Cutting the Cord

"I've paid twenty-thousand dollars to Comcast over the past ten years," my co-worker said, "and I just can't do it anymore."

Twenty-thousand, I thought, that can't be right.

It turns out that it's not right. My current Comcast bill is $301 per month. Times 12 months equals $3612 annually. Times ten years equals $36,210. You can buy a brand new Audi Q3 for $36,210.

Last year I tried to lower my bill (which is a bundle of phone, internet, and cable) by dropping premium channels, cutting channels, dropping phone service, and lowering internet speed.  The result was $1 more expensive per month than my current bundle. This is because seemingly Comcast has a big flowchart which returns all options to the same price point.

 My experience talking to Comcast customer service

My experience talking to Comcast customer service

So, I've been scheming and dreaming of how to go cable free. This week I started the grand experiment of cutting the cord.

When DirectTvNow offered a promo - subscribe for three months at $35 per month and get a free $179 Apple TV 4K, it seemed like a zero risk proposition. I'd already been thinking of upgrading my 2nd generation Apple TV to a 4K.

First, let me say WOW. The difference in picture quality between the 2nd Gen and 4K is amazing. Second, the addition of the full app store, including games, significantly changes the functionality of my Apple TV. I already have a MiFi controller for playing video games with my daughter.

 Playing games like Asphalt 8 with a controller on Apple TV 4K is a surprisingly rewarding console experience

Playing games like Asphalt 8 with a controller on Apple TV 4K is a surprisingly rewarding console experience

The Apple TV 4k comes with a small touch-surface gesture-swipe remote which has a basic wii-controller-style accelerometer. It has a Siri button, which I'm used to for Comcast voice commands, so that's helpful. It makes me miss my old remote, which had click-buttons instead of a touch-surface. I wish more companies would find the value in physical buttons and stop moving everything to touch gestures (especially for tasks where your eyes are somewhere else).

 I don't know how many times I've picked this up upside-down. The top half above the menu is the swipe surface/clicker. The bottom half is for holding.

I don't know how many times I've picked this up upside-down. The top half above the menu is the swipe surface/clicker. The bottom half is for holding.

DirectTVNow works great. The experience is just like the cable guide you're used to. It also includes a basic cloud DVR service at no cost. Best of all, it counts as a cable provider, which means all of the network apps link with it. And, with Apple TV, there are a ridiculous amount of Network apps. You could easily watch all your usual channels without even opening the DirectTVNow app. In general, we just open the network app and stream whatever episodes we want of our favorite shows.

 You have to register and activate every single app, then link them to your DirectTVNow account. Once you do, you can stream virtually every show on the network. Some even stream live TV.

You have to register and activate every single app, then link them to your DirectTVNow account. Once you do, you can stream virtually every show on the network. Some even stream live TV.

Here's where I hit my first hiccup: local channels. Depending upon where you live, your local channels may not be licensed (yet) for streaming via DirectTVNow Where I live, only Fox is licensed.

Of course, the only thing you actually need to watch local channels is an antenna, so I purchased an HD antenna. To my surprise, it receives twenty-six channels over the air.  Another surprise is that many of the network apps will stream your local channels.  For example, the NBC app will stream your local NBC station live.

Next hiccup: No way to record over-the-air local channels.

Attempted solution: HD Home Run.

HD Home Run is a small box which you plug into your HD antenna and internet router. It then streams the signal to your TV (or other screens, such as iPad). The HD Home Run costs $99 and the Channels app costs $24.99.  If you want to add DVR functionality, the subscription is $35 per year.  

So, I bought one. And, it sucks.*

First of all, even though the HD Home Run is a wifi streaming device, you cannot wirelessly connect to it. You must use an ethernet cable to physically plug it into your router. This means you must relocate your HD antenna to wherever your router is located. In my case, this was in my basement, which is a bad place to receive antenna signals.

Second, the DVR service isn't a really a service. By "service", they mean that if you stream your content to your Mac or PC, they will enable the record feature in their software on your Mac or PC,  which will turn your computer's hard drive into a DVR. The instructions are to keep your computer on 24/7 and disable sleep mode. Also, you probably should not have a notebook computer, like I do.

So, I'm returning it.

There's literally one show I want to record on broadcast tv. I could by a Tivo, but $400 seems overkill for one show. I may just sit tight until DirectTV gets licensing for NBC.

Anyway, otherwise I'm pleasantly surprised and very happy with my cord-cutting experiment. I'm going to run parallel paths - keeping my cable subscription for the month until I'm sure there's no other hiccups, but I can see myself living the cable-free dream.

Edit:

* HD Home Run is actually a very good streaming media device, and integrates nicely with apps like Channels to let you watch live OTA TV through your Apple TV. I just find its DVR software clunky, not well-integrated, and not what I'm looking for as a DVR solution.