Cutting The Co-Ax

In 2004 Nic and I became “cord cutters” — a term that was briefly popular in the tech world, describing people who canceled their home phone service, and went cell-only. When VoIP was a nascent consumer technology we used that, eventually back-peddling a little when we moved to the States to use a VoIP home phone service to emulate a classic land-line so that we could get cheap long distance in our calls home to Canada. These days “cord cutting” is so common as to not need a buzz-word any more — we know lots of people who only use cell phones.
But I wonder if consumers are on the verge of cutting another kind of cord: cable.
TV sucks these days. While there has been something of a resurgence of decent content lately, absurdly biased network news, and raucous, loud and intrusive commercials that seem to grow longer and longer in duration, are beginning to make the old idiot box look rather weak — even in comparison to the home grown content you can find online. A recent study showed that the average teenager spends more time online than in front of the TV.
Right now, Nic and I are trying to weigh the pros and cons of canceling our cable TV service and replacing it with an IPTV solution of some kind. Really the only thing we’d miss is our DVR, but on-demand content could eliminate the need for a device like that. The question is, would something like the AppleTV or an XBox360 provide sufficient content that we wouldn’t miss having our digital TV connection?
apple-tv.jpgI don’t know that I could do justice to an article comparing the two devices — having used neither. They probably each have their own strengths and weaknesses. AppleTV links to the iTunes Music Store through your already existing media library in iTunes and provides an elegant and intuitive interface. The 360 has its own nascent media library, including HD content, and if you want to buy a special version of Microsoft’s Operating System for your PC, you can consume your own content. Plus it plays games. Either way I’d have to convert all my digital video into a different format (QuickTime for AppleTV, WMV for the 360). The prices are close enough that its really a decision about whether or not I want to play games.
What I’d rather do is try to wrap my head around the costs and benefits of cable TV and understand if there’s anything compelling keeping me attached to this ancient medium.
There’s the obvious cost/convenience issue. We pay for a TV/Digital Phone/Internet package, roughly $150 monthly. Going VoIP (Skype) and IPTV and still keeping basic cable, our monthly costs would be down to about $50. That means we can spend up to $100 a month on media and telephony without spending more than we currently put out now. At our usual rate of calling home, and assuming throughput is good enough, we could easily make the switch to Skype for well under $10 monthly. So can we get our entertainment for the month for less than $90?
A TV show costs $2 on iTunes. Assuming there’s 6 shows we watch weekly (which is probably the max) — not including syndicated content, which honestly, I’d probably get from the torrents — and assuming there’s a new show every week, that means we’re spending $12 a week, or $48 a month. We’re still $40 ahead of where we were chained to the cable box.
We do lose our DVR, which provides a wonderful channel guide, as well as time shifting — which is awesome. The value of this device is difficult to quantify. We can make up some of that functionality with purchased shows, which are essentially On-Demand (minus a short download delay), cover some of it with our DVD Recorder — costing, say $10 a month on recordable media. Now we’re $30 ahead of where we were before… only loosing HD content from the cable company.
But then there’s the investment cost of switching platforms. My modded XBox died recently, so we’d have to get something to replace the cable box — the XBox never would have played purchased content anyway, so while I’m sad to see it go, it’s a casualty of progress. This leaves me with 3 options to connect our “old world” TV set to the new world of digital media:
– AppleTV
– XBox 360
– Home grown PC
Each of these options would cost around $300 to purchase and implement. At a monthly savings of $30 it would take us 10 months to get a return on our hardware investment — and we still wouldn’t have the full flexibility of a cable box… But we would be trying a new kind of cord cutting, and eventually reducing our monthly expenses (going off the grid, and creating our own hydro is the next big challenge ;o)…
So has anyone else tried this? I know there are hybrid solutions (I had one with my XBox) but we’re talking about a hard switch over here. Any feedback/thoughts/advice would be appreciated…

3 thoughts on “Cutting The Co-Ax

  1. Okay… Couple of comments. The Time Warner VOIP is quite overpriced. And I’m starting to learn that Vonage is also overpriced for the convenience and probably to cover their marketing bill. There are several other voip services out there that offer the same features as Vonage, but you provide your own hardware. (Check out the Linksys PAP2-NA)
    As far as the TV goes, I’ve been looking at replacing my DVR with a home-brew TV solution to use as a media center. This would allow me to also view my own content, and if I use a windows based solution I could get content from iTunes as well. I’m wondering if there are any torrent XML feeds that give you current shows every week or something similar? This seems like a project that perhaps we should take on together. I’ve already done a bunch of research on the phone side of it and was just starting to get into the video side of it. I hadn’t thought about cutting the cable directly, but now that you mention it I kinda like the idea.

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