Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Unplugged!



With cable television and Internet at two homes, I was paying a total of $378 per month to the cable providers. I knew there had to be a way to trim that cost. 

I spent the last week investigating some options that would meet my needs. I wanted to share what I found out, in case you are considering doing something similar. One caveat: all of the options are updated quite frequently and some options are locale-specific, so your experience may differ! 


I did not have a list of questions I wanted answers to before I started the process, but now that I have settled on a option, I realize the questions to ask may help you out!



  1. Can the service be cancelled at any time?
  2. Can the service be used in more than one location?
  3. What networks does the service offer?
  4. Are local network channels (ABC, CBS, and NBC) available through the service?
  5. Do I need any hardware to use the service?
  6. Can I share the service with another family member outside of the house?
  7. Is there a DVR option available with the service?
  8. Are there add-on packages for specific wants?
  9. What is the cost of the service?
  10. What is the cost of the add-ons?
  11. Is there a free trial of the service?
  12. What devices can be used to access the service?
  13. How many family members can use the service at one time?

My goal was to no longer use Comcast (in MA) and Charter Spectrum (in CT) for my television providers. There were many channels I never used, and I felt the cost was too high.




LATEST UPDATES FROM 1/12/18 AND 1/19/18 ARE IN RED


SlingTV

I have used a Slingbox for many years to watch my home TV while I was traveling, so I had trust in Sling. Their service is interesting. There are two choices, Orange ($20) and Blue ($25). There are some channels that are in both choices, but the main difference is that Blue allows three streams of channels at once (for example, for a house that has three TV's or mobile devices) and the Orange option only allows a single stream. You can use a mobile device while on the road to use the service, and, Airplay with a TV-connected Apple TV. Some smart TV's also have the SlingTV app included.

The channel lineup, when purchasing both Orange and Blue ($40) and the DVR ($5) met most of my needs, but there were no local versions of the big three network channels (at least in my area). Matter of fact, there was no ABC or CBS at all, and NBC was only "on demand". 

There is a cloud DVR available for $5 more per month. I tried the service for a few days of the free trial, and I liked the interface, which includes a grid as well as a search and a browse function.

There are also add-on packs that are available for SlingTV for specific wants such as sports, news, comedy and kids. However, because I really wanted to be able to watch local news, and did not want to keep the basic channel package from the cable company, I looked for another option.






Hulu Live TV

Hulu has been an established provider of archived TV shows and movies for a few years. A Hulu Live TV subscription ($40) includes all of that archived streaming service (with limited commercials) as well as live TV on many of the same channels offered by the Blue and Orange package from SlingTV. (The only channel I wanted that was missing from Hulu Live TV was ESPN3. However, I have found out I can authenticate the WatchESPN iOS app with a Hulu login.


There is a DVR included, but there is an extra cost for a larger one with the ability to fast forward, pause, and rewind a recorded programs. ($15)


I decided to go with Hulu Live TV because it did include all the major networks and the local versions of these channels when I was in either house -- Boston channels and Hartford Channels. I was able to cancel both the Comcast cable service and the Charter Spectrum cable service. 


After a week with Hulu TV, I cannot ignore my loathing of the interface. Maybe because I like a grid, but I find the Hulu apps really hard to both navigate and find things. There are WAY too many clicks. However, it still is the service that best meets my needs.


However, Hulu Live TV is tied to your zip code as your "home". The company gives you the ability to change your "home" location four times per year. This is for great for people who move, but can also be useful for those that spend extended time in another locale.

The home location means you can use Hulu Live TV on the app of one smart TV or via the Hulu app on an Apple TV. You can use any device in your home to watch TV, but only one one person can stream Hulu content at a time.

When I am away from my "home" base for Hulu Live TV, I can stream from a single mobile device through a Google Chromecast attached to a television, or simply just watch content on the mobile device (while a person at home can still use the "home" stream). Apparently Hulu is working on the ability to use an Apple TV and Airplay from a mobile device, but it is not available yet. 


There is also a beta version  of Hulu Live TV service which allows you to watch live television and the DVR recordings within the Web browser on a computer. Once it is in the Web browser, you can Airplay it to the television screen via the Apple TV.






PlayStation VUE

I did not investigate PlayStation VUE last week since I read online that, unless you were using the VUE service on a PS3 or PS4 gaming machine, the interface was not very good. One of my friends wrote to tell me the interface had been updated, so I thought I would give it a try.

The Playstation VUE service does include, at least here in Boston, the local news affiliates. (You can get a 5-day trial to test it out in your area.) In addition, in the Boston area, we also get NESN, the New England Sports Network. 

PlayStation VUE has four different plans to pick from-- 

  • Access: popular live tv ($39.99)
  • Core: sports and popular live TV ($44.99)
  • Elite: movies, sports, and popular live TV ($54.99)
  • Ultra: movies, sports, popular TV and premium channels ($74.99)

I signed up for the trial of the Core service, since I already have Netflix and Amazon Prime for movie-watching. (It had all the channels that I wanted except the CW, and I probably should not waste any more time watching Riverdale, anyway, so it was no loss.)

I can log into WatchESPN with my credentials, so I would be fine getting the games I want to watch on ESPN3. And PlayStation VUE allows you to authenticate with your credentials in many mobile TV apps.

There are a few weird things about PlayStation VUE. If you want to use a mobile device to use PS VUE while you are away from home, you first have to open the app while on your home network and it will authenticate with a PS3, PS4, Roku, or FireTV. So you would have to have one of these set-top boxes/sticks  in your home. There is a Playstation VUE app you can use on Apple TV, but the Apple TV cannot be used for authenticating a mobile device.

Differing from Hulu, if you log-on to the app when you are away from home, you cannot get CBS, NBS, ABC, or FOX in the PS VUE app. You can authenticate to the network mobile apps with your PS VUE login,, but cannot watch live TV. For my purposes of watching live TV while I am at the condo in CT, this does not work.

The Playstation VUE service allows 5 local streams. However, if you need to have more streams while at home, you have to log-out of a set-top box and wait 3 hours to use the other device. Sounds like a "first world problem", and re-authenticating is not hard, but waiting three hours could be a problem if you want to watch a specific television set in your home. There are three mobile streams available and I am unsure if they count as part of the 5 when in the home. I am a little weary of testing at this time!

Thoughts

When eliminating the cable box on both Comcast and Charter Spectrum, each company charged more for the "Internet alone" option since the Internet was no longer a part of a bundle. However, on Comcast, my costs dropped from $277 to $102 per month. On Charter Spectrum, the costs went from $101 to $65 per month. So, the savings from cutting the cable company "cord" was $211 per month. Not too shabby!

The cost for the Hulu Live TV service with the expanded size cloud DVR is $55 per month. So, my net yearly savings from all of these changes is $1872 per year!

For a family, I would probably recommend the SlingTV Blue and Orange services and the shared DVR, which would allow several family members to watch television at a time. However, most families may want to keep the "basic cable" package to have access to their local big three networks and PBS.

Some of my friends have suggested other options, too, like DirectTV Now, and the use of an HD over-the-air antenna for the local channels (if that is available in your area) and adding on a streaming service. 

It is like comparing apples and oranges since it depends on where you live, if you have decent Internet bandwidth, and the type of networks you are interested in. 

One other thing to be aware of. Some cable providers have a monthly cap on streaming usage. Xfinity does in some states. You can find out more about the 1 TB cap from Xfinity here. If you want to see your current data usage on Xfinity, log-in to your account, pick the SERVICES tab, the INTERNET choice, and you will see VIEW DATA usage on the right.