Sunday, December 11, 2016

Cutting the Cord

In the not-too-distant past, TV viewers had only one option for receiving TV signals—an antenna. That changed when TV began being delivered over cable. More recently, a third option became available—streaming TV over the Internet. Like many of you, I made the transition from on-air TV to cable TV quite easily; however, I gradually began to see the down-side of that decision. My cable bill, which included TV, phone, and Internet, kept growing. It seemed every month we had to go to the Time Werner (TW) office to complain and beat back the price. Still, the price creep continued until, last month, TW announced my bill would increase from $132 per month to over $200 per month. For the small amount of TV I watch (with no premium channels), I could not go there. Fortunately, a couple of advances with TV signal delivery enabled me to just say no, and I returned all my TW TV equipment to the TW office. I kept the Internet and phone service. My cable bill dropped to $60, a savings of over $140 each month. The paragraphs below describe what was necessary on my part to “cut the cord”.

First, I purchased a good digital TV antenna and installed it in my attic ($49 at Black Friday Prices). The one I selected advertised the ability to bring in stations from 170 miles away. I was surprised at the quality of the on-air broadcasts. Digital TV reception is far better than what I knew in the past when TV signals were analog. I have quite a few TVs scattered around my home, so there were some issues. Mostly, not all my TVs were digital; some were the old fashioned analog variety—even two of the wall-mounted sets. That meant I’d either need a digital-to-analog converter for every analog TV or I’d have to upgrade all TVs to digital. I chose the latter because Black Friday deals enabled me to purchase 24” Samsung digital TV sets for under $100 each. I bought five. A few sets are quite a distance from the antenna, so I made sure the TV antenna I bought also came with a digital TV signal amplifier. I also had to pay a small disposal fee at the local dump to get rid of the analog TV sets I replaced.

Next, I wanted to augment the content I received from the antenna with the cable channels I enjoy watching—Discovery, National Geographic, Science, FOX News, and a few others. I researched the many providers of “streaming TV” content, the companies that provide TV signals over the Internet. I found Playstation VUE had all the channels I watched on cable, but for only $30 per month. I signed up for the service. That brought my monthly cost for TV service to approximately $100 with taxes, a savings of $100 per month.

Once a decision was made about the source of streaming TV, I needed a way to receive and display it. There are many devices for that. The big four are Google, Amazon, Netflix, and Roku. After comparing features, I chose the Roku because it had applications for all the others, as well as for Playstation VUE (Note: Playstation VUE is the only streaming service I could find that provides live FOX News). I started with a Roku 3, one of the more capable Roku devices. After a little experimentation, I was able to integrate the Roku 3 with my wireless Internet and my main TV. I was immediately stunned at the incredible volume of free TV available over the Internet. There are so many channels I’ll never find time to investigate them all. I was also able to sign into my Playstation VUE account to receive all the paid channels I enjoy watching. Of course, I can subscribe to other streaming services as well, like Amazon Prime, Sling, and Netflix. I have not done so because the capability I currently have is more than enough, and each additional channel incurs a monthly charge.

After satisfying myself that the Roku 3 would do the job for my main TV, I then purchased seven smaller (and cheaper) Roku Sticks. The sticks look like a large USB memory stick, but they plug into the HDMI port on the back of a digital TV. Each stick had to be initialized individually, first for my Roku account and then for my Playstation VUE account. A separate Internet connection is required for the initialization process (a laptop or phone). Although I have lots of TVs, only one or two are on at any given time unless the house is full of guests. That was another reason I selected Playstation VUE. That account allows five (5) simultaneous streaming channels. So, when the house if full of grandchildren, they can each watch their own shows in their own bedrooms. That also means you need good bandwidth from your Internet provider for this scheme to work. At my house, TW provides 60 megabits per second. That is more than adequate.

The Roku 3 cost about $50 during Black Friday sales, and the Roku sticks were about $35 each. There were, however, some significant problems integrating the sticks with wall-mounted TVs. Many sets have HDMI ports that point straight out the back of the set. That meant, when the stick was plugged into the HDMI port, the TV couldn’t be mounted on the wall. To get around this problem, I purchased some “right angle HDMI adapters”. The adapters enable the sticks to parallel the back of the TV sets, but I still had to offset the TVs about an inch from the wall. That was an issue as well, because the wall-mounting hardware I had was not engineered to suspend the TVs an inch out from the wall. With a little creativity and quite a bit of time, I found ways to mount all TVs far enough from each wall so that a right angle HDMI adapter would fit behind each set.

I still have one issue. At least one of my TV sets is far enough from my TW wireless modem that the Roku Sticks have a difficult time receiving wireless signals. I will solve that problem with either (1) wireless extenders or (2) a separate wire-connected wireless modem (like a Belkin). I believe this is an easily solved problem, and I am delighted most of my TVs now have far greater content selection than I had with TW cable. I receive 14 local stations over the antenna, and I get more paid and free content over the Internet than I can possibly use.

The changeover came at a cost. I purchased about $1000 in new equipment during the process, rationalizing the cost would be recovered in about ten months. Without Black Friday sales, the cost would have been considerably higher. Of course, for a home with only one or two TVs, the cost would have been considerably lower, even without Black Friday sales. Also, wall-mounted units were difficult to fit with Roku Sticks because each one required a unique mounting solution.

That’s my cord cutting story. Despite the cost and difficulty, I won’t have to battle TW to lower their price in the coming months. Or will I? My $60 per month bill is a “temporary good deal” for phone and Internet because TW didn’t want to lose me as a customer. At some point, I expect the cost for those services will begin creeping up again. I will plan for that. I will purchase a Magic Jack or equivalent device (Voice over Internet, or VOI) and begin experimenting with replacing my TW telephone service. That could reduce my TW bill even further; however, I will wait to make such a change until TW prices themselves out of my tolerance range.

I hope this helps any of you considering cutting the cord.

Thanks for reading,

James L. Hatch


Tina Donahue said...

Good for you. I was paying TW $99 for cable - basic package - 3 years ago. Got fed up and cut the cord. Will never go back. Now, I watch Hulu or Yahoo View. The cable companies prove that antitrust laws have to be enforced in this country. Between telecommunications and Big Pharma, the public is getting screwed royally. This is why monopolies shouldn't exist.

James L. Hatch said...

Hi Tina:

Last Friday, Meredith received her first IV dose of material from the EMERGE study. She is now officially part of that very small and select group and will receive one IV bag every month for the next 18 month. We do not know if she is receiving the drug aducanumab (which could be an Alzheimer's cure) or a placebo, but we have been entered into the follow-on two-year study where she is guaranteed to get the drug. For us, this is an answer to prayer. As near as I can tell, the drug is the only hope Meredith has of surviving her disease.

Last Friday, while we sat in the waiting room wondering if Meredith's final PET scan and genetic test results would eliminate her from the study, we met another couple. The man was suffering from the early stages of Alzheimer's, and they had driven to Houston from College Station in attempt to qualify for the study. They were nice people. We heard later that day the man failed his first screening--he was too far gone. Meredith cried for them, and we were deeply thankful to have been so proactive in seeking a potentially beneficial study from the first day of her initial diagnosis in September 2015. Here is a case where early diagnosis just might save her. This disease is a terrible thing, and it is about to sweep the world as the pandemic of our generation. You might have seen the presentation on 60 Minutes last week where members of a particular extended family in Columbia have a 50% chance of getting early-onset Alzheimer's. The program did not call out the name of the treatment that will be on trial with that family, but I have confirmed the drug is the same one Meredith might be receiving now. Whatever your feeling about Big Pharmaceutical companies, we would not have any hope without them. Our most sincere prayer now is that Biogen has found a cure ... and that Meredith is receiving it.

Tina Donahue said...

I hope this helps your wife, James.

But to be frank, government funded many of the drugs on the market today. Universities (with the help of government funding) did the research. Our tax dollars also did that. Big Pharma comes in late in the game. There have been countless articles about how they spend far more on advertising, CEO pay, golden parachutes, stock buybacks, etc. than bringing new drugs to market.

Big Pharma is in it for profit, as all corporations are. Whether your dear wife survives or not is not their concern. Shareholders are their God. Profit is their God. Give them full control as this new administration apparently wants to do and you can kiss drug trials good-bye, unless of course you're extremely wealthy and can fund your own healthcare and cure.

If it weren't for government (that means you, me, and everyone else in this country and our taxes), only those diseases that make Big Pharma the most money (eg: diabetes, heart disease, cancer, etc.) would be produced. They couldn't care less if any of us died.

Many people in this country call football and baseball players heroes. Nonsense. Jonas Salk was a hero. He could have made a bundle on the polio vaccine, if he'd patented it. Instead, he gave it to the public to save lives. That's a hero.

Too bad there aren't more people like him these days, rather than the greedy profiteers in industry and government.