter. At least TWC’s cable service has been much more reliable than their internet service: I dumped Time Warner as ISP and got AT&T dry-loop DSL.

  24. Backlin Says:

    I get my news from articles on the ‘net since it winds up being the most unbiased and I easily get the news that I want. I usually watch more Youtube than television and when I have the want to watch commercial TV, I use Hulu. It’s a lot easier to find shows I want to watch, and it’s not on a schedule, it’s on-demand.

  25. GaryKPDX Says:

    We have a TiVo HD and it has shows that are nearly a year old on it waiting to be watched. I’d give up cable in a heartbeat if I were able to find another feed for Formula 1 racing and Tennis coverage. Unfortunately, I suspect the cable companies know there are lots of people like me who don’t want cable except for a couple of personal interests.

    I hold little hope that we will get ala carte channel selection any time soon as things stand. OTOH, if the economy continues to deteriorate, then there could be enough lost premium content subscribers that niche channels such as Speed TV and the Tennis Channel might bypass the cable companies and that networks such as ESPN might offer more of their content over the Internet.

  26. William Blake Says:

    I wrote an article just for you about this: http://wilblake.com . Been meaning to anyway, so thanks.

  27. Dave E Says:

    I just purchased an (Internet ready)Vizio 42″ with Internet Apps: have Clear WiMAX 4 G with a Netgear Rangemax dual band wireless-N Gigabit router.Works perfectly except none of the Vizio installed widgets(widgets gallery) have the following.
    I want to connect to my Dell desktop to the Vizio utilizing a device that makes my Vizio screen behave like an extended browser to access free international tv sites like Beelinetv.com
    Please assist.
    Thanks in advance.

  28. John P Says:

    Here’s what I did:

    1. Built a sweet little PC for the living room (in a nice case that looks like it belongs in the living room) and got rid of every other box that I had under the TV except for my consoles. Right now the PC has a DVD drive but in a few months I will upgrade to a Blu-Ray drive.

    2. Got a Netflix subscription; between it and Hulu/YouTube I don’t really watch that much “TV”.

    3. Downgraded to Comcast’s limited digital cable package (their most basic digital package available); last I checked I was getting CNN, C-SPAN, MSNBC, and FOX (can’t really remember as I get 99% of my news online).

    With this setup I am paying roughly $85 a month for high-speed internet, basic cable channels, streaming movies and videos, and three-at-a-time movie rental.

  29. heulenwolf Says:

    I spent way too much time, effort, and $ on experimenting with HTPCs, a large LCDTV with a computer-friendly input, and most recently on a Mac Mini. Costs on all of those elements have come down and services have gotten better but they’re still not good enough. Hulu usually runs out its video buffer multiple times per show even though I’ve got a speedy enough ISP (~5 Mbits down), a wired Gb Ethernet connection, and sufficient processing power (Core Duo). Other boxee-like interfaces work sometimes and down work others (usually beta software). There’s no HTPC equivalent to “flipping channels” when you just need to relax. You have to know what you want to watch, what’s the best way to find it, have software and hardware that both support its playback, and even then it doesn’t guarantee a good watching experience unless you pay program by program to get it. So, I still use both CATV for flipping and online for catching up on previously-aired or podcast content. My fiance has no patience for Hulu’s stutters, Plex’s immature interface and crashes, or the frustrations of mousing around TV Stations’ websites, so we end up watching live TV more often than the alternative.

  30. sean Says:

    I use a TivoHD with an OTA antenna. I learned to like the cooking shows on PBS and learned to live without ESPN. I also subscribe to netflix, so I get the streaming through my tivo. In addition I download a pile of video podcast (mostly revision3 and NYtimes) via my tivo and that seems to satisfy my entertainment needs.

  31. Tech Says:

    As bandwidth increases more and more people are going to be dumping cable television.

  32. Larry Says:

    I reccomend all of you junk cable and stay with your internet. I am a cable tech and I will tell you they are raping all of us!!!! You would not believe the BS fees you all pay.

  33. Danny Says:

    You can watch streaming CNN, FOX an others here: http://mixmedianow.com/onlinetv.html

  34. Richard Says:

    I live in the UK, and cable TV isn't *quite* as big a deal over here (more satellite or OTA), but we had it once- and dumped it over a decade or more ago when digital TV barely existed and the internet was all static text and images. Might have missesd it a bit, but lived without.

    Now I think I can find much better things to watch on Youtube than on telly sometimes, and it's easy enough to watch what for me would be the BBC iPlayer or 4oD (our Channel 4's on-demand service). and there is plenty more the web can offer, news-wise and otherwise.

    Low-tech also rules. Even the radio is better than TV, and I can pick up old VHS tapes for next to nothing since everyone else has moved on.

    I still watch TV (over-the-air) but probably don't need it. Even if I sometimes fantasise about getting free-to-air satellite…

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