Cutting the Cord, Part I: History

Thanks in part to my brother's inspiration, Joe and I are finally attempting to cut the coaxial umbilical of cable television. Over the years, as we've watched our Comcast bill mount, we've researched various online media options. We've never liked feeling beholden to the media "man." Years before it became a popular* thing to do, we got a Tivo and hacked the remote to start skipping commercials. Then, in 2005, when Tivo seemed to be getting too Big Brothery, and rumors about embedded commercials and code preventing skipping became increasingly prevalent, before it, too, became a popular[1] thing to do, we built our own SageTV based DVR computer. Freedom!

We had all the hard drive space we could ever want (75GB! Holy Cow!), tons of power (Pentium 4! 2.0 GHz! Wow!), dual Hauppauge tuners, and a nifty Firefly xml-programmable remote. We customized the Sage software with a number of add-ons and skins and so forth, and programmed the remote to suit our needs. (Yes, I learned some minor xml coding!) We plugged in our analog Comcast signal and were good to go. The system was streamlined and gorgeous and did everything we wanted it to. We later upgraded it with a 1TB external drive (for storage of ripped DVDs, home movies, downloaded programming)

Then came the big 2009 Analog Signal Drop by Comcast. They decided to go all digital. "OK, no problem," we thought, "We'll simply get a new digital tuner card for the DVR and go happily on out merry way." No dice. The digital tuner card required a PCI-E slot, which would require us to get a new motherboard, and effectively, build a whole new computer. As I'd just lost my full-time teaching position, this was a no-go.

So, we buckled back under to The Man. We subscribed to Comcast's digital cable/DVR service. The Sage-PC was kept as an additional input on the TV, so we could continue to access the TB drive. It was not an ideal solution, but it worked for awhile.

Eventually, our introductory rate ended and the prices went up to their normal level. We struggled through several months before a friend mentioned that he'd called Comcast and complained and been put on a discount/introductory plan. I did the same and got us 6 months of cheaper rates. Whew! This deal expired last April, on my birthday, oddly enough.

In the meantime, we'd expanded our media capabilities by purchasing an Xbox 360 (winter of 09-10). This gave us access to Netflix programming on our TV. We subscribed to Netflix about a year ago, but just dropped the 1-DVD a month portion when the company raised their rates. We've kept the $7.99/month streaming service. This comes right through the Xbox and is quite slick and painless. Around this same time, we ditched our brand-new-in-2002 Samsung DVD-VCR combo, as the kids had long since finally outgrown our few remaining children's videos. The 360 works great as a DVD player for us.

So, we have three inputs into our TV (a 36" Sony Wega CRT-monitor[2] for those keeping score at home)

Since then, the TV portion of our Comcast bill[3] has been roughly $98 per month. If we drop the TV, and keep only the Internet service, the Internet service will go up a little bit. But, by dropping the television, we can save $1055 per year.

That's a pretty big incentive to DO SOMETHING.

So, we evaluated our options:
  1. Illegally download all programming we'd ordinarily been recording (29 network and cable shows). We decided against this option due to the illegality of it, and the time-consuming task of finding and downloading 23+ hours of programming every week).
  2. Continue to pay Comcast. Wrong answer.
  3. Drop Comcast and begin watching Internet programming exclusively. Hulu, Netflix and Playon proved excellent content coverage and availability. Seems like a no-brainer.


    And this is a relatively big BUT. What about sports?

    We aren't rabid sports watchers here, but the various pro sports are something we want to continue to have access to. Joe records and watches a dozen or so Phillies games each season, plus a handful each of the Flyers and the Sixers (teams OWNED by Comcast). But the major sticking point has always been the Eagles. Joe is a big Eagles fan, and over the years of our marriage, we have built a tradition/culture around watching the games on a time-shifted delay.[4] I make nachos, ribs, wings, etc. We invite people over. The kids are really starting to get into recognizing the players and understanding the flow of the game. How can we watch football without cable?

    We've finally come across two possible solutions. One is less expensive, albeit iffy, and the other is a sure thing, but lacks time-shifting capabilities and is expensive. We're going to try #1 first. But, that brings us up to the present. As this post is about the history of this endeavor, I'll continue more tomorrow.


    1. except among serious techie-media nerds
    2. We also use Comcast for our cable-broadband. We like this service and its speed, and plan to continue using it. At least until affordable 4G personal hotspots become affordable. Or FIOS comes to town.
    3. Yes, I know. Flat panel. LCD, etc. Well, when we bought this beast (shipping weight 270 lbs), there was still lots of debate over LCD vs. Plasma, and neither option was terribly affordable. But, seriously, this TV is a beast. We love the picture quality and so forth, but the thing has required jacks to prop up the center of the solid-oak entertainment center my dad (who builds things super solidly) built.
    4. We shift starting our viewing by an hour or two, granting us the freedom to replay plays as often as we'd like, and the ability to skip commercials, talking heads and quarter and half-time breaks.

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