Cutting the Cord

I’m not a big fan of sending money to Comcast. Over the past few years they’ve disconnected my broadband with no warning or notice (and taken three weeks to get it reconnected), somehow managed to deauthorize my cable modem, and have installers who absolutely love drilling holes in the side of my house (perhaps they’re part termite). They also inevitably require a half dozen calls to get a CableCard paired correctly.

Then there are all the extra fees on top of the advertised price. My latest Comcast bill looked like this:

XFINITY TV (limited basic)$22.05
Broadcast TV Fee$1.50
CableCard charges (3)$4.50
XFINITY Internet$55.95
Taxes, Surcharges, and Fees$2.57

The “Broadcast TV fee” is rather annoying, as it’s basically retransmission of the freely available over-the-air broadcasts. You can’t opt out of it if you happen to have an antenna (as I do). The CableCard fees are equally unpalatable, though I hear there are people in other parts of the country paying even higher fees for them.

So moving away from Comcast is something I’ve looked at over the years. A couple things have kept me leashed, however. The primary one is being a consultant in DVR hardware/software. Sadly that means I need a digital cable feed and CableCards. And since Comcast has a monopoly on cable in my area, I don’t really have a choice. The second reason is Star Trek. I can live on bread, water and Star Trek, but I’m fairly certain that with just bread and water I wouldn’t last long.

While I can’t cut the cord entirely, maybe I can cut it cable TV out of my non-professional life.

The big question: can I live with OTA broadcasts and OTT services such as Netflix or Amazon Prime? What would I be missing? Fortunately Star Trek is available on Netflix, so my existence wasn’t in question…just how comfortable that existence would be.

I’ll have to admit that the first couple weeks were a bit disconcerting. Just the thought of not having BBC America and the Syfy Channel was disturbing, even though I rarely watched anything on them (aside from Star Trek).

In addition, I had a habit of leaving H2HD or The Discovery Channel on as background noise while working. The programming was interesting enough to leave on but not so interesting that it would distract me from work. Broadcast TV unfortunately didn’t fill that role. Fortunately I found that streaming Star Trek (The Next Generation, Voyager, DS9, and Enterprise) was a suitable substitute. When you’ve seen each episode a dozen times already, it’s hard to be distracted.

OTT Broadcast TV

In January Sling announced Sling TV, and I have to say that this service seems like it could be a game changer. Finally the channels I want available via streaming! Although the channel selection is currently rather limited, it will no doubt grow over time. Just today Sling announced that AMC (and its affiliated channels including BBC America) would be joining Sling TV. The basic tier price of $20/month is a bit higher than Netflix (I’m grandfathered at $7.99), but still not unreasonable. Especially compared to Comcast.

But there’s one catch….

It seems that there’s no DVR feature for Sling TV, and some channels won’t let you pause. That for me is a deal-breaker. Having had (and worked on) DVRs for the last decade and a half, I expect my TV programming to be there when I’m ready, not to have to adjust my schedule for it. Even a two or three day “catch up” feature that would allow me to view programming up to two or three days after it aired would more than suffice. Such a catch-up feature would actually meet most people’s need for time-shifting (barring those week-long vacations).

Sling and its parent company Dish are no stranger to DVRs, so I assume the absence of a DVR feature is due in part to its content rights (some rights holders probably only allow live streaming), and in part to a cloud DVR not being quite ready. Hopefully as time goes on Sling TV will be able to secure any required rights and deploy a cloud recording service. I’ll keep my credit card waiting until that day comes.