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Totally Off Topic: The Quest to Eliminate Cable



September 24, 2010 – Comments (0)

If you think the title is somehow a trick and that this is actually going to be about investing... it's not... the following is not going to be about investing. So leave now before you start getting angry that I could possibly have something other than investing on my mind.

Now, if you, like me, have a deep-seated hatred of the inane amount of money you have to spend on cable TV, then the following might interest you (or perhaps you can help me!).

I've now been without cable for a couple years. It's not that I don't like TV, I do. But I don't have time to watch a whole heck of a lot of it and I have zero interest in paying high cable bills to watch a few TV shows and sporting events / month. So I've been on a mission to find ways to eliminate the need for cable without having to totally cut off my TV sweet tooth.

When I first started this "project" I felt like I was still a bit ahead of the curve... not that nobody else had thought about trying to use what's on the Internet to watch TV on their big screen, but rather that mainstream electronics manufacturers hadn't really caught on and started offering easy solutions to do it.

So my initial solution was to build an entertainment computer -- HDMI connectivity, digital audio out, TV card and digital recorder (for network TV), Windows Media Center, USB remote, and so on. It worked with mixed results. I got Netflix which I could run through WMC, but Watch Instantly was still relatively new and the selection was abysmal. I cancelled Netflix. Hulu was relatively new and didn't play nice with WMC (still doesn't), so I had to just use a keyboard and mouse to manually navigate the Hulu site to get to the content I wanted (could have ponied up for a nice remote that would have made this easier but was too cheap). However, it did serve my purpose of letting me watch TV on my TV without cable, and the quality on Hulu is pretty darn good. Plus I suddenly had all of my music and photos in my living room and everyone thought I was really snazzy for having a computer hooked up to my TV.

It's actually gotten a little better since then. Hulu launched its desktop program and while I still have to use the mouse to start up the program, the program works with my remote so I can navigate the menus and start and pause the shows. ESPN launched ESPN3 which is a fantastic way to get some sporting events. Unfortunately, the first time I tried that out it was to watch my beloved Penn State get picked apart by Alabama. That aside, it's a good start for ESPN though there were some severe quality blips at times during the game. 

I've also found a few other enjoyable things for the TV/computer hookup over the past couple years. On occasion I do like to bet the ponies, and I found out that the California racetracks stream all of their races live... Sweet! I watched more than a few days of Del Mar's race season this summer. Though Hulu lost Jon Stewart and Steve Colbert, I didn't have to worry because those episodes are posted on the Comedy Central site. Sweet x2! And while CNBC gives me severe migraines, Bloomberg TV I find more enjoyable -- and I can stream that on the TV too. And I can also get full episodes of Charlie Rose.

So that was all pretty good. But then...

But then my wife decided we needed a TV in the bedroom. Not my cup of tea, but some fights you just don't win (I happened to comment that this may be the first time a wife had to convince a husband to get a new TV). But what do we do now? There was no way I was about to build a second computer to handle this TV. However, it did seem like there were more elegant solutions starting to hit the market.

After reviewing a bunch of them, I decided to go for one of Samsung's new Blu-Ray players (the BD-C6500). This player has built-in wireless-N and is enabled for Samsung Apps, which is a sort of wanna-be iTunes App Store for various Samsung products. The selection of apps is unsurprisingly lame, but as far as I could tell it included Netflix, HuluPlus, and Pandora. Nice...

Sidebar here -- now if you're wondering why I would boot cable just to pay monthly fees to Netflix and HuluPlus (which is $10/mo), well, I'm not of the mind that I want copyrighted content for free by some nefarious means, I just want copyrighted content that's reasonably priced for my level of usage and, more importantly, convenient. So am I willing to pay less than I would for cable for 85% of the TV I want in a much more convenient package? You betcha.

Ok, so cut to the chase... Bummer was that apparently the Samsung model I got doesn't support HuluPlus, only the pricer 3D Blu-Ray player does (which, as you might guess makes ZERO sense and smacks of a cheap ploy to get customers to upgrade their entire entertainment system to 3D... thanks, but no thanks. Not to mention the reviews say that player has a glitch with Netflix). However, Netflix worked like a charm, which I was totally impressed with -- the selection on Watch Instantly today blows what I remember out of the water. 

So where does that leave me? Well, not all that connected in the bedroom. Of course, with Netflix streaming and a Blu-Ray player I probably won't really be wanting -- like I said, I don't watch that much TV, and I can get everything else on the TV downstairs.

Nevertheless, I'm left feeling a bit unsatisfied more from a puzzle perspective -- that is, I feel like there has got to be an elegant solution to this and I just haven't found it (looked at stuff like Boxee, PlayOn, etc and none seemed quite right...). Of course perhaps I'm still a few steps ahead of what's actually out there... But I mean, shoot, with all of the content out there... content that actually formats quite well when you watch it on a big screen (mine's 46") it seems silly that there isn't a good, simple, elegant way to get it all -- Hulu, Netflix, ESPN3, Bloomberg TV, ok, yeah, and California Racing -- onto my TV.

Anyway, that's pretty much all I've got... now I'm impressed if anyone has bothered reading this far and has gotten here... but if you have, I'd love to hear your struggles with freeing yourself from cable and/or (better still!) the solution you know of that I've overlooked that will solve my puzzle.

Fool on!


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