Saturday, January 31, 2015

Cord-cutting Update

A little geeky, maybe, but here's the latest status on our cord-cutting adventure.

Our previous setup was Earthlink DSL and Time Warner Cable, with coax directly into the bedroom TV (so we only got the lower tier of channels) and coax in the media room split between a TWC-provided digital receiver for the full slate of channels and a home theater PC I built a few years ago, that I used as a DVR for the lower tier of channels).

With a change in my work situation last May, we decided to do what we'd been discussing for some time and get rid of our TWC service.  Living in Chapel Hill, my biggest concern with over-the-air delivery was the distance to the towers servicing the Research Triangle market (most of which are located SE of Raleigh) and to the Triad (most of which I think are down around High Point) - we split the middle and aren't particularly close to either market.  Previous purchases of interior digital antenna were definitely unsatisfactory and exterior antenna looked like a huge hassle.  However, Jeannette and I independently hit on an antenna that does work for us - the Mohu Leaf.

Our current set-up in the bedroom is simple - TV attached to a Mohu Leaf 50 powered antenna that is in the bedroom bay window facing pretty much East.  We get decent reception of some Triangle and some Triad stations - enough that all the major networks are covered from one or the other market (except maybe NBC but who the hell watches NBC?).  Plus we get the UNC stations of course.  We absolutely get some pixelation and picture freezes from time to time (often weather-dependent) but overall it's a pretty acceptable experience.  We also have a Google Chromecast device on the bedroom TV which allows streaming of Netflix, Youtube, HuluPlus and anything in a Chrome browser.

The media room TV setup is a bit more complicated.  I mentioned the home-theater PC that I was running cable through (no cablecard, so I was only getting the lower tier of TWC channels through it).  That HTPC remains as part of the setup.  Adding a second Mohu Leaf 50 however was unsatisfactory.  We've never been able to find an antenna position in the media room that brought in more than a couple of channels clearly.  So we've added another component - an HDHomeRun Extend, which is basically a router-sized box with Ethernet connectivity and two TV tuners.  It sits upstairs in my home office attached via Ethernet to our wireless access point and via coax to the second Mohu Leaf, this one in my office window facing SW.  So TV watching in the media room is through Windows Media Center on the HTPC accessing the HD Homerun tuners via the home network.  The HD Homerun unit also gives us the capability to watch over-the-air TV on pretty much any of our networked devices (PCs, tablets, etc).

So OTA is taken care of with the two Mohu Leaf antennae and streaming via the HTPC in the media room, the Googlecast unit in the bedroom and subscriptions to HuluPlus, Netflix and Amazon Prime.  That certainly doesn't get us everything we used to have with cable, but Sling TV will get us closer when it is available next month.  The HTPC gives us DVR capability as well.

With the various subscriptions (including the Sling TV that we'll add when available), we've dropped a $106/month cable bill in favor of about $42/month in subscriptions (we were already paying for Netflix so I'm not counting it).  Overall equipment costs for stuff we didn't already have was about $250 for the two Mohu Leaf antennae and the HD Homerun Extend (look around for deals) - depreciate those purchases over a year and you can add another $20/month to the total for year 1.  Still substantially below the monthly cable bill.

So how does this new arrangement stack up?  For broadcast networks, it is mostly better.  We're getting uncompressed HD signals (unlike TWC) so the picture is typically better.  We do get pixelation and the occasional screen freeze but frankly we did on TWC as well.  Most will let you stream the latest handful of episodes for free within a day or two of broadcast as well and I can usually get full HD with fewer glitches than either our old cable or the over-the-air setup. There are a lot of cable shows that are available for streaming but that has been hit-or-miss.  No longer having Syfy, we managed to stream all of the last season of Defiance, but for some reason the Syfy website dropped about 5 episodes of Haven all at once so we missed most of the latest season of it.  Covert Affairs is just not available for streaming anywhere without either a cable/satellite provider or paying via Amazon or iTunes.  On the other hand, I've missed a large number of Doctor Who episodes since the relaunch so we're making our way through the Eccleston season and will soon get started on the Tennant years.  Sling TV will get us ESPN, TNT and some other networks back that we've missed, but Jeannette still really misses her Turner Classic Movies (ok, I do too) and I do miss Syfy and USA.  But frankly those three channels are probably all I'm missing from a full cable subscription that I would actually watch with any frequency.

I think once we've gotten Sling TV (please before the end of the college basketball season please?), we'll be in good shape to last the two or three years it will take before Google Fiber is available in our neighborhood.

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