“I’m sick of paying for cable,” my dad told me the other day after Comcast (his cable provider) became temporarily unavailable.
He was watching one of his favorite shows, but now he had to get up and spend the next 20 minutes on hold with Comcast’s notoriously terrible customer service.
By the time he finally got them on the phone the service was back on, but he was fuming.
“I’ve been a customer for 5 years now. I need you to reduce my bill or I’m taking my business somewhere else,” he said with surprising politeness to the customer service rep.
“Sorry, there’s nothing I can do,” replied the voice on the other end.
“Ok,” he said, “well I just want you to know that the next time I call, it will be to cancel my service…” Click.
He looked at me again. “I’m done with cable.”
This article is for my dad. In fact, it’s for every dad (or anyone) out there who is sick of paying cable companies exorbitant amounts of money for a crappy product.
My goal is that by the end of this article, you will have everything you need to make that call to cancel your cable and still be able to watch all or most of your shows through your TV for free or very cheap.
STEP 1: Getting Cheap Internet
If you’re going to quit cable to watch TV online, you will obviously still need a high-speed internet connection.
Unfortunately, your cable provider likely still provides the fastest internet available because they provide what is called broadband. The best thing to do if you absolutely have to have the fastest internet available is stick with your cable company but see if you can pay less for just internet access.
I currently don’t know of any cable company out there who won’t charge you less when you eliminate TV service, but call just to be sure. If it seems reasonable, stick with them and just keep your internet but cancel TV.
However, if you’re completely sick of your cable provider or you’re looking for more affordable internet, there are options.
Right now, my favorite is ClearWire.
It’s a no-frills internet service with (here’s the best part) no contracts. You buy one of their devices (currently around $25), and there’s a simple month-to-month service fee. That’s it. Any computer, laptop, or mobile device with a wifi connection will be able to get internet in your house.
They have two service plans – Fast $50/month, and Basic $35/month. Assuming you’re going to be using their internet service to watch online video/tv, you probably want to go with the fast plan.
With the fast one, they guarantee you will average 3-6 Mbps download speed. To put that into perspective, I currently watch all of my shows with no problem on a terribly slow (not Clearwire) 2.58 Mbps download speed.
Even at the low end, they guarantee a faster connection than I currently have at my own apartment.
The only reason I don’t switch is that I share a connection with my neighbor so I pay next to nothing for the internet.
Whatever you decide to do, you’re going to need some sort of high-speed internet. Clearwire happens to be the best place I’ve found to get it.
STEP 2: Getting the Right Hardware
Once you’ve got the internet, you need something to watch all that TV on. That’s where getting the right hardware comes in handy.
There are too many hardware options to count, but at an absolute minimum, you’ll need a computer.
For a long time, my wife and I simply watched everything on our laptop with a 15-inch screen. It wasn’t an ideal movie or TV experience, but it got the job done.
However, if you really are quitting your cable service provider you should have some money left over to buy a few things.
Most people will want at least:
- An HD Television
- A computer with an HDMI output
- An HDMI cable to connect the two.
For the TV, there are so many options and the marketplace is so competitive that you probably can’t screw up your decision on the model. Currently, however, VIZIO seems to have the highest quality TVs for the price.
Ok… here is where it gets a little complicated. I’m still talking about hardware here, but in order to get the best hardware for your Home Entertainment System, you need to know which hardware gives you access to which content providers.
There’s a lot out of devices out there claiming to give you TV from the internet. There’s Google TV, Tivo, and Roku for instance. And there are a lot of services that provide content – Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu Plus, etc.
Navigating which devices provide which content is so complicated, you could spend hours researching it.
But I’m going to cut through all of it right now and tell you that if you want the best possible bang for your buck, just get an HTPC (Home Theater Personal Computer). It’s basically a fairly inexpensive computer that is meant for Home Theaters.
Buying the right HTPC will give you access to any online TV or Movie content you want (assuming you pay the content providers). Plus, most HTPC’s come with a Blu Ray disc player so you can watch Blu ray.
As far as I can tell, Lenovo makes the best HTPC’s for the money. But I’ve also heard good things about using Mac Minis for HTPC’s if you want to pay the extra bucks.
STEP 3: Getting the Right Software
Once you’ve gotten your HTPC, you need some software to be able to seamlessly bring together all those TV shows and movies out there.
So far, the best software available also happens to be free. It’s called XBMC. Because there are plenty of tutorials out there for setting up and customizing XBMC, I’ll simply point you to those. See below for a list of the best tutorials for XBMC.
STEP 4: Getting Your Shows and Programs
At this point, you should have your hardware and software set up. And if you look at the tutorials above, you’ll see a few on how to get Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon to your new internet TV set up. But I thought there were a few other things I should mention about getting content.
The first is this. At some point, you’re going to need to decide where you stand on the copyright issues that are affecting the media industry right now. For the most part, you could get anything you want to watch without paying for it.
Of course, some people would call that stealing. Others might call it free-market capitalism. Whatever you call it, you’re going to have to decide at some point where you draw the line, or if you draw it at all.
If you’re not tech-savvy, even if you are more on the side of “free-market capitalism,” the learning curve is so steep for getting around the system, I personally think it’s worth it to just pay for services.
If you’re quitting cable, it will likely still be cheaper anyway to pay.
If you don’t want to pay at all, here’s a great list of sites that offers streaming services on content that you would otherwise have to pay for: