Cutting the Co-ax Part 2

OK, so we think we have it figured out! We’re gonna do this in 2 phases, starting next pay day.

Phase 1 is a minimum initial investment. Most of the costs go to change fees charged by the evil cable company. The sunk costs will be $118, for a year of Skype, and fees to disconnect our HD digital cable, and upgrade our Internet connection to the ‘turbo’ version — which should guarantee good telephony connections and IPTV download rates. We’ll recover these costs in less than 2 months of monthly fees, which will look something like this:

Basic Cable – $12 (max)
Internet – $55
IPTV purchases – $10
Blank DVDs – $10

This allows us to record a wide range of normal, time-filling television, plus purchase a couple good shows that we want to both time and place shift. During Phase 1 we’ll be able to watch recorded content in the living room or the bedroom, but downloaded content only in the bedroom or on the iPod. Its not as elegant as the PVR — the DVD Recorder is kinda user abusive — but elegance comes in Phase 2. The total monthly costs will be $87 max, saving us $63 a month — enough for a Gym Membership (with pool) which was our original goal.

Note: this also means we won’t have a home phone number any more. We can call out, but if you want to get in touch with us, call our cell phones and we’ll call you back. Or, you can install Skype yourself and we can talk for free!

apple_tv_intro_graphic.jpgPhase 2 we’ll do when we get our income tax back. Having Benjmain before the new year turned out to be quite the blessing because the estimator says we’ll be getting a nice chunk back. At this point we’ll invest in some media connecting hardware. I took a look at the AppleTV tonite and I was very impressed by the elegance of the UI, but disappointed by the quality of the video — although there are rumors that HD will be added later. The XBox 360 route offers HDTV now, which makes it slightly more appealing. The homebrew solution offers no method of obtain HD content (save for a CableCard approach, which would save us no money).

Once Phase 2 rolls out, we’ll probably slightly increase our monthly expenditure — maybe by another $5 – $10, but we’ll have a sizeable library of our own digital content, plus the stuff the torrents supply me, plus whatever is available in whatever content provider we decide on. This phase is a hardware investment only — a purely sunk cost, but I think it’ll be worth it. We may be among the first to go this route, but I have a feeling this concept is going to take off and there’ll be a lot of content out there pretty soon…

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Things I learned on my "vacation" week…

  • Our son is pretty much the cutest thing ever invented. Ever.
  • When the Doctor is too behind to see you today, reschedule — don’t settle for the Physicians Assistant!
  • I’m actually pretty darn good at my job, and when I take some pride in it, and a little bit of ownership of my work life, it’s actually still kinda fun.
  • The Vertical Production Team rocks! Course I knew that already, but I was still pretty impressed that they had it under control this week.
  • Northway has a LOT of volunteers. And it was a lot of fun hanging out with them.
  • As cool as it is running things in the media booth, it’s pretty great being able sing with the rest of the congregation every once in awhile too!
  • I do too much. Not a lot too much, but I need to shave about 5 hours off my work week. Which means something’s gotta go… I’m just not sure what!
  • God is bigger than me. Way bigger. I gotta let Him do his work, and stop assuming He needs me to run to the show.

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…