In recent months, like many of you out there, I have been evaluating many things in the household as to what is needed and what isn't. Of course, slashing the cost of food/shelter where near the top of the list but couldn't be touched without some form of backslash in the family.
So the first thing that was on the chopping block was the Cable TV (and the phone lines are next) at $70 a month. So after dropping the Cable TV, having it for 10+ years, and now receiving only the free over the air signals on the TVs did we realize why we had Cable TV to begin with. So instead of going back to Cable TV no more than 36 hours after dropping it, the search for a solution to better show access was underway.
Cable TV was no longer an option with its ever growing cost, so the next reasonable choose was Satellite. The fact of having issues with weather and the need to mount a dish on my house was enough to make me skip it as an option. While the cost of Satellite is about half the price of Cable TV, the thought of switching and paying someone else again kind of defeated the purpose of dropping Cable TV in the first place.
So the quest continued on. With Cable and Satellite not on the radar, there were only a few places to turn and they were physical media and downloading/streaming. Buying physical media awhile it is great to catch up on shows you might have missed; it tends to fill your house with plastic cases and boxes. An alternative to physical media is a much more none traditional way of watching shows on your TV and that is via electronic download/streaming.
In the end, I went with what would be the most cost effective solution for my household based on the devices I already had in it. I am an avid gamer so I own Xbox 360 and a Nintendo Wii, both of which offer features that are not thought of as features of a gaming system. The Nintendo Wii offers Internet access via the Internet Channel. The Internet Channel allows you to browse to and watch videos from sites like You Tube, as long as they are using the Flash 7 file format. The Xbox 360 on the other hand allows you to access videos, music and pictures from a Windows PC or a USB device such as a hard drive.
After some experimenting off and on, I ended up using the Xbox 360 as a media extender due to its built in Netflix connection and support for Windows Media Center. So we signed up for Netflix which offers a Watch Now option to watch TV shows as well as movies. With their monthly plan of $8.99 you get unlimited streaming and can have unlimited DVDs, but only one DVD at a time. However, Netflix doesn't offer up everything in the terms of streaming that one might want, but it is a good start though.
Now with Netflix and a partial solution, the next step was to provide some additional choices because that is what it is all about anyways with Cable or Satellite. The next step was to be able to stream more videos on demand than what Netflix offered, and typically Netflix offers streaming of videos that are in physical format which leaves out new episodes with the exception of Heroes which you can watch the latest season and episodes for free via streaming from Netflix. To fill the void of new episodes and current shows, I could visit sites like ABC.com or NBC.com but that does not make for an easy solution for the rest of the family.
So in addition to Netflix, I installed PlayOn on my computer which allows me to stream videos from CBS, Hulu.com and even YouTube. While this is not true Internet TV, it does allow me to access recent episodes of such shows as 24, Chuck and Burn Notice to name just a few as well as classics or off the air shows such as Alf, Lost in Space and Reba. PlayOn is not the only solution out there, as the one that looks the most promising is a solution that is known as Boxee.
Boxee is in public alpha testing right now, and runs on Mac, Apple TV and Linux currently with a Windows solution in closed/private beta. Boxee allows you to stream from even more sources than PlayOn does and from a single interface. With PlayOn and Boxee out there, it will only be a matter of time until watching TV changes again like it did when Cable was first introduced.
Now this might not be for everyone out there, but it is a great way to get you closer to what you might watch now on Cable TV at a reduced cost. So the cost savings for me looks like:
$70 x 12 = 840 (is what I was paying the Cable company)
$9 x 12 = 108 (what I will be paying Netflix)
$30 (one time fee to PlayOn for their media server software)
$840 - 108 - 30 = $702 (First year savings) and $732 each year then forward, based on the rising cost of Cable TV the savings will most likely increase over time.
If you do not have an Xbox, but have high speed internet you can look into purchasing an Apple TV for $230 and making the necessary changes to run Boxee on it. So even after that you could be looking at about a savings of $500 a year with getting rid of Cable TV. I have not done this, but have thought of doing it on a few occasions simply for the sake of giving it a try.
Before going down this road, you will want to make sure your Internet service provider does not have bandwidth limits on the plan you use and there are additional costs that I did not list. Such as $199 for an Xbox 360 which I already owned and a PC that met the minimum requirements for PlayOn which was 1.5Ghz with 5GB of free space and 512MB of Ram. I hope this can open your eyes up to a whole new world of watching TV episodes and movies.