Jared on Tech

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Jared Shockley, Information Technology Professional This is my spot on the Internet for me to share my thoughts on technology, software, hardware, gadgets and IT in general. Please feel free to comment.


Tips to Cut the Cord With

CuttingCable"Cutting the Cord" is a catch phrase that is thrown around in this modern age. The main meaning is ability for many people to remove services that they used to pay for that seems redundant in these changing days, primary being television and telephone services. For me, I am fully cord cut when it comes to telephone and nearly cut with television. I will explain what I have done, how I came about my decisions and what it took to execute my cord cutting. In the end, there is no way to cut all cords unless you want to disconnect from the world and entertainment. Instead, the goal for most cord cutters is to run all of their needs across their data service lines. What you need to do is find your goals for cord cutting and then find what will help you achieve those goals.

The easiest service for me to cut was the telephone. I live on my cell phone; I know many others that do as well. When I used to have a phone line, I was paying nearly $50 for something I rarely used. My concerns for dropping landline service keyed around people getting a hold of me and emergency services. Since everyone had my cell phone that I wanted to contact me, that first concern was null. As for emergency services, the concern is proper location services for emergency crews to arrive at. Cell phones are now required to have E911 (Enhanced 911) location services but this is not a guarantee. Instead, I use a little known fact.

My condo already was wired for phones and that service is attached to the local phone carrier. I can plug a phone into that line and call 911 without costing me anything. This is perfect for emergencies and the 911 operator will have the location information for the line that was established by the phone company. For everything else, I use my cell phone.

My solution for phone service was easy for me, but it won't be easy for everyone. There are some good alternatives out there including Vonage and Ring Central that provide VoIP solutions over your broadband data connection to Skype and Google Voice that provide some call management and VoIP features as well. Think through what you need for yourself and your family. Then, find the service that provides what you are looking for.

Now that I have started cutting the cords, I reviewed my television entertainment needs. This will vary from person to person, not just as a whole family unit. Those needs can change over the years which will mean that flexibility is key. Let's use myself as a test case now. In 2004, I used to be a background TV person where I left the TV on all the time not really noticing what was on. Over the years, I have changed my consumption habit to enjoy specific programs. These changes were both caused and caused by my cord cutting choice.

I find that most of the shows I like to watch are available on the main networks, or specific shows on cable channels. Since I cannot purchase an a la carte cable package and do not want to pay up to $75/mo. for the small number of channels I want, I worked through the shows legally online. I start with channels that my local cable company offers via their "Basic" package (Comcast offers at $15/mo). This includes the local network stations (ABC, NBC, CBS, PBS, Fox, WB, CBC, Ion) in HD, Discovery Channel in SD, and several local off-band stations. It also includes stations that I do not care for (religious, 24 shopping, government access, non-english) thus making it a normal cable subscription. Depending on your state regulations, not every cable provider offers this basic subscription. You should be able to get these channels with a TV tuner (in a TV or in a computer) that can get digital cable in the clear (Clear QAM). However, some companies still require one of their set-top boxes to get even this "basic" package. I will be cutting this service if that occurs with Comcast.

Add to the basic cable subscription, I utilize several online services to watch episodes to fill in on channels I do not have. With my desired list of shows, most of them are available online via services like Netflix ($8/mo.) and Hulu/Hulu Plus (Free on web/$8/mo.). When I add up all the entertainment I get that way, about 90% of the TV shows I want to watch are available. To fill that last gap, I utilize Xbox Video (formerly Zune Video) and Amazon Instant Streaming. One or both of these services has the rest of the shows I want to see available to purchase with pricing based on the length of the season and the quality. There are other sources like iTunes but I choose not to use them as my devices are not well matched for it. With smaller cable subscriptions and online sources, you can find most of your content that you want to watch without paying the high rates of cable. Want even better news? You now have more options to watch entertainment thanks to the internet.

Remember that one of the changes I have undergone is having the TV on in the background to now watching specific shows and paying attention to them? This change alone reduced the amount that I was watching and helped to filter what I watched to a very specific set of shows. It also added a brand new source of content that most forget is available, the internet. Content creators have started to understand they do not need to work through "traditional" media publishing channels. They can create a website and an RSS feed to launch a "video netcast or podcast". Some large media people have jumped over to this new medium such as Leo Laporte with his TWiT network, Adam Carolla with his Adam Carolla Entertainment network, and former MTV VJ Adam Curry with his Mevio network. Others have been on the internet from inception like Audible for audiobooks and special interest sites such as Technet on Microsoft for Microsoft IT professionals. In my experiences, I find this content better than the content coming from the networks and cable, making me miss the deluge of cable channels filled with programs I never watched.

Now that you have done some homework on what you want for content, you need to think about how you are going to consume that content. Since I started with the notion of replacing television, I will focus on the use of a television in either a living or bed room. The easiest devices are some sort of set-top box that has the content available through apps. I have a Roku device in my bedroom and installed a Windows Media Center PC in my living room. I am not the norm though here in that I built and managed a computer that was a DVR/set-top box. It was the most flexible and offered all the content but not all in a 10-foot UI. Some of the content I had to use a web browser with a wireless mouse and keyboard to access. I was willing to go through that while others are not.

To make things very simple for the average user, you should really look at the Roku devices to plug into online services with their applications. They offer applications that connect to content services like Netflix, Amazon, Crackle and Hulu Plus. In addition to the major content services, Roku devices can connect to many new media companies with apps like TWiT, Revision3, The Onion News, and CNET. This gives the Roku devices a big advantage in the fight for a single box to add these services. Even some traditional television channels have applications of their own on Roku devices like CNBC, Sail TV, Fox News and NBC News that offer live feeds from their cable channels online. HBO even has their HBO-to-go service, targeted at mobile devices like tablets and phones, available on Roku devices. For this to work, you need to have a cable subscription with HBO added to it to access it. The Roku devices could be easy, cheaper set-top boxes for additional TV's in a house to reduce the need for cable/satellite set-top boxes.

Recently, I changed my living room to use a Xbox 360 as the primary device. With apps for Hulu Plus, Netflix, Amazon, YouTube and other online services, connectivity to my Media Center for recorded and live content, native support for Xbox Video, and it's DVD drive, it is a single device that I can use. As my media collection does not include Blu-rays, the HD content I get is from online sources so I am not hurt by the missing Blu-ray drive of the Xbox 360. If I paid for a full cable subscription, I could use my Xbox 360 as a set-top box for their services on Xfinity and FiOS. Through the Xbox devices, I see Microsoft trying to make a play for the living room via easy to use devices and I get that now. Rumors are with the next release of Xboxes coming in 2013, we might see a specialized media only device along with a new gaming unit.

As you have seen, I have done a lot of research on what is best for me given my consumption of entertainment. What works for me may not work for everyone. One key demographic I can see is families with children. The story here is improving with a "children's focused" Netflix integration and view along with specific apps on Roku for kid's programming. Parents need to research what is best as there is so much content available on the internet. While it can be overwhelming, it is the same thing I would expect most parents to do with other forms of entertainment. Most of the better systems to allow for parental controls to manage what kids watch but it does not beat being there and watching with them to know what they watch.

Cord cutting is possible today, even though we are in the early days of it. You see large media companies trying to slow or stop it as much as they can to keep their current revenue models flowing the dollars to them. Accepting that some content will not be available for a long time or ever is one thing a "cord cutter" using legal sources has to accept. Just one example of this for me is Game of Thrones from HBO. Without an HBO subscription, requiring a much higher cable package than I had nor wanted, I accepted that I would not get it until it was released on Xbox Video or Amazon, nearly 1-2 years later. Spend the time figuring out what you can live with and without, where can you source it, and what device can show it on your preferred screen.

The last thing I will mention is most of this requires a broadband style network connection and can push usage caps if they are attached . Since I am an IT Professional doing a lot of work online and knew I would be using media services, I purchased business class internet that provides to me 25 Mb download guaranteed with no caps. This is not cheap internet at $110/mo. and if added to everything else, might push someone back to regular cable service. I use the bandwidth for more than entertainment so I feel the monthly costs for that inexpensive and would rather put my money for that over a television subscription. Add it all up for yourself and figure out what works best for you.

What sort of cord cutting have you done? What are your goals with cord cutting? Let us all know through the comments below and help others get out the wire cutters.




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